We all waste some food – there’s only so much to be done for it. But that doesn’t mean you should assume all your food waste is necessary. Here are some ways you can cut down on the food you and your family wastes.
No matter which step you use, make sure you use safe food handling procedures and that leftovers haven’t been sitting around too long before you use them. Doesn’t do you any good to get sick off trying to cut back on waste.
1. Eat leftovers for lunch.
Rather than put all your leftovers from dinner into a single container, separate them out into lunch portions. These can be reheated and eaten the next day or put into the freezer for later use. If you use microwavable containers, they’re easy food on the go for people who have access to a microwave at lunchtime (hear that, dear husband?).
2. Use leftovers in other meals.
Some leftovers do well mixed into later meals. Meats can be added to stir fries, for example, or you can mix up last night’s vegetables with new ones cooked for tonight’s dinner.
3. Save vegetable scraps for broth.
I keep a bag of vegetable scraps in my freezer. Once there’s enough, they can be tossed into some water and made into vegetable broth, and from there into some wonderful soups. You can use the trimmings from many kinds of vegetables, such as carrots, onions, zucchini, bell peppers, celery and so forth. If the vegetable works well cooked, it may go well in your broth.
This also works well if you realize you aren’t going to finish a vegetable before it spoils. Freeze them while they’re still good.
4. Frozen vegetables.
You don’t necessarily have to save vegetables for broth – you can blanch them and freeze them for later use, rather like the frozen vegetables you can buy at the grocery store.
5. Serve the broccoli stalk, not just florets.
Broccoli stalks are actually my oldest daughter’s favorite part. She’s be furious if I tossed those. We cook them just the same as the florets.
6. Dry or can excess tomatoes.
Did you buy too many tomatoes or did your tomato plants go wild this year? Don’t stress out about how to use them all fresh – you can dry or can them for long term storage.
There are many ways you can can your tomatoes. You can leave them whole, slice them or make them into sauce. Think about how you’d like to use them, and make sure you use safe canning procedures as you work.
Tomatoes can also be dried. Sun dried tomatoes are a favorite of mine, but you can also use a dehydrator if you’d like things to go a little faster. Pay attention to food safety and know how long the method you use preserves your food.
7. Make bread.
Some vegetables make very good breads. Zucchini bread and pumpkin bread are classics, but you can find recipes for breads using other vegetables.
8. Dried fruit.
I love my dehydrator. I don’t use it as much as I should, but we’ve made some wonderful dried fruits with it. Kids love dehydrated fruits as a snack.
You can also look up recipes to puree fruit and make it into fruit leather that is far superior to the stuff they sell in stores.
9. Frozen fruit.
Fruit can also be chopped up and frozen for later use. Frozen fruit tastes great in the summer, and it’s also a quick addition to fruit smoothies.
10. Fruit bread.
Fruits go well into bread. I freeze bananas and defrost them when I want to make banana bread, but there are other bread possibilities out there.
11. Fruit salad.
There’s something about fruit salad that gets kids interested. You don’t have to add whipped cream for a fruit salad to interest them either.
12. Save those bones.
If you buy meat with bones, save the bones for soups. Homemade soups are really wonderful when the weather turns cold. I make a lovely chicken soup from scratch that is my oldest daughter’s favorite school lunch.
13. Make sandwiches.
Leftover meats can make great sandwiches. Mix them up with other ingredients and go at it.
14. Make burritos, tacos, fajitas, etc.
A bit of extra meat can be chopped up to make great fixings for burritos, tacos and so forth. Simmer it in an appropriate sauce to get the right flavor.
Surely your kids love pizza. Use leftover meats as one of the toppings.
16. Freeze milk.
Going on vacation but there’s a lot of milk in the fridge. You can give it to a neighbor or put it in your freezer. Make sure there’s room for the milk to expand a little as it freezes, but otherwise it should be just fine when you get back. I also freeze milk in cubes so that my kids can drink milk at school rather than juice.
You can also freeze cheese but be warned that it usually crumbles more easily afterward. It should taste fine, just be a little more crumbly, which can make it a bit more difficult to slice.
17. Stir cheese into dinner.
That little bit of cheese you have may go great with a variety of recipes. Think about what flavors your cheese will go with, whether it’s an addition to the main course or a topping for some vegetables.
18. Make bread crumbs or croutons.
Bread that’s getting a little stale can be made into bread crumbs or croutons. Make sure it isn’t going bad, just a little stale. Dry the bread at low heat in the oven. An easy way to do this is to toss it in a cooling oven after making dinner. You can easily turn it into crumbs with your blender once it has dried.
Bread crumbs go great in meat loaf and other recipes.
Croutons are made by chopping the bread into cubes, then tossing it with some olive oil and seasonings, then drying them in the oven.
19. Add to soup.
Crumble the bread into soup to thicken it.
20. Freeze excess bread, pancakes, etc.
Got more bread, pancakes or whatever than you can eat? Freeze the extra. It will still be good to use later. I especially do this when I make waffles. I’d rather make a bunch occasionally and have easily reheated extras than to make a small bunch.
If the food is safe for your compost pile and won’t attract pests, compost anything you can’t use. Composting meat, dairy and cooked foods is usually not recommended because while they will break down, they also attract rodents and tend to smell bad as they compost. Worms also may not touch the meat, so it will break down much more slowly. Some recommend running meat and dairy through the blender first if you want to compost them.