That’s why I was happy to learn that National Nutrition Month’s theme for the March observance is “Go Further with Food.”
This is a theme that resonates with Monongalia County Health Department’s Women, Infants, & Children’s (WIC) program. In addition to breastfeeding support, WIC offers nutritional counseling and aid to pregnant women and mothers with infants and children up to the age of 5.
Tips offered to keep food from going to waste is very helpful to this group but can—and should be—utilized by just about everyone. Plus, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2010, an estimated 130 billion pounds of food in supermarkets, restaurants and homes went to waste.
I know I get mad at myself when I find wilted lettuce or moldy cheese in the refrigerator. I will be working to adopt these guidelines into my food purchasing and prep habits so that I can do better when it comes to using everything I buy.
Not coincidentally, the first step has to do with the food that you buy. WIC nutritionists will be emphasizing not only meal planning, but also checking in the pantry before you go shopping to see what you already have on hand. When you are ready for the store, go armed with a shopping list and stick to it.
Then there is the quandary of how often you want to go shopping. Part of that will be determined by schedule and budget. I can make an argument for making fewer, larger shopping trips and more frequent, smaller shopping trips. Everyone must figure out what works best for them.
If you make fewer shopping trips, you could run out of fresh produce and other items with a short shelf life. If you go more frequently, you might find that you have an abundant supply of fresh food—as well as other purchases that you didn’t necessarily intend to make. That’s why Darla Retton, WIC’s nutrition education liaison for the Monongalia County Health Department, advises sticking to your shopping list.
This is something I struggle with as well, especially in the winter as the short, cold days make it more difficult to get to the store. I feel better when the pantry is stocked up. As spring approaches and I begin to clean and organize, I know that if my shelves aren’t as crowded, I have an easier time of seeing everything I have and using it before it goes bad.
Darla offers other tips to make food last as long as possible. For instance, you can put ripe bananas in the refrigerator to slow the rotting process. They will turn brown, but still be good. And remember, overripe bananas make great banana bread or muffins. Ripe fruit that might otherwise go to waste also can be put in the freezer to turn into smoothies later. When food does go bad, try to figure out why to help avoid it in the future.
Organizing a refrigerator properly is also key, Darla points out. For instance, if your fridge has high- and low-humidity drawers, know which items to put in which. Vegetables that wilt should be placed in the high-humidity drawer. Other items, such as apples, should be kept in the low-humidity drawer. Otherwise, they will release a gas that can cause other fruits and veggies to go bad more quickly.
And I can’t emphasize this enough. When Darla started talking about refrigerator organization, I thought she meant making sure you don’t hide the orange juice behind the gallon of milk so you can’t find it until way past its due date. I do think that’s an important point. An overstocked and disorganized fridge will make it difficult to find all your food in a timely manner. In addition to following Darla’s advice for food preservation, also try to keep specific food items in a location that makes sense to you so you can easily access everything.
Finally, when preparing food, be mindful of portion sizes. Use My Plate to learn what portion sizes are right for you and your family. That not only helps with food waste, but also weight control. When you do have leftovers, store them properly and make a plan for when you will eat them, such as the next day’s lunch, etc.
If we all chip in, hopefully we can make a huge dent in the 130 billion pounds of food wasted annually in this country.