How to Reduce Food Waste

A couple of green trash cans with a black trash bag in one.

When I was in high school, I tried to do the Freegan thing, which is basically dumpster diving to retrieve food that is still edible to save on cost and help the environment. While that didn't last long, I did learn a few ways to reduce food waste in the process.

Billions of dollars of food is wasted every year in the United States alone. This is not just a waste of money, but also a bad practice for the environment since so much of it gets thrown out in plastic bags and resources are wasted in production. If you're looking for ways to cut down on your grocery bill, first consider how much food you actually waste every week. If you're finding that you have a lot of food waste, try doing these few things instead.

Plan Ahead

A woman grocery shopping with a full cart of groceries and a list.

Going to the grocery store without a plan is just begging for disaster. As so many of us have experienced time and time again, heading out to buy groceries without a list usually results in buying too much junk and doubles of things you already have at home.

To help reduce food waste each week, plan ahead for your shopping trip. Decide which meals you want to prepare each day, list the ingredients you will need, and then double-check that you don't already have those ingredients before going out to buy them.

Be Realistic

A lot of families buy way more than they actually need. I've been guilty of this, too, as my husband could surely tell you. Consider how much food your family will actually consume throughout the week and try not to buy more than that. Will you really eat up three heads of lettuce before it goes bad? If not, stick to what you know you can eat and if you have to go out mid-week to replenish your fridge, so be it.

Take Stock

At the end of each week, I like to go through my kitchen and take stock of what I already have and what I need. We keep a list on the fridge and add items as we use them up. If you haven't gone through your fridge in a while, it might be time for you to take stock. Try to make this a habit at least once every month.

Organize by Expiry Date

Once you've purchased your groceries and lugged them inside, consider rotating your food items. The old stuff gets dragged to the front, and the new stuff goes in the back. I worked at a grocery store for a few years when I was in school and we would organize everything by expiry date any time we stocked the shelves. This is a good habit to get into even at home.

When I worked at the grocery store, I finally learned how to read expiry dates properly. Surprisingly, not all expiry dates are written the way we see it on the calendar, but are instead in code. It might help to look up any code written expiry dates online if need be. Otherwise, rotating your cans should be good enough.

Store Food Properly

Produce in a refrigerator.

A lot of people don't know how to store their food properly—or maybe they just don't understand the value of it. For example, banana hangers aren't just a fancy way of hanging your fruit, but they help to keep the fruit good for a longer period of time than if they were just sitting on the counter.

There's also a proper way to store food in your fridge, which has been scientifically proven. The top shelf should be used for milk, juice, and other items that should be chilled. The middle shelf is perfect for yogurt, fish, deli meats, and cheese. The lower shelf is good for leftovers, berries, and hard vegetables. The bottom drawers are best for fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The fridge door should store eggs, sauces, and condiments. Knowing how to store your food will keep it fresh for as long as possible.

Freeze It

If you have any fruit that's starting to get a little too ripe, you can freeze them for smoothies or baked goods. You can also freeze any fish or meat that you know you won't be able to eat before it goes bad. In fact, a lot of things can be frozen and, if done correctly, can last quite a long time.

Prepare Food Ahead of Time

I thought my family didn't like vegetables. As it turned out, they were just too lazy to prepare them. One way I ensure that we don't waste any food is to prepare things ahead of time, such as chopping vegetables and washing fruit. That way, if someone is hungry they can quickly grab a snack without being turned off by having to do a bit of the prep work.

Know Portion Sizes

When cooking meals, make sure you cook an appropriate amount. A lot of families tend to cook way too much and then they throw it away afterwards. If you do cook too much, try packaging the leftovers away in the fridge in portion sizes for quick lunches.

Use It Up

Towards the end of the week, go over what's still in your fridge and find ways to use up any food items that are coming close to expiration. If you know certain foods are going to go bad soon, let your family know that they need to get eaten up. I always tell my daughter that if something goes to waste, I won't be buying it again for a long time.


A hand holding soil over a compost pile.

Unfortunately, food will still get wasted from time to time. Whenever that happens, do your best to compost anything that you can. Also, make sure to compost any scraps from food prep and cooking meals, like potato peelings and egg shells. Composting your food waste is much better for the environment then throwing it away in the garbage.