Food waste is a big topic these days. An estimated 70 billion pounds of food is wasted in the U.S. every year and 25-40% of food grown or processed in this country will never be consumed. That’s a whole lot of waste that not only costs you money, it also contributes to serious environmental concerns.
And get this: households with young children waste more than the average families because, as you probably know, kids can be finicky eaters. This week we’re exploring how to avoid food waste with kids so you can be part of the solution and reduce your impact on this grave problem.
The Facts about Food Waste in the U.S.
As families embrace nutrition and healthy eating habits, the “clean your plate” method is generally not the best strategy. Children are encouraged to make healthy choices but also to eat until they are satisfied, not stuffed. Incentives like desserts for eating all of a meal may be counter-productive to teaching children healthy eating habits. Therefore, parents like you may need to execute other means to avoid food waste with kids. But why is food waste such a big deal?
First, food waste costs you a lot of money! Approximately $160 billion of food is wasted every year in the U.S. That includes food over-produced on farms or in factories, food never sold or expired in stores, food that is wasted by restaurants and schools, and food that is thrown out or that goes bad in households across the country. This lost money takes a toll on everyone and ultimately increases food prices.
Worse is the environmental impact of food waste. Food is the leading waste product in landfills. As it breaks down it creates the green house gas methane, which contributes to global warming more than carbon dioxide. Plus, the energy cost of producing food that will ultimately go to waste is extreme, between farming methods, factory outputs, over-use of water, transportation of goods, packaging waste, and much more. Food waste is incredibly harmful to our earth.
How to Avoid Food Waste with Babies and Toddlers
It’s somewhat of a conundrum: once your baby starts eating solids, you want your little one to experience a variety of foods and develop a broad palate. On the other hand, experimenting can be wasteful, especially when a favorite food of yesterday is the most despised food of today. Here are some suggestions:
- Make small portions until you’re positive your baby or toddler likes what you’re serving.
- If you’re mixing food with breast milk, definitely don’t overcook because you may end up wasting your precious milk.
- For purees, start with a few spoonfuls in a bowl. Let your baby try the food and then add more in the bowl if she likes it. This way you don’t have to throw away an entire jar or batch of homemade goods if she’s eating directly from the container.
- Also for purees, try mixing in breast milk or baby cereal if you find your baby doesn’t like the food. The familiarity of these flavors may tip the scale and encourage her to eat it.
- For finger foods, only dish out a little bit at a time. For instance, don’t fill a highchair tray with everything you hope your little one will eat at the beginning of the meal. Chances are she’ll revolt and much of it will end up on the floor. Instead, serve just a few pieces at a time.
- If your baby does not want to eat what you’re serving, don’t continue to feed it to her. End the meal as pleasantly as possible and save the food to try at the next mealtime.
- When your baby completely refuses to eat something and you have a lot leftover, come up with another way to use it. Perhaps it was a blander version of what you were making for the rest of the family in which case you can season it and serve it to others. Or throw it into a creamy soup or gumbo to avoid waste.
Later this week we’ll take a look at how to avoid food waste with older children so stick around for more great tips.
Sources: Feeding America, Bloomberg, Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, I Value Food, MSNBC, Super Kids Nutrition and USDA