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10 simple ways to reduce food waste, from a registered dietitian

A woman putting food scraps away

Food waste is a big problem for the environment and the economy. In Canada, the average household throws out around 140 kilograms of food each year – that’s around $1,300 down the drain. Life happens, and sometimes food spoils before we get a chance to eat it. But according to a study by the National Zero Waste Council, around 63 percent of the food that we throw out could still have been eaten.  

Reducing food waste reduces the environmental impact of food production and agriculture. It also helps keep your grocery bills manageable. Whether it’s meal planning, shopping mindfully, or upcycling food scraps, there are numerous strategies you can use to reduce your food waste. Here are a few dietitian-approved favourites:

1. Meal plan before you shop

You’re more likely to use foods if you have a plan for them when you buy them. Rather than strolling through the grocery aisles and putting things in your cart because they look interesting, set aside some time to plan out your meals for the week. Buy only the ingredients you know you’ll need. 

2. Freeze foods that you can’t use right away

Don’t forget that freezing is an option if you end up with ingredients that you won’t be able to use right away. A great example of this is freezing fruit such as berries or bananas. If your fruit is starting to get a bit too mushy to eat raw, you can freeze it and blend it up in a smoothie, or add it to a batch of whole wheat pancakes or muffins. Freezing fresh ingredients also preserves many of the key nutrients, so you still get all the nutritional benefits while avoiding waste. 

3. Look for recipes to use every part of the foods you buy

When meal planning, consider how much of a given food you’ll need. Plan meals around package sizes, or look for recipes that will utilize all of the ingredients with no leftovers. For example, a whole can of beans or tomato sauce, or a dozen eggs. Ensuring that you use what you buy will prevent you from having to throw out that mystery container in the back of the fridge several weeks down the road. 

4. Buy local as much as possible

Buying food locally helps cut down on the greenhouse gas emissions used to transport it. Plus, when you buy locally, the food has less time to spoil in transit, so more of the food that’s grown ends up on someone’s plate rather than in the trash.

5. Shop for “imperfect” produce

Food waste often starts at the grocery store, as many shops won’t sell produce that’s oddly shaped, too small or large, or damaged. But weird-looking vegetables and fruits are, for the most part, still perfectly edible. Some grocery stores have started offering imperfect produce at a significant discount. If you’re not too concerned about looks, and you have a plan to use an ingredient right away, this can be a great way to save money and reduce waste at the source.  

6. Look for food products that use upcycled ingredients

Upcycling is still catching on in the world of packaged food, but as the concept becomes more trendy, some food manufacturers are offering upcycled products. For example, you can find jams, jellies, and chips made with imperfect produce, as well as granola and crackers made with the pulp left over from the production of fruit juice and nut milk. You can also look for recipes to make similar products at home. 

7. Try growing your favourite produce at home

Whether you have a green thumb or are a gardening novice, growing your own produce can be easier than you think. Many grocery stores sell DIY kits for growing your own herbs, mushrooms, or cherry tomatoes easily in a small container. If you’re a little more ambitious, certain produce like green onions or live lettuce can be replanted after you bring it home and can continue to yield edible leaves for many months. Try saving some of the seeds from a pepper and see what happens when you plant them in your garden. 

8. Repurpose foods that would otherwise be thrown out

Many of the food scraps that we throw out can actually be eaten or used to flavour other recipes. For example, instead of throwing out that orange peel, try a simple recipe for a candied version. Vegetable scraps and chicken bones can be used to create a delicious soup stock. Stale bread can be used to make bread crumbs and croutons.

9. Use food scraps in your garden

Many of the food scraps that we can’t eat can be used in other household applications, like gardening. For example, coffee grounds and orange rinds can be placed around houseplants as pet deterrents. Egg shells are high in calcium carbonate, which can help to lower soil acidity – plants that thrive in less acidic soil will be grateful. If you’re lucky enough to live near a farm or have backyard chickens, many food scraps make excellent chicken feed as well.  

10. Compost food that you can’t use

Finally, if there’s no other way to use spoiled food or food scraps, don’t throw it in the garbage! Putting organic waste in the compost ensures that it can decay naturally and become nutritious soil for plants and agriculture. If you have a large backyard, investing in a backyard composter can make it easy to deal with food scraps. Even if you live in an apartment, there are options – many cities now have composting bylaws requiring apartments