By Meredith Cushing, RD, MS, MSHSE (Guest writer and podcast guest)
Sequel to Ep 43 on My Wife the Dietitian
Earth Month – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…
In the Kitchen
– The Ultimate Guide –
On the previous podcast episode, I talked about Rescued and Redistributed Food. We discussed food waste on a larger scale focusing on distribution, retail, and in the foodservice industry but there is a lot we can do in our own home.
In Canada, 47% of food waste occurs in the home, meaning that a huge portion of food waste could be avoided by consumers adopting more sustainable shopping habits.
Food Waste Statistics for Canadians
Globally, 1.3 billion tonnes of edible food is wasted or lost every year.
Saving just a quarter of food lost or wasted globally each year would feed 870 million people
Canadians create over 50 million tonnes of food waste every year despite 60% of it being avoidable through better planning and awareness.
According to research conducted by the National Zero Waste Council in 2022, the amount of food wasted by the average household in Canada is 140 kilograms.
Wasting this much food costs the households over $1,300 per year. For Canada as a whole, the cost is over $20 billion and totals over 2.3 million tonnes of edible food thrown away every year.
47% of food waste in Canada is generated at the household level.
Over six tenths of food waste in Canada could be easily avoided.
Canada’s yearly food waste is equivalent to 9.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Fruits and vegetables account for 45% of food waste.
Redirecting or rescuing surplus edible food could save 3.82 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of food.
What is food waste and why does it occur?
Food waste is the amount of food thrown out. It occurs because of improper storage, overbuying, confusion over food labels, inefficiently used ingredients going bad, and poor planning.
You can minimise food waste at home through better planning and understanding food labels including best before dates..
Over 60% of Canadian household food waste is avoidable by practising more sustainable habits, which include planning shopping better to avoid overbuying, donating to community fridges and storing food properly.
Some food waste is not avoidable such as fish or animal bones, eggshells, and coffee grounds.
However, instead of ending in landfills, these items could be composted and used to fertilize the soil.
What are the most common forms of household food waste?
Food Waste at Home
According to ‘Love Food Hate Waste’, the most common food items thrown away in Canada are fruits and vegetables.
Vegetables form 30% and fruits 15% of the household food waste. Leftovers account for 13%, bread and bakery products for 9%, dairy and eggs for 7%, meat, fish, and poultry for 6%, and other food items, such as crackers, snacks, and desserts, for 20% of household food waste.
Every day in Canada, about 1.2 million tomatoes, 1.225 million apples, 2.4 million potatoes, 650,000 loaves of bread, 640,000 bananas, one million cups of milk, 470,000 eggs, and 139,000 lettuce heads are wasted. Fresh produce like this is mainly wasted because of overbuying and improper storage. We just don’t value food enough. But, nobody sets out to throw food away.
It just happens for a multitude of reasons.
What can you do to reduce food waste in the house ?
Plan it out
One of the most effective ways to reduce food waste at home – and save money – is to plan your meals and shop smart, so you buy only what you need and you use everything you buy.
When making a meal plan for the week, determine first what you can make with the food you already have and then add some of your favourite meals. To start, consider what meals you will be making for the week, how many people need to eat, and what kind of leftovers you’d like.
Then, check on your inventory and what you’ve currently got in your freezer, pantry, and fridge to see what needs to get used up.
Create a Shopping List
Use your meal plan to create a shopping list. Before you shop, check your fridge, freezer, and cupboards to see what you have and what you need. And once you’re at the store, exercise restraint—and use that list.
‘Meal Prep Mate’ is an example of an app that gives you the tools you need to make a shopping list, portion your meals, and maximize what’s in your fridge. https://savethefood.com/
Use Everything You Bring Home
Find ways to use all the food you bring home.
With a little thought, you can find a use for everything. This means getting creative and looking for recipes to use up the food that you have.’Save the Food.com’ has great recipes for using up surplus food.
‘Cook It’: Has recipes for everything from overripe avocados to cheese rinds. Provides recipes for using food scraps and saving food past its prime. https://savethefood.com/
And don’t forget the leftovers. Once they’re packed into containers, keep them front and center in your refrigerator (pushed to the back, they may be forgotten), and plan to eat them. Add notes to your Tupperware containers adding the date or “Eat This First” can also be helpful. A piece of tape and Sharpie are all you need.
