By Nancy Schive, RD, LD at UnityPoint Health - Marshalltown
National Nutrition Month is a nutrition and education campaign created annually in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The goal of the campaign is to help people realize the importance of making healthy, informed food choices and develop sound eating and physical activity habits. This year’s theme is “Go Further with Food.” Its importance is quite timely for a number of reasons. Whether it’s starting the day right with a healthy breakfast or preparing foods to stretch further at home, the foods you choose can make a difference. As nutrition experts, registered dietitians can help you develop a healthier eating style, while reducing food loss and waste.
Consider some of these tips to help you manage food waste while still eating healthfully:
- Check what foods you already have on hand and plan your meals accordingly.
Be sure to look in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer for foods that may need to be used up.
Make a list of the items you still need based on your menu/meal plan.
Purchase only the amount of food that can be eaten or frozen within a few days – especially for perishable foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and meats/seafood.
- Use your creativity with leftovers.
Cut up leftover meats and vegetables to be used later. Some options for this include: using as a topping for cooked rice, pasta or other grains or adding to salads for added nutrient value; making a sandwich with leftovers in a tortilla or pita; preparing your own soup recipe with the added leftovers and freezing for later use; or my personal favorite, portion the leftovers in containers to take for your lunch the next day.
- Consider the shelf life of foods.
When you purchase foods at the store, note the date that indicates when the food item should be used or sold by. Generally these dates refer to the item’s quality and not necessarily the date it should be thrown away. “Use by”, “Best by” and “Best before” dates are usually found on foods that don’t need to be refrigerated until opened. Many times, these foods are usually safe to eat beyond the date as long as they have been stored properly. “Sell by” dates are usually shown on perishable products, such as dairy foods and meats. It is possible to use these foods a few days past the date, but only if they have been stored properly and at a safe temperature.
- Always practice food safety.
If in doubt, throw it out. There’s no need to risk eating or drinking anything you might be suspicious of. Leftovers should be eaten within 3-4 days or if you freeze them, within 3-4 months. For additional information on food safety, download the app “Is My Food Safe” or access the FoodKeeper App online. Be informed on which vegetables and fruits require storage in the refrigerator. Did you know that some produce will cause other vegetables and fruits to ripen more quickly? You may need to separate certain vegetables and fruits from each other. Some vegetables and fruits should be stored in a dark, dry and cool area. “How to Keep Produce Fresh Longer – Infographic” has more information on vegetable and fruit storage.
Though we may not be able to save/use all the food that is wasted, it has been shown that some food waste might be preventable. Make it your goal to see what you can do to reduce food waste in your own kitchen while continuing to eat healthfully starting this month.
Click here to find out more information about UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown’s Nutrition Services.