April 28, 2016

Food waste is an increasingly troubling concern across much of the globe. As the United Nations explained, up to 40 percent of food in the U.S. eventually goes to waste. That’s over 20 pounds of food for every person each month. While there are plenty steps that consumers can take to minimize food waste, oftentimes it all starts in the kitchen. Culinary graduates can create dishes in ways that reduce needless waste without affecting the food’s quality or presentation. Here are four helpful tips for minimizing waste in the kitchen:

1. Always plan ahead
Depending on the restaurant you work at, you might have to order ingredients on a weekly basis. But before you order the following week’s meats or vegetables, take the time to see if you’re simply buying too much food. Look at how much was wasted the week before; while some waste is inevitable, garbage bags full of food are indicative of a problem. The easiest way to address waste is to simply order fewer food items than you might before. Just be aware this might take some calibration, and it’ll take a couple weeks before you’ve got a better idea of just how much food you’ll actually need. It might help to chart how much food you end up tossing out at the end of every meal.

2. Rethink what’s waste
The old saying goes “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and that certainly applies to the restaurant business. As Zero Waste Chef pointed out, there is a huge variety of dishes you can cook with otherwise discarded food items. For instance, bones can be used to create broth for soups or stews. You can also fry up potato skins for a French fry alternative. You can use discarded crackers, tortillas and waffles as starters for sourdough bread. Citrus peels can be candied or used to create a tasty chai tea. Not everything has to go in the garbage, and thinking outside the box is a great way to reduce waste and try new cooking ideas or solutions.

3. Try composting
Even if you can’t use old carrot stems for a menu item, there is another solution: composting. As Food 52 explained, composting involves the natural breakdown of food into nutrient-rich fertilizer. The resulting soil, which is sometimes called black gold, can then be used to grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables. Composting is relatively easy, and you just need a space or a bin to begin your pile. Most compost heaps are made of of a few basic items, including diary products, citrus rinds, fats or lard and some ash. Some restaurants will even sell the compost they’ve created, which results in added cash for other expenditures. And all the time, you’re helping reduce methane gas emissions.

4. Know your expiration dates
Dana Gunders works for the Natural Resources Defense Council and in September 2015 wrote a book called “Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook.” Speaking with NPR, she said that chefs and average consumers alike need to pay attention to actual expiration dates. She explained that the date on food packages is a best guess, and that many foods can still be eaten for weeks or even months afterward. Eggs, for instance, are still good for up to five weeks after their “expiration.” There are also steps you can take to extend food’s life span. Cheese can be wrapped in wax, which lets it breathe more. If you soak wilted veggies in ice water, they’ll regain some of their color and crispness.

Even just a few simple steps can go a long way to minimizing food waste in the U.S. and ensuring there’s still plenty of great food to go around.