Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS Family & Community Health Sciences Educator Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
Planning ahead by developing a weekly grocery list helps to limit impulse buying. Make sure you keep a list of the foods and staple items you run out of so that it is easy to write your grocery list. Buying less but more often allows you to make sure your food is fresh. Make sure you take into consideration nights you will eat out or will not be cooking.
Here are some additional tips to keep your kitchen safe and organized:
- Donate any excess food items to a food bank or soup kitchen BEFORE the food goes bad. Having a refrigerator or storage area filled with foods purchased years ago takes up space for more recent items. Old food often has changed color, texture and quality even if it is not a food hazard.
- Store foods properly on a shelf, refrigerator or freezer. Make sure to separate fruit and vegetables in your refrigerator. Potatoes and onions need to be stored in a cool, dry place, not the refrigerator. Bananas ripen on the counter and most ripened fruit needs to be refrigerated. Other fruit like berries, might be frozen. Green leafy vegetables need to be refrigerated and salad greens should be washed right before they are going to be prepared, and then refrigerate until serving time.
- Eat the whole vegetable. Try using the green tops of carrots in soup or salads. Orange and grapefruit peels can be candied and used for flavoring desserts. Potato skins can be baked for appetizers. Turkey, chicken and meat bones can be used to make soup bases and stale bread can be used to make croutons for salads or breadcrumbs for coating meat, fish or poultry.
- Keep inventory lists of pantry, refrigerator and freezers. Put new items that are labeled and dated toward the back of the shelf and move everything else up. Use up the oldest food first and don't replace food items until you have used what is on hand. Replenish perishable foods as you use them.
- Read food labels and notice expiration dates. “Sell by”, “Use by”, “Enjoy by” and “Best Before by” dates generally indicate food quality, not safety of the product. These labels are not well regulated and do not guarantee food safety. Advocates and environmentalists have been warning for years that many people interpret date labels as a sign that food is no longer good to eat. As a result, one industry survey as reported by the Los Angeles Times found 91% of consumers have mistakenly thrown away past-date food, even though the label only signals the manufacturer's “guesstimate” at its peak quality.
- Waste diaries keep your kitchen organized. Use your phone to track wasted food for two weeks or more. Create a “waste food hard copy” if that works better for you. Plan your shopping lists using this list as a guide and adjust your purchases accordingly.
- Cook reasonable sized food portions for your family. Keep a careful eye on how much you are cooking and how much the family is eating. Plate waste is a huge issue at home and when eating out. Split large portions at a restaurant and take half home for another meal.
Take small steps to organize your kitchen and food purchases. It will help to prevent food waste and keep the environment healthy and you eating fresh food that tastes good and maintains good quality.