Overeating to Avoid Food Waste

by Katy on December 12, 2010 · 33 comments

I don’t know about you, but avoiding food waste in my house is a full time job. I’m constantly scanning the fridge to make sure that leftovers don’t transform into swamp monsters, and I employ all sorts of  food waste avoidance tactics such as buying perishables in smaller amounts and storing all refrigerated food in clear glass Pyrex containers whenever possible.

But there’s an ill advised food waste avoidance method that I’m certainly guilty of. I eat more than I need to in order to keep food from getting thrown away, (or composted.)

I prepared a lovely brunch for the family today. I had picked apart a crab last night, (one sale, extra discount and making sure to eat it before it got, ahem . . .  fishy.) so I made a delicious dish of crab and scrambled eggs. I also made toast to accompany the meal. Unfortunately, my 15-year-old son wasn’t in the mood for toast and left his untouched. My first reaction was to eat the toast myself in the name of the Waste No Food Challenge. Luckily, my critical thinking self took over and smacked me upside the head to remind me that overeating is never the answer.

So what did I do with the toast?

Well . . . I have put it in a plastic bag and will rip it into small pieces for the birds. I know it’s not the perfect solution, but it’s better than throwing it away, composting it, (mice!) freezing it, (I already have enough crusts in there awaiting their reincarnation as bread crumbs) or eating when I’m already full.

Some food waste is inevitable, especially with children. And I don’t want to be that mom who enacts a clean plate club rule. Children need to learn to stop eating when they’re no longer hungry.

Really though, two pieces of toast is nothing when you look at the big picture. Every day, Americans waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl. But the majority of food waste happens before it hits our refrigerators, so I’m not going to beat myself up too much.

Make sure to check out Jonathan Bloom’s American Wasteland to explore the myriad issues related to food waste.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen December 12, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Oh, I do the same thing, it’s terrible! I had a lovely dinner tonight of leftover pierogies and my kids had mac and cheese and hot dogs (they hate pierogies). They left a whole hot dog and about a cup of mac and cheese but it was in no condition to be wrapped up again. I threw the food out, but I contemplated eating it first even though I was super full!


Rochelle December 12, 2010 at 5:46 pm

My solution to leftover bread – croutons! Chop into little squares, then bake or pan fry in a little oil. Once cool, put in a sealed container in the cupboard. Because all the moisture has been removed from the bread, they keep for ages and are SUPER yummy on salad or soup, especially if you add salt and pepper.
I know what you mean about overeating on leftovers though – my toddler routinely leaves half of his meal on his plate and I end up eating it because I hate to see it go to waste. Older relatives tell us that, when they were children, their parents would have brought the leftover food out at the next meal for them to eat before they were allowed anything else to eat. I think our kiddies today are very spoilt!


Sara December 12, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Great post. It can be really hard to throw away food and tempting to eat it instead regardless of hunger. I read a great line in a book about intuitive eating regarding not eating just to avoid throwing away food – “My body is not a trash can.” Sometimes I will say that to myself over and over to dull that guilty feeling if I have to throw away food that I am tempted to eat 🙂


Emily December 12, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Would you mind sharing what you use ‘fresh’ bread crumbs for? I have a loaf of bread heels in my freezer, (because try as I might, I just can’t make myself eat the heels!) waiting to be made in to breadcrumbs. but I don’t make anything that calls for them! I use panko, but that is different than crumbs made out of bread.


Katy December 12, 2010 at 9:43 pm


I use bread crumbs for toppings when I make macaroni and cheese from scratch, (maybe once every other month) and then again when I make kind of “Shake and Bake” kind of thing for chicken. (Bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, herbs.)

Hmm . . . I guess I also use bread crumbs for meatloaf and meatballs.



Jenny December 12, 2010 at 8:04 pm

I think this is the main reason my dog and hubby are chunky. They get the last bits on everyone elses plate.


Jessica Wolk-Stanley December 12, 2010 at 11:13 pm

You could save the toast for stuffing for the Xmas turkey…


Katy December 12, 2010 at 11:56 pm

Or . . . I could break up one piece “for the birds,” but it rains and becomes a soggy mess.




Oliver Lawrence December 13, 2010 at 12:02 am

The solution is always to put on your plate what you need to eat, and then eat all of it. Throwing food down your gullet that you don’t need is still waste, only worse (it has a negative effect on your health and appearance).


