Author: Alison Johnson
Every parent knows this: it's easy to waste food.
A toddler won't touch his vegetables? Into the trash they may go. A school-aged kid doesn't like what's in her lunchbox at school, or just doesn't have much time to eat? Trash. A tween gets a huge portion of greasy food at a restaurant (despite ordering off the kids' menu) and can barely finish half? Into a doggy bag sometimes, but if a parent doesn't want to serve it up another night it's... trash.
Worldwide, a third of all food produced goes to waste, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In the United States alone, some 34 million tons of food is wasted each year. That's despite the many hungry families who would love to have it, and the high number of overweight children and adults who eat too much.
Luckily, parents can help reduce that total with these tips from nutritionists, the United States Department of Agriculture, the United Nations and a few thrifty local families:
Serve smaller portions. Kids are famous for thinking they can eat more than they actually want. Give them less, with the understanding that they can ask for more if they're still hungry. They may actually eat more healthy foods, as huge portions can be a turnoff.
Do the same with drinks. Only fill sippy cups and glasses halfway. If a child wants more, she can ask.
Be especially careful with new foods. If a child is trying something for the first time, keep portions extremely small: a single piece of broccoli, for example, or one chunk of melon or meat.
Educate kids. Teach children the value of food, and why wasting it is harmful. First, many people in the world are hungry; older kids can understand poverty and even visit/volunteer at a local foodbank or shelter. Second, food rots quickly in landfills and produces methane, a major contributor to global warming. Third, money spent on unused food goes down the drain with it.
Teach kids to store and use leftovers. Children can help put leftovers into containers for the refrigerator or freezer, as well as brainstorm ways to use them in future meals. Leftover chicken, say? That can turn into chicken tacos or go on a bun for a lunchtime sandwich. One major culprit, the crusts cut off sandwiches, can become croutons or bread crumbs.
Use up slightly over-the-hill produce. Nobody wants to eat moldy or unsafe food, of course, but softening fruits are perfect for smoothies and pies, while vegetables that have started to wilt can go in soups.
Plan weekly menus. If that seems too ambitious, at least try for a few days at a time. Make a list of needed ingredients, check refrigerators and pantries to see what's already there and follow the list at the store.
Don't shop while anyone is hungry. Kids will be more likely to beg for food the family doesn't need, and parents will be more likely to cave.
Involve kids in packing their school lunches. Students who have a say in what goes into their lunchboxes will be more likely to eat it. Ask them to bring home leftovers such as unused chips (reseal bags) and unopened fruit.
Split restaurant dishes. Find out how big a kids' meal is, and consider starting out with just one for two children. If you need more, you can order it or have a little snack at home.
Play a portion game. Have kids serve themselves only what they think they'll need to feel full. If they do well, they win.
Set a good example. Kids shouldn't see their parents regularly throwing away significant amounts of food.