My favourite tips for using all the food are:
Food Dehydrator: used to make grapes, sun dried tomatoes, apple chips, pear chips, kiwi. Reduces the amount of food that gets thrown away. My favourite dehydrator is the Snackmaster Express by Nesco.
Use the Peels Too
Do you really need to remove the outer layer of your fruits and veggies? In some cases (eg, bananas, avocados, pineapples), yes, but many items that are peeled can be given a good wash and eaten whole. That goes for carrots, potatoes, apples, you name it! You can keep a “stock bag” in the freezer where you collect trimmings of vegetables. When the bag is full, toss it in a pot of boiling water for several hours and you have vegetable stock (See recipe)
Become a Storage Pro
Proper storage of food can increase its lifetime and reduce spoilage. ‘Save The Food.com’ has an interactive food storage guide that offers tips, tricks, and info to keep your food fresh and tasty. It will also help you organize your fridge to maximize food freshness and storage potential. https://savethefood.com/storage
Here are some Food Storage Facts you might not know:
Many fruits produce a barely detectable chemical called ethylene as they ripen. It’s also often sprayed onto fruits and veggies to make the produce ripen faster.
But too much ethylene can lead to a loss of chlorophyll (what happens when your leafy greens turn yellow or brown). And the more ripe an ethylene producer *fruit) is, the more gas it produces. So the saying one bad apple spoils the bunch is actually true, if one piece of fruit is going bad, you should think about moving it away so that it doesn’t speed things up for the others.
What does this mean?
These fruits and vegetables give off a lot of the gas and are also pretty susceptible to it:
Melons, including cantaloupe and honeydew
OK to store together, but keep away from other fast-ripening produce
These fruits and veggies don’t make a whole lot of ethylene on their own but are sensitive to it:
These fruits and veggies fare alright in the face of ethylene gas, so store them anywhere:
Berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc.)
Citrus fruits, like lemons and limes
Pineapples, though they do produce some ethylene.
A quick way to remember is that it is mostly fruits that are the ethylene-makers, while vegetables are the ones more likely to feel the detrimental effects of the ethylene gas.
Vegetables need to breathe. Poke holes in the plastic bags you store them in, or keep them in reuseable mesh bags. An airtight plastic bag is the worst choice for storing vegetables, And don’t pack veggies tightly together, either; they need space for air circulation or they’ll spoil faster.
Here are some storage tips that might surprise you!
Find some (clean) pantyhose. Add onions to each leg, tying knots between each one. Hang at room temperature. If that doesn’t appeal to you, onions can be stored like garlic at room temperature on a countertop. Just keep them away from potatoes. And don’t put them in the refrigerator: The humidity and cold temperature will cause onions to turn mushy. Storing them away from light also helps keep them from becoming bitter.
They hate to be cold. Anything below 50 degrees will cause them to spoil faster. If you must refrigerate them, do it for no more than three days. Cucumbers are also sensitive to ethylene gas, so keep them away from bananas, melons and tomatoes.
To keep it crisp, refrigerate it wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, not plastic wrap, so the ethylene gas it produces can escape. Re-wrap tightly after each use. Store celery sticks like carrot sticks: submerged in water in a tightly covered container.
Break up the bunch, as charming as it might look. Then wrap each stem in plastic wrap. That will reduce the emission of ethylene gas, and the bananas will ripen more slowly. Once a banana reaches the desired amount of ripeness, you can refrigerate it; the cold will keep it from ripening further.
Other tips: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/voraciously/ten-fruits-and-vegetables-youre-storing-wrong/
Make friends with your freezer
The freezer can be a waste-free kitchen’s best pal. Freezing produce, meat, dairy—even lightly beaten eggs!—is basically like hitting the pause button.
Some of my favourite foods to freeze are:
dark leafy greens that are starting to wilt. Simply chop them up, put them in a plastic bag in the freezer, then use them by the handful in smoothies, sauces, and curries.
Lemons/Limes: grate the rinds and put in mason jar and freeze, squeeze lemons and limes and save their juice in mason jars and freeze.
yougurt for use in making or recipes.
Freeze overripe bananas (in the peel) for making banana bread (see recipe).
