This article is co-written with Jonathan Bloom, my fellow food waste fighter, author of the award-winning book "American Wasteland" and the creator of the Wasted Food site. Since Jonathan and I joined panel appearance at the Scanpack conference on food waste in Sweden last fall, we agreed to put a focus on these portion sizes.
Is bigger always better? The people running most cafés, restaurants and supermarkets seem to think so, serving or selling larger portions of food. This trend and portion sizes keep growing in the United States and Europe. As a result, we often receive massive amount of food when we eat out.
Can we really eat all of that food? Should we? Do we just end up feeding landfills? Or worse still, are we turning our bodies into garbage bins?
And so, when it comes to portion sizes -- and plenty of other things -- bigger is not in fact better. Better is better. Better tends to look like food raised in a way that's more sustainable for both people and planet.
The restaurant market is a competitive place. Few restaurants are able to lower prices and stay in business. But, in an effort to win over customers, many restaurants have increased portion sizes. And while European eateries are increasing their portions slowly, they still lag behind American ones. What pass for dinner plates at some American restaurants would feel like serving platters in Europe.
Meanwhile, household refrigerators in the US look like commercial ones in Europe. Filling up those massive refrigerators means buying more food, despite household size shrinking in the last five years. Shopping carts in supermarkets have grown 20% in the last 20 years. And most of shopping baskets are on wheels today so they are easier to roll after you buy food that you actually don't need. The Super Packs, Mega Packs and quantity discounts are useful, if you end up using all the food, but mostly it's yet another food waste trap.
With that in mind, here are five tips that you can use to minimize food waste in your life:
Plan wisely before cooking. Most adults eat around 750 grams (1.65 pounds) of food per meal, including bread. When we cook at home, we tend to make much more food than people can actually eat because we fear not having enough food for the family or guests. To avoid cooking too much food, always cook 30% less than you usually do, it will target just the right amount of food for your guests.
Use smaller plates and dishes. A Danish survey shows that if the plate size is reduced by just 9%, the food waste can be reduced by over 25%. Further justification for smaller plates: American researcher Brian Wansink found that we don't even notice when we eat portions that are 20% smaller. Meanwhile, we tend to like our plates to be fairly full. By reducing the size of the plate, you ensure that you don't overfeed yourself or the trash bin.
Choose smaller shopping carts and shopping baskets. In the supermarket, make sure to choose smaller shopping cars when possible to avoid buying too much. If the shopping basket is on wheels, it may make sense to still carry it by hand. The bigger the shopping cart and shopping basket is, the more you will be tempted to fill it up with food that you actually don't need. The same holds true with your refrigerator, but that is harder to change!
Ask yourself if you really need those Mega Packs and bulk discounts. If you have a large family or are hosting a large gathering, they may make sense. Otherwise, it might not be the best idea. And all of that money saved from buying in bulk disappears when you don't eat a significant amount of those foods.
Order the right amount for you. Oftentimes in a café or restaurant, we cannot predict how much food will arrive. Thus, it's a good idea to ask the waiter about the portion sizes. If the amount seems like more than you can or want to eat, it may make sense to share it, or order two starters. And asking for a doggy bag for those good leftovers is always the smart solution to restaurant excess.
Fortunately, the "less is more" trend is gaining steam in the food world. Many people are starting to eat more wisely. There are several trends at play here: food waste awareness, global population and focus on the world's resources are all increasing. People will change their behavior as they become aware that they are spending huge amounts of money and time to feed their trash bins.
The focus on food waste is finally spreading all over the world: from the United Nations to the United States to ordinary consumers around the globe. The anti-food waste revolution has begun and everybody can join in. It's in your control. All you have to do is become the food activist in your kitchen -- starting right when you finish this article. Now!