10 Tips to Minimize Food Waste

10 Tips to Minimize Food Waste | the beauty in simpleMy husband and I recently attended a dinner party to welcome and honor a guest visiting from Sweden. We had never met our friends’ Swedish comrade and other than his origin, knew nothing about him. I was even a little baffled why we were invited to the party.

When we arrived we were briefly introduced to Anders, who was at the stove seasoning a soup and putting the finishing touches on the meal. Prior to sitting down to dinner, about 15 of us gathered in the kitchen to hear our friends’ story of meeting Anders and their unfolding friendship. It wasn’t until Anders took the floor that I finally understood why we were included in this special gathering. Our friends knew I would stand up and cheer when I heard his ethics surrounding food.

Anders owns a restaurant in Sweden, he’s the author of a cook book, and a former television personality from a cooking show. He knows food and is passionate about it. The message he shared that night is one that I stand firmly in agreement – food is a gift from the earth that should not be wasted. He posed the question, “Why do you think people throw out food?” The answer came easily – because they can. There’s great quantities and varieties of food available, and it’s cheap.

To drive home his message, we learned that many of the ingredients Anders used in the evening’s meal were sourced from the bottom of the produce drawer, dug out of the deep freeze, or pulled from the back of the pantry from our friends’ home. He created a delicious feast with what he had on hand – leaving nothing to waste.

I don’t claim to be the greatest cook, but my family will attest, I don’t let food go to waste and can turn practically nothing into something. Hearing Anders’ mantra “food is a gift” had me reflect on ways I honor the very thing that nourishes our bodies, provides us comfort, and brings us to the table for conversation and celebration. I came up with ten ways in which I minimize food waste in my home.

10 Tips to Minimize Food Waste

  1. Change the way you look at food. I consider food as a gift, but I also look at it as money that I worked hard to earn. You wouldn’t carelessly throw two dollars in the trash, so why would you throw away a wilted head of lettuce? Changing the way you look at food can increase the desire to make sure none goes to waste.
  2. Keep a well stocked pantry. One of my successes in using up perishable foods before they spoil is having staples on hand, like grains, dried legumes, nuts, dried fruit, spices, oils, canned tomatoes, etc. Having a stocked pantry allows me to create meals with what I have on hand. With that said, I stock my pantry with ingredients I routinely use. If there’s an ingredient that keeps getting shoved to the back I make a point to use it up and make a mental note not to purchase it again.
  3. Get familiar with different cuisines. I think having a basic understanding of the flavors and ingredients that are used in different cuisines allows creativity and gives you the flexibility to pull together different ingredients successfully. I keep a small cook book collection that I refer to for inspiration.
  4. Stretch out the time between shopping trips. I purposely will hold off on grocery shopping just so I can clean out my fridge, freezer and pantry before I fill it again. No one is going to reach for a bruised apple when there’s a shiny new one sitting right next to it.
  5. Eat perishable foods in order of longevity. This means eating that head of lettuce before the kale, eating the peaches before the apples, using up the milk before the yogurt. You get the idea – plan accordingly.
  6. Have some go-to dishes that are good at utilizing foods that are soon to spoil. My husband’s go-to is fried rice. He’ll take leftover rice, chopped onion and garlic, a couple eggs, tamari, and add to that whatever veggies and bits of meat that may be lingering in the fridge. No two are the same, but every one is out-of-this world. I tend towards soup and frittatas to clean out the fridge. Milk that is soon to spoil gets made into pudding, poured into popsicle molds, and is frozen for a favorite family treat.
  7. Freeze foods for later consumption. I freeze everything, from chunks of cheese, to leftover soups and casseroles, to juice squeezed from citrus. There’s not much that I won’t put in the freezer to save for a later date. I also make a point to “shop” from the freezer, so that foods are rotated out on a regular basis.
  8. Think twice before you toss. I once stopped a woman at the grocery store who had pinched off the greens from a bunch of beets and was about to throw them in the trash. I gladly took them (for free) and at home sauteed them with a bit of garlic. Tough broccoli stems, when peeled of their outer layer yield a tender core that can be cooked with the florets. I often save the outer layer of onion skins and the trimmings of carrots and celery in a jar in the freezer, as well as the carcasses of chickens or other meat bones, which I use to make stock. Parmesan rinds impart a subtle flavor when added to a soup. Dried out bread can be turned into croutons or bread crumbs. What you may consider to be trash, may very well be edible.
  9. Compost the rest. Rather than sending your food waste to the landfill, compost it. If you don’t have a backyard compost, I encourage you to check out my friend Celia’s compost guide on where to compost in the U.S.
  10. Get inspired. Run to your local library and check out An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. Author, Tamar Adler, lyrically shares philosophy and instruction that inspires a refreshing way to approach food and cooking. It’s a beautiful read that will have you salivating at every turn of the page. Other books have inspired me, but none quite like this.

