The One Week Food Waste Solution: How to stop throwing away your groceries

Your One Week Food Waste Solution: Stop throwing your groceries away

It’s so disappointing when you have to throw away food that went bad. Mold in the pasta sauce. Slimy lettuce. Herbs for that special dish, shriveled up and sad. Find your food waste solution in this one week plan.

Every bit of good food that goes bad represents healthy intentions, food budget and resources, wasted. It’s like lighting your grocery money on fire and throwing it in the trash.

What’s worse is that it’s mostly expensive foods that get wasted. Fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, breads and meats all gone.

It’s understandable—everything looks so good at the store, you want to eat healthy meals, but then life gets in the way. Everyone’s too tired to cook after work, practice goes long, someone gets sick, and takeout sounds pretty good.

As bad as it feels, you aren’t the only one. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that 25% of the food bought in American households goes into the garbage. That food costs an average of $1800 of the family grocery budget every year, or $150 per month.

What could you do with another $150 per month?

Globally, thirty percent of food produced for human consumption gets wasted. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter after the United States and China. Project Drawdown identified reduced food waste as #3 on the list of strategies to address climate change.

The food wasted at home is the most environmentally expensive because it’s at the end of the chain. And when it goes in the trash it causes landfill methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas.

What if you could use a few simple strategies to stop wasting your family’s grocery budget?

The good news is that you can solve your food waste dilemmas with some pretty simple tweaks to your shopping, cooking and disposal practices.

If you apply all these tweaks this week, you could solve food waste in your home right now. Or, pick one new thing and master that before you move on to the other tips. You choose how you want to progress.

Your Weekly Food Plan

This isn’t about meal planning exactly although that’s part of it.

It’s more about refocusing your attention just a little bit through the week and planning on the fly as things change.

Most home food waste solutions focus on the tactics—what to do with specific food items (“what to do with leftover turkey”), or how to store vegetables—the “arrangement” of food in your home. All of that is important, and you’ll learn more about it here.

But that’s only a part of the puzzle. This article provides a comprehensive set of strategies and tips to help you solve food waste in your home.

Apply a bit of attention and flexibility to your food habits to make the most change. Make decisions before you shop, and build habits that work even when life gets squirrely.

You’ll learn what to do every day to stop food waste in your house: how to plan, how to shop, how to keep food fresh, how to use all the food you bring into your home and what to do with it if something does need to go.

You’ll dig deeper into apps and tools to stop food waste at home and find out about ways to help people in your community. If you have a special situation, check the common issues and questions to find a fix.

Moldy food waste orange.
Never again.

Where are the sticky (slimy, moldy) spots?

Life is complicated.

For families with busy schedules, picky eaters, and multiple diets, it’s hard to keep up.

Maybe life has changed and you’re an empty nester still shopping for a bunch of kids who moved out. Or maybe you cook for yourself and you have to buy a whole head of celery when all you need is a couple of sticks.

Whatever the situation, everyone wants to eat healthy meals and avoid throwing good food and good money into the trash.

  • What’s working well for you? Do you meal prep regularly? Are there particular dishes everyone likes?
  • Where are the sticking points in your home food system? Think back to when you’ve thrown food away before.

Is it because people ate only part of their portion? Because vegetables didn’t get prepped? Because you were away from home for most of the week?

  • Note the top challenge . Pay particular attention to that issue this week.

What’s your waste why?

Think about why food waste is important to you.

Is it because of wasted money? Because the healthiest foods are going bad? To be a good example to your kids? Or, because it just feels bad?

My “why” is because it’s part of my family culture. Most of our old family stories are about rationing in WWII England or about feeding the family during the Depression. There’s a story about Granny Ford and a black market pig in a baby carriage but that’s for another time. And there’s a story about a goose in a hotel, and…

Anyway, wasting food is a big painful no-no to me. That’s what shapes how I use food at home.

  • What’s your why?

Stop Before You Shop

Take a few minutes to plan before you go shopping to avoid over buying.

  • What day will you shop? Most grocery stores take deliveries on Tuesday, so shelves should be restocked on Wednesday. Check with your favorite store to see when they restock. Or, plan to go to a farmers’ market with just picked fresh items.
  • Consider where to shop for what. Don’t buy your perishable groceries in warehouse portions if you’re not going to use or preserve them right away.
  • Keep a dry erase board where the household can list items as they run out. Use it when you make your list.
  • Review the fridge, pantry and freezer. Are items languishing? Pick one shelf in the freezer or pantry and focus on using up older items there this week.
  • Put refrigerated bits that need to be used up on an “Eat me first” shelf. That’s the place to look first when you’re doing your quick meal plan.
  • Plan to use the most perishable items first. Learn how long things stay fresh. Fish might stay fresh for just a day or two, while brussels sprouts last  a bit longer in the fridge. The USDA has a great list of “best by” dates for just about everything
  • Pack up your shopping supplies—your list, insulated bags, reusable produce bags, containers for bulk and a cooler and ice packs if it’s a hot day or you live far from the store.
  • Pack more bags than you think you’ll need. Pack separate bags for meat, produce, dairy and frozen items.
  • Make sure you aren’t hungry when you shop.
  • Pick your own music or audiobook to bring with you. Grocery store music is designed to make you spend more money.

Avoid the face palm: Get what you need the first time

Your grocery list is key to avoid those facepalm moments.

You know, the times when you walk in the door from the grocery store and someone says “did you get the [obvious thing that you obviously need]?” and you didn’t get it.

Think ahead about what you’ll need for the week, review to see what you already have, and be realistic about what you’ll really eat.

Focus on ingredients, not recipes. Sure, you might have a recipe you want to try this week, but mostly focus on categories of food such as protein, vegetables and fruit, lunch items, whatever flexible basics you need for day to day eating.

It’s like having a capsule wardrobe for your kitchen—a few good quality ingredients that you can mix and match instead of a quantity of specialty items that don’t go together.

  • What’s your schedule this week? Will you miss meals for family activities? Any school snack commitments or potluck social events?
  • Have a rough idea about what you will cook for dinners and what staples you need for lunches and breakfasts. This is not a full meal plan, just a sense of what staples you will need for the week ahead.
  • Take your schedule into account and the items you want to use up.
  • Keeping all this in mind, make a grocery list.
  • Are you out of any staples?
  • Review the foods you keep for family members, especially those you don’t eat yourself. Do family members have items that need to be used up or replaced?
  • Check if you already have any of the items you need for your plan.
  • Do you need household or toiletry items?
  • Ask the family if they need anything. Ask them to note items on the shared shopping list.
  • Until you build up your habits, keep your list just a bit lean when it comes to things that go bad quickly—fish, leafy greens, fresh herbs.
  • Include some sturdy items such as root vegetables or a few frozen items. That way you don’t need to rush back to the store if you run out of lettuce.
  • Note quantities–if you only need two potatoes this week don’t buy a whole bag without a plan.
  • For bonus expert points write down items in the order you go through the store (e.g. produce aisle first, bulk aisle next).
  • Check your list again.
  • Don’t forget the coffee.

While you shop: Source it fresh and keep it fresh

Lettuce and ice cream are precious, fragile items to treat with care. Plan to shop when you can get your perishables home quickly.

If you have multiple errands, do your grocery shopping last. It’s not good for your groceries to sit in a hot or freezing car.

  • Stick to your list except for good reason. Adapt your plan if the you can’t find something of quality.  Be sure there is a plan for any impulse buys or good deal items.
  • Check the quality of the food in the store. It’s frustrating to bring a bunch of washed greens home to find they are already slimy, even though the sell-by date is in a week. If that happens, bring the items back to the store and (politely) let them know you aren’t happy. Over time you’ll learn which stores have the freshest produce.
  • Check the sell by and best by dates. Pick dates that will work for your schedule. Keep in mind that food still has shelf life after the sell by date, which is meant for the grocer, and the best by date, which refers to quality rather than safety. The oldest stock is usually in front, so check to find the freshest option.
  • Keep food separated in your cart by temperature and type (frozen, cool and room temperature items).
  • Be sure meat is well wrapped or in your own impermeable container. Keep it away from other items.
  • Be sure produce is bagged somehow and not loose in the baccteria-ridden cart.
  • Put fragile greens, herbs and eggs on top or in their own section.
  • Maintain separation when you bag. Keep frozen items in an insulated bag, put meat in it’s own bag, be sure the fragile items are on top so they don’t get crushed.
  • Put frozen and refrigerated items in the cooler with some ice packs, especially if it’s a hot day or you live far away.

