Nutrition Corner: Eat right and reduce food waste

Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret -

I hate to throw out food. It must be because I grew up in a family of six children and two parents all living in one household. My dad was a city firefighter and my mom worked in a service department at Montgomery Ward. We enjoyed many ethnic foods as well as canned vegetables. Having shared that, we did not waste food.

March is National Nutrition Month. Each year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics picks a topic which helps improve our food selections. This year the theme is Eat Right and Reduce Food Waste.

Reducing food waste is something we all want to do. If we do waste, we feel bad about it. In some cases, it’s inevitable but, in others, we can make a change and reduce our household food waste. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics gives us these tips to help.

First, plan meals based on the foods you already have on hand. Start with the most perishable types like fresh vegetables and fresh fruits. Incorporate these foods into your planned meals just as you would plan the main entrée. For example, if you have lettuce, cucumbers and bananas, plan when to eat them. Will it be breakfast, lunch or dinner?

Next, get creative with leftovers. Add vegetables to soups, canned or homemade. Sauté leftover vegetables with your morning eggs. Cook once and eat twice. “Planned overs” can look different the second time served. Leftover chicken can become a chicken stir-fry or a chicken wrap.

Lastly, learn the shelf life of foods. “Use by,” “Best by” and “Best before” dates are for quality purposes, except in the case of baby formula. If stored properly such as a dry, cool place, they may be safe to eat beyond the date. Sell-by dates are on perishable foods such as meats and dairy. Learn the amount of time they are good for beyond the sell-by dates when held at proper temperatures. Ground meats, 1-2 days, steaks and roasts 2-4 days. Use your thermometer; check that your refrigerator is between 35 and 40 degrees or below to ensure they are stored safely.

Here is a recipe to plan meals based on the foods you already have on hand. It is make-your-own casserole from what is on Hand. Choose a pasta or rice, a vegetable and a protein, either tuna fish or ground meat. Add a sauce to create your own casserole. Have fun being creative

Make a casserole from what is on hand

Select food(s) from each category or use your own favorites. Combine in a non-fat cooking sprayed 2 to 2 1/2 quart casserole dish. Cover and bake at 350 F for about 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Starch – select ONE:

• 2 cups uncooked whole grain pasta (macaroni, penne, spiral, bow tie), COOKED

• 1 cup uncooked long-grain white or brown rice, COOKED

Protein – select ONE:

• 2 cups cooked ground beef, drained

• 2 cups cooked and diced chicken, turkey, ham, beef, or pork

• 2 cups chopped hard-cooked egg

• 2 (6 to 8-oz.) cans tuna fish or salmon

• 2 cups canned, drained and rinsed beans or cooked dry beans (kidney, etc.)

Vegetable – select ONE:

• 1 (10-oz.) pkg. thawed and drained frozen spinach, broccoli, green beans, green peas

• 1 (16-oz.) can green beans, peas, carrots, corn, rinsed and drained

• 2 cups sliced fresh zucchini

Sauce – select ONE:

• 2 cups white sauce or 1 can sauce-type soup (mushroom, celery, cheese, tomato, etc.) mixed with milk to make 2 cups*

• 1 (16-oz.) can diced tomatoes with juice

Flavor – select ONE or MORE:

• 1/2 cup chopped celery, 1/4 cup chopped onion, 1/4 cup sliced black olives

• 1 to 2 teaspoons mixed dried leaf herbs (basil, thyme, marjoram, tarragon)

• Pepper, garlic, onion powder to taste

Topping- select ONE or MORE:

If desired after heating, place on top:

• 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

• 1/4 cup low fat shredded Swiss, Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

• 1/4 cup bread crumbs with 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil drizzled on top

Bake casserole, and then return casserole with topping(s), uncovered, to oven for about 10 minutes. * Reduce the sodium and cost and make your own white sauce.

* Easy White Sauce

Use this easy white sauce whenever a recipe calls for a can of creamy soup, such as mushroom. It is low in sodium and low in cost.

1/4 cup canola or olive oil

¼ cup flour

2 cup nonfat milk

In a saucepan, heat the oil. Add the flour. Add the milk gradually. Heat to boiling and stir constantly until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat. Yields 2 cups of white sauce.

Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret Corner Mary R. Ehret

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at