Cooking with Scraps

5 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Kitchen Waste

September 18, 2018

It's a hard truth that we are battling a very real food waste problem in our world today. Earlier this year, a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-funded study revealed that American consumers waste almost one pound of food per day, accounting for 225 to 290 pounds per person per year. Those are some sobering figures.

We are already big fans of cooking with scraps and try our darnedest to be mindful of our shopping habits; but we also know how quickly we can fall into old habits when statistics like the one above are out of sight and out of mind. In our busy day-to-day, there are actually easy ways we can be more cognizant of our cooking and shopping habits, as well as adjustments in the choices we make. They may be small, but the hope is to build on cumulative consumer habits to change the larger cultural landscape surrounding waste.

Here are just a handful of tips to get you going. We'd love to know what effective ways you've adopted in cutting down on food and kitchen waste in your home, so be sure to share those with us below.

Go in with a Plan

Food shopping is the easiest place to start. Start by making a grocery list or devising a meal plan for the week (including leftovers). Menu planning may seem like a lot of work at first, but you'll be working towards reducing the amount of unused (especially perishable) ingredients, with the added benefit of saving money along the way.

Arm Yourself with the Right Tools

Speaking of food shopping, prepare yourself on your visits: Bring your reusable bags, including containers for bulk items like grains or beans or more fragile ones like delicate berries; consider buying larger quantities when something is on sale and it works for your household (my mother is a huge fan of pre-portioning ground beef and storing these individual amounts in the freezer).

In terms of actual products to help you reduce kitchen waste, consider the following kitchen helpers: a dedicated compost bin, reusable sandwich wrappers, mesh or canvas bags for produce, larger reusable totes for bigger shopping hauls.

Reuse Your Water

Be honest: Do you rinse your produce under a running faucet? I definitely do. Consider changing up your vegetable- and fruit-cleaning game by first placing them all in a big bowl in the sink before turning on the tap. You can reuse that water to feed your plants or soak dirty dishes. Another idea? Before throwing your pasta in a bubbling pot of water, consider blanching some of your dinner veg beforehand (snap peas, green beans, broccoli are especially good contenders).

Institute No-Buy Night

Take a page from our own Food Writer and Recipe Developer Emma Laperruque, who turned to cook-what-you-have, Chopped-inspired dinners weekly with her PhD student husband.

Cook Leftover-Friendly Fare

Make some of the following leftover-friendly heavy hitters part of your weekly rotation: fried rice, pasta, stir fry, pizza, soup, meatballs (and vegetable balls alike).


Let's Get Scrappy, Focaccia Edition

What are your favorite tips and products for reducing waste in the kitchen? Share them with us below!