Freeze in portions: Think about real-life meal planning when you freeze. For instance, you probably won’t need a whole loaf of bread at once, so slice it up before you pop it in the freezer. Then you can toast it right from the freezer a slice or two at a time. Use a muffin tin to freeze stews and chili in portions that are perfect for lunch. Freeze berries on a cookie sheet separately for about half an hour and then transfer to a bag, so they won’t all stick together in a clump. Scramble two raw eggs (yes, eggs can be frozen!) so that you can cook breakfast for one. Masure out pureed vegetables in portions required for recipes.
Use airtight containers to reduce freezer burn: Less air = less freezer burn (what happens when foods oxidize in the freezer). Remove meat from supermarket trays and wrap well with plastic wrap or freezer paper before storing in zip-top bags. Squeeze excess air from plastic bags and containers, and avoid opening the freezer door unnecessarily. Freezer burn is harmless but affects taste. And those water crystals that can form on frozen foods and perfectly normal.
Leave room for liquids: Most liquids expand in the freezer, so leave about half an inch at the top of containers to account for this.
Blanch: You can put most foods straight into the freezer with minimal preparation, especially if you plan to eat them within a couple of days. Most fruits and vegetables, however, benefit from the simple process of blanching, which preserves their quality, color, and vitamin content—particularly if they might be in the freezer for a long time. It takes a few minutes at the most: you clean your produce, pop it in a pot of boiling water, then cool in ice water.
Label and Organize: Label containers with contents and date, and use clear containers when possible so you can easily see what’s inside. Lay bags of leftover mashed potatoes and tomato puree flat in the freezer so they’re easy to stack. You can use large containers to partition your freezer by food type, with areas for fruits, vegetables, and prepared foods. As your commitment to freezing grows, you can use a white board on the freezer door to keep a log of what’s inside. It helps with meal planning and minimizes time spent digging around for last week’s corn.
Do a survey of what’s in the freezer every once in a while, since nothing lasts forever!
Defrost Safely: You’ve taken care to freeze your foods to their best advantage, now give some time and attention to proper thawing. The safest ways to defrost frozen foods are by placing them in the fridge (overnight will usually do it), in the microwave (settings vary according to model), or in a bowl of cold water. Food safety experts do not recommend thawing on the kitchen counter or in warm water.
Revive food that is on its way out.
Don’t give up on that droopy celery just yet. Often a quick fix in the kitchen can transform would-be throwaways into healthy, hearty meals.
Use one of these tips to extend the life of your food, and cut down on waste.
A quick soak in ice water for 5 to 10 minutes is often enough to reinvigorate wilted veggies. Bendy carrots will straighten right up, lettuce will crisp, and limp broccoli will find its strength again. And even if they can’t be restored, some veggies you intended to eat raw — carrots, celery, and greens — can still shine in a cooked dish.
Toast stale chips and crackers for a minute or two in a regular or toaster oven to crisp them right back up. This works for bread, too — day-or-two-old bread turns into perfectly acceptable toast. And those crumbs and small bits at the bottom of a bag of chips or crackers add a lively crunch when sprinkled over salads.
Is your soup too salty? Add vinegar, lemon juice, or brown sugar to fix the problem — or dilute with water, crushed tomatoes or unsalted broth. You can also pop a raw, peeled potato into the pot of soup to absorb some of the salt. Remove the potato before serving (and combine it with another boiled potato to make a not-too-salty mash).
The timer broke, the phone rang, or you just got distracted. Whatever the reason, the next time you burn a dish, don’t just toss it right away. You can remove burned beans or stew from the heat, scoop the unblackened portion into a new pot and cover with a damp cloth for 10 minutes. This removes much of the burned flavor. And, if the dish still tastes unappetizing, try adding barbecue, sweet chili, or hot sauce. (By the way, these sauces work wonders on recipes that turn out bland or weren’t seasoned quite right.) Still inedible? Time to order takeout!
When in doubt, puree. Overcooked vegetables and dishes that disappoint can always be transformed into soups or sauces. Just toss them in the blender with some soup stock, milk, or cream. Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes and even leftover stir fry are excellent for this.
If you’re really ambitious, you can revive kitchen scraps. Onion and green onion bottoms, celery, and lettuce cores can all be replanted to generate more of themselves. Take a look at the
‘Waste Free Kitchen Handbook’ (https://www.chroniclebooks.com/products/waste-free-kitchen-handbook-pb.html) for tips on how to do this.
