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Cut your food waste with a few helpful tips

Too often perfectly safe food is being thrown away, as much as 90 billion pounds a year

Did you eat the potatoes I gave you?” I asked my son. He has been living in an apartment for a couple of months now.

I had given him some large baking potatoes. I thought they would be the basis of an easy meal. Just scrub, poke a few holes and bake. I bought him a can of chili so he could warm it and add some shredded cheese.

I was a mom with good intentions.

He hesitated, then responded, “No, I didn’t. I guess I forgot about them. They had sprouts growing on them.”

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“You could remove the sprouts. Were the potatoes soft?” I probed.

I knew where this conversation was going.

“Yeah, they were really soft and had liquid coming out of them, too. I threw them,” he admitted.

I probably wrinkled my nose at the thought of potatoes reaching that state. We have had a couple of post-vacation discoveries of rotten potatoes in the cupboard. We just followed our noses.

When you are a college guy, time is limited and cooking usually is not your No. 1 priority. Waiting an hour for a potato to bake may seem like a waste of time when you could be hanging out with friends somewhere else. I guess I forgot to mention he could cook a potato in a microwave oven.

I must have had a concerned look on my face because my son decided to assure me he was eating something.

“I am eating lots of scrambled eggs,” he said.

“They’re cheap and easy to make. I bought some frozen hash browns, too,” he added.

OK, we established he wasn’t becoming malnourished. I guess he takes after me in that he likes breakfast foods any time of the day.

I wasn’t going to push for further food discussion that day, but I was glad he was eating eggs. They are a good source of protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals.

Eggs last a long time in your refrigerator, too. Eggs actually are fine to use five weeks beyond the sell-by date on the carton, as long as you keep them refrigerated at 40 F (4.5 C). They lose some quality and the yolks become runnier.

Unfortunately, sometimes food goes bad, and it is not desirable or safe to eat. However, sometimes food is thrown even though it is perfectly fine to eat.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, 90 billion pounds of still-edible food goes uneaten every year. On average, this food waste costs $370 per year per person.

Consider these food storage tips to avoid throwing money in the trash:

  • Plan meals a week at a time. Buy enough fresh foods for the week.
  • Check out your refrigerator, freezer and cupboards to see what you can make from the food you have on hand.
  • Make a grocery list, and buy only the amount you need for those meals, even, for example, if 20 pounds of potatoes carry a similar price tag as 10 pounds of potatoes.
  • Know what the product dates mean. Many foods are tossed because of confusion over food product date labelling. Canadian readers can find a good synopsis online on the CFIA website.
  • Preserve the excess. If you purchased too many apples, cobs of fresh corn, meat or loaves of bread, you can freeze them. Check out the free resources for preserving a wide range of foods. See Food and Nutrition on the NDSU website and click on “food preservation” to find more information, including a food freezing guide.
  • Use it or lose it. Sometimes food that seems a bit beyond its prime is OK to use in soups or smoothies. Wilted celery and dried-out-looking carrots make good soup stock. Ripe bananas make the best banana bread.
  • Repurpose your leftovers. Use leftovers as the basis of another meal. Leftover roasted chicken can become the basis of chicken soup. Save money by having your leftovers for lunch. The next time I buy my son some food, I will add a carton of eggs to the grocery cart. He might like this very quick and easy menu item on the go. You can personalize it with your favourite spices.

This recipe is quick and easy to make, and you can personalize it with your favourite spices.

This recipe is quick and easy to make, and you can personalize it with your favourite spices.
photo: NDSU

On-the-Go Mug Scrambled Egg

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp. milk or water
  • 2 tbsp. bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tbsp. cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Salt, pepper (to taste)

Spray a 12-ounce microwave-safe coffee mug with non-stick spray. Add egg and milk and lightly beat with a fork. Mix in pepper and cheese. Microwave on high for 50 seconds or until firm.

Makes one serving. Without added salt, each serving has 110 calories, 7 grams (g) fat, 9 g protein, 2 g carbohydrate, 0 g fibre and 120 milligrams sodium.

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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