This article appears in Family magazine February 2018.

Food waste is a massive problem in the United States, and it starts right at home. That apple on your countertop or bag of snap peas in your fridge have a good chance of ending up in the trash rather than on your dinner table.

No one goes grocery shopping with the idea that the food being bought will end up in the garbage, but it happens much more often than people realize, said Ruth Litchfield, a professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University.

The numbers are shocking. According to Litchfield, in America:

• 40 percent of all food produced goes to waste.

• 20 percent of the food we purchase never gets consumed.

• 300 pounds of food are thrown away by each person every year.

There are several reasons why so much of our food ends up in the trash and eventually a landfill, which all relate to our mentality about food. We need to move past the idea that more is better, Litchfield said. Our habits are feeding our tendencies to waste, she said.

Here are some tips to cut down on food waste:

Plan meals by the week

There are several benefits to making a weekly menu, not just cutting waste. If you know you’re going to be out during the dinner hour or busy with other activities during the week, cut back on what you’re buying at the store, Litchfield said. Make meals using frozen or canned vegetables and other non-perishable items that you can use the following week, if plans change.

Find new uses for produce

Consider freezing or donating fresh produce that you’re not going to eat before it starts to wilt or rot. Cut and package the fruits and veggies so that they’re easy to pull out of the freezer and add to a smoothie or casserole.

Take an inventory

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests that before shopping consumers take stock of what’s in the pantry, fridge and freezer. Use that first.

Composting

Some communities offer composting programs, but Litchfield said it’s relatively easy to do your own. Food converted to compost is waste diverted from the landfill, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Understand sell-by dates

Americans throw away 160 billion pounds of food that is fine to eat because of confusion over “sell by” or “best by” labels, Litchfield said. The date that follows has nothing to do with the safety of the food — it’s related to quality, she said. Infant formula is the only product in the United States required to have an expiration date.

Sell-by dates help grocery stores manage inventory. Best-by dates refer to optimal quality, she said.

“Ninety percent of us throw away food too early — much in part to the dates which are related to quality, not safety,” Litchfield said.

Control portion sizes

Use smaller plates at home to control portion size. At restaurants, ask for a half portion. Use the portion calculator at love foodhatewaste.com.