First Person: How I'm Eliminating My Food Waste

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A new report from the National Resources Defense Council indicates that Americans waste a staggering $165 billion worth of food every year.

While 18% of families in the United States now claim they "can't afford to buy the food they need," studies show that the average family of four somehow manages to waste 40% of the food they do purchase. That figure, which is as frustrating as it is baffling, translates to wasting "20 pounds of food per person per month" and spending an estimated $2,275 each year on food that never gets eaten.

Even more disgusting, the study calculated that just 15% of that yearly food waste would be enough to feed more than 25 million additional people, well over the estimated 16.2 million children in the United States who are currently hungry. In comparison, this average per-person waste is nearly 10 times that of someone living in Southeast Asia and shows a 50% increase over American waste in the 1970s.

In short, the answer to ending world hunger might be in our trashcans and landfills.

From the time I was a child, my mother taught me and my siblings the importance of avoiding waste and making the most of what we had. Having grown up in relative poverty, Mom became a crusader in a holy war against culinary waste, and to this day she keeps a vigilant watch to ensure that absolutely nothing spoils. While I lack some of my mother's fervor, I do my best to follow in her footsteps by shopping smart and eliminating excess. Here are a few ways I'm staying well below average when it comes to wasting food.

I Avoid Buying in Bulk

It's not a secret - I avoid membership clubs like the plague. The problem with buying in bulk is that I'd tend to purchase stuff simply because it's cheap. While I'm all for saving money, I'm not really saving if I'm throwing away part of what I buy. Even if I had a deep freezer, food doesn't stay in date forever, and I've seen too many friends pull an ice-encrusted package out of their freezer, say "Oh wow, I forgot about those," and throw them away.

I Don't Fill Up My Cabinets

I watched a friend of mine look through her cabinets the other day, and I was floored by how much food she keeps on-hand. Since she only cooks for herself and her husband, I question how much of her squirreled-away food will ultimately become waste. While I definitely don't run to the store every day, I do try to plan my meals ahead of time and buy food based on my anticipated menu. Of course I have staples, but I'm never to the point where I forget what I have lurking in my fridge or let stuff spoil.

I Cook Reasonable Amounts

My former mother-in-law used to routinely cook enough food to feed her expected guests several times over; as a result, she often ended up throwing away a good portion of the meal. I see a big difference in cooking enough to have some leftovers and cooking so much that it's wasteful. When I cook lasagna, I'd be sad if I didn't have some left over to eat for lunch the following day, but cooking so much that I get sick of it before it's gone is both wasteful and unwise.

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More from this contributor:

Trimming My Grocery Budget, 1940s Style

How Much am I Really Saving?

Financial Lessons from My Mother

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