The tips and tricks I’ve compiled below from research and my own experiences are there to help jump-start your journey as a food waste warrior. I’ve broken them down into 7 categories for ease of implementation. Whether you already do a few of these or you’ve been focused on reducing your household food waste for years, there is always room for improvement. If you’re a newbie that’s interested in learning the ins and outs of food waste, the Beginners Guide to Reducing Food Waste is a great place to start!
A lack of planning for meals and snacks is a great way to waste food, but these tips & tricks should help remedy that.
Tip #1 – Meal plan for success!
This is one of the most important tips & tricks to reducing food waste. Choose all of your meals and snacks for the week before going to the store. Think about how many meals will be eaten at home vs. going out to eat. Will you have any leftovers?
Tip #2 – Find menu inspiration at home first.
Maybe the cans of green beans in your pantry will give you a hankering for your mom’s savory green bean casserole. Maybe some meat in your freezer or a leftover side will spark an idea. As a matter of fact, my lunch today was created around leftover Mexican rice that no longer paired well with any other leftovers and was, therefore, doomed to become a science experiment.
Tip #3 – Check your kitchen for snacks and recipe ingredients before going to the store.
We aren’t perfect and our memory isn’t infallible. On more than one occasion, I’ve gotten home with my groceries and started to put them away only to find I already had a unopened jar of peanut butter and another box of quinoa in my pantry.
Tip #4 – Keep a running list of what you have on hand.
I realize this isn’t ideal for items like ketchup. The good Lord knows I don’t have time to calculate how much ketchup I put on my hamburger and update a food inventory list accordingly. I imagine you don’t either. I would recommend keeping a food inventory list for staples like bread, cheese, meat, and the like. This will save you time and wasted food.
Tip #5 – Cater to your family’s preferred foods and flavors.
While I believe it is important to try new dishes, it’s best to keep the recipe experiments to a minimum each week. I would suggest no more than 2 new recipes per week. If a recipe is a dud or your kids don’t like a new seasoning you’re trying, there’s a greater chance it won’t get eaten. I still remember how awful my first attempt at chicken teriyaki was when I was in college. My husband (then fiancé) and I couldn’t eat it and the whole meal went in the trash. Yikes!
Tip #6 – Don’t make a double batch of a new recipe.
Unless, of course, you have a large family and it can’t be avoided, don’t double or triple a recipe you haven’t tried yet. I’ve been bitten one too many times by deceptive recipe cards and pictures of food on Pinterest to ever make this mistake again. I still remember when my mom thought a ham and pineapple recipe from a new cookbook sounded amazing, so she made a double batch. 99% of that meal ended up in the trash that same night!
Tip #7 – Plan for smaller portion sizes.
If you don’t like eating leftovers or you know they’ll spoil before they get eaten, cooking smaller portion sizes may be for you.
Tip #8 – Be flexible.
If you’ve had a rough day and just aren’t up for cooking or something threw a major kink into your plans, don’t sweat it. We’ve all been there and the occasional slip up is going to happen. The key is to preserve your food as best as you can in these situations. I know from personal experience that sometimes one night out turns into two or three. If this sounds like you, put the meat and produce you were planning to use in the freezer, if possible. As long as there are still ice crystals on thawing meat or it feels as cold as it would from the fridge, you can refreeze the meat.
Grocery Shopping Tips
Shopping habits can dictate where a lot of food waste happens. Try out some of these tips & tricks to help alleviate some of your food waste at home.
Tip #9 – Stick to your grocery list!
If you walk by the toilet paper aisle and suddenly remember you’re almost out of toilet paper, by all means, throw it in your cart. If you see the newest flavor of Oreo’s batting its eyelashes at you and it wasn’t already on your list, muster up all of your self-control and put on your blinders.
Tip #10 – Use a grocery pick-up or delivery service.
This is one of the easier tips & tricks to reducing food waste at home. This has been a HUGE help for me and my impulse buys!
Tip #11 – Buy “ugly” produce.
As consumers in America, our standards are too high for the aesthetic of our produce. It’s time to suck it up, Buttercup! Buy those asymmetrical lemons, oddly sized onions, and discolored squash. They taste the same as their prettier counterparts. I know from a recent experience that it can be tough to break through that mental barrier, though; especially when you have a bin full of vein-y sweet potatoes staring you in the face. You had better believe it took me a hot second to work past that one! If your grocery store only offers aesthetically pleasing produce, find a local farmer’s market (see below) or a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm that delivers to your area.
Tip #12 – Go to your farmer’s market first.
See what you can mark off your list here before you go to your favorite grocery store. Shopping local is a great way to give back to your community, but it’s also more environmentally friendly. The farmers typically will sell various sizes of produce. Some even offer discounts for their cosmetically challenged produce. There’s also the added bonus of the eggs, meat, and produce traveling a shorter distance to the market and eco-friendly packaging. This is truly one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday morning with my little family.
