Have You Joined the "Waste No Food Challenge?"

by Katy on April 13, 2009 · 27 comments


When I started up the waste-no-food-challenge last May, I had no idea how much food waste I would be able to divert from our well fed compost pile. 

No longer do my leftovers languish in the back of the fridge. Gone are the days when my heads of lettuce transformed to liquid. (C’mon, admit it. I can’t be the only one to have conducted this particular science experiment!)

I have made many positive changes in how I buy, store and use/re-use food.

The most important change I’ve made is to be realistic about how my family eats. My ten and 13-year-old sons are more open minded eaters than most of their friends, but they still balk at certain meals.

Mom, is that a microscopic piece of onion in my bean burger?!

You get the picture.

Here’s the best techniques I’ve found so far in avoiding food waste:

  • I no longer cook up huge batches of food. Yes, I’m happy to eat leftovers once. Twice? Not so much. Our freezer is not big enough to store large amounts of leftovers, so I try to only cook enough for two meals at a time.
  • When buying lettuce, I immediately wash and chop it, and then store it in a salad spinner. Because the inner basket sits above the outer bowl, this prevents the lettuce from getting soggy. This technique has greatly helped our now nightly salad habit.
  • I include leftovers in subsequent meals. For example, I chopped up some roast chicken for use as a pizza topping a few nights ago. 
  • I no longer buy jars of salsa or barbeque sauce, as I noticed these were frequently wasted items. I now buy El Pato brand enchilada sauce to use as salsa. These small cans are the perfect size to get used up before going bad.
  • I store leftovers in clear containers as much as possible. Out of sight, out of mind is unfortunately very true for me. But if I can actually see the contents of my refrigerator, then I’m much more likely to eat the food I’ve bought.
  • I serve smaller portions to the kids. If they want seconds, then they’re welcome to help themselves. I’m also putting smaller portions in their school lunches. I find this helps in my quest to scrape less food into the compost and garbage from their plates. 
  • I’m buying less cereal. The days of half-eaten, completely-forgotten boxes of whatever-o’s are behind us.

I’m simply keeping an awareness about food waste up front in my mindset. Not only is food waste a huge waste of money, but it’s also an unacceptable practice in these economic times. And the methane gas produced from landfills full of rotting food is hardly a big plus either.

Put your name in the comments section below to add yourself to the waste-no-food-challenge.

Are you increasing your awareness about food waste in the home? What have you found that helps or doesn’t help for you? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth Dargis April 13, 2009 at 5:30 pm

We’ve been watching our wasted food as well. I found when I shopped once a week, lots of the produce would go bad. So now I shop once a week for the main food, then go to the produce aisle right inside the grocery store 2-3 times a week. The kid’s school is right across the street from the grocery store so it makes it simple.


Stacey April 13, 2009 at 5:44 pm

When I started this challenge I had to purge a lot of bad food – and I loved using the word “deliquescing” when referring to lettuce that was becoming liquid – really the only time I could work that word into my vocabulary and I miss it – the word, not the watery lettuce!

We’ve been almost waste-free for months now – until last week when I went away for the long weekend and left my husband and young son alone with too much food I had prepared in advance of the trip. (It was my way of taking care of them while I was gone, you know?)

The thing that has helped us immensely is dividing up leftovers so that some do go in the freezer (we only have a small one above our fridge, but we don’t buy other commercial frozen items, so there is plenty of room for a week’s worth of frozen leftovers – then for a few meals a week at the end of the month I really do little cooking, which is great).

The remaining leftovers (usually 2-3 lunches for me and my husband) are put on a shelf along with any questionable produce that is the “Eat Me” shelf. My husband and I go there first and knowing where the leftovers are has helped us avoid the “out of sight, out of mind” problem.


Meg from FruWiki April 13, 2009 at 5:55 pm

My husband and I are wasting much less nowadays!

We are buying less, trying to stretch the time between grocery trips, and eating simple meals. Of course, there is the occasional pot of beans that I let soak too long. Oh well. I have to have something for the compost pile, I guess!


Tracy Balazy April 13, 2009 at 6:10 pm

We started buying fresh (bagged) spinach as the main component of our salads, to which we often add butter lettuce, arugula or other hearty greens. We find these last longer in the fridge, and when spinach starts wilting, just toss it in a pot with some water and steam it!


