Eat More Veggies: Waste Not, Want Not

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Most people know there are health benefits to be gained from eating more fruits and veggies, but sometimes life gets in the way – we don’t feel like shopping, we’re too tired to cook after work or, for millions of Americans, tight household budgets mean a struggle to afford healthy food. How we feel, how we look, and most importantly, how well our bodies work depends on the kind of fuel we consume. Even though we know we should eat more plant-based food, there are a great many factors that go into the decisions we make about food each day. Sometimes we have noble intentions but lack follow-through. It happens to everyone – you stock up on Sunday for a week of healthy eating but you decide to have leftovers Monday night, the kids beg for pizza Tuesday night, Wednesday you work late and eat Cheerios for dinner, so by Thursday the crisper drawer is still chock-full. Except now there’s nothing “crisp” about the contents. The drawer in your fridge has become the place where produce goes to die.

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans threw more than 36 million tons of food into landfills in 2011. In fact, food waste has increased dramatically over the last three decades and that disturbing trend isn’t slowing. Meanwhile, food prices continue to rise and we can expect another 2.5% – 3.5% price increase in 2014 according to the US Department of Agriculture.

We have tremendous power to improve the way we eat, reduce the amount of food we waste, and save a significant portion of our grocery budget with a small investment of time and energy. These are my top tips for making the most of the food you buy:

FIFO – First In, First Out
When you bring home groceries, be sure to put them away so that you see the oldest stuff first. This way you rotate your stock and perfectly good food doesn’t language on your pantry shelf or in your crisper drawer. For many families it helps to put ripe or close-dated food at the front and center of the fridge so it’s easy to grab and doesn’t get wasted.

Don’t Throw Away Good Stuff
Sometimes I don’t follow my own FIFO advice and I’ll find a bit of something that’s been hanging around beyond its “Sell By” date. I used to automatically hit the trash can with that food, but now I take a moment and sniff then taste first. Dates on products can mean lots of things: “sell by”, “use by”, “expires”, “freshness guaranteed by”, or even “we have to put a date on this package but it doesn’t mean anything but here’s our best guess”. Much of the food we buy is safe beyond the package date. Of course, I am not advocating eating rotten food, but am saying to use common sense and trust yourself. If the food smells OK, looks OK and you’re comfortable doing so, give it a taste and you may be pleasantly surprised. When in doubt, throw it out.

Shop Smart
There are several smart ways to get more fresh, high-quality food at affordable prices if you search a bit. I started with a Google search “find cheap veggies in Phoenix” and sure enough, most of my favorite spots were listed in the results. You can tailor the search to your community and find similar results. Nationwide there are some good leads on LocalHarvest.org, but they’re not always the most up-to-date so you’ll want to do some additional recon before heading out to a market listed there. Fellow Arizonans, be sure to check out FillYourPlate.org, and ArizonaFarmersMarkets.com for even more options.

Later this week I will share some ways to shop smart to get more high-quality fruits and veggies without blowing your food budget. I look forward to hearing your ideas, too. Do you have any clever tips for reducing food waste? Ideas for what to do with leftover veggies? Delectable veggie recipes or suggestions for meatless meals? Keep the conversation going by commenting below!

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