Tips & tricks for avoiding food waste as a student

How to prevent biting off more than you can chew when grocery shopping

Getting organized before you grocery shop and properly storing your food can help you avoid food waste. 
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The climate crisis can no longer be ignored, and several cities, such as our very own Kingston, have declared states of climate emergency. As young people and students, it can feel overwhelming to live our daily lives while knowing we’re contributing to the problem.

In light of this, it’s important to consider how we can make an impact through something that impacts all of us, of the great contributors of greenhouse gas emissions: food.

When food decomposes, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that food waste accounts for eight per cent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions.

If global food waste were a country, it would be considered the country with the third-highest emissions on Earth.

According to Love Food Hate Waste, about a third of the food produced across the globe is wasted somewhere between the stages of production, processing, retailing, and consuming.

It’s estimated that the average Canadian household wastes more than $1,100 worth of food every year. That significant sum of money can be spared by adhering to a few practical shopping practices and by learning to prepare and store food efficiently.

Get organized before you shop

An easy way to start is by reorganizing your fridge and pantry to showcase items closest to their best before date so you don’t forget about them. This will allow you to plan meals ahead of time and write a grocery list based on what you don’t already own.

When you’re actually out shopping, try to buy non-perishable food in bulk, like nuts, rice, or oats, with reusable bags to save money and avoid unnecessary packaging.

Store your food properly

You can learn to store food properly and keep items fresh for longer by searching online for best practices.

For instance, it’s important to put ethylene-releasing produce such as apples, tomatoes and grapes in the low-humidity drawer of the fridge. Ethylene is a plant hormone that ripens fruit, so a low-humidity environment will slow the ripening process and extend the lifespans of your fruit and vegetables.

Keeping meat and seafood on the bottom shelf will avoid contamination of other foods from dripping and keep all of your meat products in one place.

You should also avoid putting dairy products in the door of your fridge, since it’s the warmest area and will lead to quicker spoilage.

Be smart about the meals you cook

Another great way to avoid food waste is to use perishable items like fresh meat and produce at the beginning of the week. That way, you use the fruits, vegetables, and meat products up first and there’s no risk of forgetting they’re in your fridge. Keep meals like pasta dishes for later in the week, when your fresh ingredients are starting to dwindle.

When eating, take smaller portions and go back for seconds (or thirds) as needed. The leftovers can be stored in reusable containers and kept for three to four days in the fridge or a few months in the freezer, depending on the meal. However, it’s always a good idea to date the containers or note when you packed the meals, so the food doesn’t go bad.

If you’re out for dinner and can’t bear the thought of taking another bite, bring home leftovers to eat later in the week (extra points for bringing your own reusable container).

Master the art of repurposing leftovers

You can use wilted greens in smoothies or pesto, stale bread in croutons or French toast, and cooked meat or tofu in soups or tacos. The possibilities are endless!

Get creative by trying new recipes based on what you already have. A personal favourite is pesto made from wilted kale stems and leaves, sprouted garlic from my mother’s garden, peanut butter from the bottom of the jar, some olive oil, a shredded Parmesan rind, and assorted fresh herbs.

Be on the lookout for online and community resources

Apps like the Canadian-based Flashfood also help to prevent food waste by allowing customers to buy groceries nearing their best-before date at a reduced price. This stops items from ending up in the trash while allowing those on tight budgets to enjoy some sweet deals.

In the instance that you’re leaving for a trip or realize you have too much food to get through, consider donating to local food banks (specifically ones that take fresh produce donations). In Kingston, you can donate to local food banks like Partners in Mission Food Bank or the AMS food bank. This will reduce food waste and benefit people dealing with food insecurity.

If all else fails, compost

Finally, if your food happens to go bad, don’t throw it in the garbage. Dispose of your leftover food in a green bin or backyard composter.

The anaerobic breakdown of the food will reduce the release of greenhouse gases, and a nutrient-rich compost will be produced.

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There are many ways to prevent food waste at home, and many reasons—environmental, economic, or otherwise—to do so. With that knowledge, it’s your turn to take a look at your fridge and pantry and make a difference.

 

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