We adore eating fresh foods and cooking at home, but we definitely don’t love food waste. We are incredibly fortunate to be able to choose what we eat, because many people around the world don’t have that same choice. We don’t want to waste a drop, crumb or leaf of what we’re eating!
Canadian households toss out about $1,300 worth of food a year, while Americans waste about $2,000 worth annually. When you calculate other sources of food waste (restaurants, grocery stores, farms, etc.), we are wasting billions – $31 billion here in Canada and $165 billion in the U.S.
Fortunately, there are many things we can do at home to reduce food waste, and there are tons of delectable zero-waste recipes you can easily make in your kitchen with basic tools.
How to Reduce Food Waste + Best Zero-Waste Recipes
1. Store Food Properly
This is an essential first step to reducing food waste at home. Refrigerators have different temperatures in different spots and because of this, some places are better to store your produce than others. As well, some things are better stored outside the fridge for maximum freshness.
Storing food properly will help your food remain fresh and last longer, which means you’re not going to end up with mouldy berries or limp carrots. We cover this in detail in How to Best Store Produce, which includes instructions for common fruits and veggies and has a free downloadable storage guide.
For non-produce foods, here are some quick tips to reduce food waste:
- Store nuts and seeds in the fridge or freezer so they don’t go rancid
- Store omega-3 oils in the fridge to preserve freshness
- Store nut and seed flours in the fridge
- Keep grains and beans/legumes in clean, sealed containers
- Place meat in the bottom drawer of the fridge, where it won’t potentially leak onto other foods
- Freeze homemade nut milks and remove as you need them (homemade dairy-free milk can go rancid after only a couple of days)
- Keep eggs in the main part of the refrigerator, rather than in the door
- Learn the truth about best before dates
2. Organize Your Fridge and Pantry
Take stock of your fridge and culinary nutrition pantry on a regular basis so you know what you have (and you don’t purchase duplicate items), as well as what needs to be used sooner rather than later. Clean your fridge regularly, as dirt, residues and shriveled stems can affect the freshness of new items.
Generally, after grocery shopping, we like to put the older stuff up at the front so we’ll use it first. Also, it’s helpful to store prepped items or bulk ingredients in clear containers to actually see what’s in them. If you’re hyper-organized, you could keep an inventory of what’s in your fridge, freezer and pantry to optimize your cooking and reduce food (and economic) waste.
3. Shop with a Plan
How many times have you been enticed by a bright, fragrant fruit or vegetable and ended up tossing it because you could never figure out what to do with it?
One of the fundamentals we teach our students right off the bat in the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program is how to create and execute a menu plan. Designing your meals and snacks at the beginning of the week can help ensure you stick to your healthy eating goals and actually use up all the food in your fridge.
Plan your meals, make a list and take it with you to the grocery store or market. If you’d like to leave some room for what’s locally available, you can make a skeletal menu plan that allows for variation, for example ‘hummus with vegetable of choice’ or ‘salmon patties with whatever dark leafy greens look the freshest’.
4. Buy Local
Purchase food that is in season and grown close to where you live. This is going to be cheaper and you’ll end up with less waste because food will be fresher, having travelled fewer days to get to your plate. If you shop at local farmers’ markets, items are often picked the day before or even the morning of market day, which means they will last longer in your fridge if stored properly.
5. Buy What You Need
If there is a sale on tomatoes, will you be able to eat all of them before they go off? Or prep and cook them into something that can be stored and frozen for later? Bulk shopping is only cost-effective and convenient if you actually end up using everything you buy. If you find that you’re throwing out food, even if it’s a small-ish amount, you’re losing cash.
6. Assess Best Before Dates
Very few foods have a true expiry date. Most labels will have a ‘best before’; this indicates the date after which a food may lose its freshness, nutritional value, or taste. You may also see voluntary terms like:
- ‘prepared on’
- ‘use by’
- ‘freeze by’
- ‘sell by’
Best before dates don’t mean that a food is safe – I’m sure we’ve all opened packages of hummus or guacamole only to find they have bits of mould. However, people tend to view these dates as gospel and toss something when it’s still fine to eat. Of course, this leads to more food waste. You can learn more about best before dates here, and begin to use your senses – sight, taste, smell, touch – to assess your foods.
7. Be Smart When Buying in Bulk
A good deal is only a good deal if you’ll end up eating what you buy. Of course, there are certain times of the year when you’ll want to take advantage of an abundance of produce (oh hi berries and tomatoes), so make a plan to ensure you can enjoy your bounty without excess food waste. For example, if you’re buying 10 pounds of blueberries from a farmer at the market, decide what you will freeze as-is for smoothies, how much jam you’ll cook, what you’ll bake, etc.
