Food waste is something I think about a lot. I just hate throwing food away that has gone bad, whether it’s leftovers no one’s eaten or something that wilted before we got to it. Even when I look at the bits and bobs in my compost bin, I wonder if I shouldn’t be doing more with them.
Beyond just being wasteful, food waste can be a budget issue, too — if you’re throwing away food, you’re throwing away money that could have been better spent. So we reached out to our readers to hear their best tips for reducing food waste. Here are 11 of the best suggestions we got.
1. Plan your meals.
“I believe in meal planning, which includes planning to eat the leftovers for lunch the next day. Every item I buy has a plan for when and how it’s going to be used, unless I’m stocking up on sale items for the freezer.” — David Lindsay
“Menu planning! Kale on sale? Plan two recipes that week that use kale and make kale chips with the leftovers. Buying chicken breast in a bulk packaging? Cook it all and use it twice that week and freeze the rest for a future soup or casserole.” — Carrie Hill
“Make sure that things that might normally spoil or be partially used in a single recipe are consumed in multiple recipes/dishes throughout the week. Kale salad, kale in a soup, kale sautéed as a side… etc.” — Dorothy Hunt
2. Shop more frequently.
“Plan for an extra trip to the store over an overly ambitious meal plan. If I shop for seven days worth of meals, we will always end up forgetting about something until it’s gone bad. I usually only plan for three meals and we hardly waste anything.” — Erin DiNorscia Edelman
“Shopping for just three days allows for a spur of the moment meal out.” — Kate McWhirter
“Buy less, but more often. When I try to plan a week always something comes up and we have to change or miss a meal, food goes rotten.” — Tammy Heggerud
“I used to do a big grocery run on Sundays, but plans would always change and a lot of food ended up going to waste. Now I shop for household stuff and staples (like milk, snacks, etc.) on Sunday and during the week, dinners are planned on a day by day basis. Just stop at the store on my lunch hour or after work to pick up meat or fish and fresh produce.” — Ann MacIntosh Baker
3. Buy only what you need.
“When I need fresh ingredients that I know I’m not going to eat beyond the one meal, I hit the salad bar. If I’m never going to eat a whole green pepper and need just a few carrots, and the salad bar has it!” — Lisa Ku
“Don’t buy what you don’t need. Sales and bargains are great but you can only eat so much before you get sick of it or it goes bad. Buy only what you know will be consumed.”— Carmine Leanza
“Buy less. Be realistic about the amount of time I have to cook and what plans for eating out I already have lined up for the week.” — Tricia Bateman
“Smaller dinner amounts and smaller portions leave little to no leftovers, so there’s nothing to throw out three days later.” — Dennis San Vicente
4. Buy less fresh produce that will go bad.
“Embrace canned and frozen foods….” — Pam Barone
“Don’t impulse buy fruits and vegetables just because they’re on sale.” — Teresa Simmons Dutton
5. Include leftovers in the meal plan.
“At least one night a week I feed my kids mac and cheese, and my husband I eat leftovers.” — Grace Kelly
“Monday is ‘leftover Monday’ — that’s when everything that will go out of date is eaten. This week we had leek and potato soup for lunch and a biryani packed full of left over veg for dinner.” — Carol Smith
6. Or turn those leftovers into something new and exciting.
“Learn to repurpose leftovers, especially if your family doesn’t love them. Leftover meatloaf can become shepherd’s pie, spaghetti sauce can become become chili with a few spices and some beans. Almost any leftovers can become soup or pot pie. You can also toss most meat or veggies with some cheese and add to a pie crust with eggs for quiche.” — Laura Summers
“Make pasta or fried rice with all of the leftover bits. And a chopped salad of everything you can’t/don’t want to heat. If you always have a can of beans, a bag of frozen mixed veggies, and an egg on hand you can make a meal out of anything.” — Erin DiNorscia Edelman
“If we have leftovers I can’t freeze, I make a quesadilla out of them: tortilla + leftovers + cheese, or I smash them into breakfast potatoes in the skillet and top with an egg for brunch.” — Marianne Nt
7. Preserve things before they go bad.
“Freezing! That one leftover bowl of chili. That handful of mixed berries. Herbs. Everything comes back to life in the near future whether it is via soup, smoothies, or that night you are on your own for dinner but don’t want to cook.” — Talei Hoblitzell Mistron
“I use my dehydrator to dry items like lemons going soft, nut pulp from nut milk, leftover herbs, etc. I can make teas from the herbs/fruits.” — Leta Rozzie
“I save jars of pickle juice for the celery, cukes, and carrots I can’t use in time. Drop the veggies in there and let them pickle for a few days, they’re delicious!” — Rowan Roth
8. Be less picky.
“Even when the food looks like it’s going bad, most of the time, you can peel back layers or cut spots off to get to the good. Tomatoes that are starting to turn can still be made into sauce. (It’s how tabasco and ketchup are made.) Condense jars/bottles of the same item when one gets low. Add a little milk or water to a sauce or dressing to get the dregs out for a serving” — Deborah Dryden Walls
9. Collect scraps for future dishes like omelets, smoothies, and soups.
“When I have small bits of bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, snap peas, broccoli, etc, I dice them and add them to the ‘omelette veggie’ bag in the freezer. Then when I want a quiche or omelette I use those frozen veggies.” — Jen Sieve Hicks
“I freeze fruits and vegetables that are going bad or leftover in plastic bags and then grab them to put in the blender for smoothies and soups.” — Mary Ann Ungerson
“Save the bones from chicken and all the ends and pieces from mushrooms, carrots, onion and celery in a bag in the freezer. When you have enough, make soup stock to can or freeze.” — Laura Summers
“I save the bits and bobs of leftovers and either make omelets or quiches out of them or freeze them and make ‘Refrigerator Soup’ out of it later. Always delicious!” — Tawna Sue Morris
“I save veggie scraps I’m not using for broth. Carrot tops and peels, onion peels, the stems of kale, potato peels, the green tops of leeks & onions, etc. I save it all in a gallon-sized bag in the freezer and once the bag is full, just add water and spices to taste. It makes for very flavorful and vitamin-rich broth!” — Dana Owens
“Saving peels and scraps for broth!!! It’s a delicious and economical way to use bits that often get tossed as ‘trash.'” — Alexa Browning
10. Or feed your scraps to the compost bin, worms, chickens, or dogs.
“Get a worm farm…. all left over scraps can be turned into amazing compost to grow even more amazing food.” — Joene Els
“Compost any fruit and veg for the garden.” — Christine Hamilton
“Any leftover stuff that just didn’t make it goes into the compost, so at least it isn’t in the trash and my soil benefits.” — Christy Shiferdek
“Keep chickens. Mine love scraps and leftovers and I get fresh, healthy eggs in return!” — April Doiron
“Get a dog!” — Bonnie Young
11. Practice mindfulness and gratitude.
“Think of the people who don’t have food. When you shop and do not use all of the food you buy, you are hurting a person who could not afford to buy it!” — Jayshree Rai
How are you being less wasteful?