Shop Smart, Eat Right, Save the Planet

Mary Margaret Thomas, Arivale Coach, Registered Nurse
Mary Margaret Thomas
Arivale Coach, Registered Nurse

Parents always say to clean your plate because there are starving children in the world. But there are also important economic and ecological reasons to reduce the amount of food we waste.

In the US, a full 40 percent of the food produced never gets eaten, amounting to over $265 billion worth of food being tossed every year. That’s about $2,000 of wasted food for a family of four.1 Think of all the things you could do with an extra $2,000! Keeping food waste out of landfills can also help the environment by fighting climate change. It’s estimated that 6 to 10 percent of human-generated greenhouse gases2 and 18 percent of methane emissions3 are due to food waste. Here’s how you can make changes to your diet to keep both the planet and your pocketbook happy.

Shop smart

Make a plan before heading to the grocery store and stick to it when you’re there. Calendars are your friend when it comes to figuring out how many meals–dinners at home, lunch for work, breakfasts before school–you’ll be responsible for every week. And don’t forget to factor in meal-disruptors like soccer practices and travel.

When making a grocery list–and you should definitely be making a grocery list and bringing it with you to the store–don’t forget about leftovers. Check the fridge and pantry for leftover meals and ingredients that can be reused and plan to make a meal out of future leftovers.

A few words on produce: Buying frozen fruits and veggies can reduce food waste by lasting longer than fresh produce and allowing for flexible portion sizes. And ugly–but still very yummy–fruits and veggies often get left behind while their better-looking counterparts are bought; buying ugly produce at the store can save it from a landfill.

Fight food waste at home

The battle against food waste is just beginning when you get home with the groceries, and it starts with good storage. Make sure you’re storing food properly to keep your produce from going bad before you get to eat it (here is a great place to learn how to do that). Buying plenty of containers will also make it easier to pack lunches for work and keep leftovers. Speaking of leftovers, fresh herbs can go a long way toward brightening up last night’s spaghetti, and adding a can of beans can stretch leftovers into a full dinner.

As the week progresses, pay close attention to the garbage can (or compost bin). What food is getting tossed most often? That probably means it’s time to buy less of it or use more of it in the future.

Unfortunately, you know what they say about best-laid plans. No matter how much planning you do, chances are leftovers will get forgotten in the back of the fridge or that banana will turn to mush before you get to eat it. That’s where composting comes in. Many cities and towns have composting programs to keep food out of landfills. If not, you can start your own compost pile at home (find out how here).

Dine out without wasting dinner

Don’t let your eyes get bigger than your stomach. Current research is looking at how eating more food than what our bodies need to function could be another form of food waste.4 Order only what you think you’ll be able to eat, and have servers hold off on refilling bread baskets and chip bowls. Restaurant meals are already pretty big, so share a dish with your dining partner or bring the leftovers home and eat them for lunch or dinner the next day.

Get involved

Feeling passionate about reducing food waste and confident in your ability to do so in your own life? Here are some next steps:

  • Remember those little-loved ugly fruits and veggies from earlier? There are a number of programs to make sure they get used, including this one that will deliver less-than-beautiful produce directly to your home.
  • You can also join a Food Policy Council, which address food waste by bringing together people from all parts of the food lifecycle, including shoppers like you.
  • Finally, have your workplace sign up for the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge, which helps companies set and meet food-management goals.

Further reading


  1. D. Gunders. Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. (2012). National Resources Defense Council Issue Paper. August 2012 iP:12-06-B
  2. Food Loss and Food Waste. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
  3. America’s Food Waste Problem. Environmental Protection Agency. April 22, 2016.
  4. Alexander P, Brown C, Arneth A, Finnigan J, Moran D, Rounsevell M. (2017). Losses, inefficiencies and waste in the global food system. Agricultural Systems, 2017; 153: 190