10 Ways to Reduce Food Waste & Become More Sustainable

The average American family throws away $1,500, or 300 pounds, of uneaten food every year—that’s about 20 percent of what we buy. While composting, if it’s available where you live, can cut down on the amount of food going to landfills, there are steps you can take to reduce food waste before it’s ready for the compost bin. Here’s how:

1. First in, first out

Unpack your groceries strategically. Put the new ingredients in the back of the fridge and the older items in the front so they get used first.

2. Freeze it

Rather than let leftovers sit in the fridge without a plan for eating them, freeze them. This goes for meals like soups, stews, and cooked beans. Wilted spinach or overly ripe fruits and vegetables can be frozen and used later for soups, smoothies, juices, or banana bread.

3. Get creative with leftovers

Use last night’s rice to make fried rice; add leftover grains or roasted vegetables to salads for lunch; pile cooked proteins onto tortillas for quick tacos. If Thanksgiving is any indication, there are many ways to repurpose the same food for different meals.

4. Plan meals in advance

Meal planning can seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to take hours. Think about what you want to eat, even if it’s just for a couple of dinners or lunches a week, and buy just the ingredients you need for those meals. It’ll prevent you from buying more food than you can cook and also curb impulse buys, further reducing the chance of waste. Plus, it’s a great way to prevent overeating throughout the week!

5. Rethink wilted produce

Overripe bananas, berries, or an apple with a small brown spot can easily be cut, frozen, and used for smoothies or baking. Carrots, celery, and green beans that are past their prime can be turned into vegetable soups. Soaking wilted greens and fresh herbs in ice water for up to an hour will bring them back to life.

6. Save scraps

Keep a zip-top bag in the freezer, fill it with scraps—such as parsley stems, carrot peels, half an onion or garlic clove, and even a Parmesan rind—and use them to make vegetable stock. Soak citrus zest in simple syrup to make flavored syrups for iced tea or cocktails, and toast stale bread and cut it into croutons or crush them into bread crumbs. These bite-size leftovers may just be the crowning jewel of your next meal!

7. Shop strategically

Plan for several meals that include one or two of the same ingredients. That way, the other half of that five-pound bag of potatoes, bunch of spinach, or wedge of cheese won’t go to waste. Be mindful of ingredients that expire quickly and make sure to use those first.

8. Store food properly

You can significantly extend the shelf life of your groceries simply by storing them correctly. If bread often gets stale before you’ve eaten the loaf, consider slicing it and freezing half of the slices right away. To keep tender herbs fresh for up to a week, stand them upright in a jar filled with about an inch of water and cover the leaves with a plastic bag. Remove vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, and leafy greens from plastic produce bags and store them in the crisper drawer to help maintain their crunch.

9. Take stock

Do a quick inventory of what you already have in the pantry and refrigerator before you shop, so you have a fresh take of what’s on hand.

10. Use it all

Don’t toss broccoli stalks and kale stems, instead, slice them into smaller pieces and sauté or roast them too. Use carrot tops and herbs to make pesto. Instead of tossing out beet and turnip greens, cook them in oil, season with garlic and lemon, and serve as a side dish or toss with pasta.   illustration by @boccaccinimeadows