Alison April 13, 2009 at 6:53 pm

One thing that’s helped me is only planning 2-3 nights worth of dinners at the beginning of the week. If I plan a week’s worth of meals, something inevitably happens and we don’t end up cooking the food and it goes to waste. By planning only a few, then “making do” with what’s available or running to the store a couple more times, we’re able to better manage the food we buy.


Chris Danner April 13, 2009 at 7:14 pm

I label and date all leftovers (a strip of masking tape and a Sharpie marker) – some get put in the freezer, others stay in the fridge and at least once a week we have YOYO (you’re on your own) dinners using up the leftovers. I grew up with UFOs (unidentifiable food objects), so when I set up housekeeping 35 years ago, I was extra conscious of the need to keep on top of leftovers.


Julia April 13, 2009 at 7:36 pm

Chris, love the term “YOYO”! We’ve always called that kind of night “every man for himself” although since our son came along 7 years ago, that hasn’t happened much. I still have to cook for the kid, so I usually end up cooking for my husband as well. Although, I have to give him tons of credit, he happily eats leftovers and the sometimes weird combinations of food I come up with to use up things that need to be used. This week is challenging because we keep kosher for Passover which means we have to follow a bunch of rules that only apply once a year. I have a well-loved Passover cookbook with favorites that he looks forward to, but since I quit eating eggs 2 years ago (see http://www.eggindustry.com/) it’s been really hard to cook Passover things that I can eat, too. I just learned the hard way that I need to at least halve the recipes from now on—most of them do not keep well and even with his heroic efforts, I just had to put some leftovers in the compost bin. Live and learn.


Atara June 30, 2016 at 3:01 pm

Hi, I keep kosher and I was wondering how you do this. How do you buy in bulk and package free while keeping kosher. Our entire existence depends on packaging and the kosher symbols that come on them.


Jen April 13, 2009 at 8:13 pm

I’ll add my name to this one as this is something we already do. I like the “yoyo” term. We called it smorgasbord when I would put out the leftovers from the last several days to eat for dinner. I find the kids really don’t care. We have always eaten leftovers so they don’t know any different. My husband packs his lunch from home, usually from dinner the night before. I do the same if I need a lunch for work. That really cuts down on the leftovers. Occasionally, I will end up with the icky lettuce, or something I have let go too long. If it’s something I can’t compost and is ok for the dog to eat, she gets a treat. I don’t do batch cooking and only sometimes do I plan a menu for the week. I find it easier to pull out the meat from the freezer a day or two before needing it so it can defrost in the frig. Most of the time I can get two or more meals from one cut of meat by making a cassserole, soup, potpie, etc. with the leftovers. I have a general idea of what I want to do for a week, then fix what works best for any given day. At the most, I use two cuts of meat in a week. I have a small (dishwasher size) chest freezer I bought used to store the 1/4 side of beef we buy about every 9 months. Another thing I do is cook about 2 pounds of hamburger and then freeze it. It’s easy to use just the amount you want that way, and that can last a week or two for us.

This is a different topic, but maybe one Katie could talk about. One thing that drives me nuts is that everything in this country is packaged. Everything, from fruits & veggies to bread to staples like flour and sugar. My recycle bin is filled up weekly just with cardboard and plastic from food packaging.


Skye April 13, 2009 at 8:32 pm

I now buy El Pato brand enchilada sauce to use as salsa.—–I have to have REAL salsa, I buy Herdez salsa Casssera in 7 oz. cans. You should be able to find it at your store. I could buy it when I lived in Seattle. I found out with that there is no waste and no ick on the jars.


Juli April 13, 2009 at 10:31 pm

We have been trying to be less wasteful and just focusing on not throwing food away has made a big difference. Being a vegetarian is awesome because you can eat almost any combination of veggies in anything. I guess that may be true of meat, too. Stirfry, make an everything soup. It always tastes pretty great.

In response to Jen, we never put fruits or veggies in plastic bags. We just put them from our basket at the grocery store into our cloth grocery bags. You’re going to wash them all later, anyway. My husband just pointed out that some big grocery stores pre-wrap everything (cosco?). Don’t shop at those.

We also have started going to bakeries for our bread so you can bring your cloth bag or reused plastic bag.

