Food waste has been a hot topic in the news this year. Our American neighbours down south have attempted to pass a law that would help small businesses donate excess food to charity, but it has been met with a lot of challenges. If you’re interested in finding a little more about that, we’d suggest checking out this John Oliver episode, which gives a detailed explanation about how this would’ve reduced food waste (note: the video may not be suitable for kids). According to the show, about 40 per cent of food in the US gets thrown out, which has prompted us to think a little bit on how we can teach kids about food waste.
Canada isn’t much better when it comes to reducing food waste
While some of us might scoff at the statistics suggesting Americans waste a huge amount of food, we Canadians would do well to look at ourselves first. Studies suggest that we’re not much better when it comes to conserving our grub. Second Harvest, a charity dedicated to giving food to the needy, says that Canadians waste $31 billion of food each year, with 47 per cent of that amount getting thrown out at home. This probably means that we as adults have to teach kids about food waste. It also suggests we should examine how we consume food so we can serve as better examples. Remember, kids can often pay just as much to our actions as they do to our words!
This may seem like a simple enough lesson, but given that the stats we mentioned above say 47 per cent of food waste comes from the home, it would appear many people aren’t following this principle. And it can be an easy trap to fall into. Leftovers are often not aesthetically pleasing and sometimes don’t taste as good.
Reuse your leftovers by holding a food scrap cook-off!
Get the whole family involved to help build up some enthusiasm for reducing food waste. One way would be to hold cook-off contests to see who can make the best use of scrap food. Try brainstorming meal plans that reduce food waste or make use of old meals.
But you can teach your kids to reduce food waste by exploring ideas and recipes on how to incorporate leftover ingredients into new meals. Internet comedians Rhett and Link do a funny but telling demonstration that shows we need to be more thoughtful of how we can use food scraps.
Here’s one idea: if your family didn’t finish eating a whole loaf of French bread, do an internet search for dishes that use bread crumbs! As a starting point, sites like Greatist.com have compiled extensive lists of leftover food recipes.
And if your kids still aren’t convinced that leftovers can taste good, tell them about renowned chef Dan Barber, who turned food waste into five-star meals. Use that as inspiration to spur creative ideas for how you and your kids can reuse old food!
The more you get your kids involved, the more they may be likely to eat their meals, instead of arguing about not liking something, and therefore not wanting to eat it.
Reduce food waste by packing lunch food that doesn’t go bad
Probably one of the most simple, yet effective ways to reduce food waste is to pack lunch food that won’t spoil if unrefrigerated. Let’s face it — sometimes kids don’t finish their meals. This can result in a lot of spoiled food, because refrigerators often aren’t always available at school. Meals that aren’t eaten a few hours after lunch time can easily go bad and become food waste.
Talk with your kids and brainstorm lunch ideas with food that can stay good until the end of the day if not refrigerated. Some easy examples include vegetable sticks, salads (sans dressing), bread with peanut butter or jam and nuts. Obviously, check food product guidelines before assuming any of the above items will stay good unrefrigerated.
If possible, make an agreement with your children that their packed lunches will have to be finished by the end of the day, even if they can’t eat everything at school. Leftovers can be eaten later during the day as a snack or as a supplement to their dinners.
Donate food all year round to reduce food waste with kids
Kids can also learn about food waste by practicing donating to a local food bank regularly. Often food bank drives are held during winter holidays. But the need for food doesn’t stop there – families can go hungry all year round.
Ask kids to pay for some of their food
Now, we’re not saying to let your kids go hungry. But let’s face it, sometimes they want things from the supermarket or at a food establishment that they don’t need but just want to eat. Kids may have a hard time understanding what it takes to earn and pay for food, which can result in taking it for granted. Setting up rules where kids need to use their allowance or job earnings to pay for foods can help them realize the cost of wasting something so essential.
Start a family compost
Composting is another way to reuse food scraps. Even if you’re not a gardener yourself, you could donate your compost ‘riches’ to a neighbour who could use it. And that way kids can learn what should and should not go in the garbage – organic materials can go back into our food system.
You may not be able to implement all these lifestyle changes to reduce food waste, but you can start with baby steps. And when our kids learn to adapt to today’s food waste no-nos, they could pave the way for a future where society learns to value our life-saving food resources.