Did you know that the US wastes 30-40 percent of the food we produce? That’s crazy!! And about 39 percent of that waste happens in our home. Wasted food is wasted energy, time, and money. Reducing waste is a great way to make the most of your grocery budget and have a lighter footprint on the earth.
Lucky for us, reducing food waste is mostly about mindset. Here are some easy ways to reduce food waste at home:
1. Plan grocery runs and meals
Much of the food waste that happens in our homes is due to a lack of planning. As parents and caregivers, we’re often busy people. It’s easy to be ambitious about how much time we actually have to spend in the kitchen. Making a plan for some of your weekly meals and sticking to a grocery list can help prevent food waste from impulse buying and buying too much at once. Never shop hungry! Also, do your best to buy less produce, more often.
In our family we stick to the same staple meals, and some are great as “kitchen sink recipes” For example, we make a dish that we call a Bowl of Goodness almost every week. It’s grass-fed ground beef with rice and whatever veggies that we have in the fridge. It’s GREAT for using up the veggies that may be starting to go bad.
2. Use your freezer
If you have a family who doesn’t like eating the same thing three days in a row, make the most of leftovers by using the freezer. When you make a big batch of soup or a big casserole like lasagna, freeze some for a day when you may not have energy to cook.
Just remember to label so you don’t lose track of what’s in your freezer. Leftovers can then turn into an easy, pre-made lunch or dinner next week or next month, and by then it’ll feel new again!
It’s super easy to freeze many fruits and veggies. Notice that your bananas are going bad? Peel them and freeze them to add to smoothies or baked goods down the road. You can also freeze greens like spinach and kale, most herbs, along with broccoli, berries, and carrots. The general rule of thumb that we follow is that if cook it then you can freeze it.
The same goes for meat and fish. If you buy too much, then just throw it in the freezer until you’re ready to use it. There’s nothing worse than throwing out a few pounds of pastured chicken thighs just because you forgot about it or ran out of time.
3. Label Label Label!
Get a roll of white masking tape and a sharpie. Write the date and what it is on your leftover containers. Trust me; this will save you time, brainpower, and reduce your kitchen waste!
Labeling leftovers takes the guesswork out of how old a meal is and what it is. You can even get creative with your labels to encourage your family to finish leftovers. “Delicious squash soup made with love” might get a better response than an unknown jar of orangey puree.
4. Organize your fridge.
Most of us can relate to finding a bag of rotten lettuce or greens in the back of your fridge because we forgot about them.
If your fridge is well stocked, then it can be easy to lose stock of what’s in your fridge 🙂 One way to organize your fridge is using the “first in, first out” method or FIFO for short. This basically means that you should put newer food in the back and the older food and any leftovers you need to eat in the front. Out of sight usually means out of mind.
5. Save and finish those leftovers
Finishing leftovers is one of the easiest ways to reduce the waste in your kitchen. But it can be easy to forget about them. Sometimes, the fix is as simple as putting leftovers somewhere else. Easy access can make all the difference.
Make sure your jars or containers don’t get shoved to the back of the fridge where they can’t be seen. Can you dedicate a specific place in the fridge for pre-made meals? Maybe the lowest shelf, so that short kids looking for a snack will see leftovers first?
Another way to help leftovers leave your fridge for stomachs rather than trash bags, is to use clear containers and even flip over your Pyrex containers so the food is displayed rather than hidden by an opaque lid.
We love packing leftovers from last night’s dinner for lunch the next day. Pack leftovers into single portions immediately after they’ve been cooked for an easy grab and go lunch.
6. Plate food mindfully
Portions in the US are generally much bigger than other places around the world. This can lead to waste when we don’t eat everything on our plate simply because we served too much. Our knee-jerk reaction is to toss whatever is left on the plate, so think ahead to try to reduce what’s left.
Pay attention to how much you are serving your family. Try putting a little less on the plate if your kids are constantly ending a meal with food left over. You can always serve seconds.
7. Save veggie scraps and bones for broth
After you roast a chicken and pull all the good bits off, put the carcass in a pot with some water and make your own chicken stock. Keep a container in the freezer to collect carrot ends, onion ends and skins, wilted bits of celery, bits of peppers, asparagus ends, herb stems, and any other broth-worthy scraps. When the bag is full, simmer in a pot of water for a few hours (or overnight in the slow cooker) to make a delicious broth.
