reducing food waste

Reducing Food Waste - Tips for a More Responsible Kitchen

Reducing food waste is essential for a more sustainable and responsible kitchen. Discover practical tips and strategies for minimizing food waste and making the most of your ingredients in this comprehensive guide.

Nearly 40% of the food in the United States goes to waste each year. That is equal to about $218 billion dollars or 130 billion meals, and that’s just in the US. Not only does food waste have economic impacts, but it also has devastating impacts on the environment.

While these numbers may seem unsettling, if we all make a few little changes to our habits and practices in the kitchen, it can make a significant difference in reducing food waste. In this guide, we will look at different ways to reduce food waste, including proper storage of food, creative recipes using food scraps, and smart grocery shopping strategies.

1. Smart Grocery Shopping

A large portion of food waste occurs in our own homes, which means we all have an opportunity to reduce this waste by making smarter decisions when it comes to our purchases. And the best place to start is at the grocery store. Smart grocery shopping is the first step to creating a more responsible kitchen. Let’s explore some practical ways to shop smarter:

a. Plan Your Meals: Creating a meal plan for the week not only makes figuring out what to prepare each day easier, but it can also support more healthy eating habits. When creating a meal plan, consider the ingredients you already have, the shelf life of perishables, and any household dietary requirements. Planning meals in advance allows you to use ingredients efficiently and decreases the chances of food spoilage.

When planning meals, implement a meal rotation system where you plan to use similar ingredients in multiple dishes throughout the week. For example, if you buy a bunch of spinach, plan to use it in salads, omelets, and smoothies to prevent it from wilting before it's used. 

b. Make a Shopping List: We all know what happens when you go into the grocery store without a list - you either buy way too much stuff you don’t need, or you end up forgetting things. Shopping willy-nilly can quickly burn through your grocery budget, takes more time, and is also a ‘recipe’ for creating food waste (no pun intended).

c. Stick to a Budget: Reducing food waste also means being mindful of your spending. To stick to your budget, start paying attention to the unit price labels on store shelves. They help you compare prices effectively and choose the most budget-friendly options.

Take advantage of discounts, loyalty programs, and coupons to reduce your grocery expenses, but avoid buying something simply because it’s on sale. You’ll likely end up losing money this way, as you’re buying things you may not necessarily need. And be careful with bulk buying. While buying in bulk can save money, only purchase items you know you'll use before they expire, and ensure you have adequate and appropriate storage space.

food storage for less food waste

2. Proper Food Storage

Now that you’ve purchased your food, you want to keep it fresh and edible for as long as possible so you don’t need to throw it out. Here are some of our top tips for food storage:

a. Use Airtight Containers: Invest in a variety of airtight containers, ideally made from glass, stainless steel, or silicone, to store leftovers and ingredients. Get different sizes and shapes to accommodate various types of food. Consider using vacuum sealers for longer-term storage of meats, fruits, and vegetables. This method removes air, preventing freezer burn and extending freshness.

b. Label and Date Items: Prevent confusion and avoid wasting food by labeling containers with the date of storage. This practice ensures that you use the oldest items first. Also, always arrange your food items with the oldest ones at the front and newer ones at the back. This "first in, first out" system encourages you to use items before they spoil. It’s also a good idea to develop an understanding of the various temperature zones in your fridge and freezer. Store items like dairy and eggs in colder areas and raw meat on lower shelves to prevent cross-contamination.

3. Creative Recipe Ideas Using Scraps

Unfortunately, no matter how much you try, you may still end up with leftover scraps or produce that’s nearing the end of its shelf life. But luckily, there are many innovative ways to use scraps as part of delicious and nutritious recipes.

a. Citrus Zest and Peels: Beyond just using citrus zest and peels, consider making citrus-infused oils and vinegars. Place citrus peels in a jar, cover with vinegar or oil and let them infuse for a few weeks. You can use citrus-infused vinegar for an all-purpose cleaner, window cleaner, fridge deodorizer, and more. The acidity of citrus helps break down stains and grease, making it an excellent ingredient for homemade cleaners.

b. Vegetable Scraps for Stock: Expand on the idea of making vegetable stock by storing scraps in a dedicated container in the freezer. When the container is full, you can use the scraps to create a flavorful homemade stock. You can use this vegetable stock as a base for soups, sauces, and risottos, adding depth of flavor without the need for store-bought stock cubes. 

make soup to avoid food waste

c. Stale Bread for Croutons and Bread Crumbs: If your bread is starting to go stale, don’t throw it away, and make some homemade croutons or breadcrumbs instead! You could also use it to make flavorful bread-based dishes like panzanella salad or bread pudding.

