I can’t be the only one who feels guilty when I go to clean the fridge or pantry and realize how much kitchen waste I’ve created. It feels like I should put on a hat and sunglasses or some sort of disguise when I take that trash bag out to the cans.
Truly, I don’t want to be wasteful! And with the cost of, well, everything increasing so much lately, every time I dump something in the trash, I swear I hear the sound of coins hitting the bottom. It feels like I’m throwing my money away. And I hate it.
Over the years, I’ve gotten better and better at reducing the food waste in my kitchen. And I have good news for you! I’m sharing some of my best tips & resources with you today.
Tips to Reduce Kitchen Waste (and Save Money!)
I know for some of you menu planning is the last thing you want to do. But when I plan my meals in advance, I am much more likely to only buy the food we are actually going to use instead of whatever looks good at the moment or I hope my family will eat but will actually go to the back of the fridge to die. (I’m looking at you, kale.)
Some menu planning methods to give a try:
Try to find a method that works for you–not your friend or favorite influencer–so you’re more likely to stick with it.
Or try combining a couple? Like freezer cooking AND day of the week featuring lasagna on Mondays, stir-fry from frozen rice on Tuesday, pre-made frozen pizza on Friday…etc
- Daily themes: Plan a different type of meal for each day of the week, such as pasta on Monday, stir-fry on Tuesday, etc.
- Plan double-duty meals: Plan dishes that can be double up on prep work for the next day, reducing food waste and saving time. Roast chicken Monday becomes chicken salad Tuesday. Try my Double-Duty Meal Plan to get started.
- InstaPot/Slow-Cooker Meals: Plan and prepare meals in your favorite appliance, such as InstaPot or slow-cooker, to make weeknight dinners quick and easy and help keep busier nights running smoothly.
Amazing 30 Day Crockpot Challenge
Instant Pot Recipes
- One-Pot Meals: Pick meals that can be made in a single pot or pan, such as soups, stews, or casseroles, to minimize cleanup and make weeknight dinners a breeze.
92 One-Pot Comfort Meals from Food Network
- Freeze-Ahead Meals: Plan and prepare meals in advance and freeze them for quick and convenient meal options on busy weeknights. Freeze in smaller portions to make them faster to reheat.
- Plan with the Grocery Sales in Mind: Plan meals around the ingredients you already have on hand and the sales at your grocery store, reducing waste and saving money.
Shop your pantry first. (And your fridge and freezer.)
When you’re making your meal plan, check to see what you have on hand that needs to be used. Make sure you select meals for your menu that will use those items. (Bonus: If you find something that you know you will never use, find a friend or food pantry that will.)
Try some of these recipes that make great use of the usual pantry/freezer ingredients:
- Instant Pot Spaghetti: Cook pasta and combine with canned tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and dried herbs for a quick and easy meal.
- Pasta Salad: Combine pasta, diced vegetables, and a dressing made from pantry staples for a quick and healthy meal.
- Fried Rice: Cook rice and stir-fry with frozen vegetables, whatever meat you have on hand, and pantry staples such as soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sesame oil.
- Baked Beans: Combine canned beans, diced onion, and BBQ sauce for a hearty and flavorful meal.
- Rice Bowl: Cook up some InstantPot rice and top with canned or frozen vegetables, tuna, and soy sauce. Add an avacado and a bit of cucumber for a fresh touch.
- Dutch Babies: Quick oven pancakes can be topped with whatever jam or berries you have on hand.
- Chili: Combine canned beans, diced tomatoes, and ground meat with spices and seasonings for a hearty and warming meal.
- Soup: There isn’t a better way to use up pantry/freezer items than in soup. Guaranteed there is a tasty soup your family likes in our Soup Mania Challenge!
- Midwest Tuna Caserole: Mix canned tuna with pasta, diced vegetables, and seasonings for a quick and easy dinner option.
Stick to a list.
This isn’t Supermarket Sweep (sadly). Don’t throw everything you see into your cart! Stick to the list you made (after meal planning) to help eliminate wasted food. If you struggle with this because those darn marketing people just do their job so well, try switching to online order and store pick-up. It can be a game-changer!
Some apps/tools that are great for grocery lists (beyond my fave: Alexa):
Store food properly.
You can maximize the shelf life of your food by storing it properly. When you get home from the store, put cold food directly into the fridge or freezer. Make sure the meat is wrapped tightly before freezing. Take the extra few seconds to put your leftovers in an airtight container instead of just covering the bowl with a plate. Be mindful of produce. And put the dang milk in the fridge when you’re done pouring! (Sorry, Dad. I get it now.)
Containers that are great for fridge/freezer storage:
- Glass containers with airtight lids: Glass containers are non-reactive, durable, and good for the fridge and the freezer.
- Silicone food storage bags: Silicone bags are reusable, versatile, and suitable for refrigerator and freezer. They’re also collapsible, great for storing! Try the Stasher brand of storage bags.
- Mason jars: Mason jars are durable, versatile, and great for the fridge and freezer. They come in lots of sizes, too. AND…they make great glasses. Just saying :). I use the classic wide-mouth Ball Mason jars in 16oz most often.