8. Learn to ferment and pickle
Fermentation is great for saving old veggies and adding nutritional value in the process. Pickling preserves veggies for longer too, and you can pickle more than just cucumbers! A quick brine of water, salt, vinegar, and some spices can compliment green beans, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus, and onions to name a few.
Quick pickles need to stay refrigerated unless you plan to can them, but a pickled cucumber will last much longer than a plain cucumber!
Fermented vegetables are fantastic probiotics and help populate your gut microbiome. You can check out a book from the library or just find recipes online for guidance. Fermentation is not as difficult as it’s made out to be, and it’s usually quite clear when something has gone wrong. If there is mold or your ferment smells bad or has a slimy texture, toss it.
Fermenting and pickling at home is another great way to involve your kids and teach them about biological processes!
Start with something really simple like sauerkraut. Then, you can start to play around with making different mixes of veggies and adding in different spices.
9. Understand expiration dates
Understand expiration dates. “Sell by,” “expires on,” and “best by” aren’t regulated terms. These are suggested dates by food companies and retailers that air on the cautious end of when food may go bad. They usually mean peak quality, and none of those mean that it’s unsafe to eat products that have gone beyond the given date.
Know the difference between food that’s just a little old and food that is no longer safe to eat. Your senses are usually pretty good at figuring out if something is not safe to eat: if it smells bad, if the texture is wrong, or if you can see mold, toss it. But those wiggly carrots and bendy celery are still fine to eat. Some veggies that get a little old are not so nice raw but still delicious cooked.
Also, firm fruits and vegetables, hard cheeses, and salamis with mold spots can be saved by chopping around the moldy parts. And sprouting potatoes are okay too if they are just starting to grow, and you can cut away the eyes which are toxic to eat.
10. Store Your Produce so it Lasts
It’s disheartening to find a bag of wilted lettuce in the back of your fridge. Lucky for us there are some easy ways to store your produce so it lasts longer.
Avocados going bad on the counter? Throw them in your fridge until you’re ready to eat them. That will slow down the ripening process.
Have a ton of berries? Only wash what you’re going to eat. Washing all of the berries encourages mold to grow faster.
Have a ton of cilantro or other herbs? Put them into a mason jar of water and store them loosely covered with an upside down plastic bag in the fridge. They’ll last up to a month that way.
Save the Food has an extensive resource on storing food, including tips on how to freeze items and revive older or leftover bits. Check out their website to learn about specific produce items, and we’ve also compiled a handy printable guide on the best ways to store the most common fruits and veggies!
11. Grow more food from scraps
Plants are resilient, and many plants can grow from mere kitchen scraps! Onion ends placed in a bit of water in good sun can regrow their tops! You can sprout nearly endless green onions and scallions from root ends.
Celery and lettuce will regrow from root ends too. Instead of tossing what you thought were useless scraps, you can now get a whole other plant from the produce you already bought. Now that’s reducing waste!
Your kids will think this is super fun as well.
Two of the easiest things to compost are eggshells and coffee grounds. Save eggshells and throw them in your oven to roast after when you turn your oven off after baking something. Then grind them in your food processor or blender. Eggshells are a great way to add calcium to your soil. You can also spread coffee ground directly onto your soil to add nitrogen. Just do your research on what your plants like!
13. Make it fun
Reducing food waste can be turned into a game in your house. This can be an exciting endeavor instead of a stressful or guilt-ridden task. Try to keep a light attitude but embrace the challenge. Maybe you can weigh your food waste each week and see if you can reduce the waste with little changes. Each of your kids can try growing some celery from a root end, and you can measure them as they grow!
Find ways to play as you challenge your family to reduce the food waste that leaves the kitchen!
We hope these ways help you and your family reduce the amount of food waste at home. Remember 30–40% of food is wasted each year. Don’t throw your hard earned food budget into the trash. Reducing waste at home is mostly about mindset and the planet, and the bonus is that we get to be a little bit kinder to our planet too.