How to Reduce Food Waste

What we can do to…

Reduce Food Waste at Home

Practical ways we can reduce food waste in our households to save money, eat well and reduce our environmental impact.

First, become aware of what’s actually happening at your house. Talk about your food habits with your entire family. What food(s) do you waste most often? Why? What can you do about it?

If you’re not sure, make a note of every piece of food you toss for a week. At the end of the week, review the list with your family and see if there’s a pattern.

  • Is there a particular food that gets tossed repeatedly?
  • Are you scraping food off plates before doing dishes?
  • Are bread ends or crusts never eaten by anyone? (How to Use Bread Bits)
  • Do you often have half eaten containers of yogurt or sour cream that go moldy?

Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed – every home has their thing. Becoming aware of it and being willing to address it is a great step!

Next, up is committing to ideas that can help you and your family do things differently.

Making a meal plan and grocery list can help prevent overbuying and making multiple trips to the grocery store throughout the week.

Reducing the number of trips to the grocery store saves money, time and fuel. The more trips to the grocery store, the more you spend. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to the grocery store and not bought more than what I went in for. Have you?!

To make a meal plan follow these basic steps:

  1. Take inventory of what you already have in your fridge, pantry and freezer.
  2. Look at what foods are in season to get the freshest, most affordable and local foods that are most likely to be in stock.
  3. Check flyers for what’s on sale and likely to be available.
  4. Consider your schedule for the week ahead to identify busy nights where a freezer meal or take out might be a good option.
  5. Take all of this information into consideration and plan for at least five meals. Five meals will give you a little wiggle room to be spontaneous, use up leftovers or eat out.
  6. Use your menu to create a shopping list. When you’re at the grocery store try to stick to the list!
  7. Enjoy your menu throughout the week. Yahoo, no more last minute stress about “what’s for dinner”!

Read HOW TO MAKE MEAL PLANS for more tips and strategies.

Once you’ve bought your food, treat it well. Store it so it stays as fresh and tasty for as long as possible and eat it in order of how perishable it is.

Eat the most perishable fruits and veggies first. For example if you have tender leaf lettuce and fresh spinach – eat the lettuce greens first because spinach will last longer and if it gets a little wilted, you can still use it in biscuits or soup.

chart of perishable fruit and vegetables
How long will fruits and veggies last?

And of course, when putting away new groceries, move whatever’s already in the fridge to the front and eat it first.

Learning where and how to store food takes practice, experience and occasionally a quick google search. Or keep this chart handy.

Storing Fruits and Vegetables Chart

Do not fall prey to Best Before Dates (BBD). Just because food has reached the BBD doesn’t mean you have to throw it out. Here are the most important things you need to know about Best Before Dates in Canada.

“Best Before” dates are not an indication of food safety or when food should be tossed. They provide the manufacturer’s recommendation for the amount of time that an unopened food product under appropriate conditions will keep its freshness, taste and nutritional quality. So, in reality, the minute you open your milk, the best before date is invalid, so why pay attention to it?

Instead of relying on BBDs, start observing your food more carefully and learn the tell tale signs that it is aging and needs to be eaten.

Not every food has visible or smellable signs that it has gone bad. BUT, the foods we most commonly toss (produce, dairy and bread) do. For example, milk will start to smell and taste slightly sour as it ages (it’s still perfectly safe to bake with), the liquid (whey) on top of yogurt or sour cream will become more cloudy and thick with age (again, safe to use in baking), eggs will have a bigger air pocket (safe to eat), fruits and veggies will start to dry out, wilt or get soggy.

When you become aware of these signs, rather than tossing the food, you can do something about it. Eat it, bake with it, use in casseroles or soups, freeze it, can it or jam it.

Read: How to Decide Whether to Toss or Use a Food

It’s fun and exciting to try a new recipe that uses very specific ingredients to create a unique flavour profile. I highly encourage you to try recipes like these and add them to your meal plan – they’re fantastic! Just be aware of the potential problem – excess ingredients you don’t have a plan for. Think about how you will use the entire package of specific ingredients.

Just as impressive are recipes that allow you to be creative and substitute ingredients to let you use up whatever’s in the fridge. Being able to “wing it” and make something from whatever’s in the fridge is what I consider a true chef. My mom and her mom were pros at it! I bet your grandparents were too.

If you’re not ready to “wing it”, no problem! There are tried and true recipes that encourage and allow you to substitute ingredients with whatever’s in your fridge.

“Use it Up” or “Clean Out the Fridge” recipes can include soups, casseroles, curries, stir fries, fried rice, salad bowls, egg dishes, savoury pies, etc. Every culture has a version.

My favourite Use it Up recipes are listed below.

Did you know that 13% of the food we toss is leftovers?

How sad. Not only are we wasting food, but we’re wasting all the time and energy put into making that dish.

Possible fixes:

  • Prepare less food per meal.
  • Add leftovers into your weekly meal plan.
  • Get your family used to leftovers with foods that taste better after a night in the fridge – chili, soups, stews, curries, meatloaf, baked pasta, pasta sauce, pulled pork, etc.
  • Label your leftovers or leave in clear containers so you know what’s in your fridge.
  • Write reheating instructions on the container, so the whole family will know what to do.
  • If you know you won’t eat leftovers within 3 days, freeze them right away for when timing is right.
  • Don’t just reheat leftovers – repurpose them to create something new and different. For example, mashed potatoes can become fried mashed potato patties. Sweet potatoes turn into sweet potato waffles. Leftover roast chicken and vegetables turns into chicken pot pie.

Read Leftovers – What to Freeze and What Not to Freeze

When it becomes obvious you’re never going to finish a food product, think about the best way to preserve it. You can dehydrate, pickle, jam or can many foods, but usually the fastest and easiest way is to freeze it.

Most fruits (not high water content fruits like melons or grapes) just need to be cleaned and cut before sealing tightly in a freezer container. How to Freeze Fruit

Most vegetables need to blanched (briefly boiled in water) before freezing. Blanching helps lock in flavour, colour and texture for 6-12 months. If you know you can use the vegetables within the month, you could simply freeze without blanching, knowing that quality will deteriorate quickly if you don’t use it. How to Freeze Vegetables.

Breads and meats can be sealed tightly and frozen.

Many leftovers can be sealed tightly and frozen. Check this list of What to Freeze & What Not to Freeze.

Dairy products are safe to freeze, but most will end up with texture changes. These changes are fine for baking, but not for eating as is.

Food Waste Stats in Canadian Households

How Much and What are We Tossing?

  • Canadians toss about 32% of all edible food. That’s about 11.2 tonnes of wasted, edible food every year. That’s the same amount as about 95 CN Towers!
  • An average family of four wastes about 3kg or 6lb of food each week. (The weight of 4 footballs or 3 2L pop bottles).
  • Our average food waste is the equivalent of leaving 1 bag of groceries in the parking lot every time you shop – adding up to about $1,766/year.
  • Fruits and vegetables have the highest wastage rates of all food. Of the food we toss 45% of it is fruits and vegetables.
  • We have to learn how to love those leftovers! Of the food we waste, 13% of it is leftovers.
  • Most people just aren’t aware of how big the problem is or how impactful it is. It IS a big deal and we need to do better.