These ten easy tips for reducing food waste will help you use up more food and throw out less, saving money and keeping a cleaner kitchen in the process!
If you are like me, one of the biggest stressors in your kitchen is how much food you throw in the trash (or compost, or garbage disposal). Food is not cheap, and food waste both in the home and in the restaurant and grocery industry is a very real concern. Reducing food waste may not be as difficult as you might think, though. Here are 10 easy ways that I have found to cut down on how much I am throwing out.
Make a meal plan and grocery list
When people tell me that they don’t meal plan or shop from a list, my standard reaction is disbelief. I have been writing at least a “suggested” meal plan and shopping from a grocery list for 17 years, and I can’t imagine how I would ever get from one end of the grocery store to the other with items to actually create a meal if I didn’t. Not only will meal planning and writing a list help you to know what you’re cooking/buying, it will keep you from buying things that you don’t need.
Only buy what you need
This may sound obvious, but I think that buying things that we don’t actually need is a huge source of food waste. I know that it is here in my house. So many heads of lettuce have gone to a watery grave because I bought them thinking “yes, I’ll serve salad every single night with dinner!” but failed to actually incorporate this into my plan.
If you stick to your list and only buy the things you need, you’ll cut way down on this. I’d much rather make a quick stop at the grocery store to grab something I didn’t get than to throw away something that I bought and didn’t serve before it turned into slop in my fridge.
Plan for leftovers
Again, I hear so frequently that people don’t eat leftovers. And I get it…it can be hard to eat the same thing more than once, and some things just don’t taste as good on the second day (or the third). I can say with complete certainty, though, that no other strategy has saved me as much food waste as planning for leftovers.
Sometimes we will freeze our leftovers, and other times we will eat them the next day or a day or two later. I also frequently plan leftovers that can be “repurposed” into something else (e.g. grilled chicken could become chicken tacos). Those are my favorite leftovers. If I am planning something that I know will not taste good on day two, I’ll try to only make enough for one meal or I’ll freeze it immediately (sometimes that helps to stave off that weird day two flavor).
Don’t fall for the “buying in bulk” trap
There are some things that I always, always buy in bulk: coffee, paper towels, toilet tissue…
There are other things that I would never, ever buy in bulk: cheese, produce, anything with an expiration date that probably shouldn’t be ignored
My point is this: only buy in bulk the things that you know you can use before they are no longer worth using. Savings on bulk items only count if you don’t throw those items out before you can use them. If you know that your family will eat a bag of 6 avocados from Costco before they turn into little leathery footballs, by all means, go for it. But if not…back away. Slowly.
Buy canned or frozen vegetables
Now, I’m not going to lie and tell you that there are not vegetables that I only prepare from fresh. Have you ever eaten a canned potato? I rest my case.
However, there are some vegetables that I buy almost exclusively canned or frozen. For anything that doesn’t require a fresh tomato, canned tomatoes are the way to go. As for corn, green beans, peas, artichoke hearts…I frequently buy those things frozen. Consider what your use for them is going to be. If I am serving something on its own, I’ll often purchase fresh. If it’s going in to a soup, casserole, etc., frozen is almost always just as good.
Don’t always buy fresh herbs
Like lettuce, fresh herbs frequently meet a watery, slimy demise in my fridge. It’s rare that I use them up before they start to turn…it just happens so quickly.
I have really gotten into the “lightly dried” herbs and herbal pastes such as those produced by Gourmet Garden (this is not sponsored, I just really love their products!). I have not had any issues so far with not using those up before they go bad. Obviously, another option is to grow your own herbs…and how can you go wrong with that (unless you are a terrible gardener, like me)?
Make small batches
There are two people that live in my house. Therefore, I know that if something is (a) not likely to get eaten before it is no longer edible; or (b) easily freezable; that I should probably not make enough of said item to serve eight people.
I have become a master at making small batches. I won’t lie, I have even halved a single egg before. That is taking it to a bit of an extreme, but hey! I didn’t waste anything (well, except maybe half an egg…oops)!
For us, turning a huge recipe into a smaller one or only baking a few cookies or brownies not only cuts down on food waste, it keeps me from having baked goods or other treats staring me in the face begging to be eaten.
Share with friends
If you are just dying to make something that you know cannot be produced in a small batch but there is zero chance you are going to eat it all, give it away! Chances are that you know someone who would appreciate a meal that they didn’t have to cook from time to time. I like to keep some extra containers (Rubbermaid Take-Alongs are perfect) that I don’t care if I get back or not specifically for this purpose.
Freezer friendly foods
Whether you are talking about meals that you prep ahead, freeze, and remove from the freezer just before cooking, or foods that can be cooked and frozen to be pulled out later for a quick, no cook meal, freezer friendly foods are one of my favorite things!
One of my latest loves is Instant Pot freezer meals, where I can throw a bunch of things in a container (again, the aforementioned Take-Alongs are perfect), stick the container in the fridge, and either thaw it before throwing it into the Instant Pot or just dump the whole frozen chunk of food in the Instant Pot (see my vegetable beef soup!). They make my life so much easier!
I also love to freeze small packages of cooked and shredded meat, taco meat, and soups. I frequently freeze breads as well, because we often do not eat an entire package of bread before it gets stale (or sometimes moldy). America’s Test Kitchen says that bread stays much fresher if you freeze it than if you put it in the refrigerator!
This is my other new love. I have toyed with the idea of meal prepping for some time now, but I just began doing it in earnest a few weeks ago and I have to say, I’m never looking back.
It’s a great feeling to grab a lunch from the fridge in the morning and know that it is healthy, delicious, and you didn’t have to throw it together in a frenzy the night before. I don’t prep my dinners to the point of putting them in individual containers, but I do prep as many ingredients as possible ahead of time. This means that I don’t have to chop ten different vegetables while I am verging on hangry and have fifteen other things I need to get done as well. I am much more likely to actually cook the meals that I planned than hit the drive-thru, order a pizza, or make a grilled cheese if the ingredients are prepped and ready to go.
Another piece of this is that I look in my fridge every week at the ingredients that are already in there as I determine what to make for the next week. I actually used up an entire bag of carrots for the first time in I can’t tell you how long…and my fridge has never been so clean. I’m not even joking. It’s a great feeling!
On those last two notes, keep your eyes peeled for tons more meal prep and freezer meal ideas coming up on Chattavore!
What are your favorite tips for reducing food waste in your kitchen?