10 Simple Ways to Reduce Food Waste

Learn how to make the most of your grocery haul.
Learn how to make the most of your grocery haul.
GANNAMARTYSHEVA/iStock via Getty Images

With the novel coronavirus majorly disrupting the food service industry, billions of dollars’ worth of food is going to waste as farmers face an overwhelming surplus of perishable items like dairy and fresh vegetables, according to a recent article in The Guardian. Thanks to a scrambled supply chain, nearly half of the food grown in the United States that was previously destined for school cafeterias, restaurants, theme parks, cruise ships, and stadiums is going to waste, with farmers being forced to dump fresh milk and plow vegetables back into the dirt. To better preserve your own supplies—and save some serious cash—check out these 10 ways to reduce food waste at home.

1. Store your food properly.

Correctly storing your food will help it stay fresh longer. If your bread typically molds or goes stale before you have the chance to finish the loaf, keep half of it in the bread box and freeze the other half for later. Store potatoes and tomatoes at room temperature. Don’t stash your eggs in the refrigerator door compartment—this will rattle them around, and may lead to a yolky mess. You can find more helpful food storing tips here.

2. Get well-acquainted with your freezer.

Freezer packed with food
Stuffing your freezer means you can also pass time with a quality game of freezer Tetris.
mliu92, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Leftovers, especially meals like soups or stews, are excellent for freezing. But you can freeze individual ingredients, too. Freeze wilted spinach to add to future soups. Frozen berries work well in smoothies, and frozen overripe bananas are perfect for banana bread. Keeping a bag of vegetable scraps in the freezer is a great way to ensure you’ll always have the ingredients for vegetable stock on hand (more on that later). However, there are some foods you should never freeze, and there are certain things you shouldn’t do when defrosting.

3. Learn the best way to freeze different kinds of fruit.

Ripe, fairly unblemished fruit is best for freezing. First, wash the fruit and sort through it for any pieces that are bruised or rotten. Some fruits, like blackberries, raspberries, and plums [PDF], will freeze better with the help of a sugar solution, though cranberries, blueberries, and currants typically do fine on their own. Arrange more delicate berries like strawberries or raspberries in a single layer on a baking sheet (you can also coat them with sugar or a sugar syrup), and then once they’re frozen, put them in a container or a plastic freezer bag. Fruits that tend to brown, like peaches, apple, apricots, and nectarines, can be treated with ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), which you can purchase in powder form in health food stores and some grocery stores.

4. Follow the “first in, first out” rule.

Much like shelves are stocked in grocery stores, use the “first in, first out” method when stocking your refrigerator. After washing your produce and wiping down all other items, put the newer ingredients in the back of the fridge and move the older items to the front so they’ll get used first. A fridge cam can even help you keep track of what’s about to go bad or expire.

5. Keep your fridge uncluttered.

Woman standing in front of opened fridge pinching her nose
Maintaining an orderly fridge will help you spot spoiling food before it starts to stink.
millann/iStock via Getty Images

Having to rummage around for an item or not being able to see that bottle of cocktail sauce tucked behind the box o’ wine means more food may go bad before it’s used up. Periodically, take a look at the long-term residents of your fridge, like salad dressings and sauces, to see if they’re still good. If possible, keep them all in one spot to make keeping track of them easier. Also, use square containers for leftovers rather than round ones, as the square shape allows for more storage space. Taking stock of everything you have in both the fridge and the pantry before shopping will also help cut down on clutter and double-buying.

6. Understand expiration dates.

Studies have shown that we throw away more than half of the food we keep in our refrigerators. Misunderstanding food labels is one reason behind the waste. “Sell by” is the date used to inform retailers when an item should be sold or removed from inventory. “Best by” is a suggested date that shoppers should use their products by. Neither means the item is unsafe to eat after that particular date. Even “expires by” isn’t set in stone.

