7 Ways to Waste Less Food While Cooking, According to a Recipe Developer
When you cook every day for a living, you get pretty savvy at putting every scrap to good use.
From uneaten leftovers to spoiled produce and meat, it’s incredible how much food it's possible throw out every day. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wasteful food buying and eating, but there are ways to make an impact in your own kitchen and on the environment. As a recipe developer and professional cook, I’ve acquired a handful of easy tips to make food sustainability both approachable and obtainable at home while you’re cooking for yourself and your family. By digging a little deeper into how to manage food waste, we can not only save more money, but also conserve food resources for ourselves and the future.
1: Check Your Inventory and Make a Categorized, Numbered Grocery List
It’s easy to overbuy if you go to the store without a shopping list. By simply checking your pantry and refrigerator for what you already have, then making a quick yet organized shopping list, you’re more likely to purchase only the items that you truly need.
Before I head to the grocery store, I quickly look through my pantry for basic and versatile staples, such as a box of dried pasta or container of rice. I like to have these on hand, as they keep for extended period of times and are a great base to so many recipes. This is also true for the refrigerator and freezer; I make sure to have basics like milk, eggs and butter. If any of these items are missing, I add them to the list!
It’s also incredibly important to organize your shopping list in categories and quantities. For example, I write down all the produce together, all the meat and dairy in one section, then dried/pantry staples in another. I also add the number of each thing I need (such as 1 bunch of herbs or 2 heads of cauliflower). That way, I spend less time at the store wandering around, potentially picking up items I don't need!
2: Purchase Produce with Timing in Mind
When meal planning, think about what produce you’ll use within the first 1 to 2 days, as well as what you’ll use 3 or more days out. I like to separate the produce in my shopping list into these two sections so I don’t overbuy in either category. If you don'think like this, you might buy too many things that will go bad before you can use them.
For example, if I’m planning to make a salad with delicate baby greens, I’ll buy just enough to enjoy for the first day or two, then I’ll also purchase a head of cabbage to use in hearty slaws and soups toward the end of the week (sturdier produce will last much longer and can be used in a variety of fresh and cooked ways). While this does require a little more planning and organization, it will surely reduce your overall food waste.
3: Acquaint Yourself With the Proper Ways to Store Each Item
Once I’m home from the grocery store with my food haul, it’s time to properly store and organize the items in my kitchen. I suggest utilizing the crisping drawer in your refrigerator to keep produce fresher longer. It’s also important to store prepared/ready-to-eat foods above raw meats and proteins; this will ensure there’s no chance of cross-contamination or food-borne illnesses lurking in your fridge (read: you don't want a drip from your chicken to end up on your veggies!). Everyone is guilty of forgetting about a head of broccoli or package of sliced deli meat that’s been shoved into the back of the refrigerator. Proper food storage will not only keep your food fresh but will also keep your kitchen more organized and reduce unnecessary food waste.
4: Make Friends With Your Freezer
A freezer is one of the most common and easiest tools for food preservation. Use your freezer for make-ahead meals, as well as to store produce for longer periods of time. I personally love to make big batches of soups and stews; half I’ll enjoy fresh, while the other half I portion and freeze for future meals. I live in a household of only 2 people (and 1 dog), so it’s hard to make it through an entire casserole or pot of chili. Planning to freeze portions of these homemade meals helps my future self when I’m not in the mood to cook, but also helps to cut back on the number of leftovers that ultimately end up in the garbage.
5: Almost Every Food Scrap Can Have a Job
Before you pitch potato peels or throw away stale bakery bread, take a second and think about how these food scraps can be utilized and transformed! I’ve learned over the years that food scraps and little bits of leftovers can be used in a variety of ways and shouldn't be thrown away.
For example, use the trimmings from carrots, onions and celery, as well as the bones from a rotisserie chicken to make a flavorful broth. Plus, homemade broth is great for freezing as well. And don’t forget about the bread; I love to cube up stale, crusty bread for bread puddings and savory stratas — this Anything Goes Strata is perfect for improvising. I also pulse the stale bread in a food processor and make homemade breadcrumbs for fried chicken cutlets.
6: Designate Days for Leftovers
This may seem like an obvious tip for reducing food waste and for planning healthful meals, but it’s also one of the simplest ways to jump right in. Planning 1 or 2 days a week to enjoy leftovers will help to reduce food waste greatly and help you save even more money. I personally enjoy consuming leftovers for lunch the day or two after it’s been made. That way I have a hearty meal and can still have something fresh for dinner (dinner is the most important meal in my household!). One other important note to keep in mind: leftovers should be consumed with 3 to 4 days of eating, so planning is key to make sure the food doesn’t spoil.
7: Improvising is Easier and More Fun Than You Think
Turn your kitchen into an episode of Chopped! It's easier than you think to make a hearty and healthful meal with what's already in your fridge. In my home kitchen, I regularly make a pasta dish with leftover dried pasta, canned tomatoes, and various veggies (like kale, mushrooms, etc). I also make pots of soup with a similar combination of veggies, canned beans and dried grains. Dried spices and herbs are also great for adding tons of flavor with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry. Give that soup an extra shake of dried oregano and granulated garlic for an extra punch of flavor.