The garden may be overflowing with fresh vegetables, but meal prep often leaves us with unwanted leftovers. COURTESY PHOTO

The garden may be overflowing with fresh vegetables, but meal prep often leaves us with unwanted leftovers. COURTESY PHOTO

Zucchini anyone? Plan now to turn garden overflow into healthy, economical meals – and reduce waste

  • Thursday, September 19, 2019 11:11pm
  • Life

Is your garden brimming with cucumbers, zucchini and kale? For Auburn residents gifted with green thumbs, late summer means baskets and refrigerators bursting with bounty from the garden. It can also mean wasted food if garden overflow catches you without a plan for using all those fresh fruits and veggies.

The reality is, wasted food is a serious problem all times of the year. Americans waste too much food. The average U.S. household tosses out 25 percent of the food we buy. That’s like walking out of the store with four bags of groceries, dropping one in the parking lot, and not bothering to pick it up.

When you consider the energy, water, land and fuel that go into producing and transporting food that gets wasted the impact is huge. Looking at greenhouse gases alone, the amount of food that Americans waste every year generates emissions equivalent to 39 million cars.

Luckily, a little extra planning can make a big difference in reducing waste when the garden is overflowing and year-round when meal prep leaves us with leftovers.

When the challenge is a bountiful harvest, sharing is a wonderful option. Neighbors often love a ripe, homegrown tomato or head of garden lettuce, and some neighborhoods enjoy “garden swaps” throughout the late summer and early fall. Additionally, many churches and community centers encourage community sharing by setting out “help yourself” boxes.

Year-round, reducing food waste begins as we make our food plans and grocery lists. Before you shop, check your fridge, freezer and cupboards so you can plan meals with items you already have. At the store, use a list – and restrain – to avoid buying more than you need. Got leftovers? Freeze the extras or give them to friends and family. Just think of the money you’ll save! A family of four can save $1,500 per year by reducing food waste.

Another common cause of wasted food is throwing it out before it’s gone bad. Labels such as “use by,” “sell by,” and “best by” are misleading and result in 90 percent of people throwing away food too soon. Except for infant formula, manufacturers use date labels to indicate peak quality, not food safety. Instead of tossing food out based on date, trust your senses. Does it look good? Does it smell good? If so, it’s likely still delicious.

For all the odds and ends that didn’t make it into a meal, get creative. Toss overripe fruit into a smoothie or wilted veggies into a soup. Stale bread is great for breadcrumbs or croutons. Check out Waste Management’s food storage and waste reduction guide for more tips.

Any food scraps that can’t be eaten should go in the food and yard waste cart, or in your compost pile. Composting food scraps allows them to naturally cycle back to the earth as nutrient-rich soil and helps conserve natural resources.

Why is reducing food waste important? The answer is simple: Because it’s good for the planet, good for the household budget, and good for your taste buds.

Hannah Scholes is Waste Management’s recycling education and outreach manager. To see what’s recyclable in Auburn go to wmnorthwest.com/auburn.

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