How to Avoid Food Waste

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on August 11, 2021
4 min read

While cleaning out your fridge may not be a job that you enjoy, doing so often has an impact that lasts far longer than the cleaning itself. Food waste is one of the leading causes of climate change, where 40% of all food in the United States is not used. This waste not only negatively impacts the environment, but social and financial aspects of life, too. 

When food is wasted, many resources that are not immediately seen are wasted as well. This includes water and energy that was used to grow and transport food. So, being aware of how much food you waste and actively working to reduce it is one of the best things that you can do to fight climate change. 

There’s no time like the present to start taking action on the war against waste. While this may seem daunting, there are simple steps you can take to combat it.

One of the ways that you can keep track of how much food is going to waste inside your household is by keeping a checklist. By staying aware of the food that you are buying and throwing out, you soon will be able to minimize the amount of food waste you produce.

Ways to do a food waste check include:

  • Start a list, either paper or digital, and write down the date you are starting the check. Go through your fridge and take out everything that is expired or not safe to eat. If you would like to amp up this process you can go through your dry goods to make sure your food is up to date.
  • Write down the foods that you have taken out. You can bunch them into groups such as dairy, produce, meat, etc. 
  • Note the reasons why this food is expired. Reasons may include: the date on the package is past the “use by” or “best by” date, didn’t like it, leftovers that weren’t eaten, the wrong food or too much was bought, the item was mostly used but the rest went bad, the produce was damaged. 
  • Take the solid food — no liquids — outside of its original packaging and put it into a paper bag. Note how full the bag is, for example, one-quarter full or one-half full. 
  • Put the paper bag into your food compost bin. 
  • Take a look at the answers you listed in step 3. Once you have reviewed your reasons for why the food has expired, take a look at the below points to see how you can avoid this in the future. 

Date on package past the “use by” or “best by” date. The “best by” date is there to give you an average date that the item may expire by. If the item looks and smells good, then you’re probably ok to eat it.

Leftovers that weren’t eaten. Many leftovers are not eaten because they are forgotten about in the fridge. Using an ‘Eat This First’ sign can help you to remember which foods need to be eaten before the others.

The wrong food or too much was bought. To prevent buying food that you won’t end up using, write a shopping list before heading out. While you’re making the list, think of each item as an ingredient that will act as a part of a complete meal.

The item was mostly used but the rest went bad. If you think that an item may not be eaten in time, chuck it in the freezer. This is a great way to prevent waste. Plus, you never know when you might need it. Finding recipes with the item is also a great way to use up ingredients.

The produce was damaged. Make sure to store produce correctly so that it will last longer. Read on for some tips on how to store your fruits and vegetables so that they will last for as long as possible.

As food sustainability is becoming a mainstream practice in the home, some of the trendiest ways to combat food waste are actually classic methods of cooking and preparing food. These include:

  • Saying yes to peel. Keeping the peel on vegetables and fruits whenever possible will help reduce waste and save you time. Bonus points for the extra vitamins. 
  • Keep scraps for stock. Food scraps that you would normally think are inedible can make a great stock. Think anything from garlic and onion skins to celery heads, vegetable peels, and beef and/or chicken bones. 
  • Can and pickle them. You may be surprised at how easy it is to preserve foods by fermenting, pickling, and canning. Anything from apples to eggs is up for discussion. 
  • Enjoy the ends and stems. There are so many parts of vegetables that tend to be thrown away without a second thought. However, there are many ends and stems that are delicious. For example, carrot tops can be turned into pesto, beetroot tops can be sauteed, and broccoli stalks are great both cooked and eaten raw. The more you keep an open mind, the more you will realize how many parts of vegetables can be put to good — and tasty — use. 
  • Get creative. One of the best parts of cooking is the flexibility you have to experiment along the way. Substituting certain ingredients for what you have on hand is just one way to get those creative juices flowing. For example, various kinds of cheese can replace each other in recipes as well as starchy vegetables (i.e. carrots instead of sweet potatoes), and mixing and matching herbs. 

The above are just a handful of ways that you can begin to reduce food waste in your home. Some other ideas include growing herbs and leafy vegetables in a pot on your windowsill, and using dried beans and lentils instead of their canned alternatives.

Keeping an open mind to ways that work for you in preventing food waste is a great start to a future of food sustainability.