Location, location, location: Store your fragile foodstuffs

The primary way to keep things fresh once you get home is to keep each item in its best home as much as possible. Each item has its own optimal temperature and humidity.

  • Put your groceries away as soon as you get home so that they stay fresh or frozen. If you can, get your family to help so that everyone knows what’s available to eat.
  • Be sure your refrigerator is set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder but not so cold that things freeze. Check this by keeping a thermometer in your fridge.
  • Put items such as milk and eggs in the back of a shelf, which is the coldest part of the refrigerator. Lots of people keep these things in the door but that space is better left for condiments that have acid or salt to help preserve them. Items in the door are exposed to warmth every time the door is opened.
  • The enemies of vegetables are warmth, dehydration and neglect. Put vegetables in the crisper drawer, wrapped in a damp soft tea towel or cheesecloth. I like to use reusable produce bags that I can see through so I know what I have.
  • Be clear on which produce items should go in the crisper drawer and which should be kept separately because they give off ethylene gas.
  • Don’t wash vegetables until up to a day or so before you’ll use them. Remove tops from carrots, beets and radishes and keep the tops as leafy greens for pesto or soups.
  • Put meats in a cold drawer. In my house meats go into a secondary bin for further protection.
  • Delicate herbs and asparagus can be kept with cut ends in water in a tall glass or vase. Treat them like a little flavor bouquet you keep in your fridge.
  • When you cook, take ingredients out and put them back promptly.
  • When you’re done eating, put leftovers in the fridge quickly, even if the rest of the dishes stay out for awhile.
Meal prep is key to zero food waste
Just do it.

Be your own sous chef: Prep for a few minutes a day

You probably don’t have your own sous chef who preps ingredients and puts them in nice glass containers for your mise en place. If you are your own sous chef, this section is for you. Cooking is a lot easier if some of the prep work is already done.

Regular ingredient preparation is another big key to avoid food waste at home.

  • Set a timer and spend just a few minutes prepping ready to use ingredients . Pick items with the shortest shelf life such as lettuce and herbs to use soonest, or items you will use throughout the week such as carrots or diced onions.
  • Do a quick prep for tomorrow while cooking dinner tonight. Take a few minutes to wash or chop ingredients for tomorrow while you’re waiting for something in the kitchen tonight.
  • Prepare or cook a bit more of an ingredient than you need right this minute. I love having lots of leftover ingredients after dinner, so I can easily make lunches and breakfasts in the following days.
  •  Store chopped herbs in a small container to use over a day or two and store washed lettuce leaves wrapped loosely in damp cloth in a bag or bin.
  • Pay particular attention to fish, fruits and vegetables, as those items make up about three-quarters of what Americans throw away.
  • Store your prepped items in glass containers, on a shelf where you can see them when you cook. It’s a lot easier if you can find the onion you chopped yesterday.
Make stock with food scraps
Make delicious stock with free food scraps.

Bust that stash: Cooking for zero food waste

Our grandmas and great-grandmas were masters of the zero-waste kitchen. They knew how to use up every bit of food in the house. Carry on the tradition and avoid throwing away your groceries by making a “stash buster” dish most days.

A stash buster recipe is anything that can use up the “eat me first” bits in the refrigerator and freezer. Good examples include soup, smoothies, casserole, salad, omelettes, and stock.

