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This Fun Tool Wants To Help You Save Food (And Major Money)

Emma Loewe
April 1, 2019
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Image by @crystalmariesing / Twenty20
April 1, 2019

The U.N. warned us: We have 12 years before the damage we've done to the Earth becomes irreversible. Instead of letting reports like this paralyze us, let's use them to empower us. The experts are saying it's going to take a mix of large-scale change AND individual action to save our planet—and we want to help you do what you can. Consider our new series your no-excuses guide to cleaning up your act, one step at a time. Today, we're sharing a fun-to-use resource that helps you waste way less food in the kitchen.

As someone who has nightmares about the amount of food we throw out in this country (40 percent of it!), I'm trying to make my own kitchen as low-waste as possible.

And honestly, it's been easy, and—dare I say?—fun, to find new ways to prepare some of the ingredients I'd otherwise not eat. Now, I am the proud keeper of the knowledge that broccoli stems taste amazing sautéed with nutritional yeast, and carrot stems, onion skins, and corncobs make the best veggie stock around.

Despite these little feats of culinary creativity, my trash pile still exists. Some ingredients are just harder to use up than others, and that's why I was delighted to find a newly renovated resource by the Natural Resources Defense Council that explains how to use up basically anything you could ever find in a fridge.

The problem: We're wasting food and money when we meal-prep.

In addition to being a waste of natural resources and a strain on an already-overtaxed agriculture industry, throwing away food is basically the same as throwing away dollar bills. The NRDC estimates that a four-person family could be losing upward of $1,500 a year on wasted food (!). To get this number down, the environmental nonprofit studied up on what people are typically throwing away and, in collaboration with the Ad Council, launched the Save the Food campaign in 2016.

In tandem with physical advertisements that villainize food waste in cities nationwide, the online campaign seeks to help people through some of the pain points that come up when they're trying to use up the last of their food. In March, it expanded to welcome a whole section on sustainable meal prepping.

"Meal prepping has become a really popular way for busy people to eat healthy all week long—unfortunately it often leads to unintentional waste because of over-shopping, over-preparing, and just plain boredom by the end of the week," Andrea Spacht, sustainable food systems specialist at the NRDC, says of the tool's latest addition.

"We have a number of experienced meal preppers on the team, so we leaned on them to identify the pitfalls they personally face," she goes on to say. "Then, our in-house food waste experts looked at how we could help home cooks avoid them."

The result is a treasure trove of tips and tricks to help any home cook choose, store, and prep their food with the planet in mind.

The "one small thing" solution: Use a meal-prep buddy, like the NRDC's Save the Food Guide.

After scrolling through the Save the Food Guide online for a few minutes, I was hooked. Not only is it incredibly comprehensive, but it presents lots of useful advice and information I'd never heard before (and as someone who reads and writes about sustainability for a living, that's saying something!).

Its recipe index goes beyond pesto made from broccoli stems and includes insanely creative dishes like apple cider doughnuts made from leftover mashed potatoes and a tandoori marinade that uses Greek yogurt on the verge of expiring.

Dig around the interactive meal-prep planner and you can get specific suggestions on how much to buy at the store to avoid wasting any ingredients, whether you're shopping for one or a big dinner party. Bright pop-ups guide you along the journey, filled with motivational stats to keep you on your food waste reduction quest. Like, did you know that throwing out a pound of bananas is equivalent to running the shower for 42 minutes?

My favorite part is the tool's storage portal, filled with little tricks for keeping food fresh for longer. Now I know you can revive hardened brown sugar using a slice of bread, make nut butter last twice as long by storing it in the fridge, and ripen any avocado by sprinkling the inside with lemon or lime juice.

If you're going to take one eco action this week, I highly recommend bookmarking the tool so you can pull it up the next time you're cooking, or downloading it for your Amazon Alexa so you can access its information hands-free. And let NRDC know what you think when you do!

"We designed the tool to be evergreen and versatile for users who choose to follow their own recipes, as well as stocked with a solid set of recipes for those looking for inspiration. As we get feedback from users, we'll be taking that into account to evaluate what's next for the Meal Prep Mate," Spacht explains.

Together, let's push forward toward a day when our fridges and bellies are full—and our trash cans empty.

Emma Loewe author page.
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.