Unless you’re a kitchen ninja that can plan and measure out the exact portions for every meal you make, it’s likely you find yourself wasting good food because you didn’t plan right, you forgot about it, or you just had no idea what to do with it. Thankfully, it’s not too difficult to cut down on your kitchen waste. Here’s how to do it.
Title image remixed from Colour (Shutterstock).
Whether you’re cooking for 10 or for one, wasting food in the kitchen is far too easy no matter how strictly you plan everything. Of course, planning is the first and most important part, but if you’re no good at that, we’ve got tips for organising your fridge and finding alternatives for food on its way out. Let’s start with the ever-important plan.
Link All Your Meals Together On Your Grocery List
Chances are you’re not the perfect household of eaters, and you can’t buy the exact portion of food you really need at the supermarket straight off the shelf. To solve this problem, you can plan on shoehorning all your meals together. Personally, I use a small flowchart that ties ingredients together, but you don’t have to make it that complex.
First, you should be realistic. Do you always work late on Tuesdays and never cook? Then don’t plan a meal for that day. The second step is to tie your meals together. Are you buying a kilo of mince for tacos but only really needing half of that? Set another mince-based meal for the next day (or just have tacos twice, because everyone loves tacos).
The same goes for everything else on your list — pair everything together so you’re eating it all in the course of a week. When you’re done, you won’t have expensive leftover food scraps rotting away unused. Photo by Kelly Cree.
Organise Your Fridge and Draw Attention to What’s Going Bad First
All the preparation in the world isn’t going to save you from yourself and your forgetful ways. That’s why it’s a good idea to organise your refrigerator in a way that guarantees you’ll remember to use the foods you need to. We’ve mentioned before that stocking your fridge like a supermarket is a handy way to keep the nearly expired items at the front of your attention. It’s also a good way to remember to use those leftovers still sticking around after yesterday’s meal. The other option is the food triage box, which stuffs all those near-death foods in a tidy little box so you remember to use them right away.
Both methods require one very important thing: knowing the shelf life of your food. Since not all food has a reliable “best before” date on the package, it’s good to know what phrases like “purchase by” or “best used by” really mean. “Use by” is more like an expiration date, “purchase by” typically offers you a one to two week window (and sometimes more) to eat the food.
It’s confusing, yes, but as we’ve pointed out before, you’re probably too strict about throwing away foods based on the expiration date alone. Instead, smelling the food to check for rotting is still one of the best ways to test. While you’re at it, make sure you’re preserving food properly in the freezer and fridge, because otherwise you’re letting good food go bad for no reason. Photo by flippinyank.
Find Clever Alternative Uses for Foods
Sometimes there’s no simple way to work your meals together in a meaningful way, and that means you need to get yourself ready for some experimentation. This means creating creative combos you might not have thought of before.
We’ve offered up a few suggestions for this before when we talked about Iron Chefing your leftovers, and those still certainly apply. You can also take the substitution approach. The New York Times highlights a few ideas for using scraps in meals, including making potato peels into snacks, chopping up tomato scraps for risotto, and even salting and roasting watermelon seeds like pumpkin seeds. The idea is that you can experiment with all sorts of different pairings and uses. Creating meals from scraps and leftovers is a bit of an art, but it’s one worth perfecting.
Find a Use for Stale and Old Food
Food that goes bad is not very good to eat, but it’s not totally done for. Stale bread can be revived with ice cubes (or aluminium foil, or the microwave), leftovers can still taste as good the second time around, and you can bring wilted lettuce back to life with iced water and a lemon. For fruits and vegetables, you can make stock, juice or smoothies if they’re a little past their prime. Photo by Alan Levine.
If all else fails, you can always start composting, provided you have the space to do so. That way, even when the above options don’t do the trick, you still have an place to put that unused food.
Have your own tricks for making certain you don’t waste your food? Share them in the comments.