  • Once a week spend some time using stuff up. Every family has different items that regularly need to be used up. In our house, it’s scraps to turn into stock, bread ends to turn into bread pudding or bread salad, broccoli stalks to turn into slaw, and bits of leftovers to go into salad, soup, quiche or pie. All this stock, pudding, slaw and soup making usually happens on a day off.
  • During the week take leftovers for lunch or turn them into a quick salad or a soup using stock on hand.
  • Don’t forget breakfast. Bits can go into an omelette or a smoothie or in cooked cereal.
  • Be creative. Search for recipes with whatever you have on hand to get some quick ideas. Look to old recipes. An endless procession of puddings, pies, fritters, cakes, casseroles and hashes graced the tables of yesteryear for good reason.
  • Complexity tastes good. Over time you’ll know what goes well together. A soup made with a dozen complementary pre-prepped ingredients made with homemade bone broth is easy, zero-waste and delicious. We call this “Day Before Payday Soup”.

The cook’s shadow is the best seasoning: Mid-week review

Follow these tips mid-week to be sure you’re still on track.

  •  Take another look in the fridge to see if there are languishing leftovers or dodgy produce. Pull it all out and plan how it will be used or preserved.
  • Take items from thee shelf and put them in the fridge if they need it. Things like a loaf of bread or tomatoes may need to go in the fridge so they stay good longer.
  • Pay special attention to foods you yourself don’t cook or eat.
  • Pull things out of storage. In my house we start running out of leafy greens, soft fruit and fresh meat towards the end of the week. Then it’s time to eat cabbage and carrots or pull something out of the freezer. We pull frozen homegrown mushrooms out of storage or make a pie with dried summer peaches or make a soup with frozen bone broth.
  • We start being more creative and avoid going back to the store until we have to. Unless we run out of coffee.
  • If the refrigerator is pretty full of leftovers, have a “Play It Again” dinner. Put all the leftovers out and have people choose what they want.
  • Do another prep session to keep ingredients ready to use. Cook anything that’s getting older and use the cooked ingredient in dishes.
  • Preserve items that are in danger of going bad. Freezing is easiest, but it’s also easy to dry or ferment foods, or turn them into sauce or pesto.
  • Or, share with the neighbors. There’s a group chat in my neighborhood where people ask for what they need or offer what they have.

When it needs to go, it needs to go

Eggshells, broccoli stalk peels, tomato stems, banana peels—not everything can be made into soup. Let’s just acknowledge that some parts of food are inedible.

There will be times when something doesn’t go to plan and food goes bad.

There are lots of ways to capture some goodness from discards before they go to their final resting place. Discarded items don’t need to go into the landfill.

Learn how to get started with composting, even if you live in an apartment. Bokashi composting and worm bins are accessible to everyone, or you can take part in a municipal composting program if there’s one near you.

Celebrate success, don’t cry over spoiled milk

At the end of the week, consider your progress. Celebrate any bit of success.

View any areas that need improvement as an observation, not an indictment.

Anything that’s better than last week is cause for pride.

Consider:

  • What went well?
  • What would you like to do differently?
  • What would you like to learn more about?

Use the “Next Level” sections to go a bit deeper on food waste solutions. Get over stumbling blocks using the “ Common Food Waste Questions” section”.

Congratulate yourself for a successful week, no matter what! All progress is good progress.

Next Level Zero Food Waste Solutions

Be a grocery store guru

Once you are used to bringing your bags to the grocery and you understand best-by and sell-by dates, you’re ready to fine tune your grocery prep and trip.

  • Clean reusable bags often. Reusable bags can harbor bacteria if they aren’t cleaned. Wash your grocery bags often and wipe down insulated bags. Consider hemp bags, which are naturally anti-microbial. Keep separate labeled bags for produce, meat and other foods to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Beware the cart and conveyor belt. Don’t put your bags in the child carrier, which is the most bacteria-laden part of the cart for reasons best not examined.
  • Don’t put produce or food items directly on the cart or the conveyor belt.
  • Avoid packages or cans that are dented or beat up.
  • Pick frozen packages that are further down in the stack, well below the “safe load line” marked on the case.
  • Be sure your frozen items are completely frozen.
  •  Buy meats, fish and dairy last to be sure they are out of refrigeration for as short a time as possible.
Radish tops make fantastic peppery pesto
Radish tops make fantastic peppery pesto

Use everything: tip to tail, from cradle to grave

Learn more about how to use all the parts of what you buy, from tip to tail and throughout the freshness lifecycle.