Tip #13 – Only buy in bulk if you will use it up.
Buying spinach in bulk is my biggest weakness because it’s so much cheaper! I have the best intentions to make smoothies throughout the week, but some days I just get lazy and eat something that doesn’t require chopping.
Tip #14 – Pay attention to food product dating.
In my experience, dairy milk spoils on or near the date printed on the jug. If you know you won’t use it up before that date, look for a date that suits your needs. However, if you need a quart of buttermilk and you plan to use it up soon after buying it, go ahead and buy the earlier dated jug. You’ll save some milk from being wasted at the retail level of the food supply chain while still getting what you need. The same strategy can be applied to other dairy products, meat, leafy greens, fruit & veggie trays, and the like.
Tip #15 – Buy produce at different stages of ripeness.
There’s no rule that says all of your bananas have to be either green or yellow with spots. Pull off a couple green bananas and grab some ripe ones so you don’t have to worry about your bananas going bad by the end of the week. The same rule applies for avocados, peaches, pears, and the like.
Food Storage Tips
Improper food storage is an easy way to waste food, so it’s important to use these storage tips & tricks to extend the life of some of your perishable foods.
Tip #16 – Keep your refrigerator and freezer at the recommended temperatures.
The FDA recommends refrigerators be kept at or below 40°F (4°C) while freezers should be 0°F (-18°C). Oops! My fridge’s freezer was set to 6°F.
Tip #17 – Store food accordingly so perishables don’t spoil.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are usually the biggest culprits of food waste in our homes. Dairy, meat, poultry, & fish are a close second. Some foods, like onions and potatoes, should not be stored in close proximity to one another. Others, like tomatoes and peaches, are best kept on the counter.
Tip #18 – Let your freezer be your friend!
From meat to fruits & veggies to bread to dairy, the freezer can be a great tool in helping you fight food waste at home.
Tip #19 – Clean out your fridge regularly.
In general, it’s a good idea to give your fridge a good scrub to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria like Listeria. It’s equally important to weed out spoiled foods so other foods aren’t hidden. Out of sight, out of mind in the fridge leads to a bad habit of wasted food.
Tip #20 – Check the label on condiments.
There’s a wide array of condiments out there and each one’s ingredients dictate whether it goes in the refrigerator or back in the pantry after being opened. I’ve been guilty of not keeping a few condiments chilled before.
Tip #21 – Keep herbs and spices away from sources of heat.
While it’s handier to keep seasonings by the oven and stove, heat damages their flavor. They won’t spoil, but they will loose their oomph quicker. This storage tip is news to me! I’m going to have to seriously rethink my kitchen layout.
Tip #22 – Dehydrate and can excess foods.
Dehydrating is great for extra fruits and herbs that might otherwise go to waste. Canning is very helpful when you have an abundance of fruits and veggies in your garden. However, if you buy produce in bulk for making your own sauces and jellies, canning would be the way to go to prolong the shelf life of these items.
Food Prep Tips
Food prep doesn’t get enough attention when people are trying to reduce food waste, but these are some simple tips & tricks you can use to help keep your food fresher longer.
Tip #23 – Wash, dry, and prep produce the day you buy it.
The busier and lazier ones of us are less likely to snack on something that still requires washing and/or cutting. It also helps speed up dinner prep if everything is already chopped, minced, or sliced. Ultimately, this will keep you on track with your meal plan & prevent some of your produce and meat from going to waste. I know I’ve opted to eat out on more than one occasion because I ran out of time to prep and cook dinner.
Tip #24 – Make freezer meals.
This is a great way to keep your ingredients fresher for longer. Freezer meals are such a blessing on busy evenings too! Of all my tips & tricks, this is the one I’m looking forward to improving on the most.
Tip #25 – Don’t toss veggie scraps.
You can freeze these lesser used parts and use them for homemade veggie broth. Veggie leaves can also be good additions to stir-fry, soups, and smoothies.
Tip #26 – Cook and freeze perishables for the month.
Do you make a lot of recipes that call for cooked chicken, ground beef, or bacon? Cook them and freeze them for quick lunches and dinners! I also love baking up a batch or two of our favorite muffins and keeping them in the freezer for a quick breakfast or snack. I’ve also done this with fritters, pancakes, cookies, and sweet breads.
Eating Out Tips
Between buffets and portion sizes, eating at restaurants can sometimes derail your food waste reduction goals. These tips & tricks can help you find your way back on track!
Tip #27 – Order smarter.
If you know you can’t finish the portions you’ll get at certain restaurants, share an entrée, skip the appetizer, and/or order half-sized portions when possible. If all else fails, I always eat half of my plate and take the rest home for another meal.
