Tips to Reduce Food Waste at Home

Food waste is such… a waste! The latest research shows Canada is a leader in wasting food – not the kind of thing we want to be known for.

Canadians waste more food than we eat.

According to the 2019 report on The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste by Canada’s leading expert on food waste, Martin Gooch, 58% of the food we produce in Canada is wasted.  When you remove the bones, peels and other bits we don’t actually consume, that number is at 32%. That’s about 11.2 tonnes of useable food that goes into landfills. What a human and environmental disaster!

While the food industry is responsible for a large share of food waste, us consumers are also part of the problem. While previous studies pegged consumers as responsible for over half of Canadian food waste, the lastest study done by Second Harvest Food Rescue and the Value Chain Management Institute shows a different picture. Relying less on estimates and more on data from the industry, the report shares the bleak picture of food waste in Canada.

  • we waste $50 billion of useable food every year
  • that cost does NOT include input costs (water, power, fertilizer, labour), disposal fees or the environmental impact
  • consumers are responsible for 21% of overall useable food waste
  • the average household throws out $1,766 of food per year

The food industry definitely has a lot of work to do – but so do we. It’s time to pull up our oven mitts and do our part to reduce food waste.

Reducing Food Waste at Home

reduce food waste

According to researchers at the Guelph Food Waste Project the first thing we need to do is be aware of our habits and think about food waste. So let’s get started by thinking, talking and tweeting about food waste. You can start right now by tweeting this!

The more people think about food and waste, the less food they waste. TWEET This

It’s true, ever since I’ve been thinking about this topic and preparing for Fruit Share’s screening of Just Eat It (a Canadian documentary about Food Waste), I’ve been much more conscientious about food waste in our house – and I thought I  was already pretty vigilant!

Once we start thinking about it, what else can we do? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for reducing food waste in your home. Here are some tips I shared on CTV Morning Live.

Food waste on CTV

1. Plan Ahead

Make a meal plan. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just grab a piece of paper and jot down five meals you want to make for the week coming up. Why five not seven? Chances are you’ll go out, have leftovers, or have a “make whatever you want night” so you really just need to plan for five meals from scratch.

Start your meal planning with what you already have in your pantry, fridge or freezer.

Once you have an idea of what you’re going to make, life goes a little smoother. Shopping is easier, meal prep is easier, anxiety about “what am I going to make tonight” is reduced and food waste is reduced.

If you don’t yet have a favorite meal planning tool, try the one below. Print this Meal Planner (PDF).weekly meal planner

2. Store Food Properly

Here’s the irony. We know we should be eating more fruits and veggies. So we buy them and tuck them in our fridge, all the while grumbling about the high price of fresh produce.

And then?  We forget about them and by the end of the week, we toss a good chunk of them out. Money and nutrients down the drain.

Fresh fruits and veggies top the list of food we toss most often. So sad. According to a report in 2017 by the National Zero Waste Council the most prominently wasted foods by weight in Canada are:

  • Vegetables: 30%
  • Fruit: 15%
  • Leftovers: 13%
  • Bread and Bakery: 9%
  • Dairy and Eggs: 7%

To put that in perspective, Canada’s Love Food Hate Waste website breaks that down for us – every day in Canada we waste:

  • 470,000 heads of lettuce,
  • 1,200,000 tomatoes,
  • 2,400,000 potatoes,
  • 750,000 loaves of bread,
  • 1,225,000 apples,
  • 555,000 bananas,
  • 1,000,000 cups of milk
  • and 450,000 eggs

Why do we throw out this healthy and expensive food? There isn’t one specific reason, it’s because we buy too much, we don’t use it quickly enough, we don’t store it properly, we buy for one specific recipe and don’t know how to use the extras, we’re confused by Best Before Dates and we’re not aware that tossing food is a big deal.

Read More: How to Store Fresh Produce, How to Store Bread

The University of Guelph Food Waste Research Project has one of the most practical lists of handy food storage tips I’ve come across. Take a look.

sample tips

Or, contact me about a workshop on storing food effectively or reducing food waste at home.

3. Be “Best Before Date” Savvy

Just because you’ve reached the Best Before date doesn’t mean you have to throw the product out.

Best Before Dates Canada

Did you know “Best Before” dates is about food quality, not about food safety?  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. Think about it, the minute you open your milk jug, the best before date is invalid, so why pay attention to it – use your judgement!

