Tread lightly

How to stop wasting food

Child sneaky a strawberry off the bench to illustrate reducing household food waste

No one likes to waste food, but it happens – a lot. It’s estimated that anywhere between 10% and 30% of the food a household buys ends up in the bin. 

Not only is that a huge waste of money, food waste feeds climate change. If food waste were a country, its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions would be third only to the USA and China. According to Project Drawdown, reducing food waste is the number one solution to the climate crisis. It’s empowering to know that you can contribute to this solution from your own home, today (and save yourself some money while you’re at it). 

Since I started writing on the Internet in 2015, I’ve shared my mission to reduce food waste in my home. While I haven’t managed to eliminate it entirely, our food waste is now a fraction of what it was. If you want to stop wasting food at home, here’s what I recommend you try.

1. Keep a food waste diary

The old adage “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” applies here. A food waste diary will give you insight into your commonly wasted foods, make you aware of the scale of the problem and keep food waste front of mind. Plus, the accountability of writing it down provides motivation to take extra steps to reduce your waste.

Your food waste diary doesn’t have to be fancy – jot it down in a journal, write it up on a calendar, keep a note on your phone or take pictures on your phone. 

Each week I share my food waste diary on Instagram under the banner #foodwastefriday. 

Weekly household food waste diary showing food wasted, wins and food to use
My food waste diary – 4 March 2022

2. Create up a “use it up” space

Set aside a prominent place in your fridge and/or pantry for food that needs to be eaten quickly. It is too easy for leftovers, open containers and wrinkly veg to get pushed to the back and forgotten. A use it up space prevents this and helps with meal planning.

Fridge with an area circled and labelled "Use It Up" space
The “Use It Up” space in my fridge featuring stewed apples and stone fruit

3. Meal plan and shop from a list

I’m a fan of meal planning for many reasons, but it’s essential if you want to reduce food waste. Check out my guide to meal planning. To use meal planning to reduce food waste, I suggest you:

  • make a meal plan each week
  • plan your meals around what you need to use up
  • plan meals that use ingredients with the shortest shelf life closest to shopping day
  • include at least one meal each week that uses pantry and/or freezer ingredients, so if plans change, you can bump this meal to the next week. 

Use your meal plan to create a shopping list. Check your fridge and cupboards before you shop and stick to your list – especially when it comes to fresh produce.

4. Learn about food storage

Poor storage causes a lot of food waste in the home. This doesn’t mean you need to buy a fridge-load of special containers. Love Food Hate Waste is an excellent place to start. Use their handy directory of foods with advice on how to store each food safely and for optimal freshness. You’ll be delighted to learn that you can freeze a huge range of foods. The Full Freezer has great free resources, I love their “Can I freeze it?” series. 

I’ve also put together a round up of the tricks I use to keep food fresher for longer.

Another must is to learn how to read food expiry dates. I cringe at the number of people I see throwing out food they think is expired, but that is still safe to eat. “Best before” dates refer to food quality, not food safety. You can still eat food after this date, it just might not taste its best. Use your judgement. Foods like milk can be good for a week after its best before date if kept in the fridge.

Using these four simple strategies, you’ll be well placed to stop wasting food at home. 

What’s your best tip for reducing food waste? Please share. 

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