June Food Stamp Challenge — Day Four, Food Waste

by Katy on June 5, 2010 · 14 comments

Welcome to day four of the June 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. Two 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 is thisclose to finishing his book on food waste, but you don’t have to wait until publication to learn about the monetary, social, environmental, agricultural and global issues that surround food waste. Bloom’s WastedFood.com blog 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.”

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

WilliamB June 5, 2010 at 6:03 am

I do two main things to avoid food waste:
1. I eat leftovers. That chix soup looks good to me after 3 or 4 meals.
2. I taught myself how to cook. I learned from the 1971 “Joy of Cooking” and “365 Ways to Cook Chicken.” To avoid food waste I also recommend the (regretably out of print) “Half a Can of Tomato Paste,” a book full of recipes that use leftover bits.

I also:
– Freeze what I haven’t been eating
– Label what I freeze, with item and date
– Keep a list of what’s in my freezer


Marie-Josée June 6, 2010 at 5:03 am

Wow! You’re really well organized. I’m getting there in other areas of my life, and it saves so much time.


WilliamB June 8, 2010 at 2:28 pm

“Really organized.” I like that. That’s so much nicer than the usual “retentive.”

Oh, wait. I didn’t tell y’all how I read cookbooks and mark each recipe I want to try with an annotated post-it. And how I’m now putting all of those into a spreadsheet.

You’re going to say “retentive” from now on, aren’t you?


Diane June 11, 2010 at 4:44 pm

As one who shares the trait, I much prefer the term “detail oriented”. It sounds cleaner, and a bit more well-balanced, don’t you think? A friend of mine who has OCD tentencies says it should be “CDO”, because the letters must be in alphabetical order!


Angela@MyYearWithoutSpending June 5, 2010 at 9:54 am

All great tips.

I would say the two main things that have cut our food waste to almost zero are:
1) to create an “Eat Me” section of the refrigerator (I actually taped that to a shelf in our refrigerator) and that’s where my husband goes for snacks, sandwiches, and meals, and
2) to buy less food in the first place- I only plan for 3 or 4 meals, and the rest end up being leftovers or going out or to someone’s house for dinner.


Rebecca June 5, 2010 at 10:46 am

Often we have one dinner a week of total randomness. Misc things come out of the fridge and get consumed. It helps us use up the little bits of things.


Julia June 19, 2010 at 4:11 pm

We call that “every man for himself” night, and we eat leftovers or weird stuff from the pantry or freezer. Cheap and delicious, ’cause I don’t waste time or money stocking the pantry/freezer with stuff we don’t like!


Judy June 5, 2010 at 12:52 pm

The hardest one for me is not cooking huge quantities. When I keep adding and adding ingredients things multiply. And yes, I think there is a cook inside of me who wants to feed an army!


Issa June 5, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I do a lot of tactics to eliminate food waste. I always take a look in the fridge before making something new, so leftovers are usually gone by the next day. Rather than cooking small meals, I tend to make things in huge abundance and then freeze them in small portions, so I can just get out from the freezer exactly what I need. Since there are only two in my family, this works out well for lots of things. My surefire backup method of no waste is that I keep pigs! There are all kinds of things that they love to eat that would normally be waste, like egg shells, banana peels, inedible-to-me parts of veggies, as well as things that accidentally become waste, like stale chips or crackers.


Betty Jo @ Cottage Palette June 5, 2010 at 3:33 pm

This is a super post with very good ideas. Lots of good suggestions in the comments too.


Betty Jo @ Cottage Palette June 5, 2010 at 3:35 pm

For some reason, the wrong link showed up in my comment above this one! Hopefully this will correct it.


Stasie June 5, 2010 at 6:37 pm

I am looking for a recipe website where you can enter what you have and it will offer recipes based upon that….any suggestions? Like say I have one potato and 2 ribs of celery and then the search spits out some recipe options……does something like this exist?? That would really help me waste much less food.


Happy Mum June 5, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Stasie — You could try http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/. Recipes/suggesions maybe not as specific as you’re looking for — but lots of good ideas — and fun, too.


fairydust June 7, 2010 at 7:33 am

supercook.com is another great site that lets you enter ingredients you have on hand, then lists possible recipes from all sorts of different recipe sites.


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