8. Creatively Repurpose Leftovers
We have no problems with leftovers and will happily eat bowls of chilli or creamy pumpkin noodles for three lunches in a row. If you’re not into leftovers, think of ways you can creatively repurpose and reuse leftover food, such as creating a recipe-free dinner bowl, using leftover turkey in a potpie, crumbling a burger over a salad, or shoving chilli into a taco with salsa and guac.
If you can’t repurpose, then freeze your leftovers in a labelled container for your future self to enjoy.
9. Start a Cooking Cooperative
Enjoy the benefits of healthy meals with less cooking by starting a neighbourhood cooking cooperative. When cooking, you can reduce food waste by only buying what you need to make your recipe contribution for the week, then make a plan to consume what you collect on sharing day.
10. Explore ‘Root to Stem’ and ‘Nose to Tail’ Cooking
We have a habit in North America of throwing out parts of vegetables that we could easily use for another purpose. Animal production and consumption can be even more wasteful, as we view certain parts of the animal as ‘good’ to eat while other parts are ‘gross’. Many other cultures around the world use all parts of the animal and this not only reduces food waste, but adds nutrition and flavour.
The nose-to-tail movement has been gaining ground for a few years, and more recently cooks are beginning to explore how they can use all parts of plant-based foods (see more ideas of how to do this below).
11. Save Almond Pulp
When whipping up batches of homemade nut or seed milk, save the pulp in the freezer. When you’ve got a full jar, make a variety of almond pulp recipes.
12. Use Broccoli Stems/Stalks
Yep, they taste like broccoli too! Save them for stock, or chop them up for soups, stews or as a side dish. If you’re blending your stalks, you don’t need to peel them. If you’re eating them chopped into chunks, you may want to peel them as the outside of the stalk can be tough and fibrous.
13. Use Beet Greens, Radish Greens, Turnip Greens and Carrot Tops
Don’t toss these nutritious greens into the compost or trash! Incorporate them into your cooking instead. Since they can be bitter, you may not want to eat them raw – but they work wonderfully when cooked, or when paired with acidity, salt and a pinch of sweetness in a pesto recipe.
14. Save Scraps for Broth
Keep a large bag or container in your freezer with veggie scraps for broth. Onion and garlic ends, carrot and celery ends, vegetable peelings, mushroom stems, leftover herbs, zucchini ends – use it all! When your bag is full, put the contents into a pot, slow cooker or Instant Pot with water to make broth.
You can also grab our complete Guide to Broths and Stocks.
15. Use Stems of Dark Leafy Greens
After you strip the leaves off of dark leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard or collards, use the stems for cooking or juice them.
16. Zest Lemons and Limes
Citrus zest is packed with flavour, along with Vitamin C and flavonoids that have anti-cancer properties. Zest your lemons and limes and freeze the zest for later, or dehydrate it for a fantastic condiment.
Recipe to Try: Homemade Dried Lemon Zest by Jaclyn Desforges (*Culinary Nutrition Expert)
17. Freeze Herbs in Olive Oil
Sometimes you simply can’t get through a bunch of parsley. Finely chop your herbs, place them in an ice cube tray and then pour olive oil over top. This would also be great with homemade ghee!
18. Roast Squash Seeds as a Snack
After you scoop out your winter squash, rinse the seeds and either dehydrate or roast them with spices for a tasty, homemade snack.
19. Use Carcasses for Broth
Roast a chicken last night for dinner? Use the rest of it to make a rich, health-promoting broth.
20. Leave Skins on Veggies and Fruits
Many veggies and fruits don’t need to be peeled – this reduces food waste and also saves you the trouble of peeling! Don’t bother peeling your carrots, potatoes, apples, plums, delicate squash, cucumbers, etc. If you’re eating the peel, we recommend buying organic as many peels can have pesticide residues.
21. Learn to Preserve
Canning, fermenting, freezing and dehydrating are just a few of the preservation methods that can help your food last longer and reduce food waste. Our go-to experts on all things preserving are Joel MacCharles and Dana Harris, who are behind the cookbook Batch and the blog Well Preserved, which delves into preserving types in detail.
Learn all about how to preserve food at home here.
Recipe to Try: How to Make Homemade Pickles by The Academy of Culinary Nutrition
22. When All Else Fails, Compost!
If you’re unable to use food or it spoils, toss it into the compost instead of the trash if possible. Many large cities have curbside composting, but you can easily get a compost bin for your yard, balcony or even underneath your kitchen counter. That way, your unused food can go towards growing new ingredients.
More Zero-Waste Cooking Tips
We love to reduce food waste, but also minimize overall kitchen packaging waste that can negatively impact the environment. Here are a few more ways to go zero waste in your kitchen.
Reducing food waste may seem overwhelming or challenging at first, but remember that every single effort counts. If all of us began practicing even a couple of these tips on a regular basis, that would have a huge impact for our health, our budgets and the environment. There’s no better time to get started than now – today is the day!