How To Not Waste Food

Back in 2018, I wrote about ways to not waste food.  Today I’m updating the information.

I have always believed that throwing away food is a sin. I know that is a “religious” word, but it seems appropriate to me. It’s an action against our neighbors, community, and world as we waste an essential that everyone needs. I really can’t accept the fact that someone is hungry while I pitch food that I let go bad. Did you know that between 30 to 40 %  of the food in the U. S. is thrown away?  This figure is based on studies of both retail and consumer levels.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated in 2011 that approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption worldwide is lost or wasted.

Does it matter?  There are hungry families worldwide and even in the United States.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, from 2012 to 2014 there were about 805 million hungry people on earth. They predict that by eliminating food loss and wasted food we would have enough food to feed all the chronically undernourished. A vast amount of food ends up in landfills. Food waste, which is the single largest component going into municipal landfills, quickly generates methane, helping to make landfills the third largest source of methane in the United States. The nutrients in the food never return to the soil. Greenhouse gases generated from food rotting in landfills could be reduced to help mitigate climate change.

Just think of all that plastic generated and used in food processing.  I still don’t understand why grocery stores spend $ and time putting fresh produce in a styrofoam container covered in plastic sheeting.  It increases our misuse of the environment and raises the cost of produce. Food Tank has an informative post about a new spray on wrapper for food packaging that has NO PLASTIC, is based on an edible fiber polymer with non-toxic solvents. It washes off with water but still prolongs the shelf life. It sounds amazing and I hope to see it in grocery stores soon. We’ve filled our world with plastic garbage and we have to stop.

Let’s look at ways we can reduce wasted food in our homes.  Save money and the environment while feeding our families more wisely. USDA and EPA created the food recovery hierarchy to show the most effective ways to address food waste.

Photo USDA

I. USDA Food Lost & Waste Champions

September 16, 2015, the first-ever national food loss and waste goal in the United States was launched, calling for a 50-percent reduction by 2030. USDA and EPA will work in partnership with charitable organizations, faith organizations, the private sector, and local, state and tribal governments to reduce food loss and waste in order to improve overall food security and conserve our nation’s natural resources.  Schools and other organizations can sign up and make the pledge to work to reduce thrown away food. The waste in school cafeterias is extreme. Launched by USDA and EPA in 2016, U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions are businesses and organizations that have made a public commitment to reduce food loss and waste in their own operations in the United States by 50 percent by the year 2030. 

II. Inventory Your Refrigerator & Pantry

The first step for you is to inventory your refrigerator and pantry. Know what you have right now. Shop your refrigerator, freezer and pantry before buying.  The Rule: cooking and eating what you already have before buying more.

III.  Revive Food

Don’t give up on droopy celery. A quick fix in the kitchen can often transform would-be throw-aways into healthy, hearty meals. Even if it’s a bit stale, burned, or questionably seasoned. Save This Food has 5 tips to extend the life of your food.

A. A quick soak in ice water for 5 to 10 minutes is often enough to reinvigorate wilted veggies.

B. Veggies are a little tired but won’t revive? Add them to the freezer bag in IV. or if they aren’t freezable, make stock before they’re non-edible.

C. Is your dish too salty? Add vinegar, lemon juice, or brown sugar to fix the problem — or dilute with water, crushed tomatoes or unsalted broth. You can also pop a raw, peeled potato into the pot to absorb some of the salt. Remove the potato before serving (and combine it with another boiled potato to make a not-too-salty mash).

D. The next time you burn a dish, don’t just toss it right away. You can remove burned beans or stew from the heat, scoop the un-blackened portion into a new pot and cover with a damp cloth for 10 minutes. This removes much of the burned flavor. And, if the dish still tastes unappetizing, try adding barbecue, sweet chili, or hot sauce.

E. Overcooked? When in doubt, puree. Overcooked vegetables and dishes that disappoint can always be transformed into soups or sauces. Just toss them in the blender with some soup stock, milk, or cream. Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes and even leftover stir fry are excellent for this.

Another approach is to find ideas for dishes. How about instead of pitching wilted greens, Spoon University suggests using it in a dish:

  • Make it into pesto.
  • Add it to your favorite pasta dish.
  • Toss it in a green smoothie.
  • Sauté with garlic and oil.
  • Use it in vegetable stock.
  • Toss it in a green slaw.

