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Originally published Monday, March 26, 2012 at 6:01 AM

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Save your food — and budget

Tips for reducing food waste in your kitchen.

Scripps Howard News Service

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The next time you go food shopping, lay all of your vegetables, fruits and other purchases on your kitchen counter.

Take a good look at those tender strawberries and fresh lettuce leaves. Then take half of your bounty and dump it in the trash.

That's an example of how much food is being wasted in the United States.

More than 40 percent of the food grown here is never eaten, according to a study by the University of Arizona.

Some of that is because of crops rotting in the field, but a large portion is what consumers let spoil in their refrigerators.

"I have to think 'What am I going to make?' with everything I buy. Otherwise, you see these great heirloom tomatoes, you bring them home and three days later they're mush,"said David Thornton, a Memphis, Tenn.-area resident and marketing director for Miss Cordelia's grocery store.

Food waste, particularly fruits and vegetables, is the largest component of municipal solid waste in landfills.

The average family of four tosses out nearly $600 worth of food a year, the 2004 Arizona study found.

Thornton, a former chef, retooled his approach to food shopping a few months ago, after realizing that his personal kitchen was amassing two full trash bags each week.

"I started realizing the amount of food waste coming out of my house,"he said. He now takes more than a week to fill a garbage bag.

Every day, Americans throw out enough food to fill Rose Bowl Stadium, according to Jonathan Bloom, author of "American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It)."

Bloom and others who research wasteful habits say it's not just food being squandered.

Wasted food means we're wasting the fuel it took to transport the food. It also means food rotting in landfills and creating more greenhouse emissions.

But that could change, as more attention is being focused on food waste.

"The Big Waste," on the Food Network, recently showed celebrity chefs creating dishes out of food typically destined for the trash. Days after it aired, viewers were still commenting online about the shocking details of what doesn't make it to our plates in America.

Margot McNeeley, executive director of Project Green Fork, has helped dozens of restaurants reduce their waste.

McNeeley follows those sustainable practices in her own home, planning her food menus a week out so that she doesn't buy ingredients without a purpose.

"It's better than going to the store and buying everything you lay your eyes on,"she said.

McNeeley puts vegetable scraps through a juicer, and what she can't juice is bagged and brought to a local garden for composting.

But reducing the food waste in your kitchen doesn't have to mean a complete overhaul of your lifestyle, says Melissa Petersen, editor and publisher of Edible Memphis magazine.

Start by making one change, she said.

"If everyone could use up that whole onion or if everyone froze their leftovers, imagine the impact of that,"she said.

Here are some tips for reducing food waste in your kitchen:

• Plan your menu before you shop for food. That reduces impulse purchases.

• Shop more often, and buy less so you always have fresh food and don't overbuy.

• Shop from your freezer and pantry to use what you already have.

• Consider secondary uses for leftover ingredients. Bread can becomes breadcrumbs. Vegetable trimmings can be placed in the freezer to make vegetable broth later on.

• Start composting scraps to make rich soil for gardening.

• Lengthen the life of your produce by storing it better — separate those bananas and tomatoes.

• Embrace less-than-perfect produce by making bruised fruit and wilted greens into healthful smoothies.

Contact Lindsay Melvin of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., at Lindsay.Melvin@commercialappeal.com.

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