7. Use food scraps to make stock.

Using vegetable scraps like stalks, tops, and peels to make a tasty broth is simple. Sauté them in some butter or oil, then add water and let them simmer for a few hours. Simmer beef bones and chicken carcasses along with the veggies (add water and herbs) to make a delectable homemade broth.

8. Plan your meals in advance.

Knowing what you want to eat for just a few dinners or lunches per week can help you figure out which ingredients you can use across meals and help cut down on spontaneous buying. The Kitchn recommends planning on a Friday, shopping on a Saturday, and then using an hour on Sunday for meal prep.

9. Shop strategically.

Grocery shopping list written with pen on paper from a notebook
For now, it's best to write your shopping list on paper you can later dispose of.
Santeri Viinamäki, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Typically, more frequent trips to the grocery store are preferable to buying in bulk when it comes to cutting down on waste, but in these current circumstances, less frequent trips are your safest bet. Therefore, a list is essential—just make sure you're jotting your notes on paper and not touching your phone while shopping. And if there’s any way to order online for delivery or pick-up, keeping an open online shopping cart is the best way to organize and maintain a visual list.

10. Donate items you know you won’t use to your local food bank.

If you have more food on hand than you need, consider donating to a local shelter or food bank. Call ahead and arrange curbside drop off.

13 Father's Day Gifts for Geeky Dads

Amazon/Otterbox/Toynk
Amazon/Otterbox/Toynk

When in doubt, you play the hits. Watches, flasks, and ties are all tried-and-true Father’s Day gifts—useful items bought en masse every June as the paternal holiday draws near. Here’s a list of goodies that put a geeky spin on those can’t-fail gifts. We’re talking Zelda flasks, wizard-shaped party mugs, and a timepiece inspired by BBC’s greatest sci-fi series, Doctor Who. Light the “dad” signal ‘cause it’s about to get nerdy!

1. Lord of the Rings Geeki Tikis (Set of Three); $76

'Lord of The Rings' themed tiki cups.
Toynk

If your dad’s equally crazy about outdoor shindigs and Tolkien’s Middle-earth, help him throw his own Lothlórien luau with these Tiki-style ceramic mugs shaped like icons from the Lord of the Rings saga. Gollum and Frodo’s drinkware doppelgängers each hold 14 ounces of liquid, while Gandalf the Grey’s holds 18—but a wizard never brags, right? Star Wars editions are also available.

Buy it: Toynk

2. Space Invaders Cufflinks; $9

'Space Invaders' cufflinks on Amazon
Fifty 50/Amazon

Arcade games come and arcade games go, but Space Invaders has withstood the test of time. Now Pops can bring those pixelated aliens to the boardroom—and look darn stylish doing it.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Legend of Zelda Flask; $18

A 'Legend of Zelda' flask
Toynk

Saving princesses is thirsty work. Shaped like an NES cartridge, this Zelda-themed flask boasts an 8-ounce holding capacity and comes with a reusable straw. Plus, it makes a fun little display item for gamer dads with man caves.

Buy it: Toynk

4. AT-AT Family Vacation Bag Tag; $12

An At-At baggage tag
ShopDisney

Widely considered one of the greatest movie sequels ever made, The Empire Strikes Back throws a powerful new threat at Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion: the AT-AT a.k.a. Imperial Walkers. Now your dad can mark his luggage with a personalized tag bearing the war machine’s likeness.

Buy it: ShopDisney

5. Flash Skinny Tie; $17

A skinny Flash-themed tie
Uyoung/Amazon

We’ll let you know if the Justice League starts selling new memberships, but here’s the next best thing. Available in a rainbow of super-heroic colors, this skinny necktie bears the Flash’s lightning bolt logo. Race on over to Amazon and pick one up today.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Captain America Shield Apron; $20

A Captain America themed apron
Toynk

Why let DC fans have all the fun? Daddy-o can channel his inner Steve Rogers when he flips burgers at your family’s Fourth of July BBQ. Measuring 31.5 inches long by 27.5 inches wide, this apron’s guaranteed to keep the cookout Hydra-free.

Buy it: Toynk

7. Doctor Who Vortex Manipulator LCD Leather Wristwatch; $35

A Doctor Who-themed watch
Toynk

At once classy and geeky, this digital timepiece lovingly recreates one of Doctor Who’s signature props. Unlike some of the gadgets worn on the long-running sci-fi series, it won’t require any fancy chronoplasm fuel.

Buy it: Toynk

8. Wonder Woman 3-Piece Grill Set; $21

Wonder Woman three-piece gill set
Toynk

At one point in her decades-long comic book career, this Amazon Princess found herself working at a fast food restaurant called Taco Whiz. Now grill cooks can pay tribute to the heroine with these high-quality, stainless steel utensils. The set’s comprised of wide-tipped tongs, a BBQ fork, and a spatula, with the latter boasting Wonder Woman’s insignia.

Buy it: Toynk

9. Harry Potter Toon Tumbler; $10

Glassware that's Harry Potter themed
Entertainment Earth

You can never have too many pint glasses—and this Father’s Day, dad can knock one back for the boy who lived. This piece of Potter glassware from PopFun has whimsy to spare. Now who’s up for some butterbeer?

Buy it: EntertainmentEarth

10. House Stark Men’s Wallet; $16

A Game of Thrones themed watch
Toynk

Winter’s no longer coming, but the Stark family's propensity for bold fashion choices can never die. Manufactured with both inside and outside pockets, this direwolf-inspired wallet is the perfect place to store your cards, cash, and ID.

Buy it: Toynk

11. Mr. Incredible “Incredible Dad” Mug, $15

An Incredibles themed mug
ShopDisney

Cue the brass music. Grabbing some coffee with a Pixar superhero sounds like an awesome—or dare we say, incredible?—way for your dad to start his day. Mom can join in the fun, too: Disney also sells a Mrs. Incredible version of the mug.

Buy it: ShopDisney

12. Star Wars phone cases from Otterbox; $46-$56

Star Wars phone cases from OtterBox.
Otterbox

If your dad’s looking for a phone case to show off his love of all things Star Wars, head to Otterbox. Whether he’s into the Dark Side with Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, the droids, Chewbacca, or Boba Fett, you’ll be able to find a phone case to fit his preference. The designs are available for both Samsung and Apple products, and you can check them all out here.

Buy it: Otterbox

13. 3D Puzzles; $50

3D Harry Potter puzzle from Amazon.
Wrebbit 3D

Help dad recreate some of his favorite fictional locations with these 3D puzzles from Wrebbit 3D. The real standouts are the 850-piece model of Hogwarts's Great Hall and the 910-piece version of Winterfell from Game of Thrones. If dad's tastes are more in line with public broadcasting, you could also pick him up an 890-piece Downton Abbey puzzle to bring a little upper-crust elegance to the homestead.

Buy it: Hogwarts (Amazon), Winterfell (Amazon), Downton Abbey (Amazon)

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

When Al Capone Ran a Soup Kitchen During the Great Depression

Al Capone: Public Enemy #1, soup kitchen proprietor
Al Capone: Public Enemy #1, soup kitchen proprietor
The Paris Bureau of The New York Times, National Archives and Records Administration // Public Domain

Four years after gangster Al Capone took over Chicago’s leading crime syndicate, he had raked in over $40 million—around $550 million today. The money came from illegally selling booze during Prohibition; bottles were distributed to more than 10,000 speakeasies and brothels in a vast bootlegging network across the Midwest.

Capone’s alcohol distribution was unlawful, but to many Americans, the man’s work was heroic. He claimed he was just a businessman giving the people what they wanted—and what the people wanted more than anything in the 1920s was liquor.

But Capone’s role as an Italian-American Robin Hood didn’t stop there. As he orchestrated criminal activities behind the scenes, Capone simultaneously launched a program to provide milk to Chicago school children and donated huge sums to local charities.

It was the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, however, that spurred Capone to his greatest work of philanthropy. Almost overnight, the American economy collapsed into the Great Depression. Banks failed, businesses shuttered, and millions were suddenly unemployed and hungry. Hundreds of soup kitchens popped up around the country. One of them belonged to Al Capone.

No Questions Asked

Men line up at Al Capone's soup kitchen during the Great Depression
Men line up at Al Capone's soup kitchen during the Great Depression.
The Paris Bureau of The New York Times, National Archives and Records Administration // Public Domain

When Al Capone’s soup kitchen opened at 935 South State Street, in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood, in mid-November 1930, hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans were out of work. By the following year, 624,000 people—or 50 percent of the Chicago workforce—were out of a job.

Capone’s charity had no name, just a sign over the door that advertised “Free Soup, Coffee & Doughnuts for the Unemployed.” Inside, women in white aprons served an average of 2200 people a day with a smile and no questions asked. Breakfast was hot coffee and sweet rolls. Both lunch and dinner consisted of soup and bread. Every 24 hours, diners devoured 350 loaves of bread and 100 dozen rolls. They washed down their meals with 30 pounds of coffee sweetened with 50 pounds of sugar. The whole operation cost $300 per day.

The soup kitchen didn’t advertise its connection to Capone, but the mobster-benefactor’s name was connected to it in stories printed in local newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and The Rock Island Argus. Those who were down on their luck, though, apparently had few qualms about eating from the hand of Chicago’s worst crime boss. Often the line to get in to the kitchen was so long that it wound past the door of the city’s police headquarters, where Capone was considered Public Enemy #1, according to Harper’s Magazine. The line was particularly lengthy when Capone’s soup kitchen hosted a Thanksgiving meal of cranberry sauce and beef stew for 5000 hungry Chicagoans. (Why beef and not turkey? After 1000 turkeys were stolen from a nearby department store, Capone feared he’d be blamed for the theft and made a last-minute menu change.)

Capone's Ulterior Motives

Capone’s efforts to feed Chicago during the darkest days of the Great Depression weren’t entirely altruistic. It wasn’t even originally his idea, but that of his friend and political ally Daniel Serritella, who was elected to the Illinois state senate in 1930. Nor did Capone invest much of his own money into the operation. Instead, Deirdre Bair writes in Capone: His Life, Legacy and Legend, he bribed and extorted other businesses to stock the pantry. In just one example, during Seritella's 1932 trial for conspiring with grocers to cheat customers [PDF], the court discovered that a load of ducks that had been donated to Christmas baskets for the poor ended up in Capone’s soup kitchen instead.

Perhaps more than anything, Capone opened his soup kitchen to get the public back on his side after he was implicated in the 1929 Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. In that murder spree, Capone's associates were believed to have assassinated seven men, five of whom hailed from the rival North Side Gang, inside a Chicago parking garage—though no one was ever prosecuted. Harper’s writer Mary Borden distilled Capone's double-dealing when she described him as “an ambidextrous giant who kills with one hand and feeds with the other.”

Capone’s soup kitchen closed abruptly in April 1932. The proprietors claimed that the kitchen was no longer needed because the economy was picking up, even though the number of unemployed across the country had increased by 4 million between 1931 and 1932. The diners who had attended the kitchen daily were forced to move on to another one.

Two months later, Capone was indicted on 22 counts of income tax evasion; the charges that eventually landed him in San Francisco’s Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Though Capone vowed to reopen his soup kitchen during his trial, its doors stayed shut. By the time he was released from prison in 1939, a raging case of syphilis had rendered Capone mentally and physically incapable of managing his own life, let alone that of Chicago’s once-dominant crime syndicate and the soup kitchen that softened his gangster image.

Capone died in 1947, but his larger-than-life legacy lives on. His soup kitchen wasn’t so lucky. The building became a flophouse, and in 1955, Chicago authorities deemed it a fire hazard and shut it down permanently. Today, only a parking lot remains at the site of Chicago’s most notorious food pantry.