Try Food & Wine’s Garlicky Spaghetti With Mixed Greens. Who will know the greens were slightly wilted?

IV. Plan Your Menu

Make a weekly or even monthly plan for meals to use what you have and base any shopping on the menu. Cut impulse buying in the grocery store by only shopping with a list after a meal. Shopping when hungry greatly increases impulse buying. Need help? Iowa State University has information at Menu Planning, Plan Smart Eat Smart. Or check out Taste of Home‘s Menu Planning guide with planning ideas, meal prep tips, and recipes.

V. Rotate Food in Refrigerator/Pantry

The rule is called FIFO – first in, first out. First in first out (FIFO) means moving older foods to the front of the fridge or pantry so they’re used up first. Place the newest foods in the back. This technique is used in grocery stores, commercial kitchens and restaurants, but works really well at home too.

FIFO Rotate food in fridge

VI.  Freeze Your Veggie Scraps

Save the ends, peels, and leaves of carrots, onions, celery, and potatoes; stems/stalks of herbs, broccoli, etc. and store in a freezer safe bag or container. You can save anything that’s edible (you wouldn’t want to put moldy or really dirty peels or ends in it.). Once you have a few cups worth, make a pot of veggie stock. Then freeze the stock for use in soups and sauces. By doing this you’ve not only saved parts of the veggies that you’d typically throw away, but you’ve also reduced the need to buy something new because you’ve already made your own stock.  I have a friend who has been doing this for decades. He also saves little bits of leftover beef or chicken and makes a flavorful stock from scraps. When freezing your stock, use ice-cube trays. When frozen, remove cubes of stock and place in freezer container. You now have small amounts that can be used instead of bouillon cubes.  Have a dehydrator? Dehydrate your stock to use it for an even longer time.

VII. Use Leftovers

When making a menu, factor in leftovers which makes meal planning easier while reducing food waste and energy usage in your home. Think cook once, eat 2 or 3 times. But, if you don’t end up eating the leftovers, stop making more than you need to eat in one meal. I know some folks don’t like leftovers. If you do use leftovers, factor that into your shopping plan so you don’t over-buy. Unfortunately we’ve all been guilty of making garbage in the refrigerator.

Be creative and plan your leftovers. My sister has traditionally made a large pot of spaghetti sauce with meat. She would divide  it and freeze half for another time.  Then when she was overwhelmed at school (she taught high school for over 40 years), she had spaghetti for her family’s dinner.

VIII.  Share or Donate

I am retired now and live alone. Cooking for one can be a challenge when making something like stew or soup. My answer is to share with my neighbor and friend. When I make a pot of soup or a large bowl of salad, I often call my friend next door. Are you in the mood for soup/salad? She comes over, we share time, and she goes home with a container.  No waste. I really feel it’s a sin to throw out food.  Many of my soups are loaded with veggies and the truth is I don’t like the veggies in soups after freezing. Tried it and wasn’t thrilled. Solution was to share while fresh. Works for me and Vickie. When I was growing up, neighbors shared food often. Behind us was a family with a fishing father. Their freezer was packed with fish from his many trips. Sometimes the wife would call my mother and say “Want some fish?”  She usually cleaned and fileted the fish and shared.  Several times she cooked a large fish fry and shared a plate of fresh fried fish, hush puppies, and homemade tartar sauce with neighbors. We loved the fish and the truth was our neighbor was tired of fish. My mother was glad my father wasn’t a big fisherman. She didn’t like cleaning fish.

If you are involved in an organized event, plan ahead for the disposal of left over food. Restaurant owners can work with local charities to prevent food in garbage cans. Donations to homeless shelters and even animal rescue groups or zoos is a preferred method of disposal. For centuries farmers have fed food scraps to animals.  With proper and safe handling, anyone can donate food scraps to animals. Food scraps for animals can save farmers and companies money. It is often cheaper to feed animals food scraps rather than having them hauled to a landfill.

Every spring I start stocking up on canned goods for the upcoming hurricane season. Remember planning for emergencies involves having food with a shelf life. Then in the fall after the season ends, I start to consciously eat that food or donate it.  Waste not, want not.  Fall and pre-holiday season is the time for many food drives.   Check your pantries and get rid of the oldest canned goods. Rotate your stock. Use it wisely.

