How to prevent food waste

Wastage is one of the biggest reasons why the average North American spends so much on food.  While exact monthly amounts vary, everyone loses out when food is wasted.  Recent reports estimate food waste at $27 billion per year in Canada and 40% of annual food production in the United States.  Yikes!

Brian and I spend $200 a month on food, roughly following our ”grocery budget for 2″.  There is absolutely no room to be wasting food on this kind of budget! But what can you do to avoid food wastage?

 

Plan your meals around perishables

When I am thinking about what to cook for lunch or dinner, I always check my vegetable drawer to see what needs to be used up.  Then, I add starch and protein accordingly.  Why?  Well generally, all of our meat is kept frozen and all of our starches are dry and long-lasting.  So in terms of preventing food waste, I need to look at what veggies (and fruits) need to be used and plan my meals around those items.  For example, if I have a lot of veggies near the end of their life, I might make a casserole or stir fry.  If I have a lot of tomatoes or carrots getting soft and mushy, I make a pasta sauce or a soup.

 

Freeze your food

You definitely need to utilize your freezer if you want to waste less food.  I often buy food in bulk, which is great for saving money but bad for wastage – unless you’re smart about it!  So when I buy large cuts of meat, for example, I’ll split it into smaller portions and freeze them.  That way, I only ever need to thaw out a small portion of meat to use immediately.  Freezing food is also a great way of preserving veggies that you can’t use up right away.  Vegetables such as peppers, carrots and beans can be chopped, blanched and frozen for later use.  Frozen blanched veggies are great additions to canned soup or instant noodles!  Other foods that you can freeze include breads, fruits (especially berries!),  and cooked meats like roast chicken and soup.

 

Be creative!

In the end, the best way to not waste food, is to use it up.  Duh, right?  Sometimes it can be hard.  What do you do with half a lime and half an onion?  You could make up a Mexican themed meal, perhaps some homemade salsa or some garnish on a baked chilli chicken.  Maybe it’s a couple of carrots and a some wilting spinach that you find in the fridge.  You could revitalize the veggies in a fried rice or toss them into a pot of water with some stock and rice and make soup.  It’s easy to get into a comfort zone and compartmentalize your cooking into recipes.  But if you do that, you’re always going to end up with bits and pieces left over in your fridge.  It’s your ability to make something yummy and healthy out of those bits and pieces that will prevent you from wasting food!  So experiment!  My favourite grab bag meals include casseroles, stir fry’s, soups and fried rice – all of these meals are GREAT for using up veggies and meat.  If you’re not feeling too creative, you can also download many apps that will suggest recipes based on the ingredients you have on hand.

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How do you avoid wasting food?  Any great grab bag recipe ideas?

Posted in: Food and Grocery

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43 Comments

  1. Great tips. We personally plan our meals and know how long our perishables will last. Combining the two we’re able to strecth out grocery budget further and limit what we don’t use.

    • CF says:

      Exactly. It’s not usually the $10 sack of flour that is wasted, it’s the bits of fruits and veggies that go to waste each week.

  2. Ugh, we waste SOOOO much food. I hate it. One of the issues is our produce is not usually the freshest by the time it gets to our town.
    I have heard that keeping a muffin tray in the freezer and throwing odds and ends into it is a good system, too. Then you just chuck in the pucks of veggie mix into various foods like pasta, soup, stir fries, etc.

    • CF says:

      Hmm yeah if you’re not able to get fresh produce, it can be hard to keep it around long enough to use it. Some veggies (like leafy greens) store longer if you trim them, wash them and put them into tupperware. Perhaps that would help?

      I don’t use the muffin tray but I do keep a plastic bag in the freezer with scraps for soups and such.

  3. Pauline says:

    Once a week or so, I usually grab all the vegetables in the fridge that haven’t got more than three days left to live, and make either soup, or put them all in a crockpot with a piece of beef. Ripe tomatoes go into tomato sauce, for pizza and spaghetti. Old bananas and apples are bakes into banana bread and crumbles. I love monster salad with all the raw vegetables you can find.

