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Change How You Look at Leftovers -- This Study Will Inspire You

We're all about using, not wasting, food.

Photography by: Sonja Kury / Getty Images

At first, you might not think much about those weekend dinner party leftovers in your fridge (you were meaning to eat them but ...) or that ham sandwich you made for lunch but didn't eat because there was pizza in the office. What if you thought of the sandwich as a full serving of protein and whole-grains? According to a recent study, changing how we think of trash-bound food might be our answer to the food waste problem.

The Johns Hopkins study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition, is the first of its kind to examine food waste through a nutritional lens (All those servings of Vitamin D and fiber hiding in your trash!) If fact, it showed that if we could recover all the food we are currently sending to landfills, it would provide a 2,000 calorie diet to 84% of the population.  


(COOK: These Delicious Recipes Using Ingredients You might Otherwise Waste)


“Before us, many studies have measured food waste in pounds or economic value. We saw the opportunity to go beyond that data and look at the nutritional content,” Marie Spiker, MSPH, RD, and one of the study’s authors told us. She also notes that these findings may help illuminate the issue of food waste in a way that’s easier to visualize for consumers. "So many people are just trying to get enough calcium and vitamin into their own daily diet." 


(CONSIDER: Leftovers in a different way, watch this new show that's all about leftovers!)

The Underlying Problem? Food Labels 

Though there are different factors contributing to food waste, Spiker says one of the biggest causes are food labels, like “Sell By”, “Best By” and “Use By.” With the exception of infant formula, these labels you see on that loaf of bread or jar of mayonnaise are not actually regulated or standardized at a federal level. Spiker says this may be why there is so much confusion with the everyday shopper. And while not all food waste is consumable, researchers note that a sizable amount can be salvaged.


2 Easy Tips For Reducing Food Waste At Home

  •  “Use your senses first," says Spiker. "Ask yourself, how long have I had this? Does it smell weird? Does it feel strange? Then, use the labels as more of a guideline instead of a hard rule."


  • From shopping smarter (try going bulk!) to planning ahead, Spiker also suggests we "think more broadly --  we need to figure out how can we prevent food waste from happening in the first place.” 


Want to learn more about tackling food waste? Watch this sneak peak into a new documentary with chef Massimo Bottura that shows you exactly how: