Buying food

When buying food, we think about our family’s preferences, health, and budget. But it’s also a good idea to consider the environment.

Did you know? 

  • Packaging and containers make up almost 30% (by weight) of trash.
  • Minnesota is home to more than 650 certified organic farms.
  • The average American household throws away about 14% of the food they purchase, at a cost of $590 per year. 

At the grocery store, we have lots of options. When shopping for food, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are there ways of purchasing this product with less packaging?
  • Is there a locally grown option for this food?
  • How much will I eat while the food is still fresh?

Reduce packaging waste

Packaging makes up 30% of trash in Minnesota and it is easy to reduce. Here are a few options. Be sure to visit the reduce, reuse, recycle page to learn more.

  • Buy products and quantities with minimal amounts of packaging.
  • Buy items like rice, nuts, and candy from the bulk bin. See the “how to buy in bulk" section to learn how.
  • Use small cloth or mesh bags for vegetables. They can be washed and reused in between trips!

glass jarHow to buy in bulk

  1. Weigh the empty container.
  2. Jot the weight on the label.
  3. Fill the container.
  4. Write the PLU number (the code for that food) on the label.

You can use reseal-able plastic bags, plastic containers, or empty jars. Scales are usually provided so that you don’t pay for the weight of your container. If you don’t see what you need, ask for help.


Labels can help you understand where and what you are buying. Here are a few common labels:


USDA Organic. U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for production, handling, and labeling of organic agricultural products.

Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using: most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Read more about organic standards from the USDA.


Food Alliance Certified. Food Alliance is a nonprofit organization that certifies farms, ranches, and food handlers for sustainable agricultural and facility management practices. A local affiliate certifies Midwest farms, so you also know it is a local product.


Fair Trade Certified. TransFair USA, a nonprofit organization, tracks products from farm to finished product, to verify compliance with Fair Trade criteria, including: fair price, fair labor conditions, and environmental sustainability.


Minnesota Grown. People who grow, raise, or process Minnesota products can receive an annual license from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to use the Minnesota Grown logo.


Efficient storing and cooking

Your refrigerator and freezer can account for 15% of your home energy use. Chilling and freezing of food as it is shipped also uses energy.

  • Make the most of your heat. When cooking on the stove, use the smallest pot that you can, cover it with a lid, and don’t let the flame leak around the sides of the pan. Cook multiple recipes at one time.
  • Use smaller appliances. Purchase a refrigerator that meets your needs, but is no larger than necessary. Also look for the Energy Star rating on this and other kitchen appliances.
  • Clean your coils. The coils on refrigerators should be cleaned regularly with a vacuum or brush. Condenser coils are located in the back of older refrigerators and at the bottom of most new ones.
  • Air dry. Use your dishwasher’s no-dry setting or turn off the dishwasher after the final rinse, prop open the door, and allow the dishes to air dry.

Minimize food waste

The average American household throws away about 14% of the food they purchase, at a cost of $590 per year.

  • Buy only what you need. Use a portion planner to help you choose the right amount.
  • If you buy large quantities, freeze smaller portions right away. Try preserving and canning during summertime abundance.
  • Support and participate in food rescue programs, such as the one run by Second Harvest Heartland.
  • Instead of throwing away scraps and spoiled food, compost them. See the compost page for more information.