You finished eating your dinner but did not eat everything on your plate. As you scrape the leftovers in the trash, think about the value of the food you are throwing away.

The same holds true for that moldy bread your family did not get around to eating, or even the leftovers you meant to heat up the next day, but they simply did not sound good. Some people may view this as simply throwing out food, but in reality, wasted food is wasted money.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported that the amount of uneaten food in American homes and restaurants is about $390 in wasted food per each U.S. consumer. This is more than the average American spends on food each month. Not only is wasted food hard on our wallets, but also it impacts the environment. Each type of food or food ingredient requires soil, nutrients, water and-or energy to grow, along with processing and-or transporting. In addition, this waste is filling up the dwindling number of landfills. In 2010, about 33 million tons of food waste was sent to landfills. Food waste is the largest type of municipal solid waste put in landfills, outpacing paper, plastic, aluminum cans, and glass.

There are ways to reduce waste by reusing and recycling. One thing that helps reduce waste is to plan your meals for the week. Shop from your pantry first before heading out to the grocery store. You may be surprised at how many ingredients you actually have on hand.

As you plan your menus, cook extra so you will have leftovers. These leftovers can make a quick and easy lunch the next day. This also helps cut down on the amount of money that may be spent eating out for lunch. If you take leftovers to work, make sure you store them properly to ensure food safety.

While shopping in your pantry and you discover items that are still good, but you know you will not use them before they expire, consider donating them to a local food pantry. Another tip is to purchase only what you need. Buying items in bulk can reduce packaging, which helps the environment, but make sure you have the space to store everything and will be able to use it up before the item expires.

To avoid wasting food at a restaurant, consider sharing an entrée or even ordering from the kids menu to get a small portion size.

Another tip to help keep food out of the landfill is to compost scraps. Many foods, including fruits, vegetables, eggshells, tea bags and coffee grounds can easily be composted. Avoid dairy products, meats, oils and grease as they can attract rodents and produce foul odors as they decompose.

The less food you waste means more money in your pocket.

Heather Winn is a family and consumer sciences educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County.

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