IX. Be Creative

Be creative in food preparation. Think of new ways to use the edible parts of food that you normally do not eat. For example, stale bread can be used to make croutons or French toast and beet tops can be sautéed for a delicious side dish. Broccoli stems can be used for cream of broccoli soup.  Don’t waste them.  Don’t eat celery leaves? Cut them off and stick in that freezer bag for stock. You can find recipes online or in cookbooks to use up food on the brink of being past its prime. is a fantastic source of information on food management in the home. The site even has recipes for everything from overripe avocados to cheese rinds. The Spruce Eats has 30 Recipes To Use Up Food Scraps. How about cooking corn cobs and other veggies for Corn Stock, a rich broth?

X. Eat Seasonal and Local

Many of you have thought me crazy for posting all sorts of strawberry recipes in January, February, and March.  Remember I am trying to eat local and winter is when Florida grows strawberries. I eat very few fresh strawberries in July as they come from California. (I always have frozen organic strawberries in the freezer for smoothies.) Save the strawberry recipes you like for local strawberries in your area this summer.

If you grow your own and have an abundance in the summer, save it for the future.  Freeze, preserve, or can surplus fruits and vegetables – especially abundant seasonal produce.  Have bags of apples in the fall? Dry apple slices for snacks. DON’T WASTE FOOD!

XI. Grow Your Own

Grow your own vegetables and fruits.  Anyone, even an apartment dweller, can have a potted strawberry, lettuce, or tomato plant. Try microgreens or sprouts on the window sill. Eat them fresh or freeze, can, and dehydrate for future use.  Onion and green onion bottoms, celery, and lettuce cores can be replanted to generate a new plant.  Check out The Farmers’ Almanac‘s Regrow Vegetables From Kitchen Scraps.

XII.  Compost Leftovers

Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead. Coffee grounds, used coffee filters, egg shells, and many other food waste can be composted. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  You also are making incredible food for your garden. Plants love compost!  Check out the EPA’s Composting Basics for more information.

A Note on Kitchen Safety

Just a reminder to protect yourself and your family from cuts, burns, slips, and fires while cooking. If you’ve done a lot of cooking, you know that the kitchen can be a place where accidents happen. I remember as a child when something my mother was cooking almost created a fire. I was young and don’t remember the details. I do remember how frightened I was. Thankfully the fire was averted and repair from fire damage was avoided. My mother scrubbed the walls to get rid of the smoke marks. The lesson I learned was to be careful and diligent. 5 rules for safety are:

  1. Keep an eye on your cooking and stay in the kitchen.
  2. Wear short or close-fitting sleeves.
  3. Watch children closely in the kitchen.
  4. Clean cooking surfaces regularly to prevent food and grease build-up.
  5. Keep curtains, towels and pot holders away from hot surfaces.

State Farm has an informative article on Kitchen Safety including sections on knife safety, heat safety, fire prevention, and spill clean up. The tips are concise and easy to review for reminders.

Photo State Farm

I hope I’ve inspired you to consider your kitchen management practices in a new light and expand your waste prevention efforts.

Food Usage Resources For More Information

The Food Tank has multiple posts on what can be done to avoid food waste at home, college cafeterias, etc. and how food can be distributed effectively.

EPA A Guide to Assessing Food Waste at Schools

EPA Composting at Home

EPA Sustainable Food Management

USDA Food Safety

USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning

USDA Leftovers & Food Safety

Save The Food Guestimator for Dinner Parties 

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I was raised in Tennessee but have lived in Florida for many years. Love my small home in the Tampa Bay area and its developing garden. My decorating style is eclectic - some vintage, some cottage, all with a modern flair. Pursuing a healthier lifestyle. Spent many years in social services but am happily retired.

49 thoughts to “How To Not Waste Food”

  1. Use a scale. DH used to make far more pasta than we could eat and we didn’t ever get to it as left overs. We got a food scale which we use for a number of things, but we do reduce what we eat when we proportion what we are cooking to what we will consume.

  2. Great advice. I think that most families can save more than they think. If they just begin to think about what they use.

  3. I totally agree with this! We eat 99% of what we buy. We grow our own – thanks to my husband! My allergies are the worst! I couldn’t grow my own. He has to do it for us. We keep a year round compost pile for veggie and fruit scraps.

    1. You are a shining example for the rest of us. If you would ever like to do a guest post on how your family grows, handles, and eats, I’d love to have you.

