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10 Tips to Keep a Zero Waste Kitchen

zero waste kitchen

Guest post from Keelie of Love Hope Adventure

For several years, I’ve worked hard at not throwing out food. The low waste (or zero waste) kitchen approach I’ve taken has mainly been for the sake of finances. Even though our budget has loosened up over the years, I do these same things because of my convictions to be a good steward with everything I have.

My husband is the director of a food pantry and it’s his job to hand out food that grocery stores would otherwise throw away. Also, we recently, watched the documentary called, Just Eat It. It was about a couple who ate only discarded food for 6 months (did you know that we throw out about 40% of the food that is grown in America every year?!)

A lot of that waste goes straight to the dump from our own tables… however, we try to use everything we have.

Here is what I do to keep from throwing food out:

1. Grocery Shop Once a Month

I do the bulk of the grocery shopping once a month. This allows me to stay committed to eating what we have instead of running out to the store for more ingredients.

When I make a small trip to the store about 2 weeks after the large trip, I only purchase a few things to fill in the gaps in the menu. What I purchase depends on how much is left in our grocery budget for the month.

2. Eat Almost Everything Each Month

Yes, I know this is not the couponer way. In couponing culture, we are taught to have a good stockpile going at all times, so that you can always buy at rock bottom prices. I used to have a stockpile, but once I stopped couponing, that quickly diminished.

I no longer have extra food to rely on. For that reason, everything in the fridge, freezer, and pantry must be used wisely. If something goes bad, it will cause a meal to be short. Since the fridge clears out, it is easy to see all leftovers and eat them before the mold takes over.

At the end of every month, there is very little food anywhere in my house. While I know that is a scary prospect to some, we have an emergency fund that we can use if something were to happen unexpectedly.

3. Freeze Everything That is About to Go Bad

If I can’t cook something before it goes bad, I stick in the freezer. All fruits and vegetable that are starting to turn get chopped up and put in bags or containers.

When it comes to leftovers, I put those in the freezer as well. This makes it easy to grab those later on for quick lunches or dinners, depending on how much is left.

4. Use Leftover Ingredients to Make New Recipes

Rarely do we eat leftovers without using the ingredients to make a new meal. I’m the queen of making “Refrigerator Soup”. There isn’t a real recipe — I simply gather up everything in the fridge or freezer that makes sense flavor wise and throw it in a soup.

The Lasagna Soup I created is a perfect example of one of my refrigerator soup recipes. The first time I made it, it was put together from all leftover ingredients.

5. Save Food From Our Plates

It is hard to know how much your kids are going to eat — even I’m guilty of getting too much sometimes. Instead of throwing out uneaten food, we put back what we haven’t touched.

I’m not ok with eating their extras, because I don’t want to overeat. However, I will save their leftovers for them to eat at another meal.

If we have to throw away excess from their plates a few days in a week, we give them less to eat in the future. As kids grow, their appetites change, so we try to stay flexible. We just start them with less and give a little more if they are still hungry.

6. Compost Fruit and Vegetable Waste

In the documentary, Just Eat It, they explained that throwing food away in plastic bags prevents it from breaking down. Instead of helping our earth, it actually creates methane gas.

It is better to throw the fruits and veggie waste in the backyard and let the animals get it or let it turn to compost.

7. Save Water For Plants and Animals

Most of us are not ok with dumping out milk, juice, and other drinks, but how many times do you pour out water? Instead of dumping water in the sink, we pour it in a pitcher for later use.

I use the water for plants and my dogs drinking water. Even if I didn’t have animals or plants, dumping the excess outside would be more beneficial to the earth then letting it go down the drain.

8. Don’t Use Paper Products

I purchase paper towels on a rare occasion for cleaning up things I don’t want to have to wash later on. We use cloth napkins for meals and hand towels to clean up spills.

While this isn’t food waste, we are still saving on the amount of trash in our cans.

9. Recycle Everything You Can

We haul our own trash to the dump. They do have a place for us to recycle some of our items as long as we sort it. Our kids take the time to sort the recycling every week so we can keep from throwing those things out.

10. Donate What You Do Not Use

On occasion, we are given ingredients that I do not care for. Sometimes, we just have extras. Anything we can’t or won’t eat is sent to the food pantry for others to have a chance to eat.

These are just a few of the things we do in our home to keep a zero waste kitchen.

Over the years we have come up with creative ways to reduce our trash and use the things we have been blessed with to God’s glory.

Keelie is married to her high school sweetheart and is the mom of three awesome boys. She is a creator and loves sharing with the world around her. One of her biggest passions is to help married couples fall deeper in love with one another. You can read her marriage tips, date night ideas, and snag some free printables at Love Hope Adventure.

photo source

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  • Lori Ewart says:

    Great article! I need to do much better about not wasting food. I often buy things and bury them in the freezer instead of going through on regular basis and rotating them and using the older items first.

  • Jordan says:

    Great tips here! I’ve been wanting to try out composting for a while – seems a good way to reduce waste and fertilize a garden!

