Happy Earth Day! We’re sharing some tips on how to reduce food waste in the kitchen, from grocery shopping responsibly to making the most out of your ingredients, in honor of this holiday.
Have you ever wondered how to reduce food waste in the kitchen? This can be a difficult task, especially if you also struggle with meal planning or using up leftover ingredients. There are a lot of different factors that contribute to food waste, so we’re here to help you navigate the ins and outs of reducing your carbon footprint in the kitchen!
We’re always looking for ways to reduce our food waste at home. This is for a few reasons:
- We have a really small trash can that fills up quickly
- We try to stick to a budget, and food waste = a waste of money
- Throwing food in the trash can makes us feel guilty, especially if it’s perfectly edible (read below)
Food waste is an issue that we’re particularly passionate about, stemming from a small group project we did in college. What started as a broad idea to “combat food waste” in the US became a deep-dive into some staggering statistics that really opened our eyes to the problem.* Negative impacts on the environment and public health are just two of many reasons why we don’t like wasting food. So we strive to reduce our food waste in the kitchen as much as possible.
You may be wondering, how do we go about reducing our food waste? In general, we’re always consciously thinking about the amount of food we buy, the shelf life of those foods, and how we can make the most out of perishable ingredients.
If you want to learn more about how to cut down on your own food waste, this post is for you! Whatever your reason for wanting to reduce food waste, we want to help you out by sharing some of our favorite tips, tricks, and go-to recipes.
So, what can you do to minimize – or better yet, eliminate – food waste from your kitchen?
#1 – Don’t Buy (Or Cook) More Than You Can Eat
We think the best way to prevent food waste is to not overcommit, starting from the moment you step into the grocery store. Remember the saying, your eyes are bigger than your stomach? Don’t fall culprit to that idea when shopping for food! The most important thing to keep in mind at the grocery store, particularly when it comes to perishables, is not buying items you won’t be able to use before they go bad.
Canned goods and pantry staples are one thing – it’s great to stock up on things like pasta, rice, and beans that are shelf-stable and will last pretty long. But when it comes to fresh fruit and veggies, dairy, meats, and bread? It can be easy to get carried away. We’ve done it before, especially when we’re on a health kick and think we’re being responsible by buying every single thing in the produce section. You may think you can eat it all, but our advice is to be realistic with yourself. I’ve purchased countless bags of fresh arugula and said to myself, I’m going to have salad every day for lunch this week. And guess what? Every time, I end up wasting that arugula because it only stays fresh for a few days and I failed to actually eat all those salads.
(And then I feel guilty about throwing away the rotten arugula and about not meeting my unrealistic health goals.)
So, step one is to realistically think about what you’re going to eat in a week, and how much you’ll eat, and understand the lifespan of perishables. Here’s what helps us do this:
- On Sundays, we discuss what the upcoming week looks like and carefully plan our dinners around our schedules. We always reserve at least one night for eating leftovers in case we need it (we like to call these “whatever Wednesdays”). We also try to think about how to use our dinner leftovers as lunches for the next day, since it’s easy to accidentally cook too much food when we’re experimenting with recipes for the blog. But most importantly, we write down our plan on our meal planning pad so that we stick to it throughout the week.
- Once we’ve outlined our meals, we build our grocery list. We take inventory of what’s currently in our fridge and pantry, then add whatever items to the list that we’ll need for the week’s recipes. Then we check if there are any staples we need to restock for breakfast, lunch, or snacks and add those to the list. This keeps us focused on buying only what we need. Having a list to check off at the grocery store prevents any impulse buys, plus it makes grocery shopping much more efficient.
When it comes to meal planning, it also helps to be strategic about using more perishable foods as early in the week as possible. Since we usually grocery shop on Mondays, we reserve Tuesday nights for cooking with fresh produce or meat. Meals later in the week tend to rely on pantry items. Then we’ll often take a quick trip to Whole Foods on a Friday night or Saturday morning if we need fresh ingredients for our weekend cooking.
(We have the luxury of being within walking distance to Whole Foods, so it’s easy for us to make multiple grocery trips throughout the week if we forgot something or want to buy fresh ingredients the day of. But we understand this is not the case for everyone, so here’s a helpful guide to storing perishables so that they last as long as possible!)
#2 – Find Creative Ways To Use Perishables, Even When They’re About To Go Bad
So what if you can’t eat all the groceries you bought?
As you can probably guess, perishables are a huge contributor to food waste because it can be hard to use them before they go bad. To help with this, we’ve learned a few tips for making certain perishables last longer. Plus, we’ve rounded up some great recipes that use the food you might otherwise throw away. We’ve categorized these by ingredient/food group below.
If they’re ripe but you’re not ready to use them yet, store them in the fridge – they’ll stay ripe for a few days longer than if you leave them on the counter. If they’re overripe and starting to turn a little brown on the inside, try making our Cinnamon Avocado Muffins. Just like how overripe bananas make the perfect banana bread, overripe avocados give an amazingly moist texture to muffins!
