How Not to Waste Food

Food waste is something I think a lot about. I make two big shopping trips a month, and I call myself a “suburban shopper,” because my shopping habits are not like I imagine an urban shopper’s to be. In other words, I won’t be popping into the store every couple of days to pick up perishables. So keeping my food fresh and using it in a timely matter is really important to me. Not just because wasting food is a waste of money, but also because it feels like the worst kind of decadence, knowing there really *are* starving children in the world. Wasting food feels profoundly disrespectful to me.

So here are some things I do to avoid wasting food:

  • I usually wash all my produce when I bring it home, which makes cooking with it that much simpler.
  • I store my more delicate fresh herbs in herb-keepers. They really do work.
  • ALL proteins that are not being used in the next few hours go in the freezer.
  • I keep my pantry fairly well-stocked with *my* staples, so it’s easy to create a dish on the fly
  • I keep tabs on what’s “turning” in my produce drawer. Delicate herbs, veggies and fruits tend to get used first–hearty veggies can wait. If something is starting to look “iffy,” it gets used.
  • Make roasting your friend. Tomatoes look lousy? Roast them. (It makes them sweet and improves lousy texture.) Potatoes getting soft? Cut out the eyes and roast them. Mushrooms starting to get brown? I roast them or put them in a sauce. Bread getting stale? It gets turned into breadcrumbs or croutons.

Here’s probably the most important weapon in my arsenal: Google. Seriously. Stumped about how to use up an item in your fridge? Google it. Google “fennel recipes.” Google “uses for ground turkey.” Google whatever the hell you want, and you’ll have thousands of recipes at your fingertips. There really is no excuse not to use up all the perishables in your pantry and fridge. Plus, trying new recipes is fun.

And now a quick note about simplicity. I tend to eschew recipes that have 500 ingredients in them, mostly because I’m lazy, but also because I’m an experienced enough cook to know that you don’t need to empty your pantry to make something delicious. So, I rate for these tacos, which I made they other night. Wow–yummy and healthy.

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. minced chipotles in adobo
5 oz. packaged classic coleslaw mix (about 2-1/2 cups)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 6- to 7-inch corn tortillas
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
10 oz. deveined, easy-peel medium shrimp (41 to 50 per lb.), peeled
Kosher salt
Lime wedges, for serving


20 thoughts on “How Not to Waste Food

  1. Nice post, I really enjoy these.

    I like your suggestions. On the other side we make great use of our leftover cooked foods. Instead of simply heating up leftovers we try to “repurpose” them. Turn cooked chicken (or pork) into chicken salad or enchiladas. We always make a couple extra baked potatoes and slice them up and make home fries or twice baked or whatever. There are a million other uses that I can’t be bothered to remember right now but you get the gist.

    We’ve got a food dehydrator. This is great come harvest time and provides us with our own sundried tomatoes, dried cayenne peppers (make your own spices!). Lil’ g loves the dried fruits and mrs. g loves to make beef jerky. We also plan to buy a vacuum sealer which will be great for storing food and I hope to branch into sous vide.


    • I think repurposing leftover food and cooking extra stuff “while’s yous at it” is super-smart. Because we are only two adults here, and Evan is pretty picky about what “big boy” food he eats, all leftovers become my lunch for the next day.

  2. “1/4 cup mayonnaise” just screams “Wow–yummy and healthy.”

    As a grazer rather than a meal-eater I have very few leftovers. I could probably say absolutely no leftovers & be telling the truth for once.

    (‘Though I will admit to tossing the usually soggy lettuce that comes in prepared sammiches.)

  3. To add to your “Google” suggestion. Whenever I find a recipe on the web that interests me at all, I copy it (if you use the “Print this recipe” button usually available on most recipe websites, it’s extra easy to copy it to the clipboard) and create a new doc in Google Documents and paste it in. This has several advantages. First, there is NO limit on storage for native format GDocs, so you can keep thousands of recipes for free. If the website disappears, you still have them. And the indexed search capabilities in GDocs are AWESOME. So now, you can do that same search (“Ground Turkey”, “Pot Pie”, “Lentils”) and find a set of recipes you have already found yourself to be interested in. You very quickly end up being kind of obsessive about it…

  4. Another key strategy is to cook certain things in quantity and freeze in portions. I like to sautee a bunch of onions and peppers with garlic in this manner, so I have a good base for just about anything. Peppers are so damn perishable, it’s a tragedy.

  5. Make a giant batch of caramelized onions. Slice enuf onions to fill your slow cooker (or crockpot, is there a difference?), coat in oil and cook on low all day. In the end you’ll have this pile of amazing goo that you can throw into an ice cube tray. Break them out as flavor bombs for unlimited applications.

    ok, time for kg to leave the food talk alone for a bit.

  6. Going to a butcher shop helps to cut down on waste too, because you can have the meat wrapped however you like and can buy in the quantities you want to use for each item on your menu.

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