Sustainability Challenge: Less Food Waste

Reducing Food Waste

We’re back with a new sustainability challenge for the first month of 2021! For new readers and for those of us that need a refresher on these challenges, here is a little recap:

It all started last January when I launched a challenge to stop buying plastic water bottles entirely. Since that day a year ago, I can count on one hand the number of plastic water bottles I’ve purchased and that feels really good! Many of you have told me the same story which means I hit my goal of a lot of people making a small change for a big impact.

That sparked an idea to do many small challenges throughout the year including some of my favorites such as cutting out plastic bags, using cleaner cleaning products, reducing junk mail, composting, and eating less meat. Anel and I really committed to all of them and while we haven’t been 100% perfect (that’s not the point of these challenges!), we’ve started seeing things from a new perspective and we both take extra steps in places that we might not have before.

Today’s post came from a few of you guys who suggested that I share tips for reducing food waste, a big topic of conversation in my house. Anel grew up in Bosnia during the war and lived through many months with not enough food. He was very lucky that his family lived on a farm and was able to live off of their land more than a lot of others in the same position. But wasting food is his number one pet peeve so we spend a lot of time focusing on how not to do it.

Food Waste Facts

  • In most developed countries, over half of food waste happens at home (source)
  • About  1/3 of the food produced that is intended for human consumption every year (around 1.3 billion tons)  is wasted or lost. This is enough to feed 3 billion people.
  • The water used to produce the food wasted could be used by 9 billion people at around 200 liters per person per day.
  • Food loss and waste accounts for about 4.4 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
  • If food loss were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the US.
  • If 25% of the food currently being lost or wasted globally were saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million people around the world (source for all points above)

These are the steps that we take in our house to reduce food waste. I hope they’re helpful for you too!

Step 1: Smarter Shopping

It all starts at the grocery store and planning to shop smarter. What works for me is to make a list (on paper because I’m 87 years old) that I divide by produce, aisles, and frozen sections. I base the list on what we’ve run out of and what we need for meals in the upcoming week. Including quantities is important too. If I just write onions I might end up with 4 or 5

In COVID-times I’ve been shopping once a week instead of more often which has forced me to plan ahead more. A blessing in disguise, actually.

If I go into the grocery store with no plan, I end up buying a ton of things I don’t need that ultimately end up getting wasted.

Step 2: Fridge Prep

I’ll talk about actual meal-prepping in a second but what has helped us most is what I call fridge-prep. When I buy fresh fruits and veggies for snacking and cooking, I immediately put them into glass Tupperware instead of hidden in drawers so that we don’t forget what we have. That was where our biggest mistake was happening. I’d buy kale or carrots and then forget about them in the veggie drawer.

On that note, I now use the drawers for things like bread and eggs that I know we’ll go through daily and I’ll never forget. It goes against every fridge photo ever but it works for us!

The other important piece to this puzzle is properly storing fruits/veggies to last longer. This article is a great resource for that. I bought two of these OXO green saver produce keepers and found that berries/grapes/baby carrots last a lot longer in them than in regular Tupperware for whatever reason. For herbs, I wrap the stems in wet paper towels and I make sure to always wash and dry everything before storing.

Step 3: Meal Prep

This is probably the most important step in not wasting food in our house. It goes along with grocery store planning but takes it even further. I realistically cook a family meal for dinner 4x/week and always make extra for lunch leftovers 4x/week. That means one weekday of ordering in or buying something prepared. We love Trader Joe’s frozen meals or I’ll buy something from the local Italian market (A&S for anyone around here. IYKYK.) I also order in or pick up for lunch 1-2x/week but really try to cook or prepare everything besides that.

The frozen/boxed premade meals that we try to always keep on hand are:

  • Dr. Praeger’s California veggie burgers- I heat them up in the air fryer then serve them over a salad
  • Annie’s rice and bean burritos- I often eat them for lunch with Trader Joe’s salsa and a sliced avocado
  • Frozen cauliflower pizza crust and frozen pizzas for Amalia
  • Trader Joe’s chana masala, vegetable biryani, garlic naan, mango chutney, and chicken tikka masala
  • Trader Joe’s veggie fried rice
  • Frozen cooked brown rice and frozen cauliflower rice
  • Annie’s white shells and cheddar for Amalia
  • Amy’s Thai coconut soup
  • Amy’s pesto tortellini bowls

For planning meals that I cook, I save recipes to Pinterest and look through my favorite cookbooks and blogs (Love & Lemons and Cookie & Kate are my current favorites) for inspiration. I often go back to my tried and true favorites like my white chicken chili, vegetarian Moroccan stew, and turkey bolognese.