We throw away most of the edible parts of lots of vegetables. You may be in the habit of peeling carrots and throwing away the feathery tops. That’s throwing away the better part of what you bought, including most of the nutrients.

Or you may throw that carrot away once it starts sprouting little root hairs or gets dried out and limp. That’s unnecessary.

There’s a lot of goodness in peels and tops. You paid for them after all.

You may not need to peel the carrot at all, just scrub and use. If you do peel it, unblemished peels can go into the freezer for stock, be made into chips, pesto, lacto-fermented pickles or carrot cake. The tops can be made into pesto. Limp and dry carrots can be roasted or used in carrot-butternut squash soup.

The same kind of thinking can be applied to anything—chicken bones go into bone broth, fish skins and shrimp tails go into fish stock, radish tops make pesto, juicer pulp makes crackers.

Older vegetables and fruits taste sweeter. That old banana with brown spots makes a tastier banana pudding than it did when it was yellow and pretty.

When you know how to use everything you’ll be following in the footsteps of every top chef and masterful home cook since forever.

There are some great cookbooks about using all the parts. Look up The Nimble Cook or any of the books on this list of the best cookbooks to fight food waste from Chowhound

Zero Food Waste: There’s an app for that

Apps can help you with food management and storage tasks. Some apps help you share food you don’t want with other people or help you get food for less.

Food Tank has a great list of food waste apps that connect food with people who want food. Find a platform with lots of other users in your area. It’s frustrating to sign up if the next closest user is 300 miles away.

I was walking around in California, where I saw lemons rolling around on the sidewalk fallen from backyard trees. In Colorado it’s apples everywhere. If you are a gardener or want free garden food, check out apps that help people with excess garden food share food with others. Try Falling Fruit, a platform where you can let people come pick extra fruit from your trees, or get fruit for yourself.

There are gleaning groups online where you can go to a farm and pick food that was missed in the first harvest. Gardeners can share extra garden produce. Try Ample Harvest to connect with food pantries that need nutritious food, or let people know on Craigslist or Freecycle.

Never again forget what you already have. For help managing your food, try inventory apps that keep track of what’s in your pantry or freezer. Grocery list apps keep track of what you need and what you already bought.

If you want it all in one place, consider a meal and menu planning app that lets you track your master recipes, inventory and grocery list in one place. The Kitchn has a great list and some in-depth posts on how to use some of the options.

Citrus peels for compost
It’s not over.

There’s no such thing as “away”

There are lots of ways to keep discarded bits out of the landfill. Most people think of a compost pile, and that’s a great option.

If you are concerned about time, look into ways to compost in the garden without a pile. My favorite creative composting book is by Deborah Martin and Barbara Pleasant. If you’re concerned about pests, look into rodent-proof systems.

In an apartment you can make a DIY worm bin. You can buy compost worms if you like but you you don’t have to—you can find compost worms in a friend’s compost pile for free. I keep a small worm bin in the winter when my compost pile is frozen.

Bokashi is another apartment friendly option. Bokashi uses anaerobic bacteria to ferment food scraps. This is one of the few methods which takes meat scraps, bones and dairy.

Kitchen scraps make good chicken food, as long as your chickens aren’t spoiled like our current micro-flock. Grains and some bits of vegetable feed our mealworm colony.

Find out if there’s a compost program in your town. Lots of towns run their own program or have programs set up by socially minded entrepreneurs. There’s money in muck.

People have made myriad ingenious schemes to get something useful from organic matter, including the use of black soldier flies, making biogas to run your grill, growing mushrooms and many others. In nature there is no waste. Everything eats.

Next level community

Food waste is a big focus of the zero waste movement. Find some fantastic zero waste experts to follow: “32 Zero Waste Experts to help you kick the trash out of your life”. 

If you have more of something than you think you’’ll use,  consider ways to share it or donate it. My neighbors have a group chat where people ask if anyone wants surplus items or someone will ask if anyone has something they need.

Food banks will take items that are still good. Check your local food banks guidelines on what they will accept.

You may want to organize a food swap, like a clothes swap but with excess pantry items, garden produce and preserved goods. You could organize a bulk order to be split among neighbors, so everyone wins.

If you are involved in any community groups, such as a school or garden club, start or use a free table. My local Ladies Homesteading Gathering has a free table every meeting where people bring extra produce or extra home and garden supplies.

If you’re more into online communities, try some of the food specific apps or use Craigslist or FreeCycle. I’ve picked up jars of wheat berries and sugar on Freecycle from a couple who was downsizing. You never know who needs the things you don’t want anymore.

 Plant a Row for the Hungry encourages gardeners to grow produce for food banks. Or, head over to the Art of Doing Stuff to join the Sow Generous Challenge.

If you’re really into this, consider getting involved in your community food security work. Most towns have charitable or municipal groups working on food issues. Once you have your own food systems humming along, consider getting involved in the work that makes food available for other people.

Common food waste questions

Couldn’t I just skip all this and use a meal plan like “Hello Fresh” or “Blue Apron”?

You certainly could use a meal kit service like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh or any of the other services that have sprung up. It depends what you care about. Researchers found that meal kit meals embody a lower carbon footprint than the equivalent at the grocery store if you presume standard levels of food waste.

Meal kits come with lots of plastic and packaging, so won’t work if you’re going plastic-free. Meal kits are way too expensive per meal for my family. I prefer buying a few high quality ingredients that we use completely to make delicious food for less without the extra plastic and expense.

What if I’m not the person who shops?

A lot of the time my husband does the grocery shopping, since he loves our grocery store. He despises writing things down. I love not having another errand. I make the list and he does the shopping.

What if I’m not the person who cooks?

My husband cooks most dinners. We have different cooking styles— he cooks a lot of the ingredients (roast chicken, vegetable medleys, rice, sauces) , I cook stash buster dishes (soup, quiche, fruit pies),   prep or cook ingredients that are on their way out, and make bone broths. The key is to complement one another and be sure someone is doing it somehow.

What if I always use exact recipes and don’t know how to cook this way?

The basic approach here is to cook ingredients for some meals and then use the leftover ingredients in other meals. The Way to Cook by Julia Childs, her magnum opus as a cooking teacher, is a fantastic guide for this way of cooking. In this book there are master recipes, which teach you how to make something you can use in lots of different ways (such as roast chicken), along with way to use the leftovers. Once you know how to cook this way you will never approach food the same way. You can still use recipes but you’ll know how to adapt them for different ingredients.

What if there are picky eaters in my family or multiple diets?

We have seven eaters in our family, plus girlfriends and boyfriends and long-term guests, sometimes at the same time. We have people who hate spice, olives, mushrooms, peanut butter and pickles. We have others who love spice, olives, mushrooms, peanut butter and pickles. We have pescatarians and people who are allergic to fish. We have carnivores, vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free, auto-immune protocol sometimes, nut allergies, you name it.

It’s no big deal. We make multiple small versions of a casserole or put ingredients on the side, and let people choose.

What if my family won’t eat leftovers?

I once read about a man’s Italian grandma and his Yankee grandma and their different approaches to leftovers. Italian grandma made big batches of delicious pasta and then the family ate pasta until it was gone. It was just called “more pasta”. Yankee grandma turned leftover ingredients into cakes, casseroles and soup, essentially turning it into another meal.

It’s a very new development in society to turn one’s nose up because someone didn’t cook you a whole new dinner with all new ingredients.

I say treat leftover night like any other dinner—”if you don’t like what we’re having you can have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich”. I don’t consider the word “leftovers” to be a pejorative. For me, “leftovers” means tomorrow’s lunch.

Children will take the parent’s lead for the most part. If you are the one buying and cooking food it means you are the one who decides what happens at your table. If people object, see the peanut butter and jelly option.

How much is “not enough to keep”?

In my house there’s no such thing as “not enough to keep”. I scrape crumbs from the corn bread pan for casserole toppings and keep sauce washed from the empty pasta sauce jar to add to soup. The small bits add flavor or color or texture to the next meal.