    • CF says:

      That’s super organized of you! I’m going to be making more soups now that the weather is cold I think. And baked goods is a great way to use up fruit – I find I often don’t have butter around, which is a problem for baking.

  4. These are great tips! We have really cracked down on food waste over the past year and it has made a huge difference. I try to freeze things before they go bad then use them in a soup, etc.

    • CF says:

      Thanks Holly! I like freezing veggies too because it’s actually very convenient to be able to pull out veggies that are already washed and cut up from the freezer.

  5. Excellent post! I use to throw stuff away simply because I didn’t pay attention to the expiry dates on the stuff in the fridge, esp. stuff like a tub of sour cream. I hate doing that. Now that we are closely watching what we spend on groceries we throw away a lot less. We also bought a small freezer at London Drugs and use it for whenever meats are on sale at Safeway.

    • CF says:

      I used to have a small cube deep freezer but I found that between Brian and I, we didn’t eat that much meat. So I sold it eventually and just keep the fridge freezer packed full.

  6. Great post! I grew up with my mom always cooking what was fresh in order to prevent throwing away food. She passed it on to me and it absolutely breaks my heart if I (very rarely) have to throw out produce when I think about all of the people around the world who are malnourished. I definitely have been known to do the old pot of soup trick and throw in everything I have in the fridge and pantry!

  7. Nothing goes to waste in our home and for good reason. We have mates and no word of a lie they “NEVER” keep left overs. They toss them all in the bin after dinner. I know I was just as shocked but they told me they like “fresh” food every day. If we are there for dinner we will take it home. We hate seeing food go to the bin for no reason. Now here is the kicker… they have no savings not a penny in case the walls come crumbling down. I have no answer to why but all I know is that in our home we use what we have to the fullest. Example: We keep all our veg peels in a bag in the freezer and make a stock. I made a veg stock last night from carrots, onions, garlic peel, beet peel what I was saving from the Welfare Food Challenge. I will use that stock tonight to make a beet risotto. Great post mate! Mr.CBB

    • CF says:

      Oooo it really bugs me when people don’t keep leftovers, especially after eating at restaurants. I’m think, “You spent $35 on that meal and now you’re throwing 1/3 of it away???” :S

      Nice work on the stock!!! I have some scraps in the freezer that I’ve been meaning to toss into the slow cooker to make stock with as well.

  8. I hate wasting food, so that means there’s usually one day a week that I just eat whatever’s left in the fridge so it doesn’t go bad!

  9. I’ve been trying to get better at this the past couple of years! We’ve improved, but not greatly. Planning around perishables is key. We also have to start keeping better track of expiration dates in our canned goods cabinet. We buy stuff for storage as a “just in case” thing, but sadly end up throwing stuff out sometimes because we don’t realize it’s gone bad.

    • CF says:

      I’m not great with my canned goods either actually. Some things like canned corn or condensed milk gets used up quickly, but I find that canned soups can get lost in the mix since we don’t eat them very often.

  10. Our biggest problem is that not planning. If we want to cook chicken then we need to know 2 days ahead to allow it time to thaw. If not, then we get something quick and don’t end up using some of the foods that were meant to go with the chicken.

    • CF says:

      I usually just take meat out of the freezer in the morning. In the summer I leave it in the fridge to thaw and then take it out onto the counter to finish. In the winter, I just leave it out on the counter. I know you’re not “supposed” to, but it hasn’t had any dire health effects yet. :)

      (Though I’d be more careful if I were cooking for children)

  11. These are great tips! My biggest issue with food waste is definitely fresh produce. To combat this, we’ve been buying more frozen veggies lately – something we never used to do.

    • CF says:

      Frozen foods are super handy. We try to avoid wasting produce by buying only enough to last 2-3 days, plus longer lasting items like potatoes and carrots. It helps that we have several nice markets in walking distance!

  12. shelley says:

    My children have been taught to eat everything on their plate, as I was, as a child. Food waste is unnecessary and expensive. Even if we go to a buffet, they are to only take what they will eat, unless it is to try something new. In that case, I will not make them eat it if they don’t like it but will insist they only take a small sample and go back for more, if it is to their liking. I compost all my non edible scraps and try to buy less. If buying a large bag of carrots, I will keep a few in the fridge and blanch the rest and throw in the freezer.