Understand date labels
Food expiration dates have nothing to do with safety, and are only loosely related to quality. They’re the manufacturer’s best estimate of when the product is at its freshest or “peak quality.” Many foods will still be good to eat days, weeks, or months after those dates, depending on the food.
So, if you’ve been throwing food out on these dates, you’re not alone. According to one industry study, 90 percent of us occasionally throw away food too soon, and over half of us do it regularly. All due to a simple misunderstanding about package dates. Okay. If the expiration date doesn’t tell you when food goes bad, how do you know if it’s still good?
BEST BEFORE Dates
These dates refer to quality rather than food safety. It’s the date before which the brand stands by its product (unless it’s been opened or left out in warm temperatures).
Foods with a “best before” or “use by” date should be safe to eat after the date has passed, but they may no longer be at their very best. This is true for “best by,” “best if used by,” “enjoy by,” and other similar expressions.
BEWARE THE DANGER ZONE
The main criterion for evaluating food safety is the amount of time food spends in the temperature “danger zone” (40 – 120 °F). If you leave food out on the counter or in a hot car, it could be unsafe even before the date on the package, regardless of what phrase you see.
SELL BY Date
You can ignore these dates as they are meant for store staff. They actually build in quality so that if the food is sold by that date, you can still get it home and have top-quality shelf life for some time.
USE YOUR EYES AND NOSE
For the most part, you can trust your senses to know when food has gone bad. Milk, yogurt, juice, sauces—they can all be subject to the sniff or taste test. Even meat that looks a little faded or gray is okay to eat. Avoid anything with mold.
FREEZE BY Date
One good way to extend the life of food beyond its date is to freeze it. It’s like pushing the pause button on your food. Almost anything can be frozen—meat, milk, cheese, eggs, bread, unused pasta sauce.
FREEZE BY Date
One good way to extend the life of food beyond its date is to freeze it. It’s like pushing the pause button on your food. Almost anything can be frozen—meat, milk, cheese, eggs, bread, unused pasta sauce.
Compost remaining scraps.
You’ve shopped using your well-planned list; you got creative and used a new recipe requiring a variety of peels, stems, and foods from your freezer; you’ve even used that milk that was past its best-by date. But alas, you still have inedible scraps, like the ones from the stock or those browned banana peels that you just can’t find a way to eat. It’s inevitable. Most communities these days provide municipal compost service, providing a yard waste bin that is picked up by the City. If you do not have this service you can create your own compost bin. You can also consider joining a community garden, many of which allow you to drop off compost.
Help us all reduce the amount of edible food we waste at home.
You can find lots of recipes on the internet. Once of my favourite sites is Love Food Hate Waste (https://lovefoodhatewaste.ca/use-it-up/?utm_source=City+of+Vancouver%2FGreenest+City&utm_medium=EN&utm_campaign=Use+It+Up)
Here are some of my favourite recipes that I use to make sure nothing from my fridge or garden goes to waste:
Soft or overripe or surplus tomatos.
I dehydrate the tomatoes in my dehydrator then use them to make this delicious pasta recipe.
Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken Pasta
Prep Time 15 MINUTES
Cook Time 25 MINUTES
Total Time 40 MINUTES
Dehydrated tomatoes (at least ½ cup)
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
2-3 Tbsp smoked paprika
Pinch dried red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp salted butter
2 cloves garlic, copped or minced
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 cups spinach
Your favourite pasta, cooked (I like Rigatoni)
Parmesan cheese for serving
Add 3 Tbsp of oil into a large skillet.
Set the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, paprika, and a pinch each of red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Cook until golden brown, 5 minutes. Cook for another minute.
To the same skillet, add the butter and garlic, dehydrated tomatoes and Dijon mustard. Cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat and add the heavy cream.
Add 3 1/2 cups of water to a large pot. Bring to a boil, add the pasta, and cook, stirring often, until the pasta is al dente, 8 minutes. Stir in spinach to wilt. Drain and return pasta and spinach to the pot.
Stir in the cream, mustard, chopped sun-dried tomatoes and chicken.
Serve the pasta topped with fresh parmesan.
Garden full of Zucchini! There is only so much Zucchini bread you can make. I discovered this delicious recipe to use up those garden Zucchini.
