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Do you think you’re wasting too much food at home? Does your trash can pile up with garbage bags every week from just your kitchen alone?
It’s time for a change!
Not only are we unnecessarily tossing food that we should have tried saving, we are also throwing our money in the garbage.
In a 2020 study published by the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, an average U.S. household wastes 31.9% of the food purchased annually. By this figure, the total annual consumer-level cost of wasted food is an estimated $240 billion, or $1,866 per household.
How are we able to lower this hefty sum of food waste and useless spending in our own households?
We can actually adopt some practical methods, starting immediately.
Here are 9 easy ideas that will help all of us to be less wasteful in the kitchen, and put our hard-earned cash – and maybe even our food scraps – to better use!
9 Easy Ways to Be Less Wasteful in the Kitchen
You know, all those cores, peels, pits, rinds, skins, and coffee grounds that you throw away on a daily basis can be salvaged for another purpose…
Turning your food scraps into kitchen compost is one of the most proactive ways to reduce and repurpose your food waste at home and bolster a positive impact on the environment.
Vitamix FoodCycler FC-50, available from Vitamix
It’s also easy and fun to practice when you understand every step of the process and have the right tools!
And if you enjoy gardening, it’s an economical way to add organic, natural nutrients all of your plants will love.
You can even simplify the task with a countertop appliance like the FoodCycler FC-50, available from Vitamix. This compact model has a capacity of up to 2.5 liters. If you are looking to compost a larger quantity, consider purchasing the FoodCycler Eco 5 from Vitamix, which has double the capacity of 5 liters.
Learn how to get started now by reading our Kitchen Composting 101 article, where we will teach you four easy methods to repurpose food scraps!
2. Create Crumbs and Croutons
Don’t throw out that old, dried out, crusty bread!
But they’re also ideal for making croutons to top soups and salads. And you can process them into fine crumbs to use as a binding agent in meatballs and veggie burgers, as a crispy topping for mac and cheese, or as a coating for salmon burgers, crab cakes, and baked fish fillets.
We explain our technique for making crunchy seasoned croutons in our recipe for classic Caesar salad, a savory dish to serve as a side or as a hearty lunch topped with grilled chicken.
And if you’re curious about how to make and store homemade breadcrumbs, you can review the required steps and different variations in our article explaining the differences between breadcrumbs and panko.
You’ll never waste bread again!
3. Cycle Through Your Inventory
Use the ever-reliable FIFO system to ensure food doesn’t get lost in the back of the fridge or your pantry, hidden behind more recent purchases or prepared foods.
FIFO stands for First In, First Out. Here is the basic concept:
Any item that was bought or prepared first should be used before something that was bought later.
Every time that you buy a new item, you should put it behind any older ones, and keep the oldest items towards the front of the shelf.
If it is helpful, you can also use labels on your food containers to help you organize and identify each food item and the date you bought, opened, or prepared it.
Not only will you have a better idea of what you have on hand, you’ll be using perishable goods in a timely manner at their peak of quality and freshness before moving onto newer items.
4. Freeze Extra Liquids
It’s a sad day when an open bottle of wine spoils, or a half-used carton of chicken stock goes bad.
Don’t let this tragedy ever happen again in your home!
Rather than pouring the remnants of your vino, stock, or broth down the sink, pour anything left into ice cube trays and freeze until solid. Transfer them to freezer-friendly airtight containers or freezer bags and freeze for up to six months.
Use these the next time you have a recipe that calls for a little wine, or when you need to loosen a soup or stew with a little more stock. These cubes will be useful to have on hand.
Rather than opening a completely new bottle or box, you’ll have just the right amount you need to use in a recipe with a stash of these cubes in the freezer.
5. Go Airtight
Packages of cereal, crackers, and pasta can become stale quickly after the original packaging has been opened, and often end up getting tossed just as quickly.
OXO Good Grips 5-Piece POP Container Set, available from OXO
To extend the shelf life of dry goods, buy some containers or canisters with secure, airtight lids.
Storing these types of foodstuffs in airtight containers will help to retain their freshness much longer.
You can purchase this OXO Good Grips 5-Piece POP Container Set of stackable and space-efficient plastic food storage containers directly from OXO, or find it at Sur La Table. You won’t be disappointed with these optimal storage accessories for your dry goods!
But the ultimate method of making your food airtight is definitely through the use of a vacuum sealer.
