We all know that wasting food is bad, so I won’t go into why you shouldn’t do it, but it can seem like the easiest option when you’re looking through a refrigerator of expired food that you don’t even remember buying. I used to randomly buy food and forget about it until it was moldy, but not anymore.
Now-a-days I am very aware of the amount of food left over at the end of each week, and I am active in making sure none of it goes into the landfill. Food scraps are inevitable and must be disposed of in a conscious and eco-friendly way, but throwing away food just because it didn’t get used in time can be avoided.
The number one way to make sure your leftover food doesn’t become waste is to start composting. Check out local farmers markets, ask your city if they offer compost collection, or start composting yourself. (I choose to compost all food scraps in my apartment using a worm bin that I bought here.)
Just because I compost doesn’t mean that I buy whatever I want and then chuck it into the compost bin at the end of the week. If I did that I would have too much food for my worms to break down. Instead, I am careful with what I buy and how I use it.
Here are my 5 steps to eliminate wasted food:
***Avoiding waste all starts with acknowledging that everyone eats differently. Just because I cook my own meals doesn’t mean you have to. And just because I shop once a week doesn’t mean that is what will work for you. You need to have a good look at your lifestyle and determine how often you will cook your meals and how often you will buy them premade. If you only cook once a month, that’s fine. If you never cook at all that’s fine too.
- Decide how often you will realistically buy groceries to make your own meals.
For me, this means I go shopping once a week and then cook the majority of the lunches for the week that day.
Choose what works best for your schedule. Maybe you like to shop once every two weeks and have all your meals prepped in advance. Or maybe it’s easier for you to stop at the store everyday to choose what you want to eat the next day. There is no wrong way to buy groceries.
- Make a realistic meal plan
This will be different for everyone, and getting caught up in trying to be perfect is a recipe for stress. If your meal plan realistically includes eating pasta and tomato sauce every night because it’s easy, don’t stock up on tons of produce you will never eat just because you think you should. It will just make you feel worse when you have to deal with moldy broccoli.
Again, it’s all about being real with yourself. If you eat every meal out, then try to decide ahead of time where you will be eating, and bring your own container for leftovers to avoid wasted food and Styrofoam to-go containers.
To plan for the meals that I make, I write out a list of what I am going to eat each day and how long I expect the left overs to last. Based on this plan I make a grocery list for the week. This is a trial and error process, that can be hard at first, but it gets easier. My first one was a complete guess and we ended up with way too many leftovers, but instead of letting them go bad I just froze them to eat later.
My meal plans include making all my own meals and only eating out once every week or two. To make it easy for myself I cook all my lunches the day that I buy groceries and store them in wide mouth mason jars in fridge. This helps me know what I have leftover to use for breakfasts, suppers, and snacks.
- Be aware of what you already have
One bonus of living waste free is not having bulky packaging obscuring my view of what food I already have at home. Before I go to the store, I try to clean out my refrigerator and pantry so that I know what I already have at home that needs to be used.
This sounds like it must take hours, but it never takes more then 30-45 minutes (usually way less) because I use most of my food by the end of each week. Whatever produce may be left over, I put on the top shelf of my fridge and use that up first while making next week’s meals.
- Don’t impulse buy
Once you have your grocery list made, stick to it, impulse purchases often go unused or they get used instead of what you had planned. This may seem simple, but walking past unpackaged pastries is sometimes the hardest thing I do all week.
To avoid impulse buying I make sure to plan plenty of zero-waste snacks into my grocery list. This used to make me feel like I wasn’t being healthy enough because I often make cookies or buy sweet granola in bulk. But I had to finally decide to be honest with myself about how I am going to eat. If we don’t have chocolate and almonds in the house when I get hungry at 11 pm, I will drive to buy some donuts, so I now keep the house fully supplied with snacks at all times.
- Label your leftovers
Leftovers used to be my worst enemy. Not because I didn’t like them, but because I would forget about them and then end up throwing them out. Now I store my leftovers in clear containers whenever possible, and I clearly mark each one with the date it was cooked. I actually do this for most of the items in the fridge, because it eliminates the guess work and makes knowing what needs to be eaten next easy.
If I see that something has been in the fridge a week and still hasn’t been eaten, I stash it in the freezer so it will stay good until I have a chance to use it.