No one enjoys tossing spoiled food out. And yet, we find ourselves doing this on a regular basis. It can feel irresponsible—there are a lot of people in the world who don’t get enough to eat each day. Not only that, but we’re also wasting our precious financial resources and food waste can have harmful effects on the environment.
So, we’ve put together a list of proactive steps you can take to reduce your own food waste.
Send it all back to where it came from—why not? You can make healthy soil to grow plants, flowers, and even your own vegetables. There are plenty of resources out there to get you started. Don’t worry if you live in a city—there are a lot of companies who make composting simple when you don’t have a lot of land, like this one in Chicago.
2. Make Your Own Stock
Using a vegetable or bone broth in your meals is a great way to sneak in extra flavor and healthy minerals. The best part is, you can do it with leftover scraps from other meals! Simply collect them in a bag in the freezer, and boil them down when you have enough. Save money on not buying stock from the store and use your cooking scraps in the process.
3. Canning + Pickling
Preserving food is a simple way to prevent wasting it. Choose the foods your family loves the most (when they’re in season) and spend a day canning and/or pickling them together. Your pantry will be stocked with your favorites and they can sit there for a long time.
4. Pay Attention to What You Regularly Toss Out
If you find yourself regularly tossing out half of the salad package, you probably could just get the smaller size. When at the grocery store, it’s easy to get into the mindset of wanting to make sure you have enough food. So we over-buy to prevent another run to the store in a few days. You won’t know until you try: get the smaller size and see what happens.
5. Be Honest About Leftovers
Let’s be honest—not everyone loves to eat leftovers a few days in a row. Despite our best intentions, leftovers get less and less appealing the farther they get from their created date. So, let’s be honest about our leftovers. If there’s so much food that it won’t be realistically eaten within the next day or two, consider freezing it. Freezing will maintain your food’s freshness, allowing you to enjoy it at a future date without wasting it in the fridge. Another option: don’t make any more than you actually need for the meal.
6. Don’t Over-Serve
Every parent experiences the part of dinner clean-up when you’re scraping half-eaten food into the garbage from your kids’ plates. You might have leftovers, but it won’t be from something that’s been nibbled on from all sides. The best way to prevent that waste is to limit the portion size that goes on the kids’ plate in the first place. If they’re still hungry, you can always serve them more. Not sure what a proper portion size is for kids? This helpful chart explains it with relatable sizes.
7. Keep Fridge and Cupboards Organized
The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” isn’t just a clever thing to say. It’s also very relatable. If you forget about food you’ve purchased, there’s a good chance that it’s because it’s hiding behind something else in the back of the cupboard. It sits there, untouched and expiring, while a newer product is purchased. Happens all the time. It’s not a fun job, but regularly cleaning out and organizing your food cupboards will help keep all of its contents top-of-mind. If you want to be even more on top of things, consider using a handy app to help you remember what’s all in there—even while you’re at the store.
8. Properly Store Food
Each type of food has its own preference for temperature and moisture levels. Most of us put things in the fridge, the cupboard, or in a bowl on the counter because that’s where it was in our parent’s house. However, if you don’t pay attention to what each food actually needs, you could be shortening the lifespan of your produce significantly. Check out this handy guide on proper food storage for more specifics.
9. Plan Meals Before You Shop
It may feel like more work, but it’ll save you in the long run—both food and money. When you know exactly which meals you are making for which days, fresh produce doesn’t stand a chance in going bad. We typically encounter rotting or moldy produce when we take too long to actually consume it. If you know exactly when and for what you’re using the produce for, you can purchase it at the appropriate time.
The key to making any life change is to take it one step at a time. Pick one small thing that’s manageable, and commit to that. Once it’s become a regular part of life, make the next small change. And you don’t have to do this on your own—make new family traditions that support minimizing your food waste.