A family of four in the U.S. throws away more than $1500 in uneaten food each year.1 Besides its impact on the family budget, food waste has far-reaching environmental effects since most uneaten food ends up in landfills, where it produces methane gas that contributes to climate change. Could prepared meals help solve our food waste problem?
Food Waste in America
According to the USDA, at least 30% of food in the U.S. goes to waste.2 In 2010, this meant 133 billion pounds of food (totaling $161 billion) were wasted at the retail and household levels.3 The biggest losses were perishables: fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products.
Retailer Food Waste
Reasons for food waste at the retail level include:
- Overstocked displays that damage the bottom products
- Lack of cosmetic perfection
- Excessively large pack sizes for retailers’ needs (e.g., a 50-pack case of mangoes)
- At or near the sell-by date (vs. best-by or use-by dates)
- Availability of hot deli and buffet foods until store closing
- Outdated seasonal or promotional products (esp. holiday foods)
Household Food Waste
Food waste at the household level is likely to occur for reasons such as:
- Impulse buying
- Bulk buying
- Poor planning
- Confusion over best-by and use-by dates
- Undervaluing of foods
From wilted lettuce to stale bread to forgotten leftovers, food waste is an ever-present problem in most American households. While it can be overcome through diligent meal planning, preparation, and inventory management, some are seeing the rise of prepared meals companies, like Freshly and Prepped, as a game-changing opportunity to reduce household food waste.
Zero Food Waste Prepared Meals
Prepared meals companies are checking all the right boxes for consumers. Their chef-made, home-delivered meals are fresh, gourmet, clean label, flavorful, and convenient. All consumers have to do is “heat and eat.” Online ordering and subscriptions allow for precise planning based on household needs, and serving sizes include single meals as well as family meals that can serve four.
Prepared meals companies are differentiating themselves both through their menus and their specialty food plans. Balance (by bistroMD) offers a range of specialty meals, including heart healthy, diabetic, low sodium, dairy free, and Mediterranean. Prepped offers Paleo Plans, while all Freshly meals are gluten-free. The Good Kitchen relies on responsible ingredient sourcing to differentiate itself, using grass-fed beef, organic produce, and Seafood Watch-compliant seafood.
Likewise, meal kits provide the same zero food waste benefits as prepared meals, through their use of pre-portioned ingredients (including produce, meats, sauces, and seasonings) that provide just what’s required for each recipe. Though meal kits are traditionally home-delivered like prepared meals, popular brands HelloFresh, Blue Apron, and Sun Basket are now available at certain retailers, as well.
A shift toward the purchase of more prepared meals has real potential for reducing food waste. Prepared meals allow consumers to purchase no more than what they intend to eat and, through subscription, in a predictable way that allows prepared meal companies to optimize their perishables ordering. This predictability can even help guide farmers on how much to grow.
As prepared meals companies continue to optimize facility locations for shorter delivery distances and work to reduce the amount of packaging used, this will become an increasingly environmentally-friendly way to eat. And since Americans’ busy lifestyles show no signs of slowing down, an option like prepared meals—that’s both convenient and healthy—may have a bright future.
1. Buzby, J. & Hyman, J. (2012). Total and per capita value of food loss in the United States. Food Policy 37(5):561-570. doi: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2012.06.002
2. USDA Office of the Chief Economist. (Accessed October 14, 2018). U.S. Food Waste Challenge, Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm
3. USDA Office of the Chief Economist. (Accessed October 14, 2018). U.S. Food Waste Challenge, Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm