Reducing food waste

One of the ways I want to live better in the new year is by reducing my food waste. I can give you a list of reasons why this is still an “area for improvement,” including the shameful fact that it’s easier for me to squander food than it is to use it carefully. I can make an equally long list of why it’s important to do better.

Below are three intentional choices I’m focusing on in 2015.
(In case you’re wondering, my husband will eat anything I cook and appears grateful not to have to do the work himself—we agree on this arrangement. My child is a very picky eater. There is waste.)

1. Plan and cook meals.

The good news is that every aspect of planning and cooking gets easier with practice. I try to be gentle with myself and accept that it takes experimentation to figure out what works generally and even more practice and experimentation to manage meals around fluctuating schedules and workloads. I have also accepted that sometimes I will eat microwave meals from cardboard trays.

If you’re looking for encouragement, recipes, and tips on cooking more no matter your budget/schedule/aptitude, I like the food writer and activist Mark Bittman.

Here’s one version of a meal planning guide, and here’s meal planning advice from a professional organizer and mother to seven.

2. Shop based on the meal plan.

I’m grateful to be able to shop at a food co-op where many fresh and staple ingredients are sold in bulk and I can buy exactly the amount I need. For things like canned tomato paste or packaged fresh herbs or celery, I try to cook more than one recipe calling for those ingredients so they get used up. I’ve also learned that a surprising number of foods can be frozen for later use (check out these tips for storing all kinds of food).

3. Store food in a way that maximizes freshness.

Finding a slimy bag of lettuce in the refrigerator is such a disappointment. It’s like throwing away money along with your dreams for a better, healthier you. The only way I’ve been able to avoid slimy/desiccated produce is to plan my shopping so that I have time to take care of fruits and vegetables as soon as I get home (e.g. wash and dry greens and get them into an airtight container). It might be worth your time to read up on best storage techniques for items you buy regularly (tips for storing all kinds of food so it lasts longer).

If you have questions about whether you’ve stored food too long, visit for guidance on whether it’s safe to eat (even if the expiration date has passed).

* * *

In the United States, many restaurant meals are super-sized, which makes it hard to avoid wasting food when eating out. But this could be changing. There are a growing number of successful fast food restaurants serving fresh and locally-grown food, probably in healthful portion sizes. And last fall an activist investor took control of the parent company of restaurant chain Olive Garden—known for big servings and all you can eat breadsticks—and was quoted thusly in the New York Times:

“Portion sizes may be gradually reduced,” Starboard wrote, “as guests begin to equate Olive Garden’s value proposition more with quality and excellence at fair prices, than with massive quantities of barely edible fried items, excessive cheeses, and heavy cream sauces.”

Quality and excellence at fair prices? Amen.

2 thoughts on “Reducing food waste

  1. Ellen, I always appreciate your practical and useful advice and information- this article was no exception! Also, thanks for sharing writer Mark Bittman with me. What a gem to discover. Happy New Year!!

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