- Plan It. Meal planning – doesn’t sound very romantic, does it? But if you have a general idea of what you are cooking week by week you can really cut down on the food waste. There are dozens of ways to meal plan and you have to find the one that works with your lifestyle and family. I plan out the protein components of the week so I know what to thaw from the freezer and can manage our inventory, but leave the details to my day-to-day whim based on the family’s mood and the garden’s production. At least one night per week we plan to eat leftovers. We call this “Pick-And-Choose” night and everyone who’s old enough to have an opinion can pick any leftover they want, but nothing new gets made. We have this rule so our daughter can’t choose grilled cheese instead of braised lamb shanks.
- Repurpose It. Leftovers don’t have to stay in their original form. They can be used as ingredients to create entirely new meals. Here’s a few examples: tonight’s leftover halibut or salmon can become tomorrow’s halibut or salmon cakes. Tonight’s marinated flank steak can become tomorrow’s spinach and steak salad for lunch. Tonight’s side dish of chard and kale can go into a white bean and hearty greens soup. Leftover chicken can become curry or chicken sandwiches or barbecue chicken pizza. Pasta and whole grains are almost infinitely versatile, lending themselves to sautes, soups and entree salads. It takes a bit of practice to think about what new dish can be created from previous components, but once you’re in the habit it becomes second nature.
- Turn Your Fridge Into The To-Go Counter. Ingredients just aren’t as quick to deal with as finished goods. That’s why convenience food is a billion dollar industry and why people will pay $8 for a pre-peeled pineapple in a plastic tub instead of $3 for a pineapple in it’s own skin. If, when you get home from grocery shopping, you take a few minutes and peel the $3 pineapple and put it in your own reusable container, you have just saved yourself $5 and have minimized the possibility that the pineapple will go to waste. A lot of things are like that. Be your own prep chef and turn your ingredients into ready-to-eat goods or ready-to-use components and you’ll save money and end up wasting less.
- Buy What You Actually Use. There’s a reason 25% of discarded food is fresh fruits and vegetables. People want to eat healthy, good-for-you fresh food, so at the grocery store they buy crisp, pretty fruits and veggies. At home they run out of time to prepare those fresh products and end up throwing away the produce and getting drive through. It’s a lose/lose scenario. Turning your fridge into the to-go counter will help with that, but so will being honest with yourself before you get to the checkout counter. How likely are you to use those 4 pounds of kholrabi, really? Do you have a plan for those chanterelle mushrooms? Can you use the 5-pack of avocados from Costco before 3 of them turn brown and lumpy?
- Take Lunch. Because my husband and daughter take lunch almost every day I cook dinner to deliberately generate several portions of leftovers. While we clean up from dinner, we package the leftovers in a reusable container that my husband can take to work the next morning. In this way, packing lunch is no extra work and we avoid the double waste of throwing away food at home and buying lunches out.
What are your best tips to minimize food waste?