    • CF says:

      That’s a great habit to teach your kids :) I agree, food waste is completely preventable.

      I’m jealous that you have a compose to put some of your scraps in! We live in a condo that does not have a compost, so it’s a bit harder.

  13. Savvy Scot says:

    Wasting food is an extreme pet hate of mine!! I absolutely despise throwing food away. I love to create soups with leftovers… It is surprising how amazing the weirdest things taste when blended together! :)

  14. April says:

    I keep 3 gallon ziploc bags in my freezer: one for bread heels, one for chicken bones, and one for veggie scraps. When they are full I can make bread crumbs, chicken stock and veggie stock.

    I also try to plan one leftover night(met usually by groans). If it’s something that’s freezable, Ill put in the freezer for another day, but if it doesnt get ate completely before it goes bad, I will give it to the dogs(they love refrigerator clean out day)

    • CF says:

      I love having leftovers, but I know that a lot of people don’t. Maybe I just enjoy being lazy :) Handy that you have leftover-eating dogs! My cat is a strictly cat food animal. He’s never even given canned tuna a second glance.

  15. I am pretty lucky here, as my family eats what I cook and half the time even if I think I am cooking enough for leftovers, there usually isn’t. After feeding a family of 5 for $200-300 a month for so long, there simply is no room for waste so it all gets used somehow.

    Pickle juice is saved for fish, potato salads, dipping sauces etc. ends of vegetables are thrown into a large plastic margerine tub and when full, vegetable stock made, half can of unused tomato sauce goes into a soup or quiche . Extra bananas get frozen to later be made into muffins, breads or smoothies. Chicken bones get made into chicken stock , I can pretty much find use for any scrap of food.

    When there are scraps, they go to the chickens, before chickens they went into the compost so I never really thought of it as waste.

    • CF says:

      Wow, feeding a family of 5 on $200-300 is pretty impressive! While I do use chicken bones and bananas, I’ve never used pickle juice for anything. Any good recipe tips? :)

  16. We used to be terrible food wasters. Not sure why I was afraid of the freezer, but now we save everything and most meals freeze well. We use lots of frozen fruit for smoothies. I cringe if I have to throw something out now. I also got a wok about a year ago. Stir fry is one of my favorites now, and a great way to use up leftover meat or veggies that are about to go bad.

    • CF says:

      Yup, we freeze everything now also. Even tofu. Haha. We have a stash of frozen blueberries for smoothies as well. Nothing like pulling out summer fruit during the fall!

  17. Eddie says:

    I only buy very limited amount of fresh veggies, and instead buy a lot of frozen ones. This eliminates some of my food waste, as majority comes from there.

    Great points though.

  18. Not wasting food was one of the first topics I wrote about on my blog! I used to buy way too much food for a two person household. I eat fresh fruits and vegetables daily, and I was over-estimating how much I needed. So now I am simply more cautious. I might want both asparagus and broccoli, but I only cook every 2 or 3 days, so I just get one stalky green, and one type of lettuce for salads. With less stuff in the fridge, I am much more motivated to eat what I have and not throw up my arms and just order a pizza.

    • CF says:

      Yup, it’s much harder to waste when you just keep less food around! We do the same and just make sure to have some frozen veggies always on hand in case we run out of fresh veggies. We’re lucky to have several markets near by though, so it’s never too much of a hassle to run out and buy more food.

      Thanks for visiting!

  19. kathryn says:

    I was also going to ask about the pickle juice !!
    After doing some googling, I have discovered you can make apple jelly with the cores and peelings.Great idea if you are are baking a lot of pies or making applesauce.
    I never insisted our children what was on their plate. Sometimes their appetities are a bit off. It is much better to give a small amount and ask for seconds (if there are any)

    • CF says:

      Yeah I’ve never considered re-using pickle juice. It’s a good idea. Making jellies is something I haven’t yet tried either – Brian’s brother has done it and so have a few friends, so it might be a fun project for me this year. I’ll investigate using the cores – very frugal!!

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