9 Tips for Reducing Food Waste

About a third of the food that's grown in the world each year ends up in trash. Here are 9 easy ways to cut down on the amount of food you throw away.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
5-minute read
Episode #258

1.      Plan meals before shopping. Lots of you mentioned the importance of meal planning—ideally before heading to the grocery store. Reader Jennifer says she shops just once a week, buying only the food she needs for that week’s meal plan.

2.      Shop more often. Deby, on the other hand, finds that she wastes less food by shopping more often and buying less at one time.

3.     Eat leftovers. Jannette says “eating out less forces us to eat what we already have at home instead of letting it go bad.” It takes some discipline, she admits. Robin says that her family tries to eat leftovers “even when the tastebuds are crying out for something different.”  Mindy says they eat leftovers for breakfast at her house—something I frequently do myself!

4.      Use clear containers to store leftovers.  Joel found that he did a better job cleaning up leftovers when he could see what was in the container. They're just less likely to disappear into the back of the fridge. Meeva packs leftovers into lunch-sized clear containers for her husband to take to work.

5.       Buy frozen produce. Laura noticed that most of her food waste was fresh vegetables that went bad before she used them, so she started buying frozen vegetables instead. And there’s no nutritional compromise here. Frozen veggies are just as nutritious as fresh—sometimes even more so.

6.      Make juice or soup. When you find yourself with more fresh produce than you can eat, haul out that expensive juicer that you never use and treat yourself to some fresh juice. One glass of juice can use up several pounds of produce. Or, make a batch of soup. Myrna will make a pot of soup using on-the-edge veggies and, if necessary, throw the soup in the freezer for a rainy day.

7.      Redistribute food to the needy (or thrifty). Mariel says that when she has more food than can be consumed or saved, she will share it with homeless people. This may not be an option for everyone. Tony says that in his town, police enforce laws that prohibit the distribution of food to the homeless. But a growing number of programs are working with restaurants, school cafeterias, and supermarkets to redistribute food to the needy.

Ann, for example, volunteers for a group that shuttles surplus food from supermarkets to a food pantry. And QDT’s own Domestic CEO participates in a program called Market on the Move that diverted 90 million pounds of food from the landfill last year by selling fresh but cosmetically imperfect produce to consumers at a fraction of the price they’d pay at the grocery store.

8.     Keep food waste out of trash. Lots and lots of you are composting food waste. Although this isn’t quite as ideal as eating it, at least it keeps it out of the landfills. Composted food waste can be a great way to improve your garden and reduce the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers.

9.     Employ behavioral economics. You know I’m a big fan of behavioral economics, which means engineering our environment to make the desirable choice, the easy choice. A few of you mentioned using smaller plates to avoid serving yourselves more than you can eat. Similarly, school cafeterias have found that eliminating trays reduces food waste because students don’t load up their trays with more than they can eat.

And here's another great example: Jennifer actually got rid of the trash can in her kitchen. “What can't be composted or recycled has to be walked outside to the actual trash.” She says the little bit of extra effort required to throw stuff away was enough to motivate her husband to eat more leftovers!

Small Steps Can Yield Big Results

Hopefully, one or two of these ideas can help you and your family reduce food waste. And don't underestimate the impact of even the smallest changes. If everyone listening to this podcast were able to keep just one more pound of food out of the trash each week, together we could reduce food waste by over 5 million pounds this year!

If you've found strategies I didn't mention here, or one of these ideas sparked a new one, please post it in the comments below or on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page. Also be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter for more tips, recipes, and answers to your nutrition questions.

Images courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.