  4. Great information. I hate wasting food but I put my hands up to being guilty of buying too much and not clearing out my fridge often enough. My heart slumps when I pull something out that’s gone out of date.

    1. I wrote this to help me clean up my act. Buying for one is hard as I have trouble going through a bag of carrots, etc. fast enough. I’m sharing more with my friend. I do believe it’s a sin to throw away food I let go back

  5. Hi Carol, pointless plastic packaging on fruit and veg in shops really does my head in, especially nowadays when we reallly have to cut back on the use of plastic. I really try to avoid picking up plastic packed stuff when I can. I have this thing about leftovers too or food being left, I hate it and that seems to have rubbed off onto the family as we don’t throw away much food. It’s not difficult to sling things in the freezer and our compost heap serves us well. My husband drew the line at getting chickens though.

    Thank you for linking up with #keepingitreal.


  6. This is so important. I try to waste as little as possible, but I often see bulging food waste bins put out on trash day. At least the local council takes them specifically for composting, but it’s amazing how much money you can save and how much less waste you can produce if you’re actually trying to be careful. #MMBC

    1. Sounds like your family is better than the average. It is a continuous battle, isn’t it? Thanks for visiting. Happy Easter!

  7. Carol – this is a terrific post. I can’t abide throwing out food (and we don’t trash much), but we can adopt the practice of making vegetable stock and meat stock from leftover odds and ends! Happy Easter to you!

  8. Meal planning and portion control have really helped us. It’s so easy to end up buying more than you need and then letting it go to waste. Great reminder to keep it at it 🙂

  9. I do a monthly food shop of non perishable goods and items for the freezer, fridge items i buy weekly and fresh foods are bought as and when needed in the quantities needed. all left overs from meals are frozen for another day #goinggreen

  10. Packaging on food makes my head want to explode.
    We are trying to reduce our food waste. Buying only what you need or will eat helps, I find, too.
    Thank you for sharing.


  11. Food waste absolutely drives me nuts and I think I put most f your tips into action to make sure we limit how much food we end up wasting here. Mind you hthough with a couple of teenage boys that ends up being very little! Thank you for adding this iportant foodie post to #GoingGreen and apologies sorry it took me so long to comment. The next linky opens tomorrow (May 7th) so I hope you will join in again 🙂

  12. I really hate wasting food, since I started meal planning about 8 years ago I have really cut down on what we throw away. The supermarkets over here are cutting down on their plastic usage, finally.
    This was really interesting to read and you have given me some great ideas.

  13. I try not to waste food and am pretty good at it now. But some of these stores toss perfectly good food products out and that’s so shameful.

  14. This is another great post Carol, thank you! Food waste is a pet peeve of mine, always has been and I find the older I get, those frugal things my parents taught me in the kitchen especially, have been coming back more and more these days.

  15. I really enjoyed reading through all your tips and you have inspired me to do better. We are pretty good at not wasting food but there’s always room for improvement especially when it comes to buying things in plastic. Ugh why do they have to wrap so many things in plastic? I just don’t get it. My husband is so conscious of not wasting food, he works in hospitality and tries really hard at work to do his bit to avoid waste. This good habit has carried on in our home and we also regard food wastage as a sin.

  16. You wrote a very important and inspiring post, dear Carol! I feel like you, I also think that throwing away food is a sin. My parents lived through World War II and the hard times that followed, my grandparents survived two world wars, so I grew up knowing that food is valuable. And I LOVE to cook with leftovers, it’s so creative. With leftovers we cook casseroles, stews, soups, roasted mishmash – always different, always delicious 🙂
    ALL THE BEST! Traude

    1. Dear Traude I think you’re one of the greenest people I know. I’m not surprised you are also a great campion of leftovers too.

  17. Thanks for sharing this very informative article. I appreciate your effort on bringing awareness of how not waste food. I practice this at my home from several years and I am happy that our food waste is really low. I use several leftover recipes, so I can use leftover food in delicious way. Thanks for the idea of freezing veggie scraps. This is something I want to start following.
    Have a great day!

  18. Such good ideas (both new to me and reminders) — this was a most worthwhile post! I love to shop and Publix except they are really bad about plastic wrapping vegetables. Consequently, I buy almost all our produce at Farmer’s Markets (and we eat a lot of fresh fruit and veggies).

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