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Special to msnbc.com
updated 7/11/2008 5:37:34 PM ET 2008-07-11T21:37:34

Amidst growing concerns about rising food prices and global warming, many Americans are taking a closer look at what they do — and don’t — eat.

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Research in the U.S. estimates that at least 14 percent of purchased food ends up in the garbage. Some may view this as a call to return to the “clean your plate” mentality emblematic of the mid-twentieth century, but this would be unwise. With a skyrocketing obesity epidemic and a mounting national health crisis, it’s time for a new approach. Instead, we should view these statistics as motivation to reduce waste, cut grocery costs and safeguard our health by shopping and eating smarter.

Food waste reportedly makes up about 12 percent of landfill material. Aside from the costly operating budgets of these facilities, the environment is paying the real price. As organic materials (like vegetables, fruits and grains) decompose in landfills, they release the greenhouse gas methane into the environment.

In fact, landfills are the largest source of methane emissions in the U.S. While composting plant foods, which does not produce methane, is one solution, strategies for wasting less food should also be explored.

Watch what you buy
According to a government-funded survey in the UK, one major source of food waste is “over shopping.” Buying more food than we need is easy to do when we shop without a list or when “buy one, get one free” offers tempt us to pile food that will often go to waste into our grocery carts

The solution: shop smarter. Check your refrigerator to see what needs to be used or frozen before it spoils. Check your calendar to see if there are meals that you know you will be eating away from home.

Before you go to the store, decide how many days worth of food you need. Then, take a few minutes to formulate a shopping list. Don’t make things complicated — no need to decide what will be served each day — just plan enough breakfast, lunch and dinner meals to last until your next grocery run.

Cheap food isn't always a bargain
Be flexible when you shop — it’s OK to adjust your list if you see something on special. For non-perishable foods like cereal and pasta, only buy sale items that you are sure to use.

If perishable items are on special, choose them as a replacement for something else you had planned or buy and freeze for later use. Foods that you don’t like or that are unhealthy are no bargain — regardless of the sticker price.

What if you still have leftovers? If you consistently prepare more food than you need, the simplest solution is to cook less. While this may seem obvious, many of us continue to cook the portions we always have, even when our households shrink in size or when we stop eating as much food as we used to.

Another approach is to plan ahead to repurpose leftovers as the basis for one or two new meals each week. The money you save from purchasing fewer meals will add up substantially. Leftover chicken can go on pizza, a burrito or in chili or soup. Extra fish or seafood is a great addition to a salad or a pasta dish. And already cooked vegetables (or fresh veggies that won’t last much longer) can be combined in a stir-fry, soup or chili. Before you let fruit go to waste, add it to your morning cereal bowl or a green salad.

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