7 Ways to Reduce Food Waste – Freezing Food and Making Leftover Recipes

food waste garbage canThis scenario probably sounds familiar: You’ve opened the door to your fridge to look for something to eat. What do you see?

A bag of wilted spinach. Several wrinkly apples. A block of cheese that’s blue (when it’s supposed to be orange). And three containers full of mystery leftovers that have been there way too long. So long, in fact, that you’re scared to open them.

This happens all too often at my house, and although I do have a vermicomposting bin to minimize the trash I throw away, the point is that wasting food wastes money. Here are 6 tips for using up leftovers, keeping your food fresh longer, and saving money in the process.

1. Breakfast Doesn’t Have to Be Breakfast
Who says we can only eat cereal, eggs or toast for breakfast? It seems like an iron clad rule, but this is a rule that should be broken.
I’ve started eating leftovers for breakfast. It might sound strange, but it’s been surprisingly effective at helping me not waste food.

In the past, I’d open the refrigerator door in the morning, and notice that the romaine lettuce needed to be eaten, and soon. But then I’d think, “But it’s breakfast, so I should really eat some oatmeal.” So I’d make the oatmeal (which has a shelf life of forever) and forget about the lettuce – which, of course, would be inedible by the next day.

But now, if I see the romaine is on its way out, I’ll make a salad for breakfast. That Indian curry dish from two days ago? Another great way to start the day.

Breakfast doesn’t have to be “breakfast.” If you notice food that needs to be eaten, eat it! Obviously, use common sense. If something doesn’t look or smell right, don’t risk food poisoning. Just toss it.

2. Make a Smoothie
Fruits that are on their way out make excellent smoothies. Put them in a blender with some soy milk, peanut butter and honey and you’re good to go. You can also turn fruit that’s on its way out into a tasty pie.

3. Use your Freezer
My mother-in-law is a champion freezer. She lives alone, and she often buys more food than she can consume. So she freezes it until she needs it. Bread, milk, vegetables, pesto…you can freeze almost anything and defrost it when you’re ready to use it.
There are some foods that don’t freeze well however. Cottage cheese and block cheese are classic examples, although I’ve successfully frozen shredded cheese for years. Some say milk doesn’t freeze well, but as I said my mother-in-law has done this for years; I’ve drank it many times and it tastes just fine to me.

Vegetables with high water content also don’t freeze well, such as lettuce, radishes, and cucumbers. And don’t freeze mayonnaise.

What does freeze well? Starchy vegetables like potatoes, pumpkin, squashes, and corn. Nuts also stay fresh in the freezer. Fruits, once they’re cut up, freeze well, although their texture will likely be different when they’re thawed.

4. Keep ’em Separated
If you notice a fruit or vegetable that’s ripening faster than everything else, separate it from the group. The fumes coming off it hasten the ripening process for everything else. Bananas are notorious culprits, so keep them at a distance from other produce.

5. Revive Stale Cereal
If  you have a box of cereal that’s gotten soft or stale, don’t throw it out. You can bring it back from the dead with your oven.

Simply spread the cereal on a baking sheet (in a single layer) and put it into a warm oven for 3-5 minutes. Watch it carefully, because you don’t want it to burn. After a few minutes, take it out and let it cool. By the time it’s cooled completely the cereal will be crisp, and stay that way for another couple of days.

6. Don’t Buy in Bulk
Shopping at wholesalers like Costco can provide a lot of great savings – but only for certain items. In fact, there are things you shouldn’t buy in bulk as it will probably lead to spoiling and waste, especially if you don’t have a very big family with a lot of mouths to feed. Stay away from buying the following food items in bulk: brown rice, nuts, spices, and olive oil.

7. Make a New Dish
One of the best ways to cut back on wasted food is to use it in a new recipe before it goes bad. But what do you do when you just have a “bit” of  something, like a couple stalks of celery, a few carrots, a scoop of yogurt?

One of the best sites I found for reducing food waste is LoveFoodHateWaste. They have a wonderful section that allows you to pick which food you need to use up, then they list a ton of great recipes for that particular ingredient. You can see their recipe section here. They also have helpful tips for storing food properly so it stays fresh longer.

Another great meal planning site you can check out is E-mealz. It’s a paid service, but they give you recipes you can use for every meal based on the grocery store that you select and the number of people in your family. Since it’s focused on more common ingredients that you can re-use for different dishes, food waste (and cost) is minimized.

Do you have any clever tips or tricks for extending the life of your food, or not wasting so much? Please share if you do!

  • Karmella

    That Love Food Hate Waste site is interesting – thanks!

    • Heather Levin

      Karmella, Awesome! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • http://liverealnow.net [email protected]

    I like to freeze any leftovers when they get down to less than 1 serving. I just toss them in a ziplock bag and put it in the freezer. When I get enough baggies of food, I throw it all in the crockpot with some water and make “free soup”. Everything that goes in the pot tastes good, so it always tastes good when mixed together. The one exception is fish. A piece of fish will flavor the entire pot. Fish-flavored corn is bad.

    • Heather Levin

      Jason, do you add any flavoring to make a broth when you do that, or do your leftovers contribute that much flavor? That sounds like an awesome idea which would work perfect in my house!

      • http://liverealnow.net [email protected]

        Depending on what’s going in there, I’ll add some seasoning, but it’s usually not necessary. I like to eat well, so most of the food is already flavorful, but if I’m heavy on chicken nuggets or something, I’ll raid the spice rack.

      • http://www.tammyinwv.blogspot.com/ Tammyinwv

        I have done something similar to jason but without the freezing, but That is a great idea for me. I love a minestrone, but also do a vegetable beef soup as well. I also like cabbage or pasta in the soup. I will cook veggies in water, adding them by who needs to cook longest. If they are already precooked, just throw them in. But different from Jason, I always add some tomato sauce and spices such as garlic, oregano, maybe some italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Whatever you like.

    • http://ecofrugality.blogspot.com/ Amy Livingston

      That doesn’t make sense to me. We eat lots of things – curried chick peas, dill pickles, rhubarb pie – that taste very good on their own, but would not taste at all good when mixed together. I think this kind of soup would only work if nothing going into it had a particularly strong or distinct flavor of its own.

  • Casey Slide

    Great article! I will definitely be using #5!

    • Heather Levin

      Casey, thanks so much! Glad it could help.

  • http://change-is-possible.net Heather

    We plan our meals on Sundays and buy only what we need for the week. In order to reduce time spent cooking, we frequently will plan one meal to feed us twice.

    For example, this week, we made black bean burgers on Monday, but there were too many, so we put a few in the freezer and left a few for dinner tonight. This way, we don’t have to worry about wasting leftovers or cooking tonight :)

    If we have produce or herbs left over, we’ll plan another meal (or two) using what we have in order to use it up.

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