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12 Fast Fixes to Reduce Your Food Waste

12 Fast Fixes to Reduce Your Food Waste

Do you ever feel like you’re throwing away as much of your grocery haul as you’re actually eating? You just might be; and you’re not the only one. In the United States, the average household tosses around $1,600 in food each year, adding up to a whopping 30 million tons of food waste annually– and that’s just a residential total. Overall, 146 million tons of food is wasted each year in America. 

Curbing food waste at home can help you save on spending, encourage healthier diet choices, and build more mindful habits in the kitchen. But it may also go a long way toward creating a better world. 

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), “When we waste food, we also waste all the energy and water it takes to grow, harvest, transport, and package it. And if food goes to the landfill and rots, it produces methane—a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide. About 6%-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food.” 

The answer to helping end not only overspending on groceries, but food insecurity and climate change as well, could be right in our own pantries.      


The Good News

Simple shifts in the way we buy, store, and enjoy our groceries at home can make a big impact in our own lives, for our communities, and for our planet. Making the most of your foods at home can help you save money, reduce your climate footprint, plan more nutritious meals, build healthy eating habits, and have more fun in the kitchen, all while fighting hunger and climate change. 


12 Easy, At-Home Food Waste Fixes

Ready to step up your approach to food waste? Give these low-effort, high-impact tips a try for a healthier, happier, more sustainable kitchen.

1. Plan Ahead

To avoid overshopping and potentially spoiled groceries, make a plan for what you’ll eat each day at the start of every week. Not only will meal planning help prevent food from going to waste, it will also help you to maintain a grocery budget, prevent overspending, remove the stress of daily meal decisions, and make healthier meal choices overall by designing a nutritious menu in advance.

2. Make A List

Once you’ve planned your meals, craft a list of specific items you’ll need from the grocery store, and do your best not to stray from it on your shopping trips. Take your shopping list with you to the supermarket to use as a guide, and buy only what you know for certain you’ll use before your next grocery run.

3. Buy Less, More Often

Instead of trying to plan for an entire week– or multiple weeks– in advance, try shopping for only a few days at a time. Visiting the grocery store twice a week, instead of just once, can help to ensure fresh produce isn’t wasted due to spoilage, and gives you the opportunity to eat any leftovers from meals earlier in the week before making additional purchases.

4. Declutter Your Kitchen

Cleaning and organizing your pantry, fridge, and cabinets will give you a clearer picture of what you already have at home. A clutter-free kitchen space can also help to reduce stress by creating a more peaceful atmosphere, elevating your cooking and mealtime experience overall. Once you’ve removed any unnecessary items (try donating extra dishes and accessories to your local thrift store for reuse), you can develop a system for storing leftovers, produce, and other perishables, ensuring they’re visible and top of mind to avoid spoilage.

5. Use What You’ve Got

Take an inventory of what’s already available in your pantry, and work these items into your meal plans. What items are already hanging out in your fridge, freezer, and shelves? Research or create recipes to utilize the food you already have in your home, and try to prioritize any produce, protein, or other ingredients that may have a shorter shelf life to prevent waste. 

6. Don’t Overdo It

As you’re cooking up tasty meals, carefully measure portions to ensure you’re preparing only what you need. This will not only help to avoid wasting food, but to encourage healthier meal portions and avoid overeating as well.

If you head out for dinner at a restaurant, order smart. Request smaller portions, and if you can’t finish your meal, be sure to take the leftovers home and work them into your meal plans.  

7. Get Creative

A little bit of creativity can go a long way toward preventing food waste. 

    • Challenge yourself to use every part of your produce and proteins. Use leftover veggies or bones to boil up a delicious broth; sautee the stems, tops, and leaves of veggies for a delicious green side dish; roast clean potatoes and carrots with the skins on; and use any scraps to whip up a tasty soup. You can even use fruit peels and scraps to flavor water, and add eggshells to your garden for a boost of calcium.
    • Plan a “leftovers night” to make sure no leftover meals go uneaten. How can you repurpose Tuesday’s taco fixings and Wednesday’s pasta night? Try whipping up a Mexican-inspired pasta salad and give new life to yesterday’s dinner.
    • Step outside your comfort zone with recipes. Treat them as guidelines, and let yourself have some fun with ingredients, plating, and food combinations. What exciting new meals can you create with the foods and flavors you already have in your pantry?

