You weren't going to throw away that, food were you? Food waste has become a major problem in the United States, the land of dieters, picky eaters and enthusiastic cooks.
An astonishing 40 percent of food is wasted, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 50 percent increase since the 1970s.
This smoothie is packed with antioxidant-rich berries and is an excellent source of protein to start your day.
Empty one bag frozen mixed berries or leftover fruit salad into a blender or food processor.
Add 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (or flavored if preferred). Blend to desired smoothness.
If the smoothie is too tart, try adding a teaspoon or two of Stevia all- natural sugar-free sweetener.
Pour into goblet and add a handful of nuts or granola and a few more berries if desired. Makes 3 servings.
To use stale bread, dice up four slices of your favorite sandwich bread (try with 100 percent whole-grain bread) and arrange on foil-wrapped cookie sheet.
Spray lightly with olive or canola oil cooking spray. Sprinkle with your favorite seasonings (garlic, salt, pepper, or try Ranch seasoning packet) making sure to cover both sides of bread pieces.
Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 12 minutes. Use for salads, soups, breadcrumbs or as your own homemade stuffing.
— Recipes from dietitian Theresa Link
Why is this a problem? It's more than the guilt you feel over wasting food when some people go to bed hungry. There are economic and environmental issues, too.
In a 2004 study, University of Arizona anthropologist Timothy W. Jones estimated that a family of four tossed out almost $600 a year in meat, fruits, vegetables and grain products. Nationwide, according to Jones, the total food household waste equated to $43 billion.
Wasting food is also wasting the resources needed to grow it. Jones said that cutting food waste in half could reduce adverse environmental impact by 25 percent with less landfill use, as well as less fertilizer and pesticide application and soil depletion.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that food makes up the largest percentage of waste in landfills — greater than plastic and paper products.
Fourteen percent of greenhouse gases in the United States are associated with growing, manufacturing, transporting and disposing of food, according to the EPA.
“I think we've turned into a country eating convenience foods,” Omaha-area dietitian Theresa Link said. “So learning how to keep foods fresh and use them creatively has become a lost art. When we try, what happens is we end up wasting a lot of food.”
Link has suggestions on how to avoid wasting food:
» Make a list before you leave the house. Are you really out of eggs or milk? Also plan meals for the week so you buy just what is needed.
» Don't go to the store on an empty stomach. You might buy foods you don't need. And after a guilt-ridden binge, you probably throw the remainder away.
» Chances are that leftovers from a restaurant sit in the refrigerator forgotten until spoiled. Link suggests sharing an entrée to avoid wasting food.
» Use air-tight containers for leftovers and fresh produce.
» As soon as you return from the store, cut up, wash and store food in air-tight containers in the refrigerator. “If the food is ready to eat and visible, you are more likely to eat it sooner,” Link said.
» Go to the grocery store at least weekly. Going less often could lead to overstocking and waste.
» Buying in bulk or with coupons might seem a good cost-saving idea. But you won't save money if food spoils after you buy more than you need or items you don't want.
» “An acronym used in large-scale food manufacturers is FIFO — 'first in, first out.' When you buy new products, scoot older items to the front of the refrigerator,” Link said.
Know the codes
“Sell By Date” indicates how long grocery stores can display a product. That's not the date that you, the consumer, are interested in.
“Use By Date“ or “Expiration Date” tells how long the supplier expects the food item to remain fresh. The product might not spoil, but the quality might lessen. Either consume the product or freeze it by the date on the package.
Important information on how long you can safely store food is available on the Food and Drug Administration website www.fda.org. Search for “Refrigerator & Freezer Storage Chart.”
Share with others
If that coupon for canned tuna was so tempting that you overbought, don't throw the food out. Donate it. Here are some agencies looking for donated food. It is important to call first or check online for donation needs and rules.
» Salem Church Pantry, 402-505-9973, firstname.lastname@example.org
» Project Hope Food Pantry, 402-453-7649, projecthopeomaha.org
» Food Bank for the Heartland, 402-331-1213, omahafoodbank.org
» The Salvation Army, 402-898-5860, givesalvationarmy.org
» Together Inc., 402-345-8047, togetheromaha.org
» Heartland Hope Mission, 402-733-2077, heartlandhopemission.org
» Open Door Mission, 402-422-1111, opendoormission.org
» Juan Diego Center, 402-731-5413, ccomaha.org
Judge your food
Most fresh fruits and vegetables last up to five days in the refrigerator (tomatoes last two days) and 10 months in the freezer. Raw meat lasts about two days maximum in the refrigerator. Write the date you bring the meat home on the package's outside using a permanent marker.
Apply pressure to fruits to judge ripeness. The product should not be so soft that it can be easily penetrated. Look for discoloration, pitting or oddly shaped areas.
Sometimes you don't know a product is spoiled until you slice it open. Try the smell test. If your response is “eww,” toss it out.
Dairy products go bad most often. You can freeze cottage cheese and sour cream. It's OK to trim a bad spot off hard cheese (like cheddar) and still use the cheese. Cut about ½ inch from the spot.
Drop a raw egg into a glass of water. If it sinks to the bottom, throw it out. It's OK if it floats on top.
Link shares ideas for new uses for food products before they spoil:
» Use vegetables in casseroles and soups. Layer them into lasagna. Combine leftover chicken, turkey or beef with noodles or rice and add vegetables.
» Add vegetables to a cream soup or use as a base for soups, sauces and stocks. Make fried rice from leftover rice.
» Overripe fruit makes great ice cream toppings.
» Mix plain yogurt with fruit and whipped topping.
» Mix a banana smoothie if the bananas still smell OK. It's fine to cut off the bruised areas.
» Pound stale (not moldy) bread into crumbs to use for coating or meatloaf.
Easy Chicken and Vegetable Casserole
Try with whole-wheat noodles for a healthier version of this quick and easy chicken casserole. Yield: 3 to 4 servings (Preparation time: 25-30 minutes. Cooking time: 30-35 minutes)
2½ cups of egg noodles or whole-wheat noodles (cook according to package instructions)
1½ cups water
½ cup diced carrots
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup diced onion
2 cups chopped broccoli (fresh or frozen)
1¼ cups milk
1/3 cup flour (or whole-wheat flour)
1 cup leftover cooked chicken (cubed or shredded)
salt and pepper, to taste
4 ounces (1 cup) shredded cheddar cheese
1. In saucepan, heat water to boiling. Add carrots, garlic, onion and broccoli. Return to a boil and cook until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
2. Whisk together milk and flour to remove lumps. Add to boiled vegetables and return to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Add cooked chicken and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Grease a 1- or 1.5-quart casserole dish. Spread cooked noodles in the bottom and top with the chicken mixture. Sprinkle shredded cheese over chicken mixture and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until bubbly and slightly browned.