My Top Tips and Tools to Help Reduce Food Waste in the Kitchen
Updated: Apr 22, 2021
Food waste is an urgent topic in today’s society, one that I am deeply passionate about, and for many reasons. Letting the food that we purchase go to waste essentially means we are throwing away money, but even more importantly it means we are actively contributing to an even bigger problem: global warming and climate change. You’re not convinced? It has been estimated that 1.3 billion, or one third, of the global food production is lost or wasted annually, and we the consumers contribute to 47% of all that waste, most of it being in our own homes. Almost a quarter of all landfill volume is food waste, that rotting food creates methane, a greenhouse gas, which represents one third of all the greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans! Imagine the global and environmental impact if each and every one of us took this topic to heart?
Furthermore, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that that same 1.3 billion tons of wasted food could be feeding as many as 2 billion people annually. Meanwhile we have over 815 million people that don’t have enough food to eat in order to maintain healthy and active lives. Awareness I believe is the first step in creating a positive change and then knowing how to apply that knowledge in our day-to-day lives is fundamental in making it a reality. For these reasons I have dedicated this article and segment to my favorite tips, tools and cooking tricks that I use in my own kitchen which can help us make a difference on a larger scale if we could simply apply them more often!
Foodful Tip #1 – Plan Ahead
Like with everything in life, planning ahead can be a game changer. In fact, planning your meals and snacks ahead of time not only can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle, but it can also save you money, help you make better use of your groceries, buy only what you actually need and plan to use, and consequently help you waste less food. My grocery shopping starts right here, at home, in my refrigerator. Yes you read that well! I keep a list of all the foods and leftovers I have that need to be used up and include them in my meal plan for the upcoming week. Personally I love to eat leftovers, my husband not so much, and with cooking three meals a day for Trinity, I’ve become quite the expert at repurposing yesterday’s meatloaf into tomorrow’s ragù Bolognese pasta or grilled salmon fillets into salmon cakes or burgers! Any leftover can be turned into a new meal that our partner or kids will dig into; we just need to let our creative juices flow a little.
Keeping tabs on what’s in our refrigerator is also a great way to make sure we use old produce that is lingering around and isn’t looking so fresh instead of forgetting about it and letting it rot. Produce past its prime is great to make soups, sauces, baked goods or to freeze for a last minute quick and healthy smoothie or purée for kids. Finally, buy local and in season more often, this means your food has been picked fully ripened and will travel less to get to your plate, good for both the environmental and in maximizing freshness!
Foodful Tip #2 – Store Food Properly
Sometimes the problem is not that we overbuy, but that we don’t store our food smartly and it simply doesn’t have a chance to make it to our plates! Proper food storage can actually make your food go the extra mile and reduce food waste. I have a few tips and kitchen tools that have passed the test in my kitchen and have done wonders in prolonging my food’s freshness!
The first rule of thumb is to always place the foods that spoil more quickly where you can see them. Not only at eye level but in clear, see through containers. I love using glass containers for all my food storage needs because they are nonporous which means they won’t absorb odors, flavors, stains or bacteria, and because they fit into my plastic less lifestyle! I love the OXO Good Grips Smart Seal Glass Containers because they are naturally BPA-free, made with thermal shock resistant glass which makes them the perfect solution for going straight from the freezer to the oven, table and dishwasher. This saves me time, money and there’s less cleaning involved, plus their Smart Seal lids ensure a leak-proof seal. Finally, if like me you are a big seed and nut lover, keep a variety of grains in your pantry, and are a coffee aficionado, the EVAK Airtight Food Storage jars by Prepara are for you. You know how air can quickly degrade food and make them lose their freshness and flavor? Not in these jars. They are designed with a twin valve airflow system that removes the air as you push the lid down and creates like a vacuum in the jar which keeps your food fresher, longer. They are also made of glass, are BPA-free and the lids are in stainless steel, so no plastic is in contact with your food.
Most fruits and vegetables emit a natural gas (ethylene) which accelerates ripening and increases chances of produce ripening too quickly and rotting. To prevent this from happening I use the OXO Good Grips Crisper Drawer Inserts. You simply place the insert above the produce in your crisper drawers and the activated carbon filter inside absorbs the ethylene gas and slows the aging process of your fruits and vegetables. The filters are safe, non-toxic and last up to 90 days.
Beeswax wraps are the perfect solution for prolonging the freshness of all foods. The Nature Bee Wraps (click on the link to get 15% off your purchase) are Canadian made, come in unique designs and patterns, are made with 100% cotton, Canadian beeswax, tree resin and jojoba oil, and are customizable! All you have to do is use the heat of your hands to mold the wrap around bread, cheese, fruits, vegetables, herbs, or cover bowls, dishes and so much more. They are reusable, compostable, a planet-friendly and healthier alternative to plastic and will keep food fresher three times longer than plastic cling wrap!
We’re all guilty of buying that bunch of parley or basil for a dish in which we only need a few leaves or tablespoons and days later finding it already spoiling at the bottom of the drawer. I’ve even tried keeping them longer by popping them into a glass filled with water, and somehow still failed. The Prepara Herb Savor has come to my rescue. It is the perfect container to keep my herbs neat, it fits perfectly in the refrigerator door, and has been laboratory tested and proven to prolong the life of your fresh herbs for up to three weeks!
