How do you keep from wasting food?

We’re pretty good at not wasting food, and that can really cut down on grocery bills.

Here’s some suggestions.

  • Put things in the fridge in clear containers so you can see them.  Make the containers easy to get into too.
  • Put some fruit or veggies out at room temperature, but not more than you will eat.  Some folks don’t like eating cold fruit so it is easier to snack on it if it is out.
  • Bring dinner the night before for lunch the next day
  • Leftovers night once a week
  • Cold pizza is not the only leftover dinner you can eat for breakfast
  • Have odds and ends over pasta with a sauce
  • Have odds and ends over rice with a sauce or as fried rice
  • Have odds and ends in an omelet
  • Have odds and ends on a pizza
  • Menu plan, being realistic about how many times a week you are going to cook
  • Use the freezer.  If you’re not going to eat something before it goes bad, freeze it!  Later when you have no time, it’ll be a nice way to avoid ordering pizza two nights in a row when you’re out of cash anyway.
  • Date stuff in the freezer and take it out to defrost and eat!  If you have a hard time actually eating stuff you’ve frozen and taken out, package things in one-person-sizes and take it for lunch where you have fewer options and it will get eaten.
  • Pick through berries/fruit etc. once you get it home or if it’s been sitting in your fridge for a while to remove any moldy pieces before they infect the rest.
  • Work hard to process things that can go bad before they go bad, even if it means cooking them and sticking them in the freezer.
  • Compost.

How do you keep from wasting food?  Any good suggestions?

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57 Responses to “How do you keep from wasting food?”

  1. Lane Says:

    These are great tips. I use the pizza and pasta sauce method often!

    I use a clothes pin on the plastic bags of cereal to make sure air can’t circulate inside. Keeps it from going stale.

    I buy cheese in block form, not pre-grated or sliced, which develops mold faster. If there’s mold on the block, at least I can cut it off.

  2. Everyday Tips Says:

    There are certain foods that never get thrown out at our house with 3 teens, like leftover pizza. However, I have found that when I buy carrots, I need to peel and cut them when I get home or else they won’t get eaten. (Darn lazy kids won’t take the time it takes to prepare a vegetable snack! :))

    I much prefer block cheese. We have a pampered chef cheese grater and it is so easy to grate on demand.

    Moldy fruit makes me cry. I brought home some blackberries yesterday that were fuzzy, I must not have inspected close enough when I bought them. Grr.

    I always serve leftovers for lunch, even during the school year. My kids love leftover spaghetti, sloppy joes, pea soup, whatever in the their lunches the next day. (They have access to microwaves.) I rarely make sandwiches for their lunch because they prefer leftovers.

    The item that gets thrown out the most in our house is yogurt that migrated to the back of the fridge and expired before we noticed it.

  3. Spanish Prof Says:

    Great tips, hard to change the routine. I could probably save $100 a month if I did this suggestions, but it’s really hard to change ingrained habits.

  4. bogart Says:

    I get a moderate score on this one. I totally vote for the good, and clear, containers. I find it’s been well worth paying for decent food storage as if I use (e.g.) old yogurt containers, much more food gets wasted.

    My DH is convinced that being expected to eat leftovers is cruel and unusual punishment. He gets 100 lashes with a leftover spaghetti noodle, but it doesn’t help much. In the end, our trying to plan meals accordingly is cheaper than marriage counseling even if it means we waste somewhat more food. I try to use leftovers for my lunches and do occasionally insist we eat them.

    Cheese — I find it you buy the dreadful standard grated parmesan, it keeps forever (whereas the “good” stuff molds). This is probably not a good sign, but for our typical spaghetti meal, the “standard” is good enough.

    I am plenty willing to eat stuff past its expiration date if appropriate. There’s lots of food that won’t sneak up on you if it goes bad … for example milk is either sour or it isn’t, and you’ll know. I am surprised how many people don’t realize this.

    Wrap lettuce in a linen dishtowel after washing/spinning it and then store it in the fridge. The towel soaks up extra moisture, keeping the lettuce fresh longer, and linen is sufficiently not-fuzzy that you don’t end up with lint in your salad.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Great tips!

      We do grate our own parmesan (and keep it in a container in the freezer). But we also keep a large pack of pre-grated cheddar or “mexican mix” in the freezer as our back up cheese.

      My FIL once told me a story about his dad that would have been hilarious if I’d thought there were anything wrong with eating leftovers. As it was he had to explain the punch line to me. Luckily DH seems ok with the idea of reheating.

      We found that keeping prepared lettuce directly in the salad spinner also does a great job keeping it fresh, though it does take up a lot of fridge space.