By law, “Best Before” dates and proper storage instructions must appear on pre-packaged foods that will keep fresh for 90 days or less, and are packaged at a place other than the retail store from which they are sold. Items that can be stored for 90 days or more (eg. pasta, nuts, canned goods, etc) do not actually require a Best Before date. Sometimes I wonder if manufacturers are encouraging us to toss and rebuy food by adding Best Before dates – what do you think?

Best Before does not mean Toxic After. Understand best before dates. TWEET This

Your judgement is a much better indicator than the Best Before date of whether or not a product should be tossed.

In Canada, Expiration Dates are only required on liquid diets, meal replacements, nutritional supplements and infant formula. When these food products reach their Expiration Date they should be discarded.

4. Buy Less

If you’re a bargain hunter, it’s hard to pass up the “buy in bulk” bargains. Check out the special I found – 8 English cucumbers for $3.98, that’s $.50/cucumber! Whoo hoo, time to stock up!!

cucumber prices

But wait. Is this really a deal? Are you going to be able to eat all those cucumbers before they go bad? How many of them will you end up tossing?

The single cucumber that’s triple the price at $1.29 may actually be cheaper in the long run. Unless of course, you can split the bag of 8 cucumbers with friends and family!

5. Reduce or Use Leftovers

What are your thoughts on leftovers? Do you love them and can’t get enough of them? Or, do you end up with leftovers that no one ever eats? For example, these leftover mashed potatoes make great patties that can be frozen and reheated any time.

mashed potatoes

Read More: 11 Ways to Use Leftover Bread

I’m a lover of leftovers and often make extra food to make sure we have leftovers. But if I don’t think about them or plan ahead, they can get lost in the back of the fridge. So, leftovers become part of my meal planning – prepare a huge pot of spaghetti sauce Monday, turn it into chili on Wednesday. Or freeze leftovers right away before ie. make two meatloaves at once and freeze one for a busy day ahead.

Use leftovers to reduce food waste, not to add to it!

6. Make Soup

Soup is the ultimate strategy for using up food.  In fact, I rarely ever make the same soup twice since I make soup with whatever is in the fridge that needs to be used up.  It starts with the aromatics (onions, celery and garlic), then hard veggies that need to be cooked the longest (carrots, potatoes, winter squash, parsnips, etc.). I add some sort of stock and let that simmer until the veggies are tender. Then I add whatever leftovers, meats and saucy things are in the fridge (half jar of salsa, leftover chili, leftover chicken, cooked ham, leftover rice or spaghetti, jar of tomatoes, etc). Finally, when that’s been cooked I add herbs, tender greens and cream (if available).  I may or may not puree the whole thing.

I’m pretty sure that’s how our grandmothers used to it.

garden vegetable hamburger soup

7. Preserve Food

Instead of throwing good food into the trash, throw it into the freezer. If you don’t have the proper storage space for all your produce, have too many leftovers or know you’re never going to use produce before it turns wonky – freeze it. While frozen food will last quite a while, get in the habit of eating frozen leftovers within one months time – just so it doesn’t get forgotten. The idea is to reduce food waste, not delay it!

Did you know that you can freeze onions?

sweet onions

You can also freeze ginger and grate it without thawing.

gingerroot whole

Leftover wine (like there is such a thing!) can be frozen as can cut lemon or lime wedges.

lemons and limes

Veggies like carrots, beans, peas and so on require blanching (tossing in boiling water for 3-5 min) before freezing, but it beats throwing them away!

These are just a few ideas that we can easily do at home today to reduce food waste.

And oh yeah, let’s stop our obsession with perfect fruits and veggies. Even funny, large or small shaped produce is delicious and nutritious. Big or small, twisted or gnarly, let’s eat them all!

use fork to harvest carrots

There are tons of things we can do to stop food waste at home. I bet you have a few tips and techniques too!  I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you end up throwing away? And, what do you do to reduce food waste?

Sources

The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste, 2019 Second Harvest & Value Chain Management Institute, Gooch)
Univerity of Guelph Food Waste Research Project
Value Chain Management Report,2014 Gooch & Felfel  (see new 2019 report by same authors)
National Resources Defense Council, 2012
Hunger Count by Food Banks Canada
Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Note: Another great source for how to reduce food waste is the LoveFoodHateWaste project by MetroVancouver. Check it out for great info, tips and tools.

Original post October 2015, Edited on January 28, 2019

Want to learn more? How about a Reduce Food Waste workshop with Getty? Or talk to Getty about hands-on workshops for your group. Getty Stewart is an engaging speaker and writer providing tasty recipes, time-saving tips, and helpful kitchen ideas to make home cooking easy and enjoyable. She is a Professional Home Economist, author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, mom and veggie gardener.

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