If you are really into long term storage, you can also look into oxygen absorbers. And don’t overlook these general tips for finding and using kitchen space and storage!
6. Preserve Fresh Herbs
If you buy herbs from the store and you get a whole bundle, how are you planning to use up everything before they start to go bad?
Do you often use just a couple leaves for one recipe, then forget the rest in the back corner of your fridge, left to rot and wilt?
If you have too many fresh herbs to use them all at once, prolong their vibrant goodness by preserving them in multiple ways.
My favorite method is to freeze them while they are still fresh!
First, mince or shred them coarsely, then gently pack a small amount into each compartment of an ice cube tray.
Then, pour some olive oil over the chopped herbs and transfer the tray to the freezer. Once frozen, you can pack and store them in an airtight container or freezer bag for the next six months.
To add an herbal boost to recipes, toss a couple cubes in the pot when you are making sauces, stews, or soups – the cubes will melt as you are heating your ingredients.
In addition to freezing those leftover herbs, you have more options to get the most out of them, like drying or making flavor-infused oil. Review all of these methods now in our guide to preserving herbs.
7. Shop Smart
Never go shopping without a grocery list – and stick to the items that you have on it!
If you think of an essential item or two you have definitely forgotten, that’s fine. Go ahead and buy them. But don’t change your entire meal plan just because something shiny catches your eye!
Impulse buying often results in disregarding important ingredients for the meals you intended to make, and doubling up on items you may already have at home in the pantry or fridge.
To make sure you shop smart, design a meal plan for periods of one or two weeks, and create a shopping list to cover all the meals and snacks within that plan.
8. Understand Ethylene Gas
A number of fresh fruits and vegetables emit ethylene gas, a hormone which promotes ripening.
Among many others, common produce items that release ethylene are apples, avocados, potatoes, bananas, and mangoes.
Storing certain fruits and vegetables together causes others to ripen at a rapid pace, causing many to spoil seemingly overnight.
Be mindful of how you are storing your fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator – utilize the high-humidity, ventless bin for produce with a high water content and the low-humidity, vented bin for produce that emits ethylene gas.
You can skip the cold storage altogether for certain fruits like firm or unripe apples, bananas, avocados, stone fruits, and tomatoes.
For more thorough advice on this subject, review our article on how to properly use the crisper drawers in your refrigerator.
The goal here is to preserve extras that might be a little bruised, or a little too ripe to enjoy on their own as is, before they’re rotten or moldy.
Keep a large zip-top bag in the freezer to collect any pieces that are no longer aesthetically appealing, which will slow down ripening to an extremely slow rate.
9. Use Up Leftovers
Do you often throw away half-eaten leftovers, at least a few times every week?
When you create your meal plan for the week, be sure to strategize ways to use up alllllll the leftovers – or at least the majority of them!
Plan at least one or two meals each week when you are required to eat your leftover lunch or dinner to keep food waste to a minimum.
If you get bored eating leftovers in the same exact format as the original, this is your opportunity to get creative with new ideas to use the same foods in different ways.
For example, if you made a classic meatloaf one day, you can devote your next meal to utilizing the remaining slices in a hearty meatloaf sandwich.
And leftovers from the other night can be recreated as a comforting pot roast soup.
And an end-of-the-week mixed salad is always a smart idea to combine and use up small bits from various airtight containers that you have in the refrigerator. Toss everything together in your wooden salad bowl with a homemade vinaigrette to make the meal extra special!
Less Waste = Big Benefits!
These are just a few ideas to get you started with being less wasteful in the kitchen. They’ll save you money, and ease your conscience when it comes to heedless habits.
Hopefully, some of these easy tips and tricks will inspire you to follow a healthy kitchen lifestyle that focuses on mindfulness as you are selecting, storing, using, and disposing of ingredients.
How about you? What are some of your favorite tips for attentive kitchen practices that stretch your food budget, and ease the burden we put on the environment?
Leave a comment below!
Looking for other ways to save money, resources, and time in the kitchen? You can make all the right decisions with a can-do attitude and smart prep work! Take a look at these other helpful articles for further encouragement:
- Foodal’s Ultimate Guide to Dehydrating Your Garden’s Bounty
- How to Start Canning Your Own Foods at Home
- 5 Spectacular Ways to Use Up Leftover Egg Yolks
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Vitamix and OXO. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. Originally published by Lorna Kring on February 6, 2016. Last updated on May 16, 2023.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.