    • Good luck on that Jordan. I’ve had a lot of luck with composting in another town I lived in. Here, the wildlife just gets it. However, I’m just putting it out again to keep it from going into the trash. So far so good.

  • Jamie says:

    I love these tips! I try to clean out my fridge once per week and freeze things that aren’t being used right away and use up the leftovers before they go bad. But it’s smart to stop yourself from overbuying in the first place.

    • Overbuying doesn’t do you any good, even if the food is on sale. I used to be terrible about that, but now I am really committed to eating everything up before I get more.

  • Janelle says:

    Isn’t it funny that for me, it is better to shop weekly than to shop monthly!? I find I waste more food if I go monthly, since even if I meal plan it is hard to predict what we will eat. I find weekly shopping makes me buy less and use up what we have!

    • That is super awesome Janelle! I think that whatever works best for you is what you should go with. One of the jobs my husband took early on in our marriage paid us monthly. I had to go monthly for fear of using up all the money before the end of the month. Honestly, big monthly trips have worked best for me. Although, I’ve done the weekly thing too for a few years, but have found that bulk shopping is where I live best. Good job on eating up what you have. 🙂

  • Emily says:

    My family and I have been on a journey to dramatically reduce waste the last six months. It has been a great way to identify new ways to save money in addition to being ecofriendly. We no longer purchase any paper products, which we estimate will save us over $100 over a year. Additionally, it has made me more conscious overall, so I’m not filling our home with things we don’t need/don’t serve us anymore.

    • I think that is great! We have had a paper free kitchen for a long time. That isn’t something I put in this article, but it is a way that we reduce our waste in the kitchen. I use cloth napkins and towels for everything. People come over and think we are all fancy because of our napkins…but really, we are just cheap. 😀

  • So, this may be a gross question. Sorry! What do you think about germs spreading when you put back portions of food off of kids plates? Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive. I mean, they touch all of the same things already, right? But, I’m still on the fence about this one. Our kids are pretty little right now, so we tend to give them small portions and let them ask for more.

    • Sharon Johnson says:

      ” However, I will save their leftovers for them to eat at another meal.” I don’t think she puts it back based on this.

    • You know, when they were really little and slobbering all over their food, I didn’t save it. I would throw it away. My kids are older now, and they do not touch every piece of food on their plates. I just use my best judgement call on that one. We don’t share food among the kids very often, and we don’t eat after them either. If they have bitten off of something, I will either throw it away or cut off where they have been chewing.

  • Thanks for the great reminders! I’m going to start making my own “refrigerator soup”!

    • I hope it turns out! Ours is always different. Usually it is some kind of vegetable soup. Usually, I add all the vegetables in the fridge into the pot and whatever broths I have leftover. Then I add a can of tomatoes, any meat that I might have, and let it cook. I’ve been known to add all sorts of things to soups and stews. I had a little pot pie left over the other day and added it to the beef stew. The kids were like, “There is crust in my stew”….yup. 😀

  • Louis says:

    These ideas are extremely helpful to the environment, but instead buying everything for the whole month, if buying once a week will maintain the food quality better and healthier with eating less frozen foods.

    • You know, I don’t find that we have to put too many things in the freezer. I try to eat all of the fruits and vegetables that will go bad first, and save those that will make it the whole month till the end. I find that apples, oranges, carrots, zucchini, squash, watermelon, pumpkins, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, potatoes, onions, bell peppers, sometimes broccoli, and several other things can make it a whole month. We try to eat the things that will perish quickly first and save those other things till the end. I definitely throw those vegetables and fruits in the freezer as a last ditch effort. 😀

  • Sarah says:

    Thank you! We do most of these as well, though I continue working at NO WASTE! I hate that I waste ANY food, but at least possums love rotten fruit and occasionally I get to see one eating it! 🙂

    Another tip I am ashamed to share, but…I have been guilty of buying too much of something and then deciding I didn’t like it as much as I thought, etc. I hate to throw out expired food but had some I really knew I was realistically not going to eat. I advertised it on Freecycle and someone came and picked up the box full. I also have given stuff to my parents to feed to the dogs.

    • That is awesome that you found ways to give food that you didn’t want to eat. I’m super blessed that the food pantry my husband works for will take food, even if it is past the sell by date. As long as the food hasn’t been opened, they can use it. I’ve rarely had to send things over there that we just didn’t eat, but it has happened.

      Keep up the good work of doing no waste! I’m so glad that so many people seem to be conscious of not throwing out food.

  • Nicole says:

    I love these tips! I would however caution against giving pets stail, unfiltered water. i have always been told to not give water that has been left out, grey water, or water that may have cross-contaminated microbes from other people to my pets by my vet, especially older pets or those with skin allergies. While I love using grey water for my garden in summer, I stick to my Brita pitcher for my pets. If I wouldn’t drink it or give it to my family second-hand, I wouldn’t give it to them either. Thank you for this post!

