At the Store
1. Shop smart. Plan meals, use grocery lists, and avoid impulse buys. This way, you’re less likely to buy things you don’t need and that you’re unlikely to actually consume. Buy items only when you have a plan for using them, and wait until perishables are all used up before buying more. Check out these apps for extra-easy meal planning.
2. Buy exactly what you need. For example, if a recipe calls for two carrots, don’t buy a whole bag. Instead, buy loose produce so you can purchase the exact number you’ll use. Likewise, try buying grains, nuts, and spices from bulk bins so you can measure out exactly what you need and don’t over-buy (Just note that there’s a difference between buying in bulk and buying from bulk bins; the first one can actually create more waste if we buy more than we can realistically use). Bonus: This tip will save some cash, to boot.
3. Be realistic. If you live alone, you won’t need the same number of apples as a family of four (unless you really like apples). If you rarely cook, don’t stock up on goods that have to be cooked in order to be consumed (such as baking supplies or dried grains and beans).
4. Buy funny-looking produce. Many fruits and vegetables are thrown away because their size, shape, or colors don’t quite match what we think these items “should” look like. But for the most part these items are perfectly good to eat, and buying them at a farmer’s market or the grocery store helps use up food that might otherwise be tossed.
5. Have a Plan B. Let’s say you buy Camembert to make a fancy dish for that fancy dinner party — and then the dinner party is canceled. Don’t toss the cheese! Instead, come up with a backup recipe and use it in a different dish (or just eat it plain, because c’mon — it’s cheese).
6. Practice FIFO. It stands for First In, First Out. When unpacking groceries, move older products to the front of the fridge/freezer/pantry and put new products in the back. This way, you’re more likely to use up the older stuff before it expires.
7. Monitor what you throw away. Designate a week in which you write down everything you throw out on a regular basis. Tossing half a loaf of bread each week? Maybe it’s time to start freezing half that loaf the moment you buy it so it doesn’t go stale before you’re able to eat it.
8. Take stock. Note upcoming expiration dates on foods you already have at home, and plan meals around the products that are closest to their expiration. On a similar note, keep a list of what’s in the freezer and when each item was frozen. Place this on the freezer door for easy reference and use items before they pass their prime.
9. Designate one dinner each week as a “use-it-up” meal. Instead of cooking a new meal, look around in the cupboards and fridge for leftovers and other food that might otherwise get overlooked.
10. Eat leftovers! Brown-bag them for work or school for a free packed lunch. If you don’t want to eat leftovers the day after they’re cooked, freeze and save them for later (just remember to note when you froze them so you can use them up in a timely fashion).
11. Use it all. When cooking, use every piece of whatever food you’re cooking with, whenever possible. For example, leave the skin on cucumbers and potatoes, sauté broccoli stems along with the florets (they taste good too; we promise!), and so on. Bonus: Skins and stems often have provide additional nutrients for our bodies.
12. Store better. If you regularly throw away stale chips/cereal/crackers/etc., try storing them in airtight containers — this should help them keep longer (or, of course, just buy fewer of these products).
13. Repurpose leftovers scraps. Use vegetable and meat scraps in homemade stocks, and use citrus fruit rinds and zest to add flavor to other meals. Want more ideas? Check out these resources for using up food scraps.
14. Check the fridge. Make sure it’s functioning at maximum efficiency. Look for tight seals, proper temperature, etc. — this will ensure that the fridge keeps food fresh as long as possible.
15. Preserve produce. Produce doesn’t have to be tossed just because it’s reaching the end of its peak. Soft fruit can be used in smoothies; wilting vegetables can be used in soups, etc. And both wilting fruits and veggies can be turned into delicious, nutritious juice.
16. Donate what you won’t use. Never going to eat that can of beans? Donate it to a food kitchen before it expires so it can be consumed by someone who needs it. Check out this resource to locate a food bank near you.
17. Donate the gross stuff, too! Many farmers happily accept food scraps for feeding pigs or adding to a compost heap. To find farms near you, check out one of these resources.
18. Store food properly in the fridge. Learn how and where to store specific products in the fridge, and they’re likely to keep longer (hint: they don’t call it the “produce drawer” for nothin’!).
19. Store things properly in the freezer. Same as above: How and where we store products in the freezer makes a difference in how long they’ll last.
20. Can it. Got more fruit than you know what to do with? Try canning it so it’ll last for months to come. (Plus, who doesn’t love eating “fresh” peaches in winter?)
21. Pickle it. Both fruits and vegetables can be preserved through an easy pickling process.
22. Understand expiration dates. Turns out those expiration dates don’t always have to do with food safety; rather, they’re usually manufacturers’ suggestions for peak quality. If stored properly, most foods (even meat) stay fresh several days past the “use-by” date. If a food looks, smells, and tastes okay, it should be fine. If any of these elements are off, then it’s time to toss it.
23. Compost! Hate potato skins? Don’t feel like turning wilted vegetables into soup stock? No worries; food scraps still don’t need to be tossed. Just start a compost pile in the backyard or even under the sink, and convert food waste into a useful resource.