The “Baby Carrot” Cycle
I’ll admit it, I did it too. You know, the endless cycle of wanting to eat more vegetables, buying that one bag of baby carrots (you know the kind) or a bag of fresh lettuce, and eating maybe half the bag just to forget about them. Once I do remember, I find them hidden in my fridge and realize they don’t look nearly as good as they did when I bought them. Not to mention the guilt I feel when I realize nothing is salvageable and I have to throw it all out. If you are anything like me and feel this guilt (about the money I just wasted and the food waste I just created), the first stage is acceptance. The second stage though is using some of the tips I have below for navigating how to eat healthy, sustainably, AND on a budget.
Why Does Food Waste Matter?
So we know food waste is bad, but why? According to the USDA, 30-40 percent of the food supply is wasted. This adds up to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010 alone.
Not only is food waste contributing to inefficiency and negative environmental effects, but it is costing us money too. The USDA also estimates that the average American family of 4 loses $1500 to uneaten food every year. From an ethical perspective, much of the food being wasted that is still safe to eat could be going towards addressing food insecurity. On the same note of ethics, wasted meat products also means that an animal that has died in order to provide food, has now died with no purpose. For more information about how GVSU is addressing food insecurity on our campus, read about Replenish below!
Make Frozen Vegetables Your Best Friend!
Eating healthy for one person in college (on a budget) is not easy, but it can be done! The first step is to break the stigma around frozen vegetables. I have heard a few times from other college students that “frozen fruits and vegetables aren’t as healthy” or “I only buy fresh vegetables.”
It’s time to dispel these rumors once and for all. Frozen vegetables are healthy and contain just as many nutrients as fresh, if not more than fresh store bought since they are usually frozen while they’re in their prime. When shopping for frozen fruits and vegetables, pay attention to the labels to check for those that do not have additives. Of course frozen vegetables can still age in the freezer and may not be as nutritionally dense after a year, but it will last you much longer than the few days you get with fresh.
It is also important to note the”best if used by” dates on frozen fruits or vegetables. These dates are only usually recommendations based on when the food tastes best and can still be safe beyond this date, but it is usually better to buy food that does not expire for a while to avoid this. So if this happens, don’t stress! It is probably still safe to eat as long as it is cooked thoroughly.
Maximizing Shelf Life (How to Store Fresh Fruits/Veggies Properly!)
Grocery shopping for fresh AND frozen fruits and vegetables is a great way to limit food waste and still eat healthy. When we are buying fresh fruits and vegetables, there are ways to store them properly to extend their shelf life. This NY Times article outlines a few really great ways to do this, but I will summarize for you here. First, start fresh! Even though frozen fruits and vegetables are just as good for you, there might be times when you prefer fresh options. Make sure when shopping for fruits and vegetables, that you are shopping for the freshest ones and that they don’t have any signs of aging already. Next, consider the conditions of how your food is stored. The author suggests considering “temperature, ethylene, and airflow.” This just means gaining a better understanding of what causes fruits and vegetables to go bad prematurely. Ethylene is a gas released by some fruits/vegetables that causes produce to ripen faster. Some may be better at room temperature, others in the fridge in a container rather than the produce bag it comes in. I recommend checking out the full article for specifics by the type of produce you are storing.
Freeze Your Bread & Leftovers
Something I have learned when it comes to grocery shopping and eating just for one person is how quickly bread and leftovers go bad. But there are solutions to these problems!
First, refrigerate (or freeze) your bread. You can just throw the bread in the original packaging and throw it in the fridge or freezer (depending on how quickly you tend to eat bread). For those of us (myself included) who like to bake, homemade bread loaves can be stored in the freezer as well. To freeze store bought or homemade bread loaves for longer periods of time, make sure the bread is cooled and sliced then wrap first with plastic wrap then with foil or freezer paper. This link discusses more about the correct way to preserve homemade bread loaves.
Second is leftovers! If you make a meal with lots of leftovers, but you’re not the kind of person to eat the same thing multiple times that week before it goes bad, freeze your leftovers! Your food will taste fresher and you will have the option of a quick homemade dinner or lunch later on. The USDA outlines safe ways to freeze, thaw, and reheat leftovers here.
Stir Fry, Pasta, & Curries
Cooking for one person without tons of leftovers can be hard,especially when you’ve just gone grocery shopping and need to use up a lot of the fresh vegetables you bought. An option for this is to cook things like stir fry, pasta, or curries. These can not only be relatively easy and quick to cook, but allow you to add whatever you might have laying around in your fridge. It’s relatively easy to make these recipes your own and tweak them to the foods you like or already have. Here is one idea for a veggie stir fry recipe. For other recipes, check out the One Dish Kitchen for single serving recipe ideas.
Start a Compost
While limiting food waste sounds great in theory, we’re also human and it happens. So what can we do with our food waste when it does happen? The answer is COMPOSTING! We see the compost trash bins on campus, but what is compost you may ask? Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow, according to the EPA. Making compost takes food waste out of our landfills where they take up space and release methane which is a greenhouse gas. The EPA outlines the basics of composting if you’re interested in learning more. NPR LifeKit also published a great guide on how to compost at home.
Replenish at GVSU
If you are a student at GVSU experiencing food insecurity at any level, Replenish is our on campus food pantry. There are three locations: Kirkhof 074 - Allendale Campus: open weekdays from Noon to 5 pm, Steelcase Library - DeVos Campus (1st floor entrance): open during library hours, and CHS 343 - Cook-DeVos Center for Health Science building: open 8 - 5 (CHS location is currently unavailable). Replenish is a completely free resource available for all students. Students are permitted two visits per month but emergency accommodations can be made. All you need to bring is:
- Your student ID;
- A passed daily Covid-19 assessment;
- and a reusable grocery bag.
Replenish also collects donations of pantry stable foods, hygiene items, household cleaning supplies, and new or lightly used school supplies. The Allendale location accepts walk-ins.
As I mentioned before, eating healthy for one person in college on a budget is not easy, but it can be done! Just take it one step at a time.
By: Sofia Hessler, WIT Peer Educator