According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 130 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States each year. This food is disposed of as trash and carted off to landfills, producing methane gas, which can be more hurtful to the environment than emissions released from driving a car.
It is easy to point the finger at farmers, food producers and retailers for food waste; however, facts show that many people in the farm-to-table industry work diligently to reduce food waste. Their main objective is to produce food that can be sold. According to ReFED, a nonprofit organization that fights food waste in the United States, American consumers account for 21 percent of the food waste, which is more than farmers and food processors combined.
A current topic of discussion is sustainability. According to researchers, the current focus of sustainable food management greatly influences the values, attitudes and actions of more than 85 percent of American consumers. Through the sustainable management of food, we can help consumers and businesses save money; provide a bridge in our communities to feed people that do not have enough to eat; and conserve resources for future generations.
The concept of “reduce, reuse and recycle” changes the thought process to protecting the environment and informs consumers of the impacts of food that is wasted. Consumers can start by taking small, simple steps in everyday life, which could make a big impact.
As I leave the Thanksgiving table with great thankfulness and enter into a season of Christmas magic, joy and surprises, I find myself reflecting on those who struggle to get food on the table or may go to bed hungry. Gathering with friends and family throughout the month over endless amounts of food, I try to be mindful of what I put in the trash and to recycle, reuse and repurpose what is in the kitchen.
There are two approaches to the thought of leftovers. First is how to create fewer leftovers, and second is how leftovers could be used to produce additional meals or side dishes. To create fewer leftovers and less wasted foods, try to plan as closely as possible the amount of food you need, depending on the number of people being served. Maximize food safety by storing properly and always checking the quality and dates on foods before they are purchased and brought home.
Turning leftovers into additional meals may take some creativity. Sometimes, planning for leftovers is very helpful. I find it really nice to cook in bulk over the weekend and use some ingredients for more than one menu item. It makes weeknight meal prep a lot easier.
Here are several suggestions for turning what may be your “trash” into dinner.
Repurpose on purpose: Turn grilled or roasted meats and vegetables into more meals by adding them to the top of a salad; combine them with a marinara sauce and serve with pasta; add to a hummus wrap; use as a topping on pizza; inside an omelet, quiche or quesadilla.
Make a bowl: Chop leftover vegetables and add them to leftover beans, grains, meat or seafood in a skillet; then, reheat and put in a bowl, top with a fried egg.
Make a pot of soup: Add leftover or overripe vegetables – such as tomato, cucumber, peppers, mushrooms, avocado or zucchini into a blender; then, add parsley, basil or other herbs, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper and process. If you prefer a chunkier soup, start by processing tomatoes, onions and herbs; then, add vegetables after the sauce base is completed.
Save blemished vegetables and fruit: When you see a rotting potato, tomato, onion or squash, cut off the blemish and save the edible portion. Start with some broth in a stockpot or slow cooker and add vegetables, drained beans, herbs and seasonings to create a hardy soup. Consume in the next few days or freeze for later.
Make a fruit smoothie: Place overripe fruit in the freezer for later use. Blend frozen fruit, milk or juice, protein powder and peanut butter together for the perfect breakfast or snack.
Happy Holidays to all and thank you for a wonderful 2019!
Julie Hudson is a registered dietician at Lake Martin Wellness Center in Dadeville.