5 Tips to Waste Less in the Kitchen

Guest post by Angi of SchneiderPeeps

Because of increasing gasoline prices we need to cut our grocery budget a little and move those funds over to our auto budget. This is really a good thing, since I’ve noticed I’ve gotten a little sloppy lately. So I’m going back to the “No Waste Kitchen” philosophy that I used to have and let slide over the past few years.

For me, a “No Waste Kitchen” means that no edible food gets thrown out – or given to the hens or dog. It means no item is too small to matter. It also means saving money. We’ve lived this way before, we can do it again.

Here’s our plan:

1. Don’t buy things that we don’t like or won’t eat.

I know this sounds reasonable, but sometimes an item is so cheap or even free that I think it’s a good deal. But if it just sits in my pantry taking up space then it’s not a deal.

2. Serve smaller portions on our plates.

If my children need a second serving of something they can have it. But when we put larger portions on our plates and then don’t eat it all, we really have no choice but to give the leftovers to the animals.

3. Manage the leftovers.

Plan at least one lunch or dinner each week to intentionally clean out the refrigerator and freezer of the leftovers. We call it “Buffet Night”.

Remake the leftovers into something else. For instance, if I have broccoli left over from dinner, I can use it to make a little cream of broccoli soup for lunch the next day.

If there’s quite a bit of leftovers, I can freeze them in small meal size containers as “frozen dinners.”

4. Look out for the little stuff.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Sometimes there really is too small an amount to save (or so we think). Save it anyway. I have a container in my freezer that is just for tomato products.

For instance, each week when we have pizza we have about 2 Tablespoons of sauce left over. Those 2 Tablespoons go into the container. If we have spaghetti and there’s some sauce left over, it goes into the container. If we brown meat and don’t use it all, the rest goes into the container. When the container is full, I use it to make spaghetti.

5. Freeze things before they spoil.

If I notice that the bananas are not getting eaten very quickly and they are past their prime, I put them in the freezer until I have time to make banana bread. If something has been in the refrigerator for a couple of days and I’m not sure if it will make it until “Buffet Night”, I put it in the freezer. I just need to remember to scour the freezer, also.

What are your favorite tips for less waste in the kitchen?

Angi is a pastor’s wife and mom of 6 children who spends her days homeschooling, crafting, gardening, playing chauffer, keeping chickens, trying to learn how take better pictures and blogging at SchneiderPeeps. She’s also the author of The Gardening Notebook.

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Comments

  1. says

    We keep a big container in the freezer for “leftover soup”. Every little dab of stuff goes in until the container is full. Then we have soup. If there’s not much starchy stuff in there, add potatoes, or rice, or pasta. Or a can of tomato sauce. or whatever your family likes in the way of seasoning, but remember all the little dabs already have been seasoned, so don’t add salt or pepper until you taste it.

  2. says

    SHARE- Make a leftover plate for a neighbor or friend. My neighbors are so thankful ‘s a when we send over plates of “leftovers” from our dinner. Whether it ‘s a elderly widow or an older couple who don’t cook much, the leftovers are always well received.

    If you bought something your family doesn’t like, give it away or sell it. If you have unopened packages you can put them on Craigslist to sell or give away free.

    I once got a super deal on La Croix Sparkling water, but my family really disliked it. I had bought around (4-5) 12 packs and didn’t want them to go to waste. I didn’t know anyone who would want them, so I listed them on Craigslist. Within hours they were sold and I also made a profit from them.

    • Kate says

      I had a similar situation with quinoa. Lots of bags bought for a song, and a husband and daughter who then sweetly explained that quinoa doesn’t agree with them. So, I packed it up and took it to church and asked around to see who might be able to use it. Did I get funny looks? Yep, but nobody turned it down. :)

  3. says

    Love your tip of freezing leftovers.

    I love making homemade enchilada sauce, but it only takes 1/2 a cup of tomato sauce. I put the leftover tomato sauce in the refrigerator, but inevitably, some of it got wasted. Now I put it in ice cube trays and freeze it. I know that 4 cubes equal 1/2 cup, so I only have to open a new can now every 3 times I make the meal.

  4. says

    We have almost no waste in our kitchen too. I do have a ‘chicken bucket’ for the items we peel and that sort of thing, but it’s pretty rare for other items to go in there. When I make my shopping list for the week, I always check the produce bins in my fridge first, and make sure I know what I have on hand…and work it into the menu. It helps me know if I should buy more or less of whatever is on sale. Leftovers from supper are generally lunch the next day, and I keep an eye on fruits and vegetables, then pop them in the freezer as necessary. They can be put into smoothies.

  5. says

    My favorite tip is to cut up all items like melons, or cheese blocks into bite size pieces before putting them away in the fridge, this way I find my kids will eat them up, otherwise they wait for me to serve them up and I often forget they are there because they tend to get shoved quickly to the back of the fridge and we all know what happens to items that get shoved to the back of the fridge.

