Whether you live alone or with a large family, it’s important to be intentional about cutting down on food waste in order to live more economically, more simply, and more peacefully. It is not only stressful and expensive when you end up with food that is old, stale, or rotten, but it is not sustainable for the environment or for your pocketbook. So with that mind, here are some fun, easy tips that you can incorporate to help you save money, save pantry & refrigerator space, make meal-planning easier, and simplify your life.
#1: Make a Menu
Each week (or month) sit down with your family and make a plan. Do you want to rotate through your favorite meals or try new things frequently? Decide not only what you want to prepare, but how many times you want to serve it. Include at least one day each week to be “leftovers day.” (More on that later.) Make a list and then a schedule. This will help you with the next step.
#2: Make a Shopping List
Armed with your menu for the coming week (or month), create a detailed list of the grocery items that you will need to purchase for the designated meals. Think carefully about quantities and be realistic about how much you will likely consume in each meal.
Remember, it’s okay if you miss your target a bit and end up with a few leftovers, as long as you have it on your schedule to use those leftovers as a meal. Now that you’ve made a list, stick with it.
#3: Shop Smart
Here’s where you can really make or break your goal to cut down on food waste in your home! It’s great to stock up on food items when they are on a great sale, but consider carefully how much you decide to purchase.
A critical error that we cost-conscious folks tend to make is over-buying when we get a great deal. Remember that if you can’t eat the food before it goes bad, gets old, or turns stale, you haven’t saved any money, but instead wasted it!
#4: Focus on Perishables
This is the category of food that is wasted most often because it has a short shelf life and can be really hard to gauge the consumption of. So, this is where you really need to put the lion’s share of your focus.
Build your menu around the package sizes that these ingredients come in. This means that if you need to serve salad twice for each head of lettuce you buy, make sure that salad is on the menu twice, within the span of 2-3 days. If you buy a bag of apples, have a plan to serve them while they are still crisp and good, usually within 7-10 days.
Another factor to consider is that even though you can shop less often for non-perishables, produce and dairy items need to be purchased in smaller quantities and more often in order to have a steady supply of fresh items. So plan to hit the grocery or farmer’s market approximately every 3-4 days and only buy what you can actually consume until you go again.
Also, one thing that really helps my family to use fresh fruits and veggies faster is to wash, cut, and package them into convenient containers so that they are ready to eat. Do this accordingly to how much your family will actually eat, obviously, because once pre-prepared, they won’t last as long overall. However, if you find that fresh items are languishing until they are too far gone to salvage, this could help.
So, keep fresh produce easy to see, easy to grab, and never store them under or behind anything where they will surely be forgotten. And on that note, only refrigerate fruits and veggies that keep longer in the cold. Some produce lasts much longer at room temperature, such as bananas, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, onions, etc…
#5: Utilize your Freezer
Refrigeration is truly revolutionary for making our food last longer, but even still, it only buys you so much time. If you find that you have in fact over-purchased and have perishables that are reaching the end of their usable life, extend your time by popping them over into the freezer instead.
Make it a habit to look over the items in your fridge at least once a week and decide what needs to be frozen. But be reasonable. Don’t use your freezer as a catch-all for every little item and end up with a frozen wasteland! Mark each package with the date and then incorporate those items into your next menu!
#6: Learn to Love Leftovers
Not only do they save you the work of creating a brand-new meal, but they are a fantastic way to cut down on food waste. Either try to blend the different ingredients into a new dish or simply let everyone finish off their own bit of this or that, making it a hodge-podge meal of sorts. Make it fun by letting each person decide what their favorite leftover is and letting them have that portion, while others eat their favorites.
If you find that you are creating more leftovers than what your family reasonably wants to consume, you will simply have to learn how to create smaller meals to begin with. Another alternative is to use leftovers as lunches that can be taken to work or school throughout the week.
Leftovers tend to be loathed by some and loved by others, but food waste is a serious problem, so figure out if they are personally something that works well with your family or if they should be avoided at all costs. Be creative and find new ways to serve stuff up that smells appetizing and looks delightful.
#7: Master Veggie and Meat Stocks
When you are creating your meals, invariably you will find that you will have bits of veggie peelings and remnants, plus scraps of meat and bones, left after preparation. Don’t throw these out! Use all of these various bits to create wonderful soup stock.
Find a recipe if you must, but essentially the idea is to boil these items “to death” so to speak, strain out any leftover solids, then jar the remaining broth. Bone broth will turn to a solid gel consistency when refrigerated (from the gelatin) but will liquify again when heated.
These preparations make a fantastic base for stews, soups, and gravies and not only do they cost nothing extra, but they also turn food waste into an edible staple!
#8: Package & Store Properly
Another area that we need to cover is proper storage. For long-term storage, anything that can go rancid, such as grains, nuts, seeds, coffee, etc. should be kept in the freezer. Smaller quantities can be properly capped and kept in a cool, dry pantry.
Make sure to always fold over bags & clip them shut, shut boxes, tighten lids, and otherwise close off properly any foodstuffs, whether in the pantry, the refrigerator, or the freezer. If you are storing a perishable or leftover, use a washable marker (or tape and pen) and mark the container with the date that it was originally stored.
Also, rotate stock. Bring the old forward and put the new behind, using up the oldest first and waiting to open new packages until older packages are empty. Don’t forget that even items in the freezer can “go bad” by freezer-burn, so also rotate your frozen items.
Finally, deep clean your refrigerator on the regular. Take inventory of everything and figure out what needs to be consumed within the next few meals and incorporate those items into your meals.
To finish off this list of how to cut down on food waste in your home, let’s consider that even the food that somehow goes too far (despite your best efforts!) can still have a 2nd life by way of a compost bin or pile. This way, it has a chance to turn back into rich earth and bring life again, if you choose to plant some seeds and grow your own fresh produce!
So do try to eat everything you buy, but whatever falls through the cracks…may it enrich the earth in a different way!