What do all these dates mean? Sell by, best used by, what?

The biggest contributor to home food waste is confusion over “sell by” and “best by” dates, or knowing if something is still good to eat.

Those dates are not “toxic after” dates. They are best quality dates. The store must sell meat by the sell-by date or get it off the shelf. The meat doesn’t magically go bad the next day. The “best by” date refers to quality—canned goods may lose some taste or texture but they don’t become poison. Dates in the FoodKeeper app refer to best freshness and quality. It’s not black and white.

If an item looks good and smells good and doesn’t taste off, it’s probably good. Use your judgement and your senses.

How much time does this zero food waste stuff take?

It doesn’t take extra time, it takes different time. If you think about the time it took to make $150 after tax dollars per month that get thrown away, or time to buy and prep new food because old food got thrown away, it’s a net time savings.

It’s more about learning to cook, enjoying the time you spend and spending time at the right time, not about spending more time.

Sure, but it takes me forever to dice an onion.

Did you see the scene in Julia & Julia where Julia is learning to chop onions fast? It’s all about technique and practice. Look up some videos about knife skills. I guarantee it will get faster with practice.

Be sure your knife is sharp and you know how to keep your fingers out of the way. Or use a food processor.

What if we eat out a lot?

Americans eat out four or five times a week on average. Sometimes people eat out because cooking seems like a lot of work, or because the schedule went to heck. Portions are so large that eating out is a key place food waste happens.

Avoid food waste by recognizing how much of the week you’ll actually be around when you make your grocery list for the week. If you eat out unexpectedly, just adapt your plan.

Consider ordering less when you’re out so you avoid leftovers. If you don’t need your ingredients anymore because you ate out, then cook them or stick them in the freezer for a later date.

We are gone all day and all evening some days. How do I plan for that?

Take that into account when you do your planning and include items you can take with you.

I pack up breakfast and lunch on days I go to the office and only eat dinner at home. It means making some overnight oats and putting some hot soup in a thermos, or making a salad, or bringing leftover casserole to heat up for lunch. I have insulated bags and ice packs to keep things cold and a thermos for hot things.

Over time you’ll learn what go-to items work for your family so you don’t need to go through the drive-through or drop a bunch of cash to eat when you’re out.

What if I travel a lot?

Travelling knocks well-laid food plans into the dust. Some seasons I travel several times a month for work. Here are some tips:

  • Plan for upcoming travel in your weekly planning and buy less than normal.
  • Use up as much as you can before you go. Send ingredients over to neighbors if it makes sense.
  • Make a stashbuster meal or freeze ingredients before you go. Ideally, when we leave the refrigerator is pretty empty.
  • Put some items in the freezer for the day you return when you don’t want to go to the grocery store.

It’s just another travel planning item, just like arranging pet care and a mail hold.

I hate to plan.

This way of managing food is not a plan per se. It doesn’t go in your bullet journal unless you enjoy that and it doesn’t need a book or take a bunch of time. In essence, it’s 1) look at what you have before you shop, 2) don’t overbuy, and 3) consider what you have when you eat. Any step in this direction will save you money, time and nutrition.

What’s the best meal plan approach?

I’ve tried meal planning for a month, meal planning for the week and meal planning for the day. I can’t say what’s best for you and your family. What works for us is a rough plan once a week, and a plan for dinner once a day. Lunch and breakfasts don’t get planned, we just make sure we have options.

Much of our planning is improvisational the day of.  That’s not a problem—most days we finish dinner, have some coffee and a bit of dessert and think we eat like royalty.

Enjoy your new zero food waste kitchen

As you get more practice with the zero food waste strategies in this post you’ll avoid that gut-wrench that comes with throwing food out.

Instead, you’ll make all those healthy, tasty meals you meant to make. You’ll save money, you’ll eat healthier and you’ll be able to model healthy eating for your children.

You’ll eat nutritious and frugal meals with a good conscience, an empty trash can and a fatter wallet.

Your new great problem to have will be deciding what to do with the extra $150 in your budget every month.

I’d love to know what you think about all of these strategies. What works well for you?

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