Recently, the federal government announced its plan to feed people instead of landfills. For the first time, there is a national food waste reduction goal, calling for a 50 percent reduction by 2030. We're not going to hit that goal as a country if we don't stop wasting food in our own homes. According to a 2014 USDA Food Waste Report, "thirty-one percent (133 billion pounds) of the 430 bill pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer level in 2010 went uneaten." Of that 31 percent, 21 percent was wasted by consumers after they purchased it.

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If those numbers seem a little hard to wrap your head about, here's one that may be easier to understand: $1,500. That's the value of the food the average American family throws away each year. Our habits in the kitchen are a significant part of the food waste problem. A new book, "Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook: A Guide to Eating Well and Saving Money by Wasting Less Food" by Dana Gunders, aims to help consumers lower the amount of food they waste and the amount of money they throw down the garbage disposal.

“Imagine walking out of the grocery store with four bags full of food, dropping one, and not bothering to pick it up—that’s essentially what American families are doing every day,” said Gunders, author and scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Wasted food is wasted money, wasted energy and wasted water. Armed with simple tips and tools, families can make a major dent in what’s currently getting tossed out with the trash—and put a little cash back in their wallets at the same time.”

waste-free-kitchen-handbookThis handbook is a comprehensive and user-friendly guide that covers everything from shopping for food all the way to what to do with scraps of leftovers (sometimes the dog scores, but Gunders also covers when it's not healthy for the dog to get lucky).

The most useful section in the book for me is the directory that gives tips on the best ways to store, use and preserve specific foods such as pears. It advises putting pears in the refrigerator after they are ripe and says they're at their freshest five days after that. There are tips for optimal storage (don't wash until ready to eat) and how to freeze them (best when cooked in a sugar syrup because they don't freeze well uncooked). There are also tips for using up/reviving brown pears by using them in baked goods and sauces. These are practical and important tips for anyone who is looking at fresh food in the refrigerator and wondering how to make sure it gets eaten instead of tossed. There are tips for specific fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs, pantry staples, nuts and more.

Plenty of other helpful tips round out the usefulness of this book.

  • Meal planning ideas and suggestions for which kitchen tools are good to have on hand to help curb food waste.
  • The truth about expiration dates: They are arbitrary, mostly unregulated, and do not indicate the safety of food. Gunders advises to use your judgment, but also gives tips on how to improve that judgment, especially around children, those with compromised immune systems, and older adults.
  • Recipes like Sour Milk Pancakes that use up that milk that's starting to turn and Broccoli Stalk Salad that uses the part of the broccoli many of us throw away.
  • Food preservation, including canning, the holy grail of preserving. Not everyone has the inclination to can, though, so often vegetables can be preserved in the freezer, after a quick blanching. As we head into fall, the blanching chart is especially helpful to save the last of the garden produce or some vegetables from the farmers market.

Fighting the food waste in my home seems to be a never ending battle. I do really well for long periods of time and then suddenly I realize I've let my commitment to it slide. "Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook" is one more tool I now have — a very useful and practical tool — to help me extend those long periods of time that I do well while extending the life of the food I pay good money for and bring into my house.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

'Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook' keeps you from throwing money down the garbage disposal
New book offers simple consumer tips and tools to saving money and food, from the grocery store to the kitchen.