Monday, March 12, 2018

By Kerry Farrell, Univeristy of Oklahoma Dietetic Intern

March is National Nutrition Month, a time to focus on healthy eating and nutrition. This month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages each of us to “Go Further with Food.”  Food is fuel, and the right fuel will keep you going strong. Get the most mileage from your food by choosing healthy options and taking steps to reduce food waste.  

Eat a variety of healthy foods from all food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Aim to make half your plate fruits and vegetables each meal.  Pay attention to portion sizes and eat the right amount for you.    

Reduce food waste.  Did you know the United States wastes billions of pounds of food each year?  The USDA estimates consumers could save up to $371 per year by simply reducing food loss and waste. Here are some tips for getting the most from your food and avoiding waste:

  • Plan ahead and shop smart. Check your kitchen before you hit the store - plan healthy meals based on the foods you already have on hand.  At the store, buy only what you can use. 
  • Store food correctly.  Properly store items to maximize freshness – if it’s refrigerated at the store, it probably should be refrigerated at home.
  • Consider shelf life.  Try to eat produce items with the shortest shelf life first (think strawberries, herbs, cucumbers, mushrooms, and leafy greens), while saving those with a longer shelf life until later (apples, cabbage, carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes).  Not sure how long a food will keep? Check the FoodKeeper App (www.foodsafety.gov/keep/foodkeeperapp/index.html) for a quick reference guide.
  • Think before you throw out.  While spoiled or improperly stored food should be thrown out to ensure food safety, produce nearing the end of its shelf life can often still be salvaged. Bake extra-ripe fruit into muffins or puree in smoothies.  Make a sauce from super ripe berries, peaches, or cherries by adding a splash of orange juice and heating on the stove.  Sauté wilted vegetables to use as a side dish or add to a casserole.
  • Freeze it. If you will not be able to eat your fresh foods before they go bad, try freezing them to extend the shelf life.  Cut up fruit or blanch vegetables.  Then place in an airtight container and freeze.  Make sure the freezer is set to 0°F or below, and be sure to mark the date on the frozen item. Try to use older items first.
  • Use up leftovers.  Leftover vegetables and meats make a tasty topping for rice, pasta, or a baked potato.  Turn leftovers into a soup or casserole, or simply take them to work for lunch for the next day.  For food safety, refrigerate leftovers to 40°F within 2 hours and reheat to 165°F before serving.  Plan to eat leftovers within three to four days.  If that won’t work with your schedule, freeze for up to three to four months.  

Cutting down on food waste can help decrease your food costs and improve nutrition.  Make healthy choices to go further with food today.