    • Frugal Forties Says:

      I agree on the expiration date stuff. One thing that makes me cringe is that my MIL will throw out anything in her fridge that is past it’s “due date” even if it’s not bad. She throws away yogurt and milk and sour cream if it’s one day past, w/out even looking at it or smelling it. She tosses leftovers every Friday no matter how long they’ve been in the fridge (and if you put something in Thurs night you’d damn well better be prepared to fight for it). I just cry for the amount of food that is wasted and thrown away at their house.

      • bogart Says:

        That always mystifies me. Um, sour cream is … sour!

        (Also, so many people seem to have the notion that food that goes bad is going to mysteriously acquire something dreadful. Um, no, actually neither e-coli nor salmonella will spontaneously generate in your fridge, or anywhere else, of course. Sure, they exist and can be horrific, even fatal. But (properly) cooked chicken, e.g., may turn green and fuzzy — in which case, of course, you should chuck it — but will not spontaneously regenerate the (invisible) salmonella you (correctly) cooked out of it.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        yeah, sour cream goes bad when it changes color… red, blue, or green depending on what part of the country you’re in! (Being from the midwest, I find green to be the most comforting mold color. Red and blue are just *wrong*.)

  5. kh Says:

    Planning planning planning. If I dont’ plan I wind up buying stuff that never gets used. I plan out my major meals every week. I might not always stick 100% to the plan, but at least I’m not buying things randomly thinking “oh, I’ll make X sometime” then never getting around to it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yes! Planning is super important, either before shopping or after. We keep a running tally list in the kitchen of things to make with the food we have on hand and have a small family meeting each week to discuss when the list runs low. (DC has hir own great cookbook that ze picks meals out of.)

  6. Nazca Says:

    I think I’ve been very successful at not wasting food. I plan the weekly menu every Monday evening and go shopping on Tuesday morning. I buy everything I need on Tuesday so that I don’t have to make any more stops by the supermarket until, at least, the weekend (and if I do I go for very specific things). If I can’t find a specific ingredient I alter the recipe with things that I can find at the supermarket. I plan for five home cooked meals (I cook three times, my husband cooks twice). Friday is always a take out/eat out day. On most Saturdays we have some kind of social event that will include dinner. On Sundays we tend to try new recipes and make slow cooked meals. If I have leftovers, I freeze them right away, or store them in a the fridge, but always after having decided when I’m going to eat them. If it’s a Monday and I’m planning to eat some on Wednesday for lunch. I put the leftovers in the container I will take to work on Wednesday (either in the fridge or the freezer) and then write an entry on my calendar for Monday morning “don’t forget to take lunch”. You get the idea. I also freeze fresh bread if I have leftovers after its first day. You can put half a loaf, for instance, in the freezer. Defrost it when you’re ready to eat it, and bake it in the oven at about 425 degrees for about 10-15 minutes.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Organization is awesome. We never quite stick to our plan, but it is nice having one. A good framework.

      Freezing bread is great. We have a boule in the freezer right now from the last batch of three that DH made. Sometimes we freeze the dough instead (which usually turns into a pizza), it just depends.

  7. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    Cheese — I find it you buy the dreadful standard grated parmesan, it keeps forever (whereas the “good” stuff molds). This is probably not a good sign, but for our typical spaghetti meal, the “standard” is good enough.

    Life is too f*cken short to eat shitte cheese. Chunks of real parmigiano reggiano keeps for an extremely long time in the refrigerator, and should be grated fresh for use.

    • bogart Says:

      Eh. There are half a dozen (or more) cheeses on which I’d agree with you emphatically, but the stuff I sprinkle on my spaghetti isn’t one of them. More power to you, but it’s not something I prioritize.

      • kh Says:

        Oh .. I can absolutely taste the difference in the stuff on my pasta. :) To each his/her own of course, but for me I agree with @Comrade PP.

      • Comrade PhysioProf Says:

        This is an extremely foolhardy attitude.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I think the time-food quality tradeoff changes when one has children. (Though we’re good with running the Parmesan hunk through the food processor every month or so and freezing it.)

      • bogart Says:

        Yeah, I think the kid thing is part of it. In mulling this over, I realize, too, that generally I am a cheese afficionada about those cheeses I eat (basically) alone … i.e. the stuff I cut in chunks (or blobs) and eat straight, or smear on bread or crackers. If it’s going in a quiche or on a pasta or even on a sandwich (with other ingredients), I’m much less picky.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        You HAVE to have good cheese on a sandwich though, or else the whole thing turns nasty!

  8. Cloud Says:

    I’m definitely in the planning camp. Every weekend, I write a menu plan for the week, and we pretty much stick to it. It includes one night of leftovers (which we label and date and store in the freezer- we use containers that are all the same size/shape, for more efficient stacking).

