As an active home cook and recipe developer, I make a conscious effort to reduce food waste on an everyday basis. But that wasn’t always the case. I’ve come a long way since my days of mindless grocery shopping, having zero concept of food storage and a fridge packed with goods that, more often than not, went bad before I got to them. For me, changing these habits meant making some small changes that turned into bigger ones in the long run. This epiphany came one fateful day a few years ago when I was living by myself in a cozy bachelor apartment. I was trying to book a summer holiday and realized I had little to no disposable income. Turns out, I spent far more on takeout than I did on actual groceries. And the groceries I did buy often went to waste. So, I started thinking about how I could save money by putting what I bought to use and preparing quick and healthy meals at home.
You’d be surprised at just how much food goes to waste. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, it’s about one-third of the food that’s produced for human consumption. In Canada, a study conducted by the National Zero Waste Council found that 47 percent of the country’s food waste occurs in the home. And what’s more, 63 percent of the food Canadians throw away could, at one point, have been eaten. For the average Canadian household that amounts to 140 kilograms of wasted food per year–that’s more than $1,100 in cost!
But we’ve all been guilty of wasting food before—myself included. There have been many times that I’ve scoured farmers’ markets across the city buying my weight in fresh, organic veggies and fruits, only to find out they’ve rotted away in the hidden corners of my often overflowing, disorganized fridge.
Buying more food than what you can consume is often the start of the problem. But there are ways around it. Here are some easy ways you can minimize food waste in your kitchen.
1. Buy what you need, not what you see.
When it comes to fruit and veggies, more is not always more. Instead, opt for buying what you or your family need to get through the week. Don’t stock up on perishables the way you would on toilet paper when it goes on sale, because chances are you won’t get around to eating them all.
If you do end up over-buying (because it does happen sometimes), store perishables in reusable zip-top bags so you can use them in smoothies or when baking. I even go as far as portioning them out (larger bags vs smaller bags) to have frozen fruit like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and bananas ready to throw into my smoothies for the best thick and creamy frozen texture. It plays out the same with veggies like zucchini, sweet potatoes and cauliflower—which are also great additions to your smoothies and accentuate that creaminess factor. I promise you that your drink or shake won’t taste like zucchini or cauliflower. However, the thickness will be unreal and the nutrient count will be, too!
2. Try out recipes that will clear out your fridge
There are many clever ways to rescue sad, wilted veggies right before they’re about to go bad. One of them is what I like to call the clean-out-the-fridge frittata. You can sauté all of those veggies and cover them with eggs for an amazing, veg-heavy frittata or omelette. If you don’t feel like eggs or don’t consume them, the simple act of roasting those veggies will give them another week of shelf life in your fridge. I try to roast them all at once in a large baking sheet. To do this, all you need is good quality avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil, pink sea salt, and ground pepper. I like to bake them at 400F for about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on how many you roast at once and how hot your oven runs.
You can later store the roasted veggies inside a large, glass container and reheat them during the week to add to salad bowls, sandwiches, pasta and rice. And if the roasted veggies start to go bad, just throw them into your blender for a quick, homemade pasta sauce. Trust me when I say that the there’s nothing better than the taste of roasted vegetable pasta sauce.
3. Maximize your storage and portion out your food properly
Meal preppers, this one’s for you! Casseroles, stews, chili, lasagnas, shepherd’s pie—they’re all heroic, feed-a-crowd dishes. They will feed you and your family for the week, but if they’re not stored properly they can easily become part of the problem we’re trying to address. Food has a higher potential to go bad if you prepare, freeze, reheat and then freeze again. That’s why I love to portion out my meal prep with a little bit of planning and a lot of great-quality, BPA-free storage containers. I often make a lasagna in a large tray and after it’s out of the oven, we typically eat half of it. I then divide the remaining half into two portions before freezing them in separate containers. Freezing it in separate, smaller portions serves two useful purposes: You can reheat each portion individually and much faster, and you don’t run the risk of reheating all the leftovers at once (leftovers from the original leftovers are rarely consumed later).
4. Draft your grocery list with specific recipes in mind
Before drafting a grocery list, I typically visualize three to four dishes I am planning on making that week. Then, I start listing out each of the ingredients required. After I’ve established what I’ll need for each recipe, I add the weekly staples like organic milk, eggs and bread. I find this simple approach incredibly effective to cease and desist from overbuying or buying things you won’t get to use right away. It also solves the perpetual question of “What can I make with what I have in the fridge?” because you’ll always circle back to the few dishes you had in mind when you drafted your grocery list.
Being “green” can seem like an intimidating task, but it doesn’t have to be. There are so many creative ways to maintain a greener kitchen and restock your fridge efficiently. You might even save money along the way. As for me, I’ve learned a thing or two about cutting down on food waste since I started to develop recipes. The main takeaway? It’s all about striking that fine balance of what you need and what you will actually use. And of course, you can rest easy knowing that you’ll get to eat all the delicious food you’ve carefully prepped and that’s a good enough reason for me!
Aleyda is a Toronto-based food blogger and recipe developer with a passion for healthy eats. She writes easy, one-bowl recipes that are mostly gluten-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free. You can find her blogging at The Dish On Healthy and taking pictures of her creations on Instagram.