Tired of tossing out spoiled veggies? Here are 15 simple food waste solutions that make it easy to live more sustainably.
A third of the American food supply ends up in landfills every year.
It’s like buying three bags of groceries and dropping one in the parking lot every single time. That’d just be the worst, right? It’s crazy to think we’re basically doing the same thing whenever we let our fresh food go bad before we’re able to eat it.
It’s okay. We’ve all done it. There’s no shame, but finding doable solutions for food waste is one of the most important ways we can combat climate change.
How Food Waste Affects the Environment:
When organic food matter ends up in the landfill, it quickly generates methane and other greenhouse gases. According to the USDA, food waste makes up the largest component of municipal landfills, which are the third largest source of methane in the country. Reducing food waste has far-reaching impacts on the environment, but that’s not the only benefit.
Advantages of Reducing Food Waste:
- Better for the environment
- Saves money on groceries
- Maximizes nutritional benefits
- Streamlines the cooking process
Food Waste Solutions:
Here are 15 simple food waste solutions to try in your kitchen.
Plan meals and cook at home.
Unfortunately, there tends to be a lot of waste in the restaurant industry, so cooking most of your meals from home can make a big difference. I pick a few dishes to make each week and really only buy fresh ingredients for those recipes. Versatile ingredients that can be used in more than one way are easiest to use up when plans change.
Mix fresh, frozen, and canned produce.
I like to stock my kitchen with a mix of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. This helps me waste less food since I can buy only as much fresh produce as I know I’ll use and still have some options left on standby if I need more fruits and veggies. Of course, you can also freeze, pickle or can your own food if you want to cut back on the packaging waste.
Upcycling your leftovers is an efficient way to streamline your weekday cooking process. Leftover mashed sweet potato works great for breakfast, and nothing makes a better pizza topper than roasted veggies. You’ll save time and cut back on the amount of food that ends up in your trash bin.
Embrace the ugly.
Buying slightly blemished produce helps reduce food waste since these fruits and veggies might not be chosen otherwise. I’ve found them for reduced prices at both farmers markets and grocery stores. You’ll never notice the difference with most dishes, especially soups, stews, and purees.
Beet greens, broccoli stalks, and carrot tops all belong on your plate and not in the trash or compost. I’ve used under-appreciated vegetable parts to make some of my favorite healthy recipes. Lentil collard wraps, broccoli stem stir-fry, and curry soup are all worth trying if you want to get scrappy.
Go fridge foraging.
Fridge foraging is when you cook a meal with ingredients you already have in your kitchen. My favorite thing to make when I’m fridge foraging is a grain bowl. The whole grain + veggie + protein + sauce formula makes it easy to swap in whatever you have on hand or need to use up first.
Making your own broth has to be the best ways to spend a Sunday at home. The smells alone make the all-day task worthwhile. I store onion peels and other scraps in the freezer, and once I have a good amount, I simmer the scraps with water in a big stockpot with herbs and plenty of salt. My favorite homemade vegetable broth has mushrooms, onion, garlic, and lots of fresh thyme.
Grow your own herbs.
If you use a lot of fresh herbs when you cook, you can reduce waste by starting a little garden right on your countertop. I like that I can snip off the exact amount I need without having to store leftovers in the fridge. It’s also nice to go without the plastic packaging most fresh herbs are sold in.
Turn to soups and stews.
Soups and stews are a smart way to use up vegetables that are on their way out. Since everything is cooked out over a long period of time, you won’t notice when a vegetable is a bit past peak freshness. Try including older vegetables in your next batch of tomato barley soup or Irish stout stew.
Another great thing about soups and stews is that you can store leftovers in your freezer so they stay fresh longer. I share more tips for freezing and thawing meals, along with lots of freezer-friendly recipe ideas, in my Vegetarian Freezer Meals post.
Make use of mushy avocados and bananas.
We all know mushy bananas make the best bread and muffins. I also like to freeze them for tropical smoothies. Whenever I go overboard on the avocados, I peel and freeze them for smoothies or tostadas. You never know when the mood will strike.
Opt for ingredients with a long shelf life.
Once you pick up a few fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, seek out pantry staples with a longer shelf life to round out your meals. My go-to's are beans, tofu, tempeh, grains, and lentils. I also like to pick up some produce that has a longer shelf life. Potatoes, squash, carrots, and citrus fruits are all good options.
Utilize stale bread.
Stale bread means only one thing. Homemade croutons. Whisk oil, herbs, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a large bowl. Tear the stale bread into pieces and coat with the oil mixture. Transfer to a sheet pan and bake at 350F for 15 minutes, or until golden and crispy.
Stock your freezer before travel.
Leaving fresh produce in the fridge while you travel can be a major contributor to food waste. You can prevent fruits and vegetables from going bad while you’re away by chopping and storing them in bags in the freezer until you’re back home.
Make fresh herb infused oil cubes.
If you have extra fresh herbs that are beginning to wilt in the fridge, turn them into herb-infused cooking cubes. Chop fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, basil, mint, or thyme) and mix with oil (I like grapeseed oil for high heat cooking and extra virgin olive oil for lower heat applications). Pour the mixture into an ice cube tray and freeze. Pop one or two cubes into your skillet whenever you need a hint of herbaceousness. These are an instant flavor upgrader.
Learn how to properly store fresh produce.
Proper produce storage can significantly extend freshness so you end up wasting less. I like to use silicone storage bags since they’re reusable and keep chopped produce fresh longer. You can also extend the life of dark leafy greens by wrapping them in a damp towel. Fresh herbs and asparagus keep longer when they’re stored upright in a jar of water.
Plan B: When Eating Isn’t an Option
When it’s too late to risk eating spoiled food, composting is your next best option. If you live in a metropolitan area, you may be able to find a composting service. There are also lots of composting tutorials with tips on how to start your own.