Tip #28 – Only take what you can eat at all-you-can-eat buffets.
It can be really hard to resist filling up 3 plates of food for the price of a buffet, but this typically creates a lot of waste. Besides, it’s just not healthy to stuff yourself to the point of discomfort.
Tip #29 – If you want to try a new dish from a buffet, take a small portion first.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten something from a buffet thinking it looked delicious, but it was either too salty, too spicy, or just didn’t taste good.
Tip #30 – Request foods be left off of your plate.
If you already know you won’t eat the bun for the burger you ordered or you don’t like whipped cream on your pancakes, feel free to request it be left off so it doesn’t end up in the trash. I’ve had to start doing this myself now that I have to eat gluten free.
Tip #31 – Eat at restaurants that focus on reducing food waste.
Some chefs pride themselves in using the unwanted and often discarded parts of plants, like flowers, leaves, and stalks, to create flavorful dishes that can surprise and delight your taste buds. There are also chefs that believe in cooking with the snout-to-tail method for meat dishes. Some restaurants are even starting to donate extra food that would otherwise go to waste.
Leftover Food Tips
Uneaten food is a common source of food waste for some people, but these tips & tricks can help you fight back in the war on food waste.
Tip #32 – Donate unused food.
Excess food from big events (think weddings, family reunions, birthday parties, community events, etc) can be donated to local food banks and homeless shelters. There are even nonprofits in some areas that will take your unused food & donate it for you. Bonus: The Good Samaritan Act legally protects anyone who chooses to donate their excess food. How awesome is that? There’s no muss, no fuss, & no excuses!
Tip #33 – Be creative!
I find it thrilling and so satisfying to use leftovers to breath new life into classics like omelets, pizzas, and quesadillas. Occasionally, my creations are duds, but generally I hit it out of the park with my family because I know our flavor preferences. We can’t get enough garlic!
Tip #34 – Feed the animals.
Livestock and pets love getting food from us! You can even get the littlest of family members in on it. I still have fond memories of taking out our compost bucket when I was a young kid and loudly clucking to call our chickens over to the compost pile. If you do choose to feed animals with your leftovers and table scraps, please be sure you do not feed them anything that is toxic or harmful for their species. Some common culprits include chocolate, onions, avocados, and nuts.
Tip #35 – Compost your wasted food.
After exhausting all other routes, you can compost your excess food. You can start a compost pile at home or you can use a local composting company (if you have one).
Enjoying meals while you travel can leave you feeling full of food waste guilt, but these tips & tricks can help you put your conscience at ease.
Tip #36 – Bring a cooler.
This is a must for road trips! Not only is it easier on your budget to make your own meals while traveling, but you can bring what you need to use up from your fridge. Make your meal plan based on what you bring and go shopping to fill in the gaps when you get to your destination.
Tip #37 – Find the local farmer’s market.
For the same reasons above, you should source what’s left on your list here first, when possible, before going to a grocery store.
Tip #38 – Pack non-perishable snacks.
Baby carrots, grapes, cheese sticks, and yogurt are great healthy snacks for road trips, but don’t over-do it. Snacks like beef jerky, dried fruit, nuts, granola bars, and pretzels will travel better and don’t run the same risk of spoiling. On our last road trip, I found that my family preferred eating more non-perishable snacks in the car, but they ate more fresh produce and dairy products at our rental house.
Tip #39 – Book accommodations with a microwave and refrigerator.
Ideally you would have a kitchen or kitchenette, but a microwave and fridge are the bare minimum necessities if you plan on eating leftovers from a restaurant.
Tip #40 – Keep a compost container in your car.
Between driving to away games, seeing state attractions, commuting to work, and going to grandma’s house, we all spend a lot of time in our cars. This means we eat a lot in our cars too. There’s a good chance you end up with food waste like banana peels, apple cores, and trail mix scattered along the floorboard. Instead of throwing these items away at gas stations or when you get home, toss them into a travel compost container. You won’t want to smell the food waste or risk it tipping over, so I recommend using one with a lid (such as a plastic cereal container). Unless you’re in an area that offers community composting, you can add this to your compost pile when you get home.
Food for Thought
They say nothing worth having comes easy. Reducing food waste is not going to be an easy feat for our homes, our communities, our country, or our world. However, each and every one of us is needed in order to make this happen! Consciously reducing food waste will be challenging for many of you, especially if you have developed bad food waste habits. Hopefully, this list of tips & tricks can help you get started with making a plan to break those bad habits!
Do you already know you struggle to use up your fresh produce? Then check out these effective kitchen products!
Now, I’m curious – what do you all do to reduce food waste? Do you have any good tips or tricks that I don’t already have on my list?