Every March, in honor of National Nutrition Month, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics chooses a theme to encourage deeper thought about our eating and lifestyle choices. The theme for 2018 is Going Further with Food. This year’s message is unique and powerful because it encourages us to look at food from the perspective of not only physical health, but also environmental health. In addition to education on the benefits of eating a variety of foods for a well-balanced diet, the academy highlights the food waste epidemic and calls us all to be more educated consumers.
So, how can we take food further? By decreasing the amount of food we are wasting at the consumer level. Thirty-one percent of all edible food is wasted at the consumer level. Meaning that once food reaches our homes we toss
- 36,000,000 tons of food per year as a nation
- Roughly $1,500 worth of food per family per year
- An estimated 1,250 calories per day per person
If we, as a nation, could reduce our food waste by just 15 percent, then we could save enough food from being thrown away to feed 25 million hungry people. So, what are some ways we can accomplish this?
A major culprit of food waste is fresh produce. Most people find it tricky to use produce before it loses its freshness. This is mostly due to lack of knowledge about proper storage and over buying and preparing done by consumers. To prevent this, consider taking the following steps.
- Make shopping lists: By doing an inventory of what we already have available in our kitchens, we decrease the chance of buying duplicate ingredients. Buying only what we need is one way to ensure produce will be used or eaten before it spoils.
- Properly store food: Many food items such as fresh produce and meat products spoil much quicker when they are improperly stored.
Understanding food storage dates is another critical piece to preventing food waste. Many people will toss perfectly good food in the garbage because of misinterpreted storage labels. Food labels are not regulated by any organization and, therefore, are not required to be uniform or meet any standards. Most foods can be used for days or weeks past their posted freshness date.
- Best if Used By/Before: This tells consumers when a product should be used by or before to ensure the best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
- Sell-By: This tells the store when to remove a product from the shelves for inventory purposes. It is not a safety date.
- Use-By: This tells consumers the last date to use a product to ensure peak freshness and quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle
There are many ways that consumers can be involved with reducing food waste. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also wants to encourage people to make small efforts in improving their food waste footprint.
- Get creative with leftovers: Repurpose leftover foods into new meals. Incorporate leftover meats and veggies into salads or sandwiches.
- Be mindful of portion sizes: Cooking or ordering only the amount that you will eat will decrease the amount of leftovers we accumulate. Leftovers are often forgot about and spoil quickly. Be sure to eat leftovers in three to four days when refrigerated.
- Donate extra to food pantries: Food pantries are excellent resources for relocating safe food to families or individuals who can benefit from them.
- Consider composting: Composting creates a benefit from food that is wasted. Through composting we are able to use the nutrients and energy from unusable food by recycling them.
Questions about nutrition?
Health Promotion and Wellness offers free, individual diet analysis and nutrition guidance for those striving to improve their lifestyle. Faculty, staff, and students can meet one-on-one with the Health Promotion and Wellness nutritionist in a confidential setting at no cost.
Participants need to complete a three-day food diary and a health questionnaire available online prior to their nutrition consult. Forms may be returned via email, by campus mail to 2120, by fax to (309) 438-5003, or by hand delivery to the main Health Promotion and Wellness office in 187 McCormick Hall.
Health Promotion and Wellness also provides presentations for campus groups and organizations. Please call our office at (309) 438-WELL (9355) to request this service.