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11 Ways to Reduce Food Waste in the Kitchen

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and stocked up on veggies just to find yourself throwing them out after a couple weeks? It’s not just you. Many people buy more than they need—in fact, Americans throw away 30–40 percent of the food we produce according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s about $160 billion in wasted food, or 133 billion pounds.

That kind of waste takes an enormous toll on the environment, the economy, and our communities. Most of that wasted food ends up in landfills where it produces methane, instead of helping to support the more than 37 million Americans who struggle with food insecurity and hunger. Just a few simple steps in your everyday life can help you reduce your food waste at home.

1. Have a Grocery Game Plan

Before your next trip to the store, think through the meals you’ll make. Then, use your meal plan to make a list and see what you have on-hand already. Plan meals around the foods you have that are about to go bad or wait until you’re out before you restock.

2. Don’t Buy More Than You Need

Once you get to the store, stick to your list! Avoid the impulse buys and only get what you can reasonably use, store, or preserve. Leave bulk purchases for nonperishables or have a plan to use your perishables before they go bad.

Pro Tip: Don’t shop hungry. It will save you from some of those impulse buys, which can save you money!

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3. Give Ugly Fruits & Veggies a Chance

Those slightly misshapen potatoes and barely bruised peaches are just as tasty as their unblemished neighbors! If you’re already planning to buy fruits or vegetables, go for the ones that look a little imperfect, so they don’t go bad before they even leave the store. You can use them for soups, stews, smoothies, and sauces, where you won’t really see them anyway. Another benefit? Some stores offer ugly produce at a discount, so it’s another way to save on groceries.

4. Prep Your Fridge, Freezer & Pantry

One of the best ways to make sure your food stays fresher longer is to keep your fridge at a cool 40°F and your freezer at 0°F.

There’s a science behind refrigerator organization, and it’s a great idea to keep things organized into zones based on the temperature they need to stay fresh longer. Keep meats in the coldest part of your fridge (usually the bottom shelf) and take advantage of those crisper drawers, because they hold onto some moisture that’s good for produce. As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind—so keeping your food organized once you store it can also prevent you from forgetting food until it spoils.

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5. Keep ‘Em Separated

Certain kinds of produce shouldn’t be stored together, because they produce ethylene gas which causes other foods to ripen (and go bad) more quickly. That means keeping foods like avocados, bananas, green onions, peaches, and tomatoes (ethylene producers) away from apples, berries, leafy greens, peppers, and potatoes (ethylene-sensitive foods).

6. Preserve & Protect

It’s worth a little extra work to make sure you’re not just throwing produce away a couple weeks after you buy it. Freezing, drying, canning, and pickling can all make your foods last longer.

  • Blanche and shock your vegetables to give them a little more life.
  • Store fresh herbs in an herb keeper or dehydrate them to use later.
  • Refrigerate foods in airtight containers.
  • Don’t wash produce before refrigerating it.
  • The freezer is your best friend in the fight for freshness. Meats, grated cheese, fresh produce, milk, eggs (out of the shell), bread, and even flour can be frozen to preserve them.

7. Use the First In, First Out Rule

When you store foods after a trip to the store, rotate the older stuff to the front and put the new items in the back so you use them before they go bad.

8. Rely on Your Senses

Expiration dates on food are usually a manufacturer’s suggestion for your food’s peak quality, not the exact date a food will go bad. Before you toss food based on the date you see on the label, check to see if it looks or smells funny. If everything seems fine, it probably is. If it seems off, it may be time to toss that item.

9. Don’t Be Afraid of Leftovers!

A lot of people don’t think twice about trashing leftovers, but they can be an easy and tasty meal later on. Store your leftovers in small, clear, leakproof containers, so they cool quickly. They’re perfect for individual servings for lunch or a leftover night.

10. Save the Scraps

When you’re cooking, make it your mission to use every part of your food. That includes the skin and stems of your veggies, which are often packed with nutrients. And if you have a little extra, freeze it to use later! Use frozen veggie and meat scraps to make incredible homemade stocks, and frozen fruits for quick weekday smoothies.

11. Eat What You Buy (And Keep Track of What You Don’t)

Keep a list of the foods you regularly throw away and make a plan to reduce (or avoid!) purchasing them. Knowing your habits can help you come up with alternative options, whether it’s freezing that extra loaf of bread or finding shelf-stable ways to get veggies.

24 Responses to 11 Ways to Reduce Food Waste in the Kitchen

  1. Judi April 21, 2020 at 12:07 pm #

    Since I’ve worked in the food service industry in several capacities including chef I can honestly say I am familiar with and practice all of these. But the American public need to know these!

  2. Susan Kemp April 22, 2020 at 12:08 pm #

    That’s full of good advice!

  3. Sandy April 22, 2020 at 12:15 pm #

    To use up those straggling items left in my fridge, I internet search the ingredients I have left all into one recipe and surprisingly a recipe will pop up with those items I wouldn’t have thought to combine.

  4. Hermaris Diaz-Bobe April 22, 2020 at 12:18 pm #

    I really like this! So Earth-conscious!

  5. Mona Mittelstaedt April 22, 2020 at 12:22 pm #

    I keep a list posted on my fridge, inside a page protector, with a dry erase marker. On it I note items in the fridge that need to be used. This might include spinach that can go bad quickly, or leftovers that can easily migrate to the back and be forgotten. When I get ready to make a meal, I can quickly consult the list and make decisions about what to incorporate. As I use up items, I just erase them from the list. (A bit of paper towel works well as an eraser.) This has helped immensely in cutting down on waste.

    • Diane June 5, 2020 at 8:25 am #

      An old sock or bit of any rag works as an eraser and is washable!