  6. Amanda C says

    I used to organize and clean my refrigerator every week — I’d find some really good things and put them toward the front. Now, I’m just lucky to clean my fridge once a month, but it really helps.

    Also, if you have scraps such as an end of an onion, or celery leaves, collect them in a container in the freezer for making homemade broth.

  7. Jessica says

    But if you eat the milk, eggs or meat from the animals, you are not wasting the food you give them. I could see if you were giving your scraps to the dog or feeding them to the birds then it would be waste, but if you compost it and use it to grow a better garden or you feed it to your animals in place of some of their usual feed, it’s not wasted food.

    • Anitra says

      I think she’s saying that she would rather the human food go to humans, and only inedible scraps to the animals or compost.

      Personally, since I don’t keep chickens or a garden, these tips were very helpful for me!

    • says

      I agree. But what I found my children doing was using that as as excuse to not be mindful of what they put on their plates. In order to cut our grocery budget we have to stop carrying out buckets full of “scraps” to the hens. Gotta keep an eye on those children…

  8. Joy says

    I recently started refreezing leftover fries and tater tots. Leftover fries and tots don’t do well in the frig but if you refreeze them and bake them again they are just as good as new.

    Also, I freeze the leftover juice from drained canned tomatoes in ice cube trays. Then, I use them to add to homemade veggie soup or whatever.

    Great post!

  9. says

    Good ideas. Lately, I have been throwing leftovers into the freezer, so they won’t spoil and we can use them another time. (When my family has forgotten that they’ve already had that meal for dinner.) I recently had a leftover night for dinner (when everyone got to choose a leftover to eat), but I don’t think everyone was happy!

    • Stephanie says

      One thing I do for leftover nights is to serve a small portion of each item to everyone. That way there are no fights over who gets what. It makes for some strange meals but my sanity is worth it.

  10. says

    Great reminders! I especially use freeze it before it spoils. Every little thing, including end pieces of celery, chicken bones, parmesan cheese rinds, can be stored for later to add flavor to other dishes. I used to worry about freezing things because I didn’t know if it would freeze well. But, if it is a choice between throwing away or freezing, why not at least give it a try?

    Also, I do save the leftovers from plates. My little ones can eat it for lunch or a snack later!

  11. Jojo says

    I save veggie scraps in a big ziplock bag in the freezer– the tops of carrots and tomatoes, celery tops, 1/2 onion leftover from a recipe, etc. When the bag is full, I make veggie broth in the crock pot. I haven’t paid for broth in years.

    I also freshen the garbage disposal by grinding our citrus peels in it, or else I use them in the winter for a crock pot potpourri.

    I use the last bits of packaged items that aren’t quite enough for a full serving– Cheerios, goldfish, pretzels, raisins, etc.– and combine th in a tupperware for a “baby trail mix” that kids of all ages enjoy and it uses up those last bits that might otherwise end up in the trash can.

  12. Charity says

    Thanks Angi for the great reminders! It is easy to get a little lazy, I know. I always think, well, I’m feeding it to the chickens, and they’re giving us eggs, so, it’s not that bad! :-/

  13. Julie says

    I’ve been saving leftovers for “Buffet Night” or “Must Go Soup,” but then I stumbled upon something different. Instead of our usual pizza night, I made the dough into a bunch of little circles, filled each one with leftovers, and folded them over like stromboli. We dubbed stromboli surprises.

  14. says

    When I was a kid, my mom had leftovers on Sunday evenings. I remember my sister frequently setting the table while singing, “It’s scrap night, it’s scrap night!” My mom wasn’t impressed with that jingle.

    I have containers in my freezer with:
    1. Leftover bread and crusts saved from mold to be made into croutons
    2. Vegetable bits (ends of carrots and the like) to be made into vegetable broth
    3. Bones and bits of meat left from bone-in chicken breasts and the like to be made into chicken broth

    All of those things are really easy to make when I get enough collected.

  15. Ileana says

    These are all great ideas, except that I have a huge issue with leftovers. I’ve tried, I really have, but I can only eat the same food twice, three times at the most and that’s fighting the gag reflex! .

    I’ve done the whole freezer thing too and it hasn’t worked for my family. I cannot stand the taste of food that’s been frozen; it has an off-putting taste for me, even when well wrapped to avoid freezer-burn. I have a weird palate and a lot of things taste metallic. Don’t even ask me about most vegetables, I have a huge issue with their taste.

    What I’ve started doing is cooking smaller batches so I don’t waste food. I am learning little by little.