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4 Comments

Cj S. September 24, 2018
1. To avoid a kitchen "compost" [kitchen scraps keeper], save thee cost of buying one, and just use a blender, just for making "scrap frappes"! Put the scraps in a blender used just for them. The scraps can be carrot & cucumber peels, carrot, beet, radish tops, egg shells, coffee grounds, and cut up banana, sweet potato skins, and use any water you cook/steam veggies/pasta in to put in the scrape frappe, ad turn it on liquefy stetting. You can then dilute the frappe further (I dump it in storage totes I use for rain barrels outside, I put an empty, upside down milk crate in the totes, so any critters that may fall in the totes full of water, can easily get out) then water plants/your lawn/house plants with it. The tiny particles, will compost faster. So there's no need to have scraps sitting around a kitchen, at all, or a high maintenance compost pile. 2. get a pet rabbit! It can eat most kitchen scraps, weeds, lawn clippings (with no chemicals on them), just lots of biomass. If you give your rabbit a corner potty, it will be easy to empty every day. I use Cedariffic cat litter in my rabbit potties. The litter, does NOT clump, and is too fine and tasteless for them to try and eat it. I then dump the potty contents in a dug out fallow garden bed, along with shredded paper, then cover with soil, and smooth it over. Then I mulch the whole bed, with shredded brown packing paper, that makes it look nice and deters weeds. Over the winter, the "additives" will decompose. In the spring, I plant seedlings through the mulch, with toilet paper rolls around the stems, to deter cut worms. 3. I have a meal plan, so I know what exactly we're going to eat each day. 4. I keep a food and supplies inventory, divided into categories, like fresh, frozen, refrigerated, cans, boxes, bottles, packages, household, health, baking, and even what I cook and freeze, like muffins, pasta sauce, pizza, sauce, cornbread, pizza crusts, soup, etc.<br /><br />Each item, is set up with a 12 square grid. I color green, what I have. It also helps me know how long things will last, like a jar of peanut butter, will last 2 months, so I need only 6 jars per year. <br /><br />5. I try to stockpile for a year, all shelf stable and dry goods. One an item, has been bought for the year, either 6 items, or 12 items, then, one only buys more, when one is used. It's a perpetual system. As more items become stockpiled, the grocery budget shrinks because all shelf stable items are already on hand. The only thingss that need bought, is produce and odd items that randomly come up, like for birthdays and holidays. Most shelf stable items have an expiration date a year later, so, they never go out of date by the time you use one, because when you use one, you get another one that expires a year later. <br /><br />6. learn to cook & prepare food. If you do this, then you can use food effectively, by making several dishes, that could use the same ingredient. For example, if you buy a cucumber, to put in garden salads only, and you have a garden salad, 3 times a week, that cucumber could be bad, by the time you get to the 3rd salad day. So, instead, you could also use the cucumber, in a refreshing cucumber salad, with shredded cucumber, with fresh herbs, or a creamy dressing, or even just cucumber sticks, etc. To use it up b4 it spoils. Other veggies, like tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, squash, can be diced an frozen, b4 they spoil, and then added to hot dishes later. Even bananas can be frozen.<br /><br />7. heed serving sizes. If you cook, you can halve or quarter recipes, instead of making the whole recipe, of 12 muffins, 2 dozen cookies, or 8 servings, when you have only 2-4 people to serve. This prevents left overs. <br /><br />8. have a few ready made frozen meals, as a back up, so if you decide you don't want to cook, you have an easy plan B.<br /><br />9. Some people, might find it cheaper, to just buy ready made frozen meals, soups, ready meals, heat & serve, pre made salads, etc., instead of buying, and managing so many separate ingredients, and spending so much time cooking and cleaning up after cooking. With this method, it may actually cost the same, especially if you order them, with free delivery, and you don't have to use up gasoline to go get them. The time savings, is incredible, with this method. No driving, waiting in traffic, finding a parking place, walking all around, waiting in line to check out, or taking time to check out, loading and unloading, no loading or unloading and minding kids, no taking away from doing other things, (kids doing homework, baby sleeping, etc), no going out in the cold, rain, heat, etc. Many average grocery stores, are starting to have same day grocery delivery of fresh, frozen, refrigerated, and anything else they carry. Some can deliver within an hour! Just bring in, and put away. There's so much time saved. Plus, it provides jobs for others, when jobs are dwindling.<br /><br />10. I use a series of progressively smaller containers, so I don't have half full containers taking up space. Then I know to use the smallest containers first. I even make "houses" for bottles (shared fridge, they have their condiments in the door) out of apple juice bottles cut in half. One apple juice bottle "house", will hold 2 regular sized, mustard, mayo, ketchup, soy sauce, small maple syrup, etc bottles. This way, all those bottles line up in 3 "houses" and single don't need shuffled around, to find other things in the fridge. Also, the bottles stand up, don't clink, or fall over. It's so easy to find the needed bottle.<br /><br />11. I freeze coconut oil, in mini ice cube trays. Then when I need a tbs to cook with, I just take a cube out and it easily melts quickly in a heating pan. Also, fresh chives can be cut and frozen.
 
Kerry September 18, 2018
I'm trying so hard to limit my food waste. I'm fairly compulsive with planning out the week, but I've learned that sometimes I'm over zealous, and by Thursday, I'm probably not cooking the big meal I thought I was. I've learned to keep pantry items on hand, and have some wiggle room in my planning to run out of an item and just replace it as needed. I've started drinking green smoothies, and instead of buying all the greens I would need for the week, I just quickly run to the store to replenish as needed. That took a lot of work for me to accept as an option (busy working mom, life, etc.) but it has really made an impact.
 
Tanny M. September 18, 2018
An option I never see in articles about food waste is worm composting. There is always a bit of unusable vegetable material that, rather than throw in the trash, can be fed to worms who then make fantastic compost for plants or garden. Above you mention a compost container but not what to do with the contents. My composter is made of two stacked tubs with holes in the upper one where the worms live. Bedding for me is peat moss and paper. Moisten, add worms and food and that's it. No smell when done right, lots of info online about how. My composter is right in my kitchen. Check it out, it's also a good project for kids.
 
Author Comment
Hana A. September 18, 2018
What a great idea, thanks for the thoughtful suggestion, Tanny! Always looking for good home projects that double as fun kid projects, too. :)