UNL for Families: Reducing Food Waste

By Debbie Kuenning, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Educator 

Reducing food waste can help individuals save approximately $370 per year. The average American family of four may be able to save close to $1,500 annually by preventing food waste. The USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency have a goal to cut our nation’s food waste by 50% by the year 2030. Food waste can occur along any part of the food chain. Consumers contribute to food waste through preparing more food than needed and throwing away the extra.

Here are 14 tips to help keep food safe, edible, and out of the trash can:

  1. Shop the refrigerator before going to the store. Make sure to use the food at home before buying more. Allow one night a week to be a ‘Clean Up Meal’, using any leftovers you have before they become waste.
  2. Move older food products to the front. Keeping the older items in plain sight helps ensure they are used before they go bad.
  3. Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to maintain food safety and integrity. Frozen foods can last indefinitely, if kept below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, although the quality of the food will decrease over time.
  4. Freeze, can or dry surplus fresh produce using safe, up-to-date food preservation methods. Not sure what the current methods are? Ask your local UNL Extension Office.
  5. Take restaurant leftovers home and refrigerate within two hours of being served. Eat or freeze within 3-4 days. 
  6. Dish up reasonable amounts of food at buffets. Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach.  Start with smaller portions and go back for more if you are still hungry.
  7. Compost food scraps for use in the garden. Ask for the “Garden Compost” NebGuide from your local UNL Extension Office to learn more about composting.
  8. Check product date labels on foods. Confusion over date labeling accounts for over 20 percent of food waste.
  9. Buy misshapen fruits or vegetables at Farmer’s Markets. Fruits and vegetables that have a less desirable shape are often the first to be thrown away.
  10. Rather than buying an ingredient for one recipe, check to see if a substitute is available from items you already have.
  11. Look in your garbage can! What items are you often tossing out? Do you need to eat them sooner or buy less of them?
  12. Donate safe, nutritious food to food banks, food pantries and food rescue programs.
  13. Make a casserole or soup from what you have on hand. If you have several foods nearing their end at the same time, think of how you can combine them into a creative casserole or soup.
  14. Look for recipes on websites that can be searched for by ingredient to use up what you have at home.

Managing food waste can make a difference in your refrigerator and trash can, as well as impact food security and the environment. Take time to look at your food choices today! 


Preventing Food Waste, food.unl.edu             

Food Waste FAQs, United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 

Why should we care about food waste?, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)