Anel and I look through the plan for the week on Sunday nights and once we’re both on board, I make the shopping list and shop on Mondays. This doesn’t always work out so perfectly but it’s our goal to do it as close to this way as possible.

Step 4: Backstock of Pantry Items

You can meal-prep until the cows come home but there will always be extra veggies in our fridge that go to waste unless I get creative. In the summer I throw together salads and in the fall/winter I either do a big veggie roast or just throw everything into a soup. This step happens about once a week towards the end of the week when I really feel like ordering dinner but try to think about what I can make with what I have instead.

An essential part of this step for us is having pantry items and spices stocked up so that I have more recipe options with the leftover veggies.

I always keep a backstock of at least 3 everything we use regularly. The top items in our backstock are: Rao’s tomato sauce, canned diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken and veggie broth, cannellini beans, black beans, chickpeas, olive oil, green chilis, canned tuna, pasta, and salsa.

I also try to always keep chicken breast and ground beef/turkey stocked up in the fridge so that meatballs or chili are just a step away.

Bonus Step: Composting

At the end of the day, there is always going to some sort of food waste in our house, and I’m guessing in most of yours as well. Composting at least some of that waste (how we compost) cuts it down big time and gives it back to the ground. We use our compost to fertilize our garden but if you don’t have a garden, you can use it for plants (indoor or outdoor).

If you don’t have anywhere to use it at home, you might be able to donate it to a local farm or community garden. And if you live in a city, you might be able to donate food scraps like you can in NYC. Check out this impressive list of compost pick up services all over the country. If you’re local to Fairfield County, you can join a food scrap recycling program here.

More Resources

Stop Wasting Food Movement

Food Waste in America (Feed the Children)

20 Facts About Food Waste (

Reducing Food Waste at Home (EPA)

10 Food Waste Facts You Need to Know (Olio)

Let me know if you have any other tips for cutting down on food waste. We’re always trying to do better over here. And I really hope you’ll join me in this challenge!

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  1. Kristin said:

    This is awesome! I feel like Covid has really changed our family’s shopping and consumption habits. Back when the shelves were bare, it was so scary to me. I really focused on fortifying our pantry at home which makes prepping easier. At the height of the pandemic I was only shopping once every 2-3 weeks and was forced to be creative so things didn’t go to waste.

    When fruit and veg started to turn prematurely, I would get creative. Roast some veggies and throw or blend them in pasta sauce, make a veggie stir fry for lunches, make pizzas with lots of extra veggie toppings, fruit and cheese board for dessert, etc.

    We have greatly reduced the food waste in our house and I’m so happy about that.

    1.6.21 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      So glad to hear it!

      1.11.21 · Reply
  2. Laura said:

    my grandparents are Holocaust survivors so I grew up in a similar environment where food should never be wasted, but with that came too much focus on the clean plate club. i agree that wasting food because it goes bad and you don’t cook it or realize you have it should be avoided. on the flip side, if you make dinner and a family member just isn’t that hungry that night or whatever you make is a big flop and inedible (this happened once when my grandmother was visiting and my mom tried to double a recipe and it did not turn out well, but my grandmother still wanted us all to eat it), it is also ok to have some waste.

    1.6.21 · Reply
    • Melinda said:

      I appreciate this note also! I think wasting food by forgetting it or letting it go bad is different than not finishing a dish because you are either full or it was inedible. In order to try and remedy this, I almost always use salad plates instead of dinner plates. This way, my plate looks full with a smaller portion and I am more likely to be able to finish the portion.

      1.6.21 · Reply
      • Julia said:

        I really appreciate this note too. It’s a very good point and I 100% agree.

        1.11.21 · Reply
  3. Jennifer Record said:

    Great tips! We have practically the same backstock of panty items. Like the article about storing stuff in the fridge. I would love more soup recipes, as it’s an easy way to use up leftovers, as you mentioned. I also love throwing just about everything imaginable in an omelet..super easy and yummy!

    1.6.21 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Check out this post if you haven’t already. Lots of good veggie-focused soups for you:

      1.11.21 · Reply
  4. Alyssa R. said:

    I love this challenge! I live in Cleveland, OH and we have a local composting service called Rust Belt Riders. They offer composting memberships where they providing a 10 gallon bucket to fill with food scraps and stop by each week to pick it up and provide you with a fresh bucket. So far we’ve diverted 330 pounds of food waste in just a few short months. Thanks for sharing your tips for shopping smarter and food prepping to minimize food waste. I’m excited to try them out.

    1.6.21 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      That is so so awesome. I love hearing more and more cities doing things like this.