  16. Amanda says

    My mom used to make all the leftovers one night and call it “cream of refrigerator.” I now do that in my own home and everyone loves it. In response to serving portions that are too big, or when a child’s eyes are bigger than their tummies, I have them put it on a tupperware with their name on a post it ( we even re-use the post-its!) and when they are hungry later, they warm it up and viola, snack with no waste!

    • Kim says

      We keep a dry erase marker on the fridge for dating leftovers, or open containers (like cottage cheese)…it’s also handy for labeling a child’s name. Or even labeling what a certain food is, like cream of chicken soup.

  17. Becca says

    When I was growing up if we didn’t finish our meals (scrape our plates spotlessly clean) then our plate was wrapped up and served to us, without reheating (this was part of the punishment for not finishing our food) at the next meal, regardless of what the next meal was. (Cold chicken and rice for breakfast anyone? Cold spaghetti?) I was such an incredibly picky eater and just couldn’t gag my way through the cold leftovers. They would be wrapped up so many times and brought out again for me that I literally would go for days without eating anything. The whole, “they’ll eat it when their hungry enough” philosophy didn’t work on me, and it wasn’t stubbornness, it was, ‘I’m going to get sick if I eat this’, which happened a lot! I know my dad was probably trying to teach us to not waste (even though we weren’t the ones to make our plates), but I think he just never left behind his role as Drill Sargent in the Army. Being a kid was no fun. :(

    • Joy says

      I was brought up same way except my Dad wasn’t a former drill sergeant. Nothing worse than trying to gag down cold liver, Brussel sprouts or tuna noodle casserole for breakfast. Yuck! When my boys were little and very picky I told them if they didn’t like what was for dinner then the alternative was bowl of cereal or PB & J. Now that they are older, if they don’t eat dinner then he alternative is yogurt or cheese stick.

    • says

      Oh, I’m so sorry. I think there’s many ways of teaching our children to not be wasteful and I really think each parent tries to do the best he can with what he has. We all make mistakes in our parenting.

  18. says

    I try to use our leftovers up on the next day at lunch if I can. If I don’t I find they can be forgotten about.

    I also freeze things before they spoil. This week I got a great buy on 9 pounds of blueberries since I know I won’t be able to use them all before they spoil I will freeze them in a day or two.

    I also try to make our leftovers into a new item so the food is better received by my family. Once I made a great soup with leftover steak, baked potatoes and broccoli. I just made some cheese sauce added a little broth added the leftovers to the crockpot too and in a few hours we had a cheesy steak and potato soup that was to die for.

  19. says

    I like your tomato products container idea! Haven’t done anything like that in a while, other than saving large amounts of sauces that are left. Would make a great spaghetti later on, you’re right.

  20. Guest says

    I usually try to make soup with leftovers but just made this crockpot fried rice over the weekend and will be using this recipe a lot in the future! Everyone loved it.

    http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/05/crockpot-fried-rice-recipe.html

    You can use pretty much any meat or veggie and it’s super easy. Note that I cooked mine for 3 hours on low (put it in right before we left for church) and it was definitely done so I wouldn’t leave it for 4 hours on low.

  21. Julie C says

    I’m not sure why you’d have no choice but to throw leftovers away when you can wrap them up with the person’s name written on the wrapper(?)

    Twice As Nice Delight Night is better than going to a buffet since we enjoy our own whole foods gourmet cooking better than a buffet restaurant. :)

    There is not any waste when you have 9 mouths to feed! My tip is to have a big family.

    • Diane says

      I believe the concern many of us have is the bacteria that is growing after it’s been partially eaten. So happy for your large family however not all readers are blessed with fertility.

        • Diane says

          Well, bacteria is growing on the food once your saliva touches it. If you choose to have your meal portioned out into a different container before you eat it at a restaurant then obviously it won’t have that problem. It’s really not the restaurant’s problem if you don’t want to waste the food and take a chance with the leftovers.

    • says

      If there’s quite a bit left on a plate then we will put it in a contianer for later. What I was alluding to was the little bit of this and little bit of that that my children seem to have gotten into the habit of leaving.

      There are 8 of us, 3 are teenage boys so there isn’t a lot of waste here. But with my younger children, if I’m not careful to serve them smaller portions then I end up with 3 plates that just have a few bites on each plate. I could, and probably should, wrap each plate but reality is that I wind up saying, “oh, just give it to the (dog, chickens, etc)”.
      It’s definately something I need to work on….

  22. Lisa says

    I am single and always looking for ways to not throw food away. So, I have a soup bin in the freezer…anything that could go into a pot of soup goes in their (ex. bits of veggies, bits of gravy, etc.). I make bread crumbs out of ends of loaves of bread. When I buy a gallon of milk I make yogurt with half a gallon and drink the rest. When I bake I share with others.

    For Christmas I gave a single friend a gift of food. So, at least once a month she will get something made or baked by me. (She does not cook at all.) So, earlier this month she received some homemade yogurt, homemade granola, and soup. Last month it was homemade soup, homemade chex mix and something I don’t remember. Basically, I give her some of the things I recently made for myself.

