7 Ways to Reduce Food Waste

A bowl of paella-inspired risotto

7 Ways to Reduce Food Waste

Whenever I use up the odds and ends in my fridge or make use of lingering leftovers, I experience a deep shiver of satisfaction, and I bet I’m not alone. Seeing herbs turn to mush in the crisper drawer or noticing that the prosciutto is a week past its expiration date is demoralizing. And food waste also happens at the table, when your toddler throws half her meal on the floor or your pre-schooler refuses to even look at the cauliflower on his plate. But, these 7 ways to reduce food waste from my new cookbook Bare Minimum Dinners will help you save money, keep food out of landfills, and feel amazing in the process (assuming you’re as easy to thrill as I am).

1. Stick to your plan. If you plan meals, shop for them, and then cook them, you’re much less likely to have food going bad in the fridge than if you just buy random ingredients, use a few, don’t know exactly what to do with the others, and end up going out or ordering in. RELATED: How to Meal Plan in 15 Minutes a Week

2. Don’t bring it home in the first place. In other words, don’t go overboard at the grocery store! When you shop, try to be realistic about how much you’ll actually eat in a week, and just because something is on sale doesn’t mean it’s a good buy, especially if it’s perishable and you’re going to end up tossing some of it. This is by far my biggest challenge on the food waste front, especially in the summer and fall when the Greenmarket is overflowing.

3. If you’re feeding kids, serve less. If you’re spoon-feeding, start with less in the bowl (since for food safety reasons you should throw away whatever is remaining); you can add more if your baby is still hungry. If you’re serving finger foods, start with fewer on the tray (so maybe fewer will end up on the floor!). If you’re feeding a toddler, start with less on their plate or tray. This may actually encourage your little one to eat more, since the serving size won’t seem insurmountable. You can always serve seconds! And, if you’re serving a preschooler or bigger kid, consider serving family style so they put only as much as they want on their plates.

7 Ways to Reduce Food Waste graphic

4. Eat dinner for lunch. Whether you’re at home and heat it up in the microwave or pack it in a thermos for your kid’s lunch at school or your own desk lunch, get in the habit of eating leftovers the next day. In my house, this is the best way to reduce food waste because my husband will basically eat anything the next day for lunch.

5. Use your freezer When you notice that produce is on its way out, pop it in the freezer to extend its life. Freeze berries in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet to keep them from clumping, then transfer them to a storage container once frozen. Blend herbs with olive oil in the food processor to make a basic pesto, and then freeze in ice cube trays. Most veggies benefit from a quick dunk in boiling water before freezing. Then dry and store.

6. Add on. Certain dishes like frittatas, stir-fries, and soups are generally welcoming to the bits and bobs of your crisper and cheese drawers. Don’t be afraid to improvise a little by adding different or additional ingredients to recipes, like the (easy and yummy!) Instant Pot Pae-sotto from Bare Minimum Dinners above. The recipe calls for frozen peas, but if you have some frozen spinach or broccoli, feel free to add those instead or in addition.

7. Know which expiration dates you can ignore. Once I learned that expiration dates, sell-by dates, and best-by dates aren’t regulated I felt instantly freer. I’ll keep partially used jars of marinara sauce or salsa in my fridge for two weeks or so. Once I see some fuzz, I toss it. Eggs also last for up to a month and milk until it starts to smell sour, regardless of what the expiration date says. Frozen foods will keep, legit, for years, and canned foods for up to a year (or more) after their expiration date. The only food that you need to strictly follow expiration dates for is infant formula. I also only keep cold cuts and clamshells of greens (which I don’t buy many of these days anyway) for a day or so past their dates because they tend to turn quickly. Read more about expiration dates and how to know when food should be tossed.

Photo by Linda Xiao

In need of some dinner inspiration? Check out my new cookbook Bare Minimum Dinners! It’s packed with over 100 recipes for one-pot meals, dinners with seven ingredients or less (including salt and olive oil!), and dozens of recipes you can get on the table in under 30 minutes. Order now!

Bare Minimum Dinners cookbook cover

Jenna Helwig