Preventing food waste

When I was first married, we had almost zero food waste. I found a way to use nearly everything, from vegetable scraps to expiring milk. Money was tight, and I didn't feel that wasting food was an option.

Move forward nine years, and I'm not doing quite as well. My attention is more spread out now, and sometimes a container of leftovers or a bunch of cilantro will go slimy in the fridge. Bread molds. Kids don't finish their dinner. I make a too-big cake that we can't finish in time. I have no idea how much food we waste every year, but it's a lot more than it used to be.

Today Mavis at One Hundred Dollars a Month posted an article on food waste that says the average American family wastes $1500 in food each year, or about a quarter of what we buy—check out the picture! I sincerely doubt  that we're wasting quite that much (I know we're not throwing away 25%), but still, it's food for thought. How can we waste so much when others have so little?

I also watched this news story on food waste, which shows a family who wastes a shocking amount of food (I can only hope they were exaggerating for this story!). The story (from 2008) claims that families waste about $1200 in food each year.

  1. Plan a menu. If you plan a menu alongside your grocery shopping list, then stick to your list at the store, then all the food you bring home will have a plan to be used.
  2. Shop your fridge before you shop the store. Before you plan your menu, make a list of everything in your fridge/freezer/pantry that should be used in the next week. Plan it into your menu before you plan to buy anything new.
  3. Everyone eats the same meal. Don't let your family all eat different things for dinner. If you cook a meal, your family should be eating it. 
  4. Use leftovers promptly. My husband and I eat leftovers for lunch. Sometimes if we can't eat them in time, we freeze them.
  5. Have ideas to use up food. Do you know what to do with the last few wilting veggies in the crisper, or the milk that's about to go bad? Here are some ideas. 
  6. Make food more convenient to eat. If you've just bought a lot of vegetables, you'll be a lot more likely to use them if you take an hour to wash and chop them. Your family will be more likely to snack on carrot sticks than on unwashed, unpeeled carrots.
  7. Compost. If you're composting wasted fruit and veggies, you obviously haven't eaten them, but composting them is better than sending them to the landfill!
  8. Grow your own. I find that I'm much more reluctant to waste fruits and vegetables that I've grown myself. 
  9. Don't let kids snack until they've finished their last meal. Last year, I realized that Tiger Lily was managing to finish almost no meals, yet she was always snacking! We've cut out most snacks and made them contingent upon finishing meals, and it's less of a problem now.
  10. Have a leftover night. If your leftovers are piling up, cancel your dinner plans and serve the leftovers instead. Sometimes I'll plan a special dessert as motivation to get them eaten.
  11. Be grateful. Perhaps last night's leftovers aren't as appetizing as cooking up something new, or stopping at the drive-through. But isn't it great that you have food?


  1. I like all your ideas- especially that last one!
    We eat leftovers for lunch most every day. I think we actually do pretty well with not wasting food. There's NO WAY I waste as much as those articles speak of. I think I do most of the things you do as well.

    I do wish I could compost- I used to be a composting nut! But here we found that carpenter ants were getting into it and they have already ruined most of the trees and plants in our yard. Grrr...

  2. So sad that we waste so much food, when people are on the streets , going hungry.. I try to cook in smaller portions, and plan out what I cook.. I also, try to stay out of the grocery store, until I really need to stock the shelves/refrigerator. [This helps a little... but still, I find myself throwing out..way tooooo much. Great post.

  3. Perfect timing for this post! It reminded me of a few things I've been meaning to get to this week and haven't found the time: cheddar apple scones (from cold storage apples needing to be used) in the oven now. And for breakfast we had leftover mashed sweet potato cakes (cooked up in reserved bacon fat) along with fruit and homemade sausage.
    I'm pretty good about reducing waste but where I get into trouble is not enough time trying to do too much from scratch. One trick I use is partially prepping ahead so I know I can use them, like boiling and pureeing beets for use in quick breads, pancakes etc... and shredding zucchini, some for muffins now, a handful in the spaghetti sauce and I know I can freeze any leftovers if it doesn't fit in right away.

  4. Fruit/vegetable leather is one of the easiest ways for me to use up things that might be on their last leg. I throw apples, bananas, carrots....whatever into a freezer bag, then when I get enough I cook for several hours in my crock pot...puree with stick blender...then into dehydrator. Amazing how apples won't get eaten but the fruit leather is gone in an instant. My pick no- vegetable eater loves it!