Andrea December 13, 2010 at 12:51 am

I just had this dilemma last night at a restaurant, when I was full after half my meal, but saw they only had styrofoam (rather than paperboard) boxes for leftovers. I actually considered cramming myself with the other half of the meal, but decided I would appreciate it more at lunch and ended up taking one box and putting my leftovers as well as my kids’ in it. Next time I’ll take tupperware with me.


Dmarie December 13, 2010 at 4:37 am

oooh, I struggle with this too… We don’t compost bread, for fear of varmints. With the wood-burner going full blast these days, I just might’ve tossed that toast into the fire.


Shannon December 13, 2010 at 4:44 am

I do very well these days with only taking what I need for myself. However, with my boys, I am so guilty of piling way too much food in front of them!!!


Judy C. December 13, 2010 at 4:50 am

Yesterday, after our weekly Sunday brunch at a small, local restaurant that we’re trying to support with our business, the waitress confessed (I hadn’t noticed) that she had forgotent to bring me my two slices of toast. I told her that, yes, although I had eaten, that I would take them “for the birds”.

However, this morning, I popped the toast into the toaster at the lowest setting and enjoyed it with a little jam.

Ask my husband…I waste NOTHING! 😉 If it weren’t edible, it would have been compost.


terilyn December 13, 2010 at 6:23 am

Feeding extra leftovers to your pets or chickens (if you keep them) will stop almost all waste. Chickens love table scraps, veggie peels, etc. In decades past, when people kept chickens for eggs, farm dogs, rabbits, etc, food waste was minimal.


Angela@beggingtheanswer December 13, 2010 at 6:26 am

I deal with this a lot. Sometimes my daughter wolfs down what I serve, and sometimes she barely touches it. She’s only 3, so I can’t let her serve herself. I try to serve her really small portions, thinking she can ask for more if she wants.

Even so, I (and especially my husband) end up picking at her left-overs, since we don’t want to dump it all in the garbage, and I know from experience she won’t accept left-overs for lunch the next day.


Atsquared December 15, 2010 at 5:49 pm

I’m in exactly the same boat. And there is something very unappealing about a plate of food that has been stirred and mashed about by little hands. Plate waste is the biggest culprit in this house!


Ann December 13, 2010 at 9:59 am

This is a problem. As a mom, you wish to be sure that there is enough food prepared so that everyone can eat their fill…and we are such a properous nation that we all seem to prepare enough for the family AND Justin Case (that mythical visitor). It is sooo hard to train oneself to perhaps cook less than is needed, with the intention of including a snack later to fulfill the caloric need.


Bellen December 13, 2010 at 10:03 am

Lots of leftovers can be incorporated into :
soups, chef’s salad, make-your-own TV dinners, snacks, etc.
I’ve found that steaming rather than microwaving leftovers makes them taste better – juicier/moister too.
For the leftover bread, especially heels – does anyone make bread pudding anymore? It can be sweet or savory. Look for recipes for baked cheese strata with or without meat or baked cheese fondue. Nice for lunch or a light dinner.
For leftovers or planned overs in general – often it’s in the presentation. Hot dogs reheated by steaming and cut into long strips make great dippers – catsup, ranch dressing, etc. Serve little ones leftovers in divided plates – pretend it’s a picnic. For grownups – a simple white/cheese sauce for veggies or meat; make wraps with leftover veggies, meat and rice; stir fries are wonderful for using up leftovers. Keep a variety of spices/herbs on hand to change the flavor.

The last food item I had to throw away was grapes – 6 that got squished at the bottom of the bag.


Katy December 13, 2010 at 10:32 am

Thanks for the great ideas!



Annie Jones December 13, 2010 at 10:05 am

You wrote, “I eat more than I need to in order to keep food from getting thrown away, (or composted.)”

I’m curious why you consider composting as waste, or could it be that I am misunderstanding this statement? I’m not trying to start an argument or anything, I’m just genuinely curious.

We always try to consume any of the food we buy first, but if it goes to an outside pet (we have a feral cat we feed) or to the compost pile that will later feed our vegetable garden, we don’t consider that to be waste.

And yes, I’m guilty of overeating to keep from wasting food, too.


Katy December 13, 2010 at 10:31 am


It’s not that I consider all composting to be waste. But when perfectly good food is allowed to rot and then goes into the compost, then yes, it’s waste.

In an ideal world, my kitchen compost contributions would be coffee grounds, orange peels, egg shells apple cores, etc. But when potatoes sprout and get moldy, then yes, it’s waste.

