Leftovers. We all have them. But how many of us can say we actually use all of them? I’m not just talking about that extra piece of chicken that works perfectly on top of tomorrow’s salad, but the open can of tomato puree on your refrigerator door, or the carton of chicken broth you opened because the recipe called for a quarter cup. How often do items end up in the trash can?
While lunch bowls brimming with healthy, delicious food are some of my favorite meals, I’ve been disturbed by how much goes to waste. It’s estimated that about one third of all food worldwide is never eaten. That’s $1 trillion worth of food; it could feed the world’s starving people four times over! Think about that for a second: people are literally dying of hunger, and we are throwing away four times as much food as it would take to save them.
Then there’s the environmental cost. Global food production is the third-largest contributor to greenhouse gasses after the US and China. That means that fully one third of the 3.3 billion tons of CO2 we emit by growing, harvesting, packaging and transporting food is emitted for no reason at all, because we simply throw that food away.
I think we can all do better than that.
I still have a long way to go towards wasting less food at home. I’ll think I have it figured out for a minute, but then life will change and I’ll realize I have a fridge full of moldy leftovers once again. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying. And my efforts over the years have yielded many tried and true tricks for reducing food waste. When put into practice, these methods:
Reduce our grocery bills by 30-50%
Help me eat more healthfully
Make me feel more organized
Improve food safety within our home
Help me improve my cooking skills by forcing me to be more creative.
They also help create a happier marriage because Scott doesn’t bug me as often about where he can find certain food items because the fridge is so packed!
Here are 10 easy ways to reduce food waste in your home:
Make A List. Sit down at home with your calendar and figure out exactly what your family will eat that week. Since you’re already at home, you can check your fridge and pantry to make sure you’re not buying something you may already have, and also make sure you haven’t missed something you need. Use the opportunity to check weekly product circulars and grocery store websites to see what may be on sale. Then stick to that list when you go to the grocery store. This way, you’ll avoid overbuying and impulse purchases.
Only Shop Once A Week. There are multiple points of view on this one, but I find that when I shop less, I buy less. By shopping with a list just once a week, I’ve cut our family’s food bills nearly in half, saved time, and also started wasting less food at home. Worried about perishables spoiling? Keep reading!
Meal Prep Like A Boss. After I go grocery shopping, I try to spend an hour or so preparing as many fresh ingredients as I can so they don’t go bad. Most cooked veggies and carbs last 3-4 days in the fridge, so if I prep on a Sunday, we have food through Thursday. Of course there are some weeks when a dedicated meal prep session just isn’t possible. I share my solution for that – plus hundreds of other meal prep tips – in this post.
Get It Delivered. Subscribing to your local CSA or using a service like Butcher Box or Imperfect Produce can help tide you over on perishables mid-week and ensure you don’t overbuy. I also have friends who swear they buy less when they use delivery services like Instacart or Amazon Prime because there are fewer temptations. And when you buy less, you waste less. Plain and simple.
Eat What You Have. We’re spoiled for choice in our modern world. It’s all too easy to pass over last night’s leftovers when there’s an amazing sandwich joint that will deliver to your doorstep at the click of a button. But while convenience definitely has its place, we tend to overuse those services. (Myself included!) If you have the time to cook what’s in your fridge – even if it’s not what you reallywant right that moment – then do it. Living that way was good enough for The Greatest Generation so it’ll be just fine for us, too.
Invest In Ice Cube Trays. I’ve had great success using ice cube trays to freeze everything from the leftover coffee at the bottom of the pot (no more watered down iced coffees!) to random quarter cups of chicken broth. I’ll even freeze cubes of minced herbs mixed with avocado oil before they go bad. I cannot overemphasize how convenient it is to have these things on hand. It feels like a double win!
Beware Of Buying In Bulk. I love hitting Costco for pantry staples or anything I can immediately freeze. But as a family of three, fruits and veggies generally go bad before we can finish them. Bulk items may be cheaper, but they’re only a good deal if you’re going to use every last bit. Otherwise, the price per item may actually be more than if you’d bought fewer because of the amount that you end up wasting. Food for thought the next time you plan your afternoon around the free samples.
Use The Whole Thing. With a little know-how, you can transform otherwise throw-away items into easy, convenient ingredients and meals. For example, throw the carcass of your grocery store roast chicken into your Instapot with kitchen scraps, herbs, and water to make a rich and flavorful chicken stock. And instead of trashing your broccoli stalks, run them through the food processor with some carrots, paleo mayo, and seasoning for a quick and nourishing slaw. Even carrot tops can be eaten in a pesto! So do a little Googling, and get cooking!
Clean Out Your Fridge Twice Weekly. Sorting through your fridge every three to four days insures you’re identifying uneaten leftovers before they spoil, and also removing fruits and veggies that may have molded before the spores can spread. It also helps keep things organized so you can see what you’ve got, which means you won’t buy something you already have and are also more likely to use it.
Rescue Food Before It Spoils. Cut the good part off that moldy peach and eat or freeze it. Make croutons out of that stale bread before it gets moldy. And for God’s sake keep the bananas out of the fruit bowl before they make everything go bad!
Freeze The Rest. Did you make too much Bolognese? Got an extra chicken breast nobody’s interested in? Pick more backyard berries than you can eat? All of these things can go right into the freezer. Most foods will be just fine in the freezer for 2-3 months. Just be sure to squeeze as much air out of the bag (or use a vacuum sealer) before freezing to avoid ice crystals and freezer burn.
Do you have a tip for wasting less food to share? Tell me about it in comments! Because when you know better, you do better!