As mentioned above, banana bread is an easy solution for overripe bananas. But if you’ve got a bunch of ripe bananas sitting on the counter and know you’re not going to eat them, slice them up and store them in the freezer for an easy smoothie ingredient!
You can easily save freshly baked bread that’s starting to get stale by toasting it. Our Garlic Crostini with Hummus & Paprika snack is the perfect way to use up a baguette that’s no longer fluffy enough for wine and cheese night.
We have this amazing produce saver container that seriously extends the life of fresh berries so you don’t have to worry about eating them so quickly. We mostly use ours for strawberries, and we swear it almost doubles their shelf life! But if you do find your berries getting to be overripe, there are plenty of ways to use them. They’re great for muddling and using in cocktails, but also work well for muffins, pancakes, and other baked goods.
It’s super easy to end up with extra herbs since you can typically only buy them in large bunches. While they’re still fresh, you can chop them up and store them in the freezer for later use. Check out this article on storing them in ice cube trays with oil. If you have a ton of cilantro laying around, meal prep a batch of our Cilantro-Lime Rice or Avocado Cilantro Lime Crema for use throughout the week. If you like cocktails, you can also use fresh herbs like rosemary and mint to make flavored simple syrups!
You should never eat meat that’s gone bad, so the best way to prevent wasting this perishable is to either portion it out and freeze it the day you bought it, or cook it within a few days. Even if you don’t know what to do with it, there are plenty of uses for pre-cooked poultry or meat, and cooking it will buy you an extra 4 days or so of storage time in the fridge. Here are some ideas for what to do with common proteins:
- Ground beef: Make a batch of homemade burger patties and store them in the freezer for easy burger nights! Just wrap each patty in cling wrap so they don’t stick to each other, put them in a labeled freezer bag, and freeze.
- Chicken: It’s never a bad thing to have basic grilled chicken seasoned with salt and pepper readily available in the fridge. But for a more flavorful option, our Salsa-Marinated Chicken is a versatile protein for Mexican food that you can use throughout the week in tacos, quesadillas, burrito bowls, burritos, and even on salads!
- Bacon: We can attest to the fact that bacon pretty much tastes great on anything… so we’re pretty sure you’ll be able to find a use for this once it’s cooked and sitting in your fridge 🙂
Leftover plain rice is ideal for making delicious fried rice! Chop up some veggies, sauté them in oil, then add cold rice and crisp it before seasoning with soy sauce and other condiments. But here’s another great option for leftover rice: easy burrito filling! Mix it together with some canned beans, cheese, and pre-cooked protein like we do for our Chicken Burritos Ranchero recipe.
We love sweet potatoes, so you can find plenty of recipes on our blog to help use these up when you have extra on hand! If you made too big a batch of baked or mashed sweet potatoes, use the leftovers in our Sweet Potato White Chocolate Chip Cookies. Or, if you have an extra sweet potato or two lying around, meal prep a batch of our Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili for easy lunches and store it in the fridge or freezer.
#3 – Compost Whatever You Can
Sometimes food inevitably goes bad and there’s nothing we can do about it… right?
Yes, if food goes bad then you definitely don’t want to eat it. But that doesn’t mean you have to throw it in the trash, where it’ll end up sitting in a landfill and producing harmful greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change. Instead, you can compost and turn that food waste into nutrient-rich soil for your own backyard.
Unfortunately, composting is not yet as accessible as we’d like it to be. We live in a small apartment with no yard right now, so although we’ve been wanting to compost we haven’t really been able to. Once we move somewhere with a yard, we plan to start composting and share what we learn with you here on the blog! Stay tuned…
But in the meantime, there are a ton of resources online about composting and cool products like this kitchen composter to help you get started. If you already compost, let us know your favorite products and methods in the comments of this post!
Hopefully the tips and tricks in this post are helpful as you begin your journey to reducing your kitchen food waste! It takes a conscious effort at first, but over time these food waste-reducing habits will begin to feel like second nature. And by doing your part to reduce your home’s food waste, you’re helping the Earth become a better place to live every day.
Thanks for reading, and happy Earth Day! 🌎
*We’re not here to lecture you on the issue of food waste in America! But here are some statistics in case you’re interested in learning more:
- The USDA estimates that somewhere between 30-40% of the US food supply becomes waste
- An analysis of food waste done by the EPA showed that in 2018, nearly 56% of food waste went to landfills
- Over 11% of US households (approximately 38 million Americans) experience what’s called “food insecurity,” meaning that they lack sufficient access to affordable and nutritious food
We may have our own house, but the yard is not amenable to composting. Our choice, which we started back in 2009, is vermicomposting — red wiggler worms that do yeoman’s work on most food waste (no meat, no citrus). It’s a small-footprint solution that we keep year-’round on our back porch. You can see a picture here, if your blog allows links in the comments: https://sursumcorda.salemsattic.com/archives/2005/03/14/worm_condos
Very cool! This looks like it could be a great solution for apartment-dwellers like us 🙂