    • says

      Lisa, those are great ideas. I applaud you for cooking for one. I know a lot of singles don’t think it’s worth the effort but it is and I’m glad you are taking care of yourself in that way. And what a blessing for your friend!

  23. says

    I love this! I hate throwing things away. I work a couple of days a month for a catering company and at the end of the night, they throw all the leftovers away! Sometimes as much as 10 full pans of untouched food. It drives me crazy! I always take home as much as I can and freeze it. This past weekend, two of the meals my family had were from weddings last fall. Sometimes co-workers get aggravated with me frantically packing tons of food away at the end of the night but I don’t care. It saves me money on groceries and my family gets the luxury of a catered meal.

    • says

      Good for you, Nicole. My husband worked at a resturant when he was in seminary and we had 4 small children. He would regularly bring home the pans of untouched food for us. And I’d do what you do. It was a huge blessing to us.

  24. Lisa says

    So, I have been thinking of a few other ideas.

    1. There is a book called “Small Batch Baking” that I often use.
    2. I have a recipe, that calls for lemon zest, that I adore. So, I zest the rest of the lemon and freeze the zest and then I juice the lemon and freeze the juice.
    3. All citrus gets zested before being eaten and zest placed in it’s own ziploc in the freezer, for when a recipe calls for it and I don’t have a fresh orange, etc. around.
    4. Leftover taco meat or meatloaf can be used in sloppy joes, spaghetti sauce, etc.
    5. Leftover chopped turkey or chicken can be frozen for a strata or soup later.
    6. Bread cubes can be used for stuffing, strata, or bread pudding.
    7. I heard of someone in desperate need this week, so went through the cupboards and pulled out the random things that I can’t remember why I bought them, were given to me, etc.
    8. Random pieces of fruit can be added to canned fruit for a fruit salad or thrown into a blender with yogurt for a smoothie.
    9. Leftovers could be shared with a single person in your life.
    10. I have a candy that I make with a handful of nuts, dried fruit, cereal etc. I keep a container with the odds and ends for that purpose.
    11. In the summer I buy fresh herb plants. Much cheaper then buying fresh herbs even twice.
    12. I use my dehydrator when apples are starting to turn. (apple chips or slices with no preservatives or other chemicals)

  25. Cynthia M. says

    Being a single Mom of a single child I was always trying to discover ways not to waste food. The food store is packaged for 4 or more people. One way was I did use my local butcher, then if I only wanted 2 pork chops I could buy only 2. The butcher was not that more expensive than the store and they ran sales too. They always had Boneless Chicken breast for $1.99/lb. When you consider there was no waste, I wasn’t really paying more. I never had big freezer room for freezing extras. Soups were always good for using the veggies that were going limp. I also discovered through trial and error the best ways to store fresh veggies and fruit so they didn’t go bad fast.

  26. Cherity says

    The best way we have to waste less is to use a dry erase marker to mark leftover containers. We label with the content and the date. I rarely throw anything out – mostly it’s the “new recipes” that are not all that desirable to begin with!

  27. says

    Angi,

    Do you have a banana bread recipe you can share with me. I have that same problem in my house where my two boys ask me every time we go to the market to buy bananas but when I do they always end up on the counter a week later and they are just thrown away. I like your idea of freezing them but curious do I freeze them before they start turning brown or if they are already brown they are usually really, really ripe and soft.

    If you wouldn’t mind sharing that recipe that would be awesome. You can email me directly. Thanks!

    PS Great article by the way!

    • says

      Thanks, Jennifer

      I throw them in the freezer at any time. Sometimes I peel them first and put them in a ziplock bag. Sometimes I just put the whole banana in the freezer. They peel fine once they have thawed a little. They do get watery when they thaw so make sure you put them on a plate or in a bowl.

      Here’s my banana bread recipe which I usually use to make muffins instead of bread. For some reason my kids will eat the muffins better than having to slice the loaf to get bread.
      http://www.schneiderpeeps.com/2011/03/by-way.html

  28. Marisa says

    I also save all veggie scraps in the freezer and use to make veggie stock for soups and making rice with.

  29. says

    I follow a lot of the ideas listed here, but we were still left with wasted produce items. A few years ago I started organic gardening AND a worm farm (vermiculture) to produce organic fertilizer and non-toxic pesticides. We toss what is safe for the worms into our worm bins, and what they can’t have goes into our composters. I no longer feel guilty about how much was previously going to waste knowing that we will end up with a healthy, highly productive organic garden (we share our extra produce with our neighbours) that cuts down our food bill, teaches our children to be healthy and self sufficient, and potentially can create an extra income once our worm farm is large enough to sell off what we don’t need.