Bon appetit! Or as they say in Sweden, smaklig måltid! And please, do share how you minimize food waste in your home in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

11 thoughts on “10 Tips to Minimize Food Waste

  1. I have a compost, dogs and cats – so whatever I really can’t use anymore finds a place without getting thrown in the trash. I roast a whole chicken, then use the bones and cartilage and veggie remnants that have accumulated in the freezer and cook up chicken bone broth (24 hrs in my large crock pot). After I pour out the broth (and freeze for later use), I refill the crock pot with water and simmer the bones until they are totally soft (another 24 hrs). Then I put everything in the Vitamix and make a blended bone soup that the dogs absolutely love. And there are no left overs whatsoever.
    I, too, plan my meals according to what needs using up in my fridge and freezer. I grow a lot of my own food, so I hate to see anything go to waste because I know how much work goes into growing it. I love making quiches with whatever veggies there are, or soups, or a mix of roasted root vegetables in the winter. If lemons are getting old, I squeeze out the juice and freeze it until needed. I often grate the skin from organic lemons and oranges and save it for zest (also kept in the freezer). There are so many ways to be mindful with food, all it takes is a bit of planning and commitment to not letting anything go to waste.

    1. I had never thought about bone soup for the dog. What a great idea! I love too that you place a greater value on your food because of the effort you put into growing it. The same is true for the time spent preparing foods from scratch – when there’s effort involved in placing food on the table there’s a greater desire to minimize its waste. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas!

  2. These are so smart and inventive, friend. And glad to see you’re a fellow Tamar Adler devotee… she’s changed the way I approach food, cooking, and ingredients in so many ways. Cheers to a year of less food waste!

  3. so funny- i came here right after looking at litterless and thought the two of you must have collaborated! 🙂 such good stuff here! thank you! i think i have room for improvement in this area. i don’t dump food (we laugh at our floppy carrots, but they make good soup)… but i could make better use of stems. i read an everlasting meal years ago, and just put it on hold at the library to read again- thanks to your reminder.

    1. It about blew my mind and put the biggest smile on my face when I read Celia’s post. I too could make better use of stems! As you can see in the picture, my compost bucket is full of stems – no longer, I will be making stem pesto. Jane, I’m really enjoying your beautiful blog and I’m so happy to make a connection with you. Thanks for dropping in and leaving sweet little comments! 🙂

      1. Haha! It was such a funny coincidence… yes, let’s pretend we planned that, wink wink! I loved coming over here to read yours, Julie – so many great ones I hadn’t thought of. Jane, hope you enjoy rereading An Everlasting Meal, can’t wait to hear what you take away from it. Xo to you both.

  4. I’m so thrilled your blog has found its way into my life!

    What is your favorite way to store food in the freezer in order to avoid wasteful freezer bags and pre packaged frozen veggies?

    1. Great question! I use jars (mostly recycled or found at the thrift store) to freeze just about everything. With some food items, like bananas, berries, cookie dough balls, I’ll flash freeze them on a tray before I put them in the jar. That prevents a mass of food sticking together and I can take out what I need. For liquids, like broth, I use straight sided jars and leave ample head space (like an inch). If I’m short on straight sided jars, I’ll use a narrow mouth jar for liquids and make sure the lid it tightly secured and freeze on its side. I’ve had no jar breakage using those tips. Although convenient, I rarely buy frozen veggies, and instead opt for fresh, in-season produce. Moving away from plastic packaging takes time, which I’m still working on myself.

  5. Great and quite helpful tips! I’m making my first steps at reducing food waste at home and here are some very helpful ideas. I’m definitely trying everything you’ve recommended and I’ll share with some friends too. Thanks for the inspiration!

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