Grocery shopping is expensive, and when you consider about 25 percent of the food Americans buy is discarded rather than eaten, it seems even more expensive! Throwing out food because it's past its prime is not only a waste of a quarter of your food budget, it's also a hazard to the environment. According to the EPA, 33 million tons of food wind up in landfills annually. Therefore food waste is the largest ingredient in municipal landfills. All this rotting waste creates methane gas, which is 21 times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide.

What can you do to help stop such environmental and economic waste? Read on for some tried-and-true tips anyone can use to reduce the amount of food they throw out.

  • Scan your refrigerator shelves before you head to the grocery store. You may have it in your head to automatically buy a gallon of milk every week, but checking to make sure the previous gallon is almost empty first can reduce waste.
  • Make a list of meals for the week and only buy fresh food for those recipes. If you buy more than you'll eat, it will go bad before you can use it.
  • Keep older foods front and center in your refrigerator. This way you'll see them every time you open the door, reminding you to eat them.
  • Freeze surplus food. This works for fruits, vegetables, bread, meat, sauces, desserts - you name it! Strawberries looking old? Freeze them to add to smoothies later. Bread about to go stale? Freeze the loaf and toast it later. Made a huge batch of soup? Put it in small containers, freeze them then take out only one container at a time.
  • Instill leftovers night. Let family members pick and choose which one-serving leftovers they'd like to have for dinner. Or have big salads for dinner to finish off the last of lettuce, as well as leftover vegetables and meats.
  • Dinner for breakfast? Leftover pizza for breakfast is a time-honored tradition, but many other dinner foods can be consumed at breakfast as well, giving you another opportunity to consume leftovers.
  • Fruits or vegetables that don't look their best can still be eaten. Turn brown bananas into banana bread. Roast peppers that are starting to wrinkle. Smash soft tomatoes into marinara sauce.
  • Store food properly. Bananas, tomatoes, citrus and potatoes need to stay on the counter rather than put in the refrigerator. Be sure to store other fruits and vegetables separately in the refrigerator because the ethylene produced by fruits such as apples and pears can age vegetables prematurely. Meat and fish should be kept on the fridge's bottom shelf, which is the coldest, and dairy should be stored on the top shelf where the temperature is most constant.
  • Cover foods properly. Leftovers last longer in the refrigerator if you keep them in an airtight reusable container or cover them in plastic wrap.
  • Compost your food scraps. Turn this food waste into something useful by tossing all your scraps and unusable leftovers into a compost pile. Add the fertilizer to your gardens and flowers.
  • If your garden is overflowing and you can't eat all those zucchini, consider sharing your bounty with friends, neighbors or a shelter so the produce doesn't go to waste. Alternatively, you can always learn how to can or pickle your home-grown produce!

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