Finally buy stuff in bulk and bring your own washed plastic bags. When you refuse to recycle your plastic bags and wash them instead, you realize how many you go through, and you come up with ways to avoid accumulating more of them.


Angela April 13, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Hey- I thought I invented the “Eat Me” shelf! Was it you, Stacey? It figures.

I haven’t officially joined the challenge here, but I guess I am now. I’ve been watching our waste for the past couple of months, since reading this blog, and Wasted Food, and the Frugal Girl.

We’ve had a LOT less waste lately, mainly due to 3 things:
1. buying much less food in the first place
2. creating an “Eat Me” shelf with items that are about to go bad
3. labeling leftovers and keeping them visible

We have one or two YOYO nights as well- we call it grazing or potpourri, depending on whether it’s solo or sharing.

It feels great to waste less food, and it definitely saves money too.


Jeanine April 14, 2009 at 7:52 am

Count me in.

I threw away about 15 pounds of food this morning, because our fridge went out sometime last week. Imagine being gone for 11 days, only to return to that.

I figure now is as good a time as any to cut down on what we waste.


connie April 14, 2009 at 8:48 am

I will work hard this week to not waste food.

Under normal circumstances, our refrigerator is usually less full. With the holiday weekend and company, the leftovers have multiplied!

I think that this week’s meals will include soups, frittatas, and stir- fry. I will also see what I can freeze.


Kristen @TheFrugalGirl April 14, 2009 at 11:37 am

As you know, I’ve been working on this for a year now. I’m doing fairly well, although I cleaned out my chest freezer this week and had a laundry basket full of waste. Sigh. You can see a picture on my blog.

Never again, though! That food was all from my pre-no-waste days.


Sandy April 14, 2009 at 1:19 pm

I’m also a long time waste not, want not kind of gal. I seem to always make enough food for at least my or my husband’s lunch the next day. The kinds of things that I definately make extra of are:
meatballs, pea soup, chili, which I double up and freeze. When I make things like biscuits or French Toast, I always make extra, as it’s a quick breakfast for the next day or so for the girls.
As far as meal planning goes, I perhaps do it backwards. I make a list of meals that I can make from what I already have on hand in the freezer or pantry. I make a meal plan of about 21 days, and I find the beauty in that is that I don’t really need to go to the store last minute, and nothing is set in stone, so if I have less time than I thought, I make an easier meal. That way also, I can get items that I may need out of the freezer 24 hours in advance just by looking at what tomorrow’s dinner is. I can also buy sale items during the 3 week time, and the next time I make up my menu plan, there will be new things to cook (bought on sale, of course!)


Sandy April 14, 2009 at 1:24 pm

One other thing that I do for using up fruit that’s well, starting down the path toward science experimentation…
I make apple crisp for all the softening apples at the bottom of the fridge. I usually add another fruit (frozen blueberries or rhubarb from last summer, or other fruit we may have around the kitchen). I’ve also made homemade applesauce with those apples as well. Gourmet touch: if you have some pecans around, break them up and put in the crumble topping..YUM


Jackie April 14, 2009 at 1:27 pm

This is such a timely subject. Just yesterday I trucked way too much lettuce/veggies to the compost pile because it wasn’t eaten. I also had to throw out some pieces of chicken (uncooked) because I never found the time to cook them. What a waste. I vowed yesterday to stop wasting as I have been.

Love your writings! They keep me focused.


Mari April 14, 2009 at 1:28 pm

I haven’t been doing so good. I plan my meals and have the meat thawing in the refrigerator the night before. The day I plan to cook, my husband would have other plans. Like working late or have errands when he comes home. And he will not(and I mean H**LL NOT) eat leftovers. So I try not to cook very much at one time. But when he does eat there isn’t enough for him! He thinks it is a lot easier to stop by a fast food resturant and eating. So I have factors working against me.


maclynx April 14, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Jackie, i with you. Bought chicken becaus DH was going to cook it for sandwiches for he week. Unfortunately he procrastinated as usual and I encountered the mess on bin night as I looked for what needed to be thrown out. In the last few years this weekly ritual has basically come down to bones and fat that I can’t compost.
Grew my own lettuces this summer(Australia) and only picked what I needed – this cut down tose liquid problems in the bottom of the veggie bin


