Written by: Alison Brinker, RD, LD, CDE
March is National Nutrition Month® and the theme for 2018 is “Go Further with Food.” Meal planning is an important part of diabetes care, but it is also important to help reduce food waste. It has been estimated that billions of pounds of food are thrown away each year in the United States alone. That is about 300 pounds of food per year for the average American. One obvious reason to reduce food waste is because of the cost. Think about all the money spent at the grocery store on foods that spoil because you didn’t have the time to prepare it. When you think about it, food waste does not just cost people money, but it also costs nutrients. Fruits, vegetables, dairy, and seafood are the most commonly wasted foods. These are also some of the most nutrient dense foods. When we throw these foods away due to spoiling, those are precious nutrients we didn’t eat to keep our body healthy.
What can we do to help reduce food waste?
Plan meals based on foods you have on hand. Take an inventory of the foods you have in the refrigerator, pantry, and freezer, and plan meals around those foods. Find recipes you enjoy that use those foods and make a list of any ingredients you still need to purchase. Try substituting foods in recipes too. If you have a vegetable stir fry recipe that uses broccoli and carrots, but you have celery and red bell peppers on hand, use those vegetables instead. You may create a new favorite meal! Try to plan for snacks in the same way. Raw vegetables dipped in salsa or low-fat ranch make a wonderful snack that won’t have much impact on glucose levels. Convenience tends to be more costly too. It is cheaper to buy a box of crackers and jar of peanut butter and make your own peanut butter and cracker snack than it is to buy the peanut butter sandwich crackers that are already made. Buying your own crackers gives you the option of getting the whole grain crackers that contain more fiber and other nutrients. This allows you to have more variety too. You can also use those crackers for other snacks such as low-fat cheese, depending on what you have on hand.
Use a grocery list when shopping to help avoid impulse buys. Try to purchase only the amount of food that will be eaten or frozen within the next few days. Keep foods that may spoil quickly in plain site so you don’t forget it’s there. A fruit bowl on the counter is an excellent reminder for a healthy snack. But be careful, some fruits can ripen too quickly when stored at room temperature.
Another contributor to food waste is confusion about the dates labeled on packaged foods. You may see the following phrases and dates stamped on food packages:
Use by March 31, 2018
Best by March 31, 2018
Best before March 31, 2018
Sell by March 31, 2018
Food manufacturers provide these dates based on what they consider to be the best quality for that specific food item. For example, “Use by”, “Best by,” and “Best Before” dates are often found on condiments, such as mustard and ketchup. In many cases, these items are safe to eat beyond the date stamp if they have been stored properly. The “sell by” dates are used for perishable foods, such as meats and dairy products. It’s possible these foods may be used a few days after the date, as long as they were stored at a safe temperature. Regardless of the date stamped on the food or drink packaging, don’t risk eating or drinking anything that you suspect has spoiled. In some cases, a food will not look or smell any different. That’s why it’s important to eat leftovers within 3 to 4 days (or freeze for up to 3 to 4 months). Always remember to practice good food safety!
Be creative with leftovers. Cut up leftover meats and vegetables and add to a salad for lunch or make a pasta salad with a little low-fat Italian dressing. Or, wrap leftover meats and cheese in a whole wheat tortilla for a change from the typical sandwich. Add cut up vegetables for extra nutrients and fiber.
Other ways to Go Further with Food include being mindful of portion sizes. Over the years, portions of most foods and drinks have increased in size. Choosing smaller portions will not only help to reduce food waste, but it will also help you stay within your calorie needs and help maintain weight and good glucose control. If it’s not possible to request a smaller portion when eating out, just ask for a to-go container at the start of a meal. This will help you eat less. Plus, you’ll have a leftover to enjoy the next day.
Hopefully this will give you some inspiration to “go further with food” and cut food waste for both economic and health reasons.