    I try to cut up fruit that is about to go bad and freeze it, for future smoothies.

    But there is a lot of wastage in my house. I have a picky eating 4 year old, and the best way to handle that is to keep giving her chances to try new things. Which she mostly rejects. Her almost 2 year old sister is a bit better, but is, you know, almost 2, so she throws a lot of food on the floor. My guilt about the food wastage is what finally got us moving on composting. Now we have a nice compost pile.

  9. bogart Says:

    Also, scandalously enough, I’m going through a non-planning phase. We have up to 4 dinners together at home each week (1 is my “night out” and 2 are DH’s “nights out.” And no, that ratio is not balanced, but I’m aware of and OK with that.), and honestly, I’ve found that just thinking “OK, what’s for supper tonight [or tomorrow]?” works reasonably well for me. For me for now, I’ve decided that running into the grocery store frequently to buy 6 things (figuring that on any given trip we’re out of paper towels or similar and dog food or ditto is On SALE!!!) — or having DH do so — is not more annoying than planning a large shop weekly (especially since I shop at, hmmm, 5 different stores for food/household supplies regularly, so the idea of “one big shop” is actually a fantasy, anyway, and I live or work within 2 miles of all these stores, so it’s not like I need to plan a long drive to reach them). But I do also try to keep 2 or 3 “backup meals” in the freezer so that if I’m having a bad day, I’ve got those to go to.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We generally buy everything at one grocery store, even if some things are more expensive there than at other stores. But we also don’t live close to much of anything! Back-up meals are awesome, and a great use of leftovers.

  10. Debbie M Says:

    You have most of my tips. There’s also odds-and-ends smoothies (for produce and dairy), odds-and-ends soup (for veggies and meat), and odds-and-ends quick bread (produce). If the leftovers aren’t that great, you can always add flavor enhancers (cocoa, bananas, peanut butter, or ice cream for smoothies; cheese and spices for soup; chocolate chips for quick bread).

    My failed attempts at tomato soup get turned into spaghetti sauce.

    I’m like Everyday Tips with cantaloupe – if I cut it up when I get home, I’ll actually eat it.

    Another tip: don’t buy stuff you have a long history of not eating just because you should eat it unless you have a specific plan, such as zucchini bread. (Even this is not fool-proof.)

    Here’s a weird one–throw out stuff that has gone bad so it’s easier to find the stuff that’s still good.

    Another one–do your own cooking. Then leftovers will look good because they mean you don’t have to cook. Some leftovers are much better when heated in the toaster oven than in a microwave–or just cold.

    One more hint I’m about to start as soon as I get a white board: write down what you have in the extra freezer. It could also be good to write down things in the fridge and freezer that aren’t staples and may disappear in the back. (Then, when you finish it, erase or cross out the entry on the white board. If there is more than one package, say “X3″ or something.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      odds and ends quick bread can be amazingly delicious!

      All excellent suggestions!

      We have back of envelopes for lists of things to eat that we stick on the fridge with magnets.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Ah, I use the backs of my envelopes for grocery lists (so I can add things when I’m about to run out). They are portable and hold coupons. I think I’ll use your method until we get a whiteboard.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        used envelopes are awesome!

  11. addvodka Says:

    For fruits or even veggies that are still good (but barely) I make breakfast smoothies with them. it’s also a great way to use milk that’s about to expire.

    Other than that, i go to allrecipes.com and type in a couple of the almost-gone-bad complementary ingredients I have and it finds me recipes.

    I find it’s easy to plan meals so that there are very little waste – for example, if I am making tacos and need lettuce, there are only two of us. So I’ll plan to have BLTs the next day and bring sandwhiches for lunches. Then the lettuce doesn’t go bad because it’s used in all three of those things.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Definitely!

      We do a lot of pantry cooking, so I have a mental tally of what can be made if we have extra say, lettuce or other vegetable that needs to go. BLTs are awesome. I’m not organized enough to do the, roast day 1, tacos day 2 etc. ahead of time, but I’m not to bad at throwing bits of this or that into other meals once I know there’s say, half a roast left.

      We’ve also decided not to ever “save” something for another meal. If it can go into a meal now, in it goes. We’ll just have to get another. That keeps us from never using say, the avocado before it goes bad.

      • Rebecca Weinberg Says:

        HA! I thought I was the only one who saves the avocado for something (usually burritos, which are GREATLY improved by the avocado) and then has it go bad. I’ve decided ‘not saving stuff if it can be eaten now’ will be the first habit change I must make- poor avocados…

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        So good, but so expensive… So very sad when they go to waste.