    • lizajane says:

      I can’t speak for pets with allergies, but to me that sounds crazy….I see my dogs drinking out of mud puddles all the time. And we live on a farm, so they definitely eat things I wouldn’t eat!! 🙂

      • Nicole says:

        Liza, It sounded crazy to me at first too, until both my Westie and shin tzu came started losing large patches of fur from a skin allergy. After switching them to a grain-free diet, hypoallergenic food, and creams nothing seemed to work. My vet suggested I use filtered water and not the water I collected for my garden (which I thought was safe), home, and from any other pets (we also have sugar gliders), and within a week the itching stopped, and small bits of fur came back. Also, with the water change my shi tzu’s tear staining stopped as well. So, while it sounds crazy I know that a ten dollar pitcher saved me thousands in vet bills. So for me, gray water is best kept for my greenhouse and gladiolus, not my Fuzzies!

    • Yes, I knew some people would feel concerned about us using water from our cups for our dogs. I definitely think you have to stick with your conscious on that one.

      If our kids have been sick, I don’t dump their water into that pitcher. I will just dump it straight into my growing number of house plants. 😀 All water we dump into the pitcher is used the same day, so it never sits around.

      Great points though! If your vet advises against it, I would definitely stick with the Brita pitcher and use left over water for other things like soaking dirty dishes and watering plants. 😀

  • Jacqueline says:

    We’ve done this for a while now, though I didn’t know it was called 0waste. We just felt it was best for our family of 7. We try to teach financially savvy decisions to children as well as environmentally responsible decisions. Minimizing waste is at the core. But i will say that we take advantage of low cost or free coupon items to donate in the church. the skills used to stretch money through coupons isnt always understood by all, and we use that skill to benefit those who may need it or not be able to do so. Thanks for the article!

    • Oh I agree with you on the coupons. Those things can be a real life saver. I used to have huge success with couponing and we were able to fill our pantry with a lot of free and almost free items. Since I moved to a new area, I haven’t had as much luck. I tried for about 2 years here to make couponing work, but it is a very competitive area. I’ve really struggled to make any deals work out, because there is never enough stock.

      I love that you are able to take your coupons and use them for others as well as yourself! Praise God for using your family to provide for others. Keep up the great work!

  • Bonnie says:

    These are good tips, our family has tried to cut back as well. We’re also using a lot less paper products. I’ve found shopping weekly works better for us, we have fresh food and plan accordingly.

    I personally would keep some goods on hand in the pantry for an emergency supply. There could be some circumstances where you need to have food, but might not be able to get to a store or stores are closed, so saving money aside for am emergency might not work in all cases. I would just keep an inventory of whatever food is designated for emergency, and as it gets closer, use it in your monthly menu plan, but replace what you use with fresher inventory for your family’s emergency stash.

    • I totally get where you are coming from with the pantry items. My husband and I have definitely had this discussion more than once. If there is a slightest threat of a snow storm or hurricanes, he sends me out right away to get enough stuff to last a week…which usually annoys me, because I know it will wreck our budget.

      It can be pretty hard to see the food run out at the end of every month. It is where we are right now with our budget, and maybe one day we will have the ability to keep more food on hand. I love your ideas and hope I’ll be able to put that into place in the near future!

    • Kelly S says:

      I agree – for awhile we were trying to use up everything at the end of the month, but then a few times we got sick or had something unexpected come up, and got really messed up as a result – had to eat out instead, because there wasn’t anything quick to throw together!

      • Yes, it can become very labor intensive around here at the end of the month when it comes to making meals. I get pretty tired of cooking by the end of the it all. I do try to stay thankful that I know how to cook and we are still eating plenty of great foods, though. Sometimes, you just have to go out though. 🙂

  • Audrey says:

    I love seeing articles about reducing waste as this is something I am working on as well and something I think we should all be doing!

    • Thanks so much Audrey! I couldn’t agree more with you. Our family has done a lot of things to help reduce waste in our home. We always scour the thrift stores for all of our purchases so that we can use the resources that have already been manufactured. We have all used furniture in our home, except for mattresses, because no one ever gives away mattresses that won’t destroy our backs. We try to re-purpose everything we can in our home before we donate it.

      It really is a great idea to find ways to reduce waste in your home. 🙂

  • Jamie says:

    We try to adhere to these same principles. I hate to see food wasted bc I remember being so uncertain whether we would have enough when we were first married.

    I am guilty of wasting some of my SAMs club produce but it’s cheaper to buy the ginormous bag of carrots for $3 rather than two small bags for $1.75 or the bags of salad that I always keep on hand for convenience (for 2.50) but go bad after three days of it being opened. It irritates me but it’s easier on the budget (usually).

    • Wow, your produce it’s going bad that quickly from Sam’s? I experience produce going bad quicker than I expect from aldi but not Sam’s. One thing you can do is buy head lettuce or romaine lettuce from Sam’s so that you can cut it up as you need it. I find that it’ll last about 3 weeks for me that way. As far as carrots go, baby carrots go bad within a few weeks, but the whole carrots last me for months. One thing I do to keep baby carrots from going bad is to take them out of the bag they come in so I can dry them off. Then I put them in a container, which helps then last longer.

      Sometimes, you can help it though. Food will go bad. Just try to pick off the good parts and compost the rest. 🙂

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