July Food Stamp Challenge — Day 18, Food Waste

by Katy on July 18, 2011 · 12 comments

The following is an updated post from last year’s food stamp challenge. It’s a classic and a keeper. Enjoy!

Welcome to day eighteen of the July Food Stamp Challenge. Today’s focus is on food waste.

With food prices so high, there’s simply no excuse for food waste in the home. Regular readers of The Non-Consumer Advocate already know that the food waste issue is near and dear to my heart. Three years ago, I issued a Waste No Food Challenge and have been working ever since to get my family down to a zero food waste existence. I have learned much in my quest to eradicate food waste, and here’s what’s working for my family so far:

Be realistic: It’s all fine and admirable to fill your grocery cart with tofu and bok choy, but if that’s not how your family actually eats, then it’s just a recipe for wastage.

Serve smaller portions: This is especially important with children, but can be a issue with adults as well. It’s perfectly okay to have seconds, so make those servings appropriate to each individual.

Stop cooking such huge amounts: Face facts, you’re not an army cook. When cooking meals, estimate the amount of leftovers that’ll be produced and use your head. Leftover chicken soup is good once or twice, but after that it’s not always so tempting.

Buy smaller amounts: Many foods are less per pound if you buy a larger amount. However, unless you have a family of eight, this can be a certain road to food waste. It’s okay to buy the actual amount of food you need. I make pizza from scratch and buy the toppings from the pizza joint up the street. Not only is it cheaper, but I’m able to buy exactly the amount needed.

Only freeze the food you’ll want to eat again: Many people stash uneaten food in the freezer, only to be forgotten until that revolting smell of freezer burn has taken over. Which brings me to:

Eat the food in your freezer: When your freezer gets overly full of food, it becomes difficult to know the contents until it’s too late. Go on a spelunking tour of your freezer and start eating what you can. (The thriftiest meal comes from food you’ve already bought and prepared.)

Think about leftovers: When making a meal, think ahead to what the leftovers will be and how they’ll get eaten up. This may as simple as putting meal size portions into containers for work lunches, or even simply incorporating ingredients into another meal. For example, I roasted a chicken two nights ago. I used the extra chicken in some enchiladas last night, and then ate those leftovers for lunch today. If there’s more than you can eat, freeze the leftovers or share with friends and neighbors. (This is a delicious tradition to start, as you potentially end up on the receiving end of the deal!)

Plan Your Meals: For many people, this means scheduling the week’s menu ahead of time. I don’t do this personally, as I loosely follow the pantry principle, (I keep a stocked pantry that can be tranformed into multiple meals.) I usually plan my family’s meals a day ahead, which fits my personality better.

Store your food properly: If your flour gets buggy or your tortillas get crusty, then you have a problem. Stash dry goods in the freezer for 24 hours when first purchased to avoid moths and such, and use tight fitting lids for foods in the refrigerator. I’m a rabid fan of Pyrex dishes with snap-on lids. The glass means I can actually see the contents, and the lid keeps the food fresh. For me, monkey see food, monkey eat food. (Seriously, “out of sight, out of mind” is my middle name.)

Institute a leftovers night: Often, there’s not enough of certain leftovers to create an entire meal, but they can be certainly be warmed up and set out buffet style.

Teach yourself to create new meals from leftovers: I’ve written about tucking bits and pieces into a pasta salad, but soups and burritos also lend themselves to leftover magic.

Educate yourself: Jonathan Bloom wrote a fantastic book on food waste, titled, American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of its Food (and What We Can Do About it). Also, you can scope out Bloom’s WastedFood.com blog, which is filled with witty information that’s sure to inform.

Kristen, over at TheFrugalGirl.com blogs every Friday about her family’s battle against food waste, and has even dubbed it “Food Waste Friday.” Her many readers also link to their food waste blog posts, creating an entire community devoted to the art of avoiding food waste.

What are your methods to avoid food waste? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Kris2 July 18, 2011 at 10:32 am

I want to thank you for mentioning this book before. I downloaded it to my Nook and it has really changed my way of thinking.

I struggle mightily with food waste. It is frustrating beyond belief, but I can’t seem to get a handle on it, which is pretty repulsive, since i lived in overseas for two years and while there was a middle class, there was also areas with abject poverty; not Americanized poverty, but third world, starving, poverty.

So, this book and your blog has really pushed me to THINK about what I buy before I buy it. As I said, I can’t seem to be successful on a consistent basis, but I am getting better 🙂

I quit buying so many fresh veggies. Sounds stupid, but I find myself over ambitious about what I will use all these vegetables for, and then they end up going bad.

I started finding ways to use almost dead veggies; not as often as I want, but better. I sauteed asparagus that was on life support, ready to head to the morgue and I put it in one of the “egg cups” I make and freeze.


Susan July 18, 2011 at 10:52 am

This is really embarrassing but it is the true. About a year ago I cleaned out my freezer (small & large), cabinets and I know I threw away 3/4 large black garbage bags of expired food. I just threw everything on the floor and when I turn around there was this huge pile. I was just sick to my stomach. What a waste of food and money.

I now keep a list on the freezers and cabinets so I know what I have on hand. I am also a big fan of pyrex. I have replaced on my plastic containers with glass. I can see exactly what is in the container.

I have been reading your blog for about a year along with Kristen’s and you have inspired me . I also introduced the husband to Anrgy Birds and he loves it.

Thank you!