      • MutantSupermodel Says:

        I have a humongous ginormous avocado tree in my backyard. Last year it gave me nothing, this year it’s covered in avocados. This tree produces BIG ones so the challenge for me is eating them constantly and not getting sick of them. My daughter LOVES them though so it works out ok. We make LOTS of guacamole and avocado salad.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        *jealous*! You are so lucky! I bet they’re pretty easy to give away.

      • MutantSupermodel Says:

        That too. I bring them to work and give them out. I also have family and neighbors who gladly help alleviate my avocado load– at least what’s left after the stupid squirrels have their way with my gorgeous fruit.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We shake our tiny fists at greedy squirrels!

      • RRMom Says:

        Mash up your avocado with lemon juice, put it in a freezer baggie, and freeze it…..take it out later for guacamole or a green goddess dressing. Avocado freezes well with lemon juice.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Thanks for the tip!

  12. Linda Says:

    All great tips that I typically follow myself. But I can add one to the list, and it should be positioned just above composting: feed it to your chickens! ;-) It somehow makes me feel less like I’m wasting food if I end up feeding it to the hens, which of course give me eggs in return. It’s a very productive food cycle! This doesn’t mean give spoiled or rotten food to the chickens, just stuff that is either not in the prime condition that I’d like it to be for my personal consumption, or that is not typically human food (shrimp shells are a good example of the latter). If it’s rotten, then it goes into the compost/worm bin, depnding on what it is. (Moldy bread products, for example, always go to the worms, since it seems that grain-based products are the ones that most often draw rodents to the outdoor compost pile.)

    Another thing I may do with food that is not optimal for me or that I’m just not enjoying is to feed it to my dog. Obviously stuff that’s bad for dogs (chocolate, onions, raisins, etc.) doesn’t get used this way, but she always appreciates the variety. For example, once I made a big pot of bean soup with some bacon that was given to me. I didn’t care for the cure of the bacon, though, and so I didn’t care for the end product (I should have figured this out before I cooked the soup, but oh well!). I would give the dog a ladle full of soup at most meals for a few days until it was all used up. She seemed quite disappointed that her subsequent meals were strictly kibble.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Haha. Before we got a compost pile I’d occasionally wish we had a dog we could borrow (I still wish it if we have a big ham bone). We had a worm bin at one point, but we don’t live in an area where we can keep it outside now and inside it tends to attract other insects unless you microwave the food first and we’re just too lazy for that.

      Our HOA specifically says no chickens! It is soooo behind the times.

      • Linda Says:

        One other way to keep fruit flies and such out of the worm bin is to freeze the food first, then defrost in the fridge and add to the bin. That’s so much work for what’s essentially trash, though, that most people don’t want to do it. So far with this fancy bin that I bought about 3 years ago I’m not having problems with fruit flies, so I don’t worry about freezing/cooking things first. :-)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        yeah, that’s a lot of effort when you can just toss things outside on the compost pile (too lazy to even get a compost bin!)

  13. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I use clear containers but still manage to “forget” what’s in them. So now I’m putting them in the freezer instead of the fridge so when I’m desperate for lunch, I’m more open to eating the mystery container (hey I made it, so it must be ok).

    The freezer, I am finding, is the best way to not waste food. This also in combination with NOT buying food because you’re forced to go with what you’ve got.

    I love smoothies. I try and prep my fruits as soon as possible when I come home with them because it definitely increases the chance of them being consumed.

  14. squirrelers Says:

    We waste too much food here. That’s the bottom line. . Need to do a better job, considering how I put forth effort in other ways to save money. Sometimes we can do well in some areas but be inefficient in others, and food wastage is a weakness of mine. When I think of people having less money and being less fortunate, or think of myself being old and hungry, it snaps me into action for a while

  15. First Gen American Says:

    I use the clear containers too. It makes a world of difference. We throw little away now that I have two eating machine children. The other thing I do more of is think about our upcoming schedule for a the following week. If one or all of us are traveling or away for the weekend, we need less food. It’s so easy to just buy your normal amount instead of thinking…okay, we’re going away this weekend, so we’ll need 2 days less food this week…that’s 1 less banana, 1/2 gallon less of milk, etc.

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  17. Anna Says:

    I find the best way to not waste food is to cook fewer days per week. If you cook only 2 days a week, there’s no way anything is going to waste. The other days I make simple 1-serving things like a quesadilla, burrito, etc. that are consumed on the spot.

    I have a CSA this summer and it’s been a challenge to sometimes have to eat vegetables for every meal, but I’ve thrown hardly anything out. Sometimes I give it away to friends when it’s really too much.

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