Use homemade bread crumbs to coat chicken, fish, or tofu for a crispy, delicious texture. Season the crumbs with herbs and spices for added flavor.

d. Overripe Fruit for Smoothies and Jam: You may not want to eat slightly overripe fruit on it’s own, but it still has lots of nutritional value for smoothies. And if you’re feeling ambitious, you can use it to whip up some homemade jam. Beyond that, Incorporate overripe bananas into banana bread, muffins, or pancakes. Or use soft apples can be used in apple cobbler or apple slab pie.

If you can't use overripe fruit immediately, freeze it for future use in smoothies or baking.

4. Reduce Portion Sizes

Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel of the National Institute of Health has said, “Super-sized portions at restaurants have distorted what Americans consider a normal portion size, and that affects how much we eat at home as well.” But beyond the volume that we eat at home, the bigger issue may be the amount we physically think we need to put on our plates. You’ve likely heard the quote, “my eyes were bigger than my stomach,” when people fill their plates with more than they can eat. And what happens to that leftover food? It either ends up in the garbage or in a container at the back of the fridge, growing mold. 

Instead, portion control can help ensure that food isn’t wasted (and you can always make more if need be!). When planning meals, consider portion sizes to avoid leftovers. If you do end up with extra food, plan a meal or dish that incorporates those leftovers. Prepare meals in batches and freeze portions for later consumption, reducing the need for future cooking and minimizing waste.

5. Composting

Although not every community has access to a city composting program, such as green bins, there are ways you can also compost yourself that help divert your food waste from landfills. If you have a green bin, then composting is super straightforward, just ensure you’re composting correctly, such as not putting meat, dairy, grease, or pet feces in the bin.

If you don’t have a community composting program, then you can look into other options, such as a backyard composting system or an outdoor tumbling composter. If you have your own garden, then this is a great way to get some of the best and healthiest fertilizers, and it’s free!

compost to reduce food waste

6. Be Mindful of Expiry Dates

Oh, the dreaded expiry date. There’s nothing as disappointing as going in the fridge to grab that hummus you were so excited to eat, only to realize the label says it’s expired. But it’s important to understand the different food labels and their meanings, such as "best before," "use by," and "sell by" dates. These labels are not always indicative of food safety and when it's safe to use products beyond their date.

“Best before” is often found on non-perishables like canned goods, snacks, or dried foods. It indicates the date until which the product is expected to remain at its best quality, flavor, and texture. It's often used for foods where quality is a concern rather than safety. On the flip side, the “use by” date is typically found on perishable products like dairy, meat, and ready-to-eat foods. It indicates the date until which the product is safe to eat. Consuming the product after the “use by” date can be risky because it may have become spoiled or unsafe to eat.

7. Donate Surplus Food

If you do find yourself with surplus food, there are many opportunities to donate it to different initiatives, provided you meet their guidelines. Local food banks and charities will often accept food donations as long as they are unopened, non-perishables such as canned food, dried food, grains, shelf-stable milk, or bottled beverages. 

Depending on your location, there are also food rescue apps and organizations that will facilitate food donation and redistribution, connecting surplus food with those in need, such as Food Rescue US and Food Rescue Hero

Start Reducing Your Food Waste

By implementing these strategies, you can develop a more thorough understanding of how to reduce food waste in your kitchen. These are all easy and practical ways to make a positive impact on the environment and your budget while fostering a more responsible and sustainable approach to cooking and food management. With commitment and creativity, you can significantly reduce food waste, one meal at a time.