Imagine being able to reduce food waste and your grocery bill by 30 percent in the process. By putting these five simple systems in place, you’ll be able to identify need-to-eat foods, save foods from the compost or the garbage, get the most out of waste bits and pieces, and rescue food mangled by evil toddlers. Now that’s a win!
Try these five easy tips to reduce your food waste.
Establish an “Eat Me First” Drawer
It’s a sad fact. The modern refrigerator can be so humongous that food can easily be overlooked. Is there a solution? Label a drawer “eat me first” so you can see (at a glance) what needs to be used up before it goes bad. Just move food to the drawer as it approaches the end of its shelf life. Prioritize the items in that drawer for snacks and meals — before you go shopping or check what’s in the pantry.
And what if the “eat me first” bin is overflowing and you know you won’t be able to eat it all before it goes bad? Well, freeze it!
This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce food waste. Food approaching its expiration date? Not able to consume it in time? Food beginning to wilt? Act now! Simply freeze this food and prevent it from ending up in the trash.
In the past, I’ve frozen:
- Yogurt and kale for use in smoothies (using an ice cube tray for the yogurt makes it simple to use when you need it)
- Extra pasta sauce left over from a recipe that only called for a half jar
- Leftover fruit (which I’ve cut up and frozen on cookie sheets)
By making your freezer the detour between your fridge and the garbage, you, too, can reduce food waste.
Soup for You!
For the longest time I never considered doing it, but making your own soup stock is the simplest thing in the world to do. I don’t know why I thought it was so complicated, but when my siblings started harassing me for composting carrot tops and celery stalk ends, I finally agreed to give it a try. I’m now converted!
Making soup stock is a great way to reduce food waste and it’s super simple. Just designate a medium-sized container in your freezer for soup stock items, then add bits and pieces as they become available.
Great things to add to your stock include:
- Carrot tops
- Celery stalks
- Onion pieces
- Mushroom bits
Most (leftover) veggies are perfect additions to your soup stock bin. Chop them before you add them to the bin to maximize broth flavor.
If you’re a meat eater, you can also keep chicken bones for a flavorful chicken stock. Beef bones work well, too. When your bin is full, simply:
- Fill a large pot with water
- Add the contents of your soup stock bin
- Add several bay leaves
- Add garlic, salt, and pepper to taste
- Simmer on low for 2 to 3 hours
And, of course, what do you do with this newly created broth? Strain the solid bits out and compost them, of course. Then, decant your broth into jars (filling them about 3/4 full to allow room for expansion) before freezing them!
Smoothies are a perfect on-the-go meal for those mornings when you don’t have time to cook. They’re also a great way to use less-than-perfect fruits and veggies to reduce food waste.
This tip has really come in handy since my daughter became a toddler and started doing terrible things like this below:
When this happens, I just chop up the apples to use in smoothies (along with slightly soft strawberries, mushy blueberries, slightly wilted spinach, and anything else that is dying to be used). It’s a great way to get the most out of your fruits and veggies.
Sharing Is Caring
The preceding suggestions dealt with ways to quickly and easily reduce food waste on your own, but this option allows you to harness the power of technology and your community, too!
A food-sharing app called OLIO connects you with neighbors, stores, and community members with surplus food so that extra food can be shared, rather than thrown out. It’s like Craigslist, but for food. Best of all, it’s free!
This app is especially helpful for first-time gardeners who mistakenly thought that one zucchini plant yielded one zucchini, and are now drowning in the gorgeous green squash! If you had OLIO, you could simply post a picture of your overflowing zucchini plants and offer them to anyone who might like them. Oh, technology, is there anything you can’t do?
Small Steps, Small Bites
Making the decision to reduce food waste can feel daunting, but all you really need to do is make a series of small, conscious decisions to drastically reduce the amount of good food that ends up in the trash. These decisions quickly become routine and they go a long way to help your grocery budget and the environment, too.
Feature image credit: Shebeko / Shutterstock
Editor’s note: Originally published on September 16, 2016, this article was updated in September 2018.