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Tips to Reduce Food Waste

The average family of 4 in the U.S. wastes
annually on food.

25 Tips to Reduce Your Food Waste

The average family of 4 in the U.S. wastes $2100 annually on food. We’re throwing out almost 1 pound of food, per person, per day. (USDA) If you were dumping 300 lbs in the trash can at once, solving the problem would be simple. The reality is that it’s a slow leak of edible food hitting the trash can at every meal and kitchen chore, all day, all year.

But don’t despair, we are here to help you make some simple, inexpensive changes (we might even put money back in your wallet).

Tips for reducing food waste

Here are our Top 25 Tips To Reduce your Household Food Waste:

1. Meal Plan

Decide which recipes you’ll cook this week before heading to the store.

2. Shop From a List

Once you’ve selected your recipes, you can compile a list. Buying less overall, only what you know you need is the most impactful way to save money and ensure you’ll use it all up. No impulse buys!

3. Check Your Pantry First

This is a passionate subject for professional chefs. Relying on your memory is faulty, you will overbuy or forget something. Check your grocery list against what you actually have in stock at home before you shop.

4. Eat Leftovers

Cooking the exact amount you need is challenging, so if there’s food leftover, pack it for lunch or designate a “Leftovers Night” once per week to clean out the fridge.

5. Willpower and Reward

Just override the desire for Thai take out tonight. Eat what you know has been in the fridge and will be tossed out soon. Just eat it! Reward yourself for taking this step tonight by ordering in your favorite meal tomorrow.

6. Eat Ugly

Ugly produce is having its moment. You may see it as a delivered farm box, in your local grocery store aisle, or at the farmer’s market. Another way to think about it though, is once you have produce at home, if it starts wilting, browning or growing eyes, etc, use it up! Slice off the affected part and either eat it or freeze it asap.

7. Eat Less Meat

A plant heavy diet is the future of environmental eating. Animals require more resources to grow, produce, and distribute so wasting any amount of beef or pork has a much larger negative impact than wasting an apple. If you’re buying less meat, you’re more likely to savor it and waste it less.

8. Put Down the Peeler

Stop peeling carrots, cucumbers, potatoes, apples, and eat them all the way through! Use a coconut fiber vegetable scrubber and save time and reduce edible waste by eating, not peeling.

9. Eat Your Ends + Stems

Many vegetables have parts that might not be fully utilized in traditional recipe writing. Broccoli stalks, for example, are trimmed away though they’re arguably the more delicious part. Eat your parsley stems, beet tops, kale stems, celery leaves, etc.

10. Utilize Scraps for Stock

For items that do produce “inedible” waste, make stock. Chicken bones, winter squash peels/guts, onion skins, even apple cores turn “garbage” into kitchen gold.

11. Be Creative, Recipes are Guidelines

If you get halfway through a recipe and are missing an ingredient, make a substitution! Parsley for basil, mozzarella for ricotta, carrot for sweet potato. Most savory cooking is adaptable and as you gain practice and confidence you can cook from your fridge rather than running out to the store.

12. Proper Storage

E+S has a large ingredient directory to help our community know where things go. Some fruits release ethanol which makes other ripen far too quickly. Some benefit from high humidity in the fridge, while others need a dark spot to last longest. When groceries are stored properly you’ll get more shelf life from them and more time to use them up.

13. Declutter

Keep your food storage and refrigerator areas organized and pared down. If you can’t see what you have, you’ll never use it up.

14. FIFO

Another professional chef rule of thumb. First In, First Out (FIFO). When unloading your groceries rotate older items to the front so they’ll be grabbed first. In the fruit bowl, for example, place new apples underneath older ones which become easier to grab.

15. Understand Expiration Dates

They aren’t real! With the exception of infant formula, there are zero (zip, zlich, nada!) regulations or standards currently applied to Best By, Use By, Eat By, Sell By date. Its all for manufacturers and marketing. Learn to trust your senses to tell if something has turned. Most dairy is good for days after the date, eggs can stay fresh for months!

16. Measure

Run a food waste audit in your home to find out exactly what you’re home often wastes. Lucky for you, Ends+Stems has a full Food Waste Audit Guide for you! 

17. Serve Smaller Portions

American dinner plates have increased in size by 36% since the 1960s. In Europe, the average restaurant plate is 9 inches to the U.S.’s 12 inches. Not only will serving smaller portions reduce your food waste, it could help your health and waistline. If you’re still hungry, just go for seconds!

18. Teach Kids Why

It’s a safe bet that your kids understand recycling as its now commonplace in our households. Teaching our kids to respect where food came from, the resources put in to grow, pack, ship and cook food, teaches them to be mindful of waste for the good of the planet.

19. Donate Extras

Try apps like Olio or donate to your local food banks or shelter. This can be done year round, not just the Thanksgiving canned goods drive.

20. Geek Out on Old-School Shelflife Boosters

Canning, fermenting, pickling are all ways to extend the life of a product or rescue it from going bad. Zero Waste Chef has great tips and recipes for this.

21. Leverage Your Freezer

Romaine, strawberries, and avocados, for example, can be frozen and turned into smoothies. Cooked grains and rice can go in, sauces, and meat too. Just remember to label and date everything no matter how sure you are you’ll remember what it is!

22. Feed Friends, Then Consider Animals

We love the idea of a leftover swap or cooking swap with friends and neighbors (you make a double batch of lentil soup, they make double roast chicken, then swap!). If you have animals who can be fed, that is a better use than even the compost bin. Maybe you have goats, pigs, chickens nearby who need a meal.

23. Order Smarter at Restaurants

Up to a half pound of food is wasted per restaurant meal served, some of that in the kitchen, but 17% of that waste is from consumers not joining the clean plate club. So order less, or take home (and use your willpower to eat) those leftovers! If you know a restaurant owner of see a suggestions box, ask them to use smaller plates, serve smaller portions, or consider selling half portions.

24. Composting is Better

Composting is better than the landfill, but only by a little. Edible food that gets composted is still wasting the water, gas, labor, growing space, and time that was spent growing that food.

25. Forget Perfection

This is not a zero sum game. If you have a bad (food waste) day or you just can’t engage your willpower to follow through on leftovers today. It. Is. Ok. Start again tomorrow. 100% of Ends+Stems users surveyed said that by being in our community, they thought about food waste at other times in their week. Awareness and effort are the most important first steps to change. We’re here for you.

For more information, see the EPA's website for sustainable management of food.

Food Recovery Hierarchy

ends + stems

Meal Plans

Save time and reduce food waste