A. Marie April 14, 2009 at 4:16 pm


Ingredients of tonight’s chicken stock: Bones and pan scrapings from curried drumsticks made for dinner, plus two Ziploc bags of frozen chicken/turkey bones from earlier meals. (I learned about tossing bones into the freezer–and remembering to use them in stocks!–from the Two Fat Ladies cooking show a decade ago.) Bunch of parsley that didn’t dry altogether successfully in the attic. (I grow and dry herbs.)
Two stalks limp celery, one slightly sprouting Spanish onion, and two cloves actively sprouting garlic from vegetable bin. (Onions and garlic went in skins and all.) Bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Water to cover everything, in a 10-quart stock pot. The actual soup will be made from the boiled-down stock tomorrow–probably a mulligatawny, because of the curry.

So, you see, regular soup making is a great way of using things up and avoiding waste. This happens two or three times a month around here.


Emily April 14, 2009 at 5:15 pm

I don’t think I’m officially part of the WNFC, but I’ve been actively working on this since August. The biggest help for me is to not have much food on hand. If I can see the back of the ‘fridge, I know exactly what is in there and what we have to eat up. Plus, those odd bits of leftovers look much better when they are the only food that is left!

My current challenge is what to do with food that I don’t like. I made a bean and squash stew recently and didn’t care for it. Now there is a large container in the freezer taunting me every time I open the door.


Cheapchick April 14, 2009 at 9:33 pm

I freeze bananas without the skins when they are mushy..save for banana muffin making day. Started to do porkchop/hamburger/egg/chicken leg count as we have 6 mouths with varying appetite depending on the day to prevent waste and uneaten leftovers. Tried to cook less main course and have extra raw veggies so less is wasted. Monitor bread waste….freeze at stale point for stuffing. Food waste is a difficult thing. I have recently found that in the case of some fruits that I love (Mango) frozen is better as I can never get a fresh one that is ripe and there is zero waste as I always eat 100% of what is purchased and use coupons to reduce the cost.


AnnMarie April 15, 2009 at 8:36 am

I never joined it, but someone else I read was participating (ChiliChews?) and it got me started thinking. And acting. At the beginning of the year, I started trying to really think about whether I needed to buy food for myself. I tried to question each item I wrote down on the shopping list for DH. This is to help me eat all the stuff I froze, canned, and dried over the last couple years that’s still around. And the leftovers I’d freeze and forget about.

I’ve been pretty successful (but unfortunately our grocery bill hasn’t gone down as DH isn’t on board). And I finally made a fantastic soup the other day from leftovers and some cilantro base my parents gave me a couple years ago. For some reason, I usually make very bland soups despite seasoning them. I keep trying but…. Well, this time it was so good that when I went to reheat the leftovers last night, I discovered my DH had eaten them all! He almost never eats much of my soup. Darn–cuz I really liked it too! Luckily, I’d frozen 2 cups (I’ve finally learned that leftovers 5 days in a row just isn’t fun, and we do have freezer room); when I get it out, I won’t tell him! LOL

I’m going to have to find out where they bought the stuff and get some more when the jar is out. This may be my secret! And luckily, we love Mexican-inspired soups.

Oh, and count me in as a challenge participant now.


Jen April 15, 2009 at 10:24 am

I read a blog called Less is Enough. She had an interesting post for April 14 that relates to this topic. http://www.lessisenough.wordpress.com


Deb April 15, 2009 at 8:06 pm

I read somewhere that the average U.S. family wastes 14% of its food. If they were to spend $400 a month on food, that means $56 is going into the garbage or toilet. Not to mention the inestimable numbers of people who are literally starving here and abroad every single day – how precious would that $56 worth of food be to them?

My favorite thing is to raid the fridge when it starts getting bare or the produce starts looking sad, get creative with the available ingredients and/or do a websearch for recipes with those particular ingredients. We’ve stumbled upon some fabulous new favorites this way!

A. Marie – absolutely – soup, soup, soup! When hubby is out of town, I grab one of my homecooked frozen soups (I freeze them in small pyrex bowls, then unmold them into freezer bags and label/date) and I’m able to have a very satisfying meal with minimal effort!


chaotic kitten April 16, 2009 at 2:55 am

Hi, I thought you might like to know I linked to this post from my blog, it’s very inspiring 🙂


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