Finally, the freezer is an incredible tool we all have that helps maximize the lifespan of food scraps or food that you may be in the habit to toss in the compost. You can pretty much freeze anything. I always place little ends and leftovers of food like wine, milk, minced garlic, egg whites, dried or fresh herbs, tomato purée, orange peel and yogurt in ice cube trays, and then pop them out and into a reusable silicone bag. These are perfect for adding a quick boost of flavor to any dish or meal. The freezer is also my best friend when it comes to extras of cooked grains, sauce and prepared dishes that I have lying around in the refrigerator and am not up to repurposing. Since I already store them in glass jars or containers, I just grab and place them directly into the freezer to use at a later date.
Foodful Tip #3 – Cook Everything…Even Food Scraps!
Is peeling our carrots before cooking them or removing the broccoli stalks really necessary? Should we throw away the parmesan rinds or the chicken carcass from tonight’s supper? Absolutely not! In fact, although these ingredients are commonly considered scraps, they can actually be used to make a deliciously flavorful homemade chicken broth. Growing up in an Italian household, the “nose to tail” cooking is automatically ingrained in us, so adopting also the “root to stem” approach wasn’t too far-fetched for me, plus it adds so much nutrition and flavor to all my dishes that the foodie and nutritionist in me enthusiastically approves! Here are a few examples of how I cook and eat with the least waste possible.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I have been whipping up my own plant-based milks with my AlmondCow appliance for a while now. You may even have seen me in action on my Instagram or Facebook stories (@thefoodfullife) and know that I always use or save the pulp. Either I add it to my morning oatmeal for extra crunch, fiber and protein or save it in a jar in the freezer and then take it out when I have enough to make granola, cookies, muffins, crackers, even hummus…the possibilities are endless and you can find so many recipes online.
It’s not only pumpkin season right now, but also a bountiful time for all winter squash. Unfortunately most of us scoop and throw out the seeds found inside the cavity of winter squashes. I beg you not to do it. Instead, rinse and dry them, season them with a bit of oil, salt, pepper, spices or even maple sugar and cinnamon for a tasty, crunchy, protein-rich snack. I promise you will never want to toss them again.
Do you often purchase carrots, beets or radishes with their greens, leaves or tops still attached to them which when comes the time to use them you chop off and toss in the compost bin? Did you know that these greens are highly nutritious and full of antioxidants, and that you can incorporate them into your cooking? Soup season has definitely started and these are the perfect addition for your next batch. I usually keep them in a reusable bag inside the freezer and add them to a soup or a stew recipe. They are also great for a last minute pesto or a chimichurri sauce for dressing up you meat, poultry or fish. You could even simply sauté them with garlic and olive oil or roughly chop them, dress them with olive oil, salt and pepper and make a bowl of mixed vegetable scrap chips!! Trust me you will thank me for this one. And you can do this also with vegetable peels or skins: potatoes, carrots, eggplants, parsnips, sweet potatoes… Step aside kale chips, you’ve got some serious competition!
All other vegetable scraps like onion or garlic peels, cauliflower or cabbage cores and leaves, broccoli stems, celery ends, corn cobs, leftover herbs, zucchini ends, even the fibrous strands we remove from the inside cavity of winter squashes, I also store in a large silicone bag in my freezer and use it for making all types of broths. Sometimes if it’s a vegetable broth I am making, once it’s ready I pass it through the blender to make thick soup or what we commonly call a “potage”. Creamy, delicious, fat-free, yet chockfull of nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc.
When it comes to fruits, the skins, cores and tops also have a place in our tummies and can be incorporated into smoothies or fruits purées. And don’t throw away those overripe bananas; even if they’ve turned dark, they make the absolute best, most moist and naturally sweetened banana bread and pancakes. Finally, citrus peels can be transformed into limoncello, candied peels, zest powder (I like to grate my citrus fruits before cutting into them to never miss out on any of it) which will add an amazing punch and antioxidant rich vitamin C to your next marinade, salad dressing, cake or cookie icing, and if you are into natural cleaning products the peels can also be turned into household cleaner!
Something my parents always did and now I do to, is save bread ends or stale pieces. In fact I think bread is probably the most common food scrap in all households. Don’t throw these away instead why not quickly transform them into croutons for your next meal! If not, tear and place a few pieces at the bottom of a bowl and add a vegetable broth type of soup over it, the vegetable scraps soup I mentioned above would be perfect, or you can use them to make a panzanella salad during the hotter summer months. Personally, I think bread ends make the best homemade bread crumbs and you can personalize them with your favorite flavorings (herbs, cheese, seeds, and spices). I keep a bread bag in my pantry at all times and when it gets too full I just pop the dry bread in the blender and turn it into breadcrumbs for coating chicken or fish, making meatballs or stuffing, and even to thicken a soup! I can’t remember the last time I bought bread crumbs instead of making my own. And when my pita or tortilla start to lose their freshness, I place them on a cookie sheet, drizzle a bit of olive oil, season them and turn them into healthy chips or crackers that we use with cheese, salsa, dips or enjoy just like that!
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