8. Read Your Labels Right

If you’re in the habit of tossing food items at or around their labeled dates, think again. “Date labels have nothing to do with product safety,” says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “they indicate quality. A date label should show the last date of expected peak quality.”

Here’s how to interpret different food quality labels, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA):

    • A Best if Used By/Before date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It’s not a purchase or safety date.  
    • A Sell By date tells stores how long to display a product for sale for inventory management. This is not a safety date.
    • A Use By date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. This is not a safety date (except when used on infant formula). 
    • A Freeze By date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

9. Know the Signs of Spoilage

So if label dates don’t tell us when food has expired, what does? Look for the signs of spoilage. (In most cases, a simple “sniff test” will tell you everything you need to know.)

    • Produce - Check fruits and vegetables for soft, mushy, or dark spots, changes in texture, bad odors, or slimy residues. Freeze fresh produce you won’t be able to immeditaely use before it has the chance to turn. If you notice fruit and veggies beginning to look overripe, try pureeing fruit and berries for jam or blending tomatoes into an easy homemade marinara
    • Dairy - Fresh, safe milk will hardly ever have an odor and should never have a chunky texture. Spoiled milk will smell sour and may be lumpy. If yogurt grows lumpy or changes color, it is likely no longer safe to eat. If cheese begins to grow mold, change color, or taste bitter or sour, it has likely passed the point of no return.
    • EggsTry this test to determine the freshness of your eggs: fill a large bowl with water, and submerge your uncooked eggs. Those that float have passed their prime, and those that don’t should still be safe to eat. 
    • Meats, Poultry, and Fish - None of these fresh proteins should ever have a foul, rancid odor, and the presence of one is your sign to say goodbye. Try freezing any meats you think may go unused before they turn to preserve freshness. 
    • Grains - The shelf life of cooked grains will be much shorter than dry grains, but in both cases, keep an eye out for changes on color, odor, or texture, their telltale signs of spoilage. 

10. Storage Matters

Make the most of your groceries you've selected from your meal plan and shopping list by extending their lifespan with smart food storage.

    • Refrigerate right.
      • Keep your fridge set at a safe temperature of 40° F or below, and place items strategically. The door is the warmest part of your fridge, while the top or bottom shelves tend to be coldest.
      • Use your crisper drawers. By controlling humidity, these drawers help to keep produce fresher for longer. Some produce, like avocados and bananas, should be left out of the refrigerator altogether while they ripen. Once ripe, they can be moved to the fridge as desired to maintain freshness. 
      • Store food in clear containers. This way, you’ll always be able to see exactly what you’re working with and avoid forgetting about unused items that may be losing freshness. 
    • Preservation is key.
      • To prevent fruits and vegetables from spoiling, explore canning methods to help keep them shelf stable throughout the year. 
      • Other preservation methods, like freeze drying, salting, and sugaring, can also help to extend the lifespan of foods. 
    • Put your stems in water. 
      • Herb and vegetable stems can be placed in water, just like a bouquet of flowers, to help extend the freshness and lifespan of produce.

11. Donate Locally

Instead of pitching any food items you won’t be able to use, look into local reuse and recycling organizations. Unwanted items can be donated to food pantries, food depositories, and food rescues working to connect communities facing food insecurity with the resources they need. Check out organizations like Food Rescue US or Replate to find your closest food rescue donation site.

12. Dispose Responsibly

Try these no-waste alternatives to trashing your leftover food scraps.

    • Compost. Instead of throwing out food scraps and waste, consider composting. Composting is a no-waste food disposal option that naturally turns organic matter,  like plant and food waste, into nutritious, enriching fertilizer for soil. Try composting at home for use in your own garden space, or check out residential food scrap collection and composting services in your area, like WasteNot, who will handle all the dirty details for you.  
    • Feed your friends. If you happen to have livestock at home, like goats, pigs or chickens, try turning any animal-safe food scraps into tasty treats for your furry and feathered friends before tossing them into the compost bin. And, of course, always be sure to add food packaging and containers to the appropriate recycling bin. 


Like any new practice, changing our food-wasting habits takes time. 

With a little commitment, creativity, and patience, you can start to make great strides toward reducing food waste in your own kitchen and even helping those in need. 

Give these 12 tips for reducing food waste a try– your bank account will thank you. And, perhaps, so will the planet.

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