- Tupperware: Tupperware is a classic option for food storage and can be used in the fridge and freezer. And, they are always cool.
- Stackable containers: Stackable containers are great for maximizing space in the fridge, freezer, and cupboards and are available in glass, plastic, or silicone. I use these Rubbermaid Stackable Containers.
- Freezer-safe Ziploc bags: Ziploc bags are a favorite for food storage, because they are disposable, easy to label, and freezer-safe. AND see thru making it easy to identify the contents.
Utilize your freezer.
Your freezer is your friend. Did you buy that three-pack of peppers but only need two? Slice or dice up the other one and freeze it for the next time you need a pepper. Did the recipe only call for half an onion? Dice the other half and freeze it. Made more coffee than you needed? Pour it in ice cube trays and freeze for later. You get the idea. Here’s the hardest part…don’t forget to use them! (Shop your freezer…)
Try these basic freezer tips…
- Label and date food items: Label and date food items when you put them in the freezer so you know when it was stored and what is in it. Believe me, that pulled pork doesn’t always look quite the same after freezing.
- Be smart about your containers: Stackable containers or ziplock bags can help you maximize space in your freezer, making it easier to find things.
- Group same items together: Group the same type of items together to make it easier to find what you are looking for and help you not buy what. youdon’t need.
Compost your kitchen waste.
It can be easy to go down the rabbit hole and be overwhelmed. But composting can be as easy as having a little spot in the corner of your yard where you dump your scraps and turn them occasionally. There are also bins you can buy. Try asking someone in your area who composts to help you get started, or contact the extension office of your nearest university. If you happen to have a bit of wasted food, hopefully it can have another life as compost.
Rotating backyard compost bin similar to the one I use.
Countertop compost bin from OXO perfect for adding scraps until you can make it to the backyard bin.
Make it a habit to eat leftovers for lunch instead of making something else. You can even store your leftovers in individual portions so it’s easy to pull one out and pop it in the microwave. Designate one night each week as a leftover night. You don’t have to cook and everyone in your family gets to choose what they eat that night. It’s a win-win for your budget and reducing your kitchen waste. If you really cannot learn to love leftovers, learn to cook smaller portions so you don’t end up with leftovers.
Kids like these quick snacks using leftovers:
- Mini pizzas: Utilize leftovers and canned biscuts to make up mini pizzas that are easy for kids to grab and eat on the go.
- Quesadillas: Fill a tortilla with cheese, leftover chicken or steak, and any other fillings, such as avocado or salsa. Quick & easy!
- Veggie sticks and dips: Cut leftover veggies, such as carrots, celery, or cucumber, into sticks and serve with a dip, such as ranch or peanut butter.
- Fruit salad: Cut up leftover fruit and mix them together with a bit of honey or whipped cream.
- Fried Rice balls: Mix leftover rice with a little bit of cheese and seasonings and fry them quickly on a skillet. Yum!
I’m not talking about a dieting plan. I’m talking about how much you cook and eat. If you’re a family of four, don’t cook for a family of eight (unless you’ve planned to use the leftovers). The same goes for when you shop. Buy appropriate quantities and cook appropriate quantaties. And try these tips…
5 Quick Tips for Portion Control:
- Use smaller plates: Research shows that people tend to eat less when they use smaller dishes because they simply can’t fill them up as full.
- Don’t eat straight from the package: Eating straight from the packaging makes it hard to track how much you’re eating. Instead, put a portion into a dish.
- Enjoy your food! Take the time to really enjoy your food (try eliminating the t.v or phone!). This can help you eat more slowly and realize you are full before you reach for another helping.
Put extra produce to use.
I swear those bananas sometimes turn brown if you just take your eyes off them for two seconds… Freeze those brown bananas and other fruit before it goes bad to use in smoothies or oatmeal, for baking, or even as ice cream mix-ins. Freeze fruit & veggies that are nearing their death to use in future soups, or you can use them to make quick pickled veggies!
Rethink your cooking habits.
Besides making sure you only cook what you will eat, look at other ways your cooking habits could cut down on waste. One of the best things you can do is to get comfortable with substitutions. Veggies can be swapped in many recipes so you can use what you already have. Meats can also often be swapped easily–especially ground meat.
New York Times has one of the best resources for substitutions that include veggies, spices, and even meat. Bookmark it on your computer!
79 Substitutions for Cooking
Use Kitchen waste for Stock, stock, baby!
Keep a ziploc bag in your freezer to collect veggie scraps or meat bones to use for stocks. When you have just a little produce left that doesn’t seem like enough to save on its own, add it to the bag. When you have enough, use it to make stock.
Don’t add any veggies from the brassica family like broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage because they will make it taste gross, don’t use potatoes or squash that will break down and make your broth thicker and grainy.
Whew! That was a lot of information. Take a deep breath. Now, choose JUST ONE thing you’re going to start implementing. Once that becomes a habit, pat yourself on the back. Then, choose another.
With anything in life, people are less successful at keeping up with a major overhaul than one small habit change. Reducing kitchen waste is no exception. Baby steps are still progress.
So, keep at it and before you know it, your trash can is going to start to feel just a little lighter and your wallet a little heavier.