Mostly, we’re pretty good about food waste though. 🙂



Annie Jones December 13, 2010 at 10:46 am

I see your point and I guess I was thinking a little differently about this. We DO try to eat the edible food ourselves as much as we can, but because of our compost bin, I no longer fret over how closely I peel potatoes or trim celery, or whether I should use the veggie trimmings to make homemade stock even if I didn’t need any (and believe me, I did do just that before we started composting). In other words, I’ve given myself permission to lighten up on those kinds of worries since we are composting now.

The piece of toast in your post? I would have eaten it myself, fed it to our feral cat, tossed it in the compost bin, ground it into bread crumbs or cut it into croutons. I would have made my decision based on other things going on in our house (Did I need crumbs? Had I already fed the outside cat? Had I had my own breakfast yet?, etc.) and would have been fine with any of those possibilities as long as it didn’t go into the trash can.

Thanks for clarifying!


hydra December 13, 2010 at 7:50 pm

I’ve come to realize that although it’s not going into the trash, and filling up the landfill, it’s still a waste of the resources from BEFORE the food came to you. I’m pretty ok with wasting foods I’ve grown in my garden, for example. But if I waste a vegetable that I bought, it’s the money I’ve spent on it, as well as the energy that went into the production of that veggie, and the energy that brought that veggie to market, etc.


Barb @ 1 Sentence Diary December 13, 2010 at 10:21 am

I *love love love* that Fiestaware!


Katy December 13, 2010 at 10:31 am




Lisa December 13, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Sometimes, when I am “composting” the expensive, gluten-free food my kids don’t eat, I think that maybe I will just stop feeding them and transfer wads of cash directly to the compost. The result seems like it would be about the same.


Katy December 13, 2010 at 1:35 pm




Jo@simplybeingmum December 13, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Each Friday I take part in Food Waste Friday over at FG. I meal plan and budget, so on a Friday I give myself a free-day where I use up whatever we may have left. It’s the No Waste Tastes Great Challenge over at the Wright Household that day! Sometimes it works out – very well, other days not so much. The Celery Gratin was pretty gruesome. In fact Celery seems to be the ‘problem child’ in general when it comes to food waste – note to self – stop buying it? My biggest ally – my slow cooker!


Jo@simplybeingmum December 13, 2010 at 2:59 pm

ps – pyrex is fantastic. I previously kept things in tupperware, on the guise that I would eat it the day after…however there’s just something about plastic that turns me off food. After following NCA I invested in some pyrex and it is amazing – leftovers look so much more appealing!


Melissa December 13, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Alright, you guys have me convinced to buy some clear pyrex, because I always have some mysterious leftover container that for some reason always looks like refried beans through the plastic, but can be anything from spaghetti to green beans.


Practical Parsimony December 13, 2010 at 6:14 pm

That toast could be breakfast for someone. Or, put cheese on it and place under the broiler for “cheese toast.”

When my daughter was two and very tiny, we went to a church dinner with dozens of choices. The older two had to have two vegetables and meat before they could gorge themselves on dessert. But, the two-year-old was still sweet and liking food and not at all picky. As I lifted her to see and called out what was on the table, she nodded and named what she wanted. I determined the portion–3 large lima beans, 5 green beans, 10 kernels of corn, 1 tsp squash casserole, two tiny slices carrot, one chicken wing, 1/2 roll…you get the picture. Several church members informed me I was “not giving that baby enough to keep a bird alive.” As the minister’s wife, I was supposed to welcome such interference. NOT! My child ate everything on her plate and had strawberries for dessert. I just got the two strawberries and told her they were dessert–she did not even ask for cake or cookies. Sliced and diced, the strawberries appeared to her baby eyes to be a huge dessert…lol.

Ex finished every bite the children did not, even soup and cereal that they had let slip back into the bowl…gag. I would not allow them to eat fat on meat or chicken skin, so he ate that too!

My hens get scraps, but today I made them a bowl of oats with 1/2 stick of butter and then stirred in a beaten egg and cooked it again. I don’t buy chicken feed. It did not get above 25 degrees, so they needed the oats, egg, and fat. Yes, it was my food that I cooked for them, not scraps.


rhonda December 14, 2010 at 11:01 am

I echo Rochelle – I love croutons with my salads but I am way too cheap, I mean frugal, to buy them. So when we have any leftover toast I happily cut it up, saute it and season for croutons. In fact, a lot of the time I just rip it into small bites and throw it on my salad without doing anything else to it. It still adds great texture and taste to my salad! Thanks for writing!


Donna December 18, 2010 at 11:17 am

I am reading American Wasteland now and loved the blurb you got – way to spread the message!!


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