Essential Tools

Essential Tools for Fighting Food Waste

April 22, 2016

Food waste is a huge problem—it’s a drain on our wallets, consciences, and planet. Buying food without a plan—or without half a plan—or buying too much out of plain old forgetfulness can all contribute to the waste of food. But fear no more! Here are a few high- and low-tech tools and tips that will get you to reduce or eliminate the waste of food in your life.

Read Up and Plan Ahead

Dana Gunders is spearheading the fight against food waste for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Her first book, the Waste Free Kitchen Handbook, beyond explaining the impact of food waste, is a practical resource to help you strategize at the market and organize in the kitchen. I keep my copy handy for when I need some inspiration or a refresher on staying waste-free.

Scheduling meals may be time consuming, but it is a great way to ensure that every grocery item is purchased with a purpose. Apps like Paprika are excellent resources: You can use them to digitally file your favorite recipes from around the web, and they serve as a menu planner, going so far as to combine ingredients and sort by aisle of the grocery store! Using an in-app calendar (or your own calendar), choose recipes from your digital collection to get a better idea of what you’ll need, when, and just how much.

Shop the Story

At home, my boyfriend and I have found that planning a weekly menu has made way better use of our groceries, as well as kept us from the frenzied, last-minute "What do we cook??"/"We don't have any food!" panic that leads to a disgruntled meal of cereal, boxed macaroni, or instant ramen with a side of simmering dissatisfaction. Plus, meal planning is a great way to line up recipes in case you need to use up a large amount of goods… like, say, when your CSA share gives you an inordinate amount of green beans.

Photo by James Ransom

Find a Food Pantry Near You makes it easy to connect home gardeners (or just those of us who may have bought more food than we can use before it expires!) and more than 7,560 food pantries across the United States. You can use their site's map tool to find a food pantry near you and make a donation. One may be closer than you think—we were able to locate one right down the street from our home!

Learn to Love Leftovers!

Leftovers are great! Some people are Team Leftover (hi!), some people really aren’t into the idea—but I have a sneaking suspicion that the latter just haven’t found a better way to give leftovers new life. Others (hi again) love eating leftovers straight from the container, lukewarm to fresh-from-the-toaster-oven-boiling-lava-hot. Whatever your style, we have plenty of advice for what to do with leftovers of all sorts.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Store it Right

A lot of food waste comes down to bad food storage practices. Find out what foods needs to be refrigerated before you crowd your crisper. Know what you may be able to cook now and freeze for later.

Stock up on reusable food storage: At home I use glass jars to keep flours, sugars, rice, and pastas as well as natural wraps (I love Bee's Wrap and the longevity-enhancing Fenugreen FreshPaper), since it's just as important to cut down on material waste as it is to cut down on food waste.

When in Doubt, Compost it Out

You or someone you know may compost, or you might be lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where organic waste is collected (three cheers for my own!)—if so, you may want to invest in a beautiful, functional bin to hold it all. Look for a bin that is easy to wash and/or use compostable liners, to make the cleanup process easy.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Love Your Labels

Professional kitchens use tape to label items in the fridge, freezer, and pantry. A name and date go a long way to help keep track of food and keep your kitchen organized. This goes hand in hand with another major tenet of professional kitchen life, FIFO: first in, first out! Rotating your goods so that the first thing stored is the first thing that gets used gives you a better chance of not missing expiration dates. Don't have masking tape? Get some! I always keep a roll and my army of Sharpies in the kitchen. And if you wanna get fancy, a label-maker may be right for you!

Photo by James Ransom

Scrappy DOs

Sometimes, the easiest solution is sitting right at your feet… wagging its tail. Depending on your pet’s diet, you can find ways to use leftover ingredients to make treats for your furry friends! Just make sure you know what is safe for them to eat and which foods you should never feed your pets. I never feed my pup (Stevie Nicks, thank you for asking) table scraps, but I do use up that last cup of chicken stock I never know what to do with to bake her some treats. And she's always glad to help polish off that last bit of peanut butter.

And if all this didn't convince you, I'll leave the last word to the ever-eloquent John Oliver:

What's the biggest change you've made to reduce food waste? Share your tips and successes in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • kristin t lane
    kristin t lane
  • Jason L
    Jason L
  • Gabi Benedit
    Gabi Benedit
Gabi Benedit

Written by: Gabi Benedit

domestic dilettante.


kristin T. April 22, 2016
I have to ascribe much of the food wasted in this country to good old American habits, e.g. buying groceries relatively infrequently and in large quantities (with no meal plan!). The automobile is a huge enabler. It is almost impossible to overbuy when you are transporting your groceries yourself either on foot or on bicycle. I have lived, shopped, and cooked overseas where sensibilities are very different. Not only is buying a much more deliberate act, but quality is superior when fewer choices need to be made and smaller quantities are purchased.
Jason L. December 4, 2015
I'm confused about the "AmpleHarvest" website. From what I can tell about the people it serves and the results I got back from my search, it's connecting me to locations that are providing food for the needy. I really don't think I should be trying to visit these locations to take food from those who need it much more than I do!
Gabi B. December 4, 2015 is on this list as a resource to donate any excess food in order to prevent its waste! I've amended to make that more clear!