Anne Cross July 18, 2011 at 11:18 am

I think I was born an old Jewish grandmother, because I can remember chastising my mother for being wasteful food when I was all of about five years old. I was raised in the 70’s with Earth Day and global awareness of famine and hippie teachers and all, and it must have sunk in. I’d always try to get my mom (raised during the Depression) to make a big soup with aging food, and not to buy stuff she already had in the cupboard or fridge (or ice box). It did — and still does — make me feel awful to see food being thrown away. My friends make fun of me because my fridge is so empty relative to theirs, but I’d rather have baked beans for a week than have more than I can use in the larder.


Carla July 18, 2011 at 11:40 am

Storing food in glass rather than plastic helps two ways: you can see what you have and the glass doesn’t seem to allow bacteria to grow as fast. I use my old canning jars which have the added advantage of vertical storage. Still, things can migrate to the back of the fridge to hibernate. I don’t do it very well but a weekly clean out is a good idea.


Audrey July 18, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Katy, I thought of you today while I was in Target. Clif Bars are on sale ~ $10 for a box of 12. I don’t know how much your hubbie paid for his stash but it seemed like a good deal for Clifs…..


Kathy S July 18, 2011 at 6:41 pm

I will occasionally make leftover soup. Last week I made stock with a chicken carcass, then added leftover chicken and pork loin along with chard, onion and carrots from the farmer’s market, and rice from the freezer.

I used to belong to a CSA, but my family just doesn’t eat that many vegetables. Every week I’d have to clean out too much of the previous week’s veggies to make room for the new batch. I had the most expensive compost heap in town. It made me sick to toss all that food.

It’s still a struggle to use what I have on hand and not make a run to the grocery store a few times a week.


Lynda July 19, 2011 at 1:24 am

Looks like we’re all walking the fine line between having rainbow coloured supplies of good, healthy, fresh food and the waste that can be involved. We don’t have space for the results of once a month cooking: however, cooking extra to use for solo meals or extra tomato and veg sauce for busy nights works for the 2 of us. And there’s always a spare container of spinach in the freezer as the larger bags are more cost effective. The extra portions of curry from the freezer came in really handy on Sunday; home made potato, spinach and chick pea curry with a lentil dahl meant I only had to think about the brown rice.


Indigo July 19, 2011 at 6:06 am

While I will stock up on things I can freeze and pantry staples when they are on sale I stick to buying fresh only what I plan on eating within a week. That second pound of grapes or jug of milk will likely go bad despite my best intentions so I stick with what I know I’ll eat. The store isn’t going anywhere, I can always stop buy for more on my way home from work so it isn’t even an extra trip.

I like to make meals that freeze well so that while I don’t mind having the same thing a few times (my grandmother was depression era and would serve up the same soup for a good week, my mother just hated to cook so she did the same). I have the option to freeze it and wait a week to give my taste buds a break. I have a list of what’s in the freezer on the door, like a restaurant menu, so I won’t forget what’s back there.

When I know I’m going on a trip I stop grocery shopping a week or two before and eat mishmash meals from what I have. I hate coming home to food waste, so it’s something I take care of before hand.


Rebecca July 19, 2011 at 7:53 am

I also stock up on pantry and freezer items, but fresh items must be part of our meal plan for the next two weeks. I only shop every 2 weeks, except in summer when I get fruit every week, as bananas only last a few days in the summer.

I am not super strict about meal plans, and often switch up what i am making on any given day. I keep a running list of meals I have fresh produce for, and also any other meal I have all the ingredients for, including pantry meals like pasta salad and spaghetti. that way I always know why I bought that random eggplant for, and don’t have to struggle to find ways to use up randomly purchased veggies.

I also often extend the life of veggies by prepping them at home and then freezing them if I don’t think they will last as long as I want them to in the fridge. I saves them from being wasted before I get to them.


Christine July 19, 2011 at 8:11 am

Kudos to you for bringing up a subject that many of us avoid! I too love Pyrex containers (helps my hubby find a nutritious snack when I’m not home) and inventory sheets — we put a marker board on our storage freezer so we know what the heck is in there! I take a quick peek before I head to the store, and then I’m not tempted to overbuy when I see a good deal. Those good deals do come around again, so I never buy more than 2 months of meat or other freezer items. No matter how much I try to estimate, that stash seems to cover us for longer than I originally think it will!


rowen July 19, 2011 at 6:28 pm

i do half pantry, half meal plan (for the perishables) but i don’t make a strict rule of monday is spaghetti, tuesday is pizza, etc, i just make sure there are enough meals to feed us for two weeks (frequency of my shopping) and mark what has ingredients that go bad quickly. when deciding what’s for dinner i check the list for what i have supplies to make and what needs to be eaten first, then pick whatever i feel like at the time. sometimes i’ll change or add a meal based on some really good veggies/fruit i find at the green grocer or a really good deal at superstore. i sometimes make extra meals and freeze them but my freezer isn’t that big. i almost always make enough for dinner that i can take leftovers to work for lunch but not much more then that. this gives me a nice combination of limited waste, variety, and security that i can always put SOMETHING on the table, even if it’s not always exactly what i wanted. we also sprout mung beans instead of buying them because they go slimy in the fridge SO fast, and grow lettuce in a windowbox because it takes a month to go from seed to table and we can harvest only what we want for the day. i do need to get better about cleaning out the fridge and freezer so i can see what we have


jana July 20, 2011 at 5:14 am

Thank you for recommending this book. I can’t wait to get it from the library!

To avoid food waste, I pretty much do everything you’ve listed. What I also do is go through my fridge every other day to see what’s there and remind my husband of what food he has in there (I don’t eat meat so the leftovers with meat are all his) that he can bring for lunch. I find that most of our waste is in produce so I try not to buy more than we’ll eat in a week.


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