Zucchini Cacio e Pepe with Brown Butter
Prep Time 10 MINUTES
Cook Time 20 MINUTES
Total Time 30 MINUTES
Your favourite pasta. I like to use Rigatoni
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 (or more) zucchini sliced
1-2 cloves of garlic
8 Tbsp salted butter
2 tsp black pepper
Fresh grated parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain. Reserve 1 ¼ cups of cooking water.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the zucchini, garlic, and season with salt. Cook until the zucchini is golden, 5 minutes. Remove from the skillet to a plate.
Working in the same skillet, add the pepper and cook for 30 seconds, until toasted. Add 4 tablespoons butter, then the pasta, 1 cup pasta cooking water and the parmesan cheese. Toss vigorously to melt the cheese. Add the remaining 1/4 cup water, the zucchini, and season with salt. Toss well.
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat, cook until the butter browns, 3-4 minutes.
Plate the pasta and spoon the butter over each serving. Eat!
Veggie that are going bad or you don’t know what to do with them?
Universal Soup Recipe
1 to 2 pounds vegetables
Aromatics, such as onion, garlic, or leeks
Olive oil or unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
4 to 6 cups low-sodium broth or stock
Pick your veggies. Whatever you have in your refrigerator. Try to choose the ones that need to be used up the soonest.
Cut up the vegetables and aromatics. Chop up the veggies into evenly sized chunks. Also chop up one onion and 2 cloves of garlic.
Heat olive oil. Heat up about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat until shimmering.
Sauté the aromatics. Add the garlic and onions to the oil first and cook gently until they are fragrant and soft, about 5 minutes.
Brown the vegetables. Add the chopped veggies and continue cooking for several minutes. The vegetables softened slightly and browned around the edges.
Season the vegetables. It’s best to season the vegetables at this point, especially if you’re using low-sodium broth. Vegetables need salt and pepper, and if you are adding other seasonings such as spices or dried herbs, add them now so they flavor the soup from the ground up. I add about a half teaspoon each of cumin, chili powder, and smoked paprika.
Add the broth. Add 4 to 6 cups of broth and bring to a simmer. Add a sprig of fresh herbs now if desired.
Cover and simmer. Turn the heat down to low and cover the pot. Let cook for about 30 minutes, then check the soup. Are the vegetables as soft as you would like? If you want to leave the vegetables intact. If you are adding spinach or other leafy greens add them now. Cook until wilted. Take the soup off the heat now. If you want the vegetables very soft for puréeing, keep cooking until they are falling apart.
Taste and season. Whether you are leaving the vegetables intact or puréeing the soup, make sure to taste the soup as it finishes cooking. If it seems flat, add some vinegar or lemon juice. If it is too salty, thin out with some extra broth or dairy.
Puree if desired: Once the vegetables are very soft, you can puree the soup in a blender or with a stick blender. Rewarm gently after blending. If you want to add heavy cream do it now but make sure you don’t boil.
Vegetable Stock from Scraps:
onion, tops, bottoms, and skins
celery, tops and bottoms
1 cup carrot (225 g), tops, bottoms, and skins
garlic, tops, bottoms, and skins
potato, tops, bottoms, and skins
water, as needed
Remove the tops/bottoms/skins/stems from any vegetables you are preparing (avoid vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or cauliflower as they will add a bitter taste to your stock) and place them in a ziplock bag – they can stay frozen up to 6 months.
Note: You can add many other vegetable scraps (think sweet!) – i.e. corn cobs, winter squash, zucchini, and other squash, beet greens, fennel, chard, lettuce, parsnips, green beans, pea pods, bell peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, asparagus, and herbs like dill, thyme, parsley, cilantro, and basil.
Continue like this until the bag is full.
Dump bag into pot and fill ¾ of the pot (or until scraps just start to float) with water.
Bring water to a boil and then let it simmer for at least 30 minutes.
Strain water out of stock.
Refrigerate stock for up to 4 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Overripe or frozen ripe banana (the browner the better)!
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
3 medium-sized bananas with brown flecked peel
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sour milk (you can add vinegar or lemon juice to milk to make sour)
1 cup chocolate chips
Cream butter and sugar together thoroughly. Add the eggs and beat well. Mix in the bananas.
Sift flour and baking soda together. Add alternatively sour milk to the banana mixture.
Stir in chocolate chips
Turn into a greased and floured loaf pan.
Bake at 350 F about 1 hour, or until bread tests are done.