  6. Elizabeth Mahiney April 22, 2020 at 12:56 pm #

    I found this very helpful. Thank you!

  7. MaryAnne Charron April 22, 2020 at 1:31 pm #

    Hello to everyone
    This 10 rule makes sense.I always make some foods to freeze and share with friends who are not as fortunate to cook as well as I do.

    Here is a tip: put herbs in an ice cube tray with olive oil and take out only as much as you need.
    Also cut your produce up freeze it for later.Always stack the baggies flat. It saves space in fridge or freezer.

  8. Kim April 22, 2020 at 1:32 pm #

    This is a great article with really useful tips! Thank you!

  9. Susan Nelson April 22, 2020 at 1:34 pm #

    We do most of them, but was happy to read about making your own stock from scraps! We always toss the scraps, not anymore! 😊

  10. Barbara Tennyson April 22, 2020 at 1:37 pm #

    And I was raised by a woman who lived through the Depression as well as rationing during World War II. She taught me a lot of no-waste tips & tricks. Good ideas, all of these!

  11. Jennifer Paronto April 22, 2020 at 1:37 pm #

    very helpful information!!

  12. Carry Poast April 22, 2020 at 2:14 pm #

    I do most of these, but I copied and printed # 5 and 6 because I was only vaugely aware of those. But the rest are all good reminders! Great article. Thank you very much. (Think I’ll be buying the herb container…don’t have one of those either.

  13. Jan April 22, 2020 at 2:40 pm #

    I never used to wash fresh produce before refrigerating. Now I see the experts are telling us to wash away any possibility of coronavirus before doing so. I am even using soap but being sure to rinse it all off. I suppose now it will not last long. True?

    I am buying more canned or frozen produce. Not my first choice at all.

    • Bobbi April 23, 2020 at 3:28 pm #

      I don’t know about the virus stuff, but I have been washing produce for YEARS….the key is not with just water. I add a big splash of vinegar to the water that I wash the produce in. Then use a really good (Pampered Chef!) Salad Spinner and spin them dry. The berries, grapes, lettuce- last a long time and are quick and easy to grab for snacks or use, versus having to take time to wash something. Try a side-by-side comparison. There are lots of sources saying washing in vinegar is the way to make it last longer than unwashed.

      If it has the added benefit of washing off the virus (which I’m not sure has even been confirmed as an issue on food, but can’t hurt, right?), then that’s all the better.

    • Kathy Gregory July 24, 2020 at 8:05 am #

      Jan, I’ve discovered that Norwex sells a fruit and veggie cleaner (all-natural) that gets tons of gunk off of the produce and also prolongs the life of it! It’s pretty amazing (and I’m not a Norwex consultant)!

  14. Linda Stanley April 22, 2020 at 5:08 pm #

    Good advice! We shop carefully and don’t waste much, but when I cook, I try to make enough entree for two nights, adding maybe a veggie the second night. Cooking at home means avoiding tip/tax on eating out.

    With the coronavirus, I’ve heard there may be a food shortage eventually. Pampered Chef might do a segment on buying and storying pantry foods and basics with good shelf lives. The Mormons are great at this, I hear. You could post a photo of a pantry with pasta, rice, condiments, cans of beans, veggies. Freezer: pie crusts, berries, etc.

  15. Deb Ward April 22, 2020 at 9:22 pm #

    I label and date what I put in the freezer so that I don’t have to remember or guess when it was stored there. I keep an inventory of what is in the freezer so that I can plan meals without standing with the door open looking to find what is on hand. I store similar items together in the freezer, and usually designate certain shelves for the same foods, i.e. breads on top, bagged items in the drawer. Same idea for the door shelves. I date condiments in the fridge.

  16. Ramona DeLeon April 23, 2020 at 6:32 am #

    Thanks great information

  17. Barb April 23, 2020 at 9:42 am #

    I have practiced most of these tips forever. I cannot believe the perfectly good food products people throw away. What a waste of food and money. Thanks for spreading the word!

  18. Bobbi April 23, 2020 at 3:12 pm #

    You are missing a big one…..
    For the fresh produce, here is what I do and it lasts MUCH longer:
    (1) Wash the produce (lettuce, berries, etc) in water and white vinegar (I put water into the salad spinner bowl, but any bowl would work and then add a large splash of vinegar (probably 1/2 cup to the salad bowl of water).
    (2) Rinse with water and then spin the produce in the salad spinner
    (3) Put the clean, dry produce in a container lined with a paper towel. Stick in the fridge.

    I do this with berries, grapes, lettuce, just about any produce. It lasts MUCH longer, and is very convenient and will be more likely to be eaten. If someone has to wash the berries or grapes or something before eating them as a snack, they usually don’t, and skip them…then they just go to waste. Washed and in the fridge, they can easily grab and snack away!

  19. AJ April 23, 2020 at 3:14 pm #

    I would love to see an addition to this article that when you do have to throw food away, composting it is an earth friendly option. We compost everything we can. I have read you can’t do meat or dairy in a home compost bin but we do every fruit, vegetable, stale chips, moldy bread. Even stuff that is still good but you throw away like the greens on top of strawberries, fruit rinds, apple cores, etc. can now become a nutrient rich compost for your gardens, plants, trees, etc. We got our compost bin at Menards for about $70.

  20. Theresa J. Domachowski April 24, 2020 at 5:42 am #

    I dip produce in an apple cider vinegar and water mix to clean them. The vinegar acts as an astringent. Also, I label and date leftover foods that go into the frig. When you are cooking a lot it really helps to use them up while still fresh.

  21. Susan Kemp April 24, 2020 at 12:29 pm #

    Great advice.

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