      1.11.21 · Reply
  5. Melinda said:

    I love these sustainability challenges! My family is definitely guilty of food waste. Before covid, we decided to adopt a more European style of grocery shopping every 2-3 days and minimizing a stockpile. Once covid hit, that plan dissipated quickly. One tool that has been especially helpful has been the spreadsheet I created in google sheets. One tab is for our running grocery lists divided by stores (we do curbside/delivery orders at a few different places). The second tab is a tracker of our entire stockpile. It details how much we have of everything to encourage us to use that before purchasing new. In case we forget what is frozen, in the pantry, etc, we have an accessible record. We need to get in a better habit of using it daily and this challenge is the perfect reminder. This spreadsheet required a little initial time investment, but isn’t difficult to maintain.

    1.6.21 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I love this idea! Right up my alley. We use Google Keep which is really similar but I like dividing it by store and the tracker idea. Going to add to my system, thank you!

      1.11.21 · Reply
  6. Victoria said:

    A lot of veggies can be prepped and frozen. That might be peeling and chopping, or blanching as well. If you’ve got veggies that need using, you can freeze for a future use. Things like soup and shepherds pie or similar are kind on defrosted veggies as the excess water can be worked into the dish without it being soggy.

    1.6.21 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Such a good call. We actually froze a bunch of stuff from Anel’s garden for winter and it’s been so great to be able to pull out already cut/prepped veggies for recipes.

      1.11.21 · Reply
  7. Caitlin said:

    It looks like your veggies savers are a close relative of this ( that I bought early in quarantine when we began cooking so much more. I used to always balk at a recipe that called for parsley, as I’d use a small bit of a bunch and the rest would go bad, but this thing helps it (and other fresh herbs) keep for SO LONG.

    Great post, thank you!

    1.6.21 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Yes, that’s from the same line. I need to get that one too, thank you for the tip!

      1.11.21 · Reply
  8. Abby said:

    Hi Julia! Just wondering if you would be willing to share how much you spend weekly on groceries. I have the hardest time purchasing healthy food and staying under $200 a week.

    1.6.21 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      We spend around $300/week. I order backstock items on Thrive which really does save money and try to do stock ups at Trader Joe’s once or twice a month to save as well. I do the rest of my shopping at Whole Foods or Stop & Shop.

      1.11.21 · Reply
  9. Carolyn Zezima said:

    18 Organizations Diverting Food Waste to Provide Meals for People in Need

    “One-third of the world’s food is wasted, according to the United Nations (UN). That number jumps to 40 percent in the United States—enough to feed 2 billion people.

    Uneaten food has dire consequences for the planet: decomposing waste releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas. According to the UN, if food waste was its own country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gas in the world, after the United States and China.

    And yet, a recent Census Bureau survey finds that 1 in 8 Americans is struggling to secure reliable, nutritious food.

    “There’s no shortage of food,” Regina Anderson, Executive Director of the Food Recovery Network, tells Food Tank. That has never been the case in America—we have so much food. We can throw most of it—almost all of it—away, and still have enough food to feed everybody. It’s just a distribution issue.”

    Fortunately, innovative organizations are finding ways to recover and redistribute food to people in need. Food Tank highlights 18 of these groups below.”

    1.7.21 · Reply
  10. LJ said:

    Thanks for the product links! I also like Food Hugger silicone skin-like things that are made to perfectly fit lemons, limes, peppers (I was cramming half a vertically cut pepper in it for years before realizing I should cut it in half horizontally…), and both avocado sizes.

    There’s a new show on Netflix called Best Leftovers Ever that I binge-watched last week. Hoping to talk my husband into a creative leftover remake competition at home because of it!

    Longtime lurker, first-time commenter- wanted to note that I’m really appreciating your self-reflection and public education on current social justice issues. I’m a white woman (she/her) trying to do my part as well to take some of the burden off of BIPOC humans; I am glad that you also embraced that it is our responsibility to inform and encourage empathy in our fellow white + privileged people, not BIPOC folx’ duty. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your journey with us readers!

    1.8.21 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Oh true! We use those for lemons, onions, and avocados too. A lot of people have recommended that show, Anel and I are going to start it this month. And THANK YOU for saying that. It really means a lot.

      1.11.21 · Reply
  11. Em said:

    This post hits home for me! Any tips on how not to waste food from kids’ plates? My husband and I are pretty good about either eating our meals or saving the leftovers, but my toddler is in a picky phase where he smashes food up and moves it around on his plate, mixing it up. We tend to save it in a separate container for him to eat at another meal but he never goes for it. I hate to see this food end up in the trash!

    1.13.21 · Reply
  12. Jacqueline Rose said:

    Loving your posts focused on sustainability so much!

    6.30.21 · Reply