Canadian households throw out about $14.6-billion of food annually, according to a 2014 report by consulting firm Value Chain Management International. Through regular inventory, meal planning, strategic shopping, proper storage and creative cooking, it's possible to put much more of this food on our tables instead of in the green bin.
Before heading to the grocery store, it's important to take stock of your fridge, freezer and pantry.
Make a standard list of basic staples, leaving blank spaces for less common items. As you take inventory, bring the older food to the front of the fridge or cupboard, and store it in clear bags or containers, if possible. This way, you know what needs to get used first.
When managing your supplies, don't confuse best-before dates with expiry dates. "You might throw things out at the best-before date, but you are wasting perfectly good food," says Lindsay Coulter of the David Suzuki Foundation. "A best-before date only reflects when the product is going to have its peak flavour, texture and nutrient value."
Do this now: The day before you intend to shop is the best time for inventory. Plan an impromptu dinner around food that needs to be used up, then head to the grocery store with a cleaner slate.
This is one of the most effective ways to minimize food waste. When you know what you're going to cook, you can buy exactly – and only – what you need.
It's essential to sketch out a weekly menu based on perishability. For the first few days, plan on dishes with fresh fish, chicken and delicate vegetables such as asparagus. Midweek, use beef, pork, root vegetables and kale. At the end of the week, use frozen, canned and dried goods.
Do this now: When you buy cilantro, which is often sold in huge bunches, make a green sauce such as Spanish mojo (cilantro, garlic, cumin, olive oil and sherry vinegar), which will last for a week in the fridge and months in the freezer. Not only do you reduce waste, you've got a delicious condiment for baked fish or roasted vegetables.
In an ideal world, we'd shop for food daily to use it at peak freshness. The reality is that most people still need to do a big weekly grocery run.
So pay attention while perusing the aisles. Freshness is vital – mindlessly tossing weekly staples into the cart means ending up with sweaty salad greens, greying tilapia and about-to-sour milk.
If you have time and access, shopping at farmers markets generally helps reduce food waste, as just-picked produce has a longer shelf life than stuff from the supermarket.
Do this now: Stop getting needlessly supersized. Just because a giant container of baby spinach is on sale doesn't mean it's necessarily a smart buy. If you end up throwing half of it out, the price effectively doubles.
Knowing the tricks to storing food can extend its life from days to months.
Seafood, which is extremely perishable, should ideally be cooked on the day it's purchased. If you need a day or two, refrigerate it on a freezer bag full of ice. Whole grain flours, which quickly go rancid at room temperature, will last much longer in the fridge or freezer, as will similarly sensitive nuts. As for poultry and meat, a marinade will help extend its life, as salt, oil and acid act as preservatives.
A small chest freezer is a smart investment, especially if you have kids. Think of it as a treasure trove of leftovers. It also keeps you from overcrowding the other freezer, which makes it difficult to do a proper inventory.
Do this now: Using a strong marker and masking tape, label leftovers with a brief description and the date it was made. Make sure the label can be seen every time you open the fridge, freezer or pantry.
Despite these measures, there will inevitably be things in your refrigerator or pantry that need rescuing. It's time to get creative.
Limp herbs, lettuce, celery and other watery vegetables can often be revived in a bowl of ice water. Stale crackers can be resuscitated on a tray in the oven. Soup is the most dependable clear-out-the-fridge dish. Adding broth, tomatoes and canned beans turns the vegetable morgue in your crisper into a vibrant minestrone.
The stockpot is a final refuge for herb stalks, vegetable trimmings, bacon rinds, shrimp shells and chicken carcasses. You've got homemade broth and one less thing to buy at the supermarket.
Do this now: Freeze your Parmesan rinds. You can add them, wrapped and tied in cheesecloth, to a simmering pot of soup that calls for the cheese. This old trick will add a deep baseline of flavour to the dish.