The Top 10 Grocery Items That Go to Waste, According to a New Survey

Plus, recipes to help you use them up.

When it comes to food waste, the first thing many of us think about is tossing the remains of dinner in the trash, forgetting homemade leftovers or being unable to finish a meal at a restaurant (justifying to ourselves, "but the portions are huge!").

However, food waste goes far beyond these examples. It encompasses edible food lost in the production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste phases of the food supply chain. And as you can imagine, that adds up to quite a lot of waste. In fact, between 30% and 40% of food in the U.S. is wasted, according to the Department of Agriculture.

What This Food Waste Survey Found

A new survey, commissioned by HelloFresh and conducted by market research company OnePoll, broke down this stat even further by talking with 2,000 adults who shop for groceries in their household. On average, respondents spent $248 on groceries each week and 1 in 10 reported they spend close to $500. And they typically throw away about $63 worth of those groceries each week.

Additionally, when people cook food at home, 25% "always" or "often" make more than they can finish, and 83% intend to have leftovers. But 32% claim they will probably forget about them.

As it turns out, forgetting about food is one of the main reasons people (35%) end up having food waste. And although 43% of people would rather finish their leftovers, 24% reported that they get bored with the same food before it's gone.

The Top 10 Most Wasted Groceries in America

Read on to learn about the most commonly tossed grocery items, storage tips to minimize your food waste, and recipe ideas to help you use them up.

1. Lettuce

Coming in at No. 1, 27% of survey respondents admitted to throwing away uneaten lettuce. Knowing that it's one of the most perishable foods, it's best to wrap it in a dish towel to absorb excess moisture and store it in the crisper drawer in the refrigerator. This will help it last around three days, so it's best to have a plan to use it up quickly if you purchase it.

Looking for a healthy lunch idea? Try these tasty meal-prep vegan lettuce wraps.

2. Bananas

This popular fruit is also tough to use up, according to survey participants. One day it's the perfect shade of yellow, ripe and ready to be eaten, and the next it's covered in brown spots. And if you're not a fan of banana bread, you're may be among the 23% of people who toss them.

That said, bananas are actually one of the best fruits to freeze, and they make a delicious addition to your morning smoothie. So when you start to notice them becoming ripe, throw them in your freezer (in a freezer bag) to enjoy at your convenience. You can even prep our Make-Ahead Smoothie Freezer Packs in advance for an even quicker morning meal or snack in the future.

3. Milk

Survey respondents said milk is one of the hardest foods to use up, and 21% admitted to wasting this product. Unlike plant-based milk, which can last up to 10 days, dairy milk tends to spoil quickly, especially if it isn't refrigerated properly. Pro tip: Storing milk in the coldest part of your fridge (usually the back or bottom section) can help it last longer. You can also freeze milk if you have a larger quantity that you don't think you can get through, but it's best to try to buy a smaller container and restock more frequently to avoid food waste.

4. Apples

It's no secret that when you cut into an apple and leave it out, it turns brown relatively fast. But don't let the color fool you, it's still perfectly good to eat. Yet, 21% of people will waste this fruit.

To give apples a longer shelf life, leave them in a cool, dark corner of your pantry away from direct light or keep them in the refrigerator. Apples will stay fresh and crisp for weeks in the fridge, so this is your best bet if you struggle to get through them. For some creative recipe ideas, here are 22 apple dishes you can make in just 30 minutes.

5. Bread

Nothing beats the taste of a fresh loaf of bread. Unfortunately, when you leave your bakery-bought baguette on the kitchen counter, it turns stale in just a few days. Rather than throw it away, like 21% of people, why not use it to make croutons? Simply slice up the bread into cubes and season them to your liking, then pop them in the oven until crisp and crunchy (check out our Homemade Croutons recipe for more specifics).

Or better yet, keep bread fresh for longer with a better storage technique: You can wrap it in a paper bag, buy a bread box or freeze your bread, just to name a few. If you're feeling adventurous, here are 26 fruity quick breads to bake up this weekend to help you get through your loaf.

a photo of a paper bag full of groceries
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6. Avocado

Too ripe or not too ripe? That is the question—at least when choosing avocados at the grocery store. These fruits can be tricky since they seem to go from a hard, vibrant green exterior one minute to black and mushy the next. If you're like one of the 17% of survey takers who end up tossing their avocados, you're not alone.

To get the most out of your avocados, the ideal time to refrigerate them is when they are ripe or close to ripening. Check out these amazing avocado recipes (that aren't toast!) for more inspiration on how to use them.

7. Deli Meat (meat, cheese, prepared foods, etc.)

While cold cuts and sandwich meat are staples in many refrigerators, let's face it: most deli meat doesn't have a long shelf life. It's one of the most thrown-away foods, with 16% of people admitting to wasting it.

The good news is that most deli meat can be frozen, although some fare better than others. Salami, pepperoni and bologna are at the top of the list due to their limited water content. However, if you follow the correct steps, your turkey, chicken, ham and roast beef can also be frozen.

8. Eggs

To all the egg-white fans out there, you've probably lost track of all the yolks you've discarded in the garbage. Eggs are among the most wasted grocery items, coming in at 16%. Sure, egg yolks contain cholesterol and saturated fat, but they also contain most of the micronutrients and half of the protein found in an egg. Plus, they can offer some impressive health benefits if enjoyed in moderation. That being said, if you have heart disease or are at risk of developing it, you may want to be more cautious with your consumption.

Also, keep in mind you can freeze eggs before or after cooking. So you don't need to stress about them going to waste.

While there are many different ways to enjoy eggs, here are 24 impressive egg recipes for your next brunch at home.

9. Meat

Fresh meat goes bad pretty quickly, so it's no surprise it made the list, with around 15% of participants admitting to wasting it. When it comes to meat in particular, proper storage is essential. If you plan to eat it within one or two days, storing it in the fridge is fine, but if you want meat to last longer, the best option is to freeze it. If you're running out of dinner ideas, take a look at these healthy meat main dish recipes.

10. Carrots

Whether you like them raw, roasted or sautéed, carrots are a popular recipe ingredient or side dish. So why do 14% of people throw them out? One reason could be that carrots become soft and mushy if they aren't stored properly.

The best way to store this tasty veggie? In an airtight container. That way, you can enjoy them for weeks. And for a simple side to help you use them up, check out this delicious Pan-Roasted Carrots recipe.

Bottom Line

Food waste is a growing national and global concern, and for good reason: Wasted food is also wasted money, time and resources. If we can all be more conscious of what we throw away and do our part to preserve what we can, it could make a major difference. And the good news is, it only requires making a few small changes: storing food correctly, using leftovers creatively and only buying what you need at the grocery store. Take note of what's in your fridge and pantry before your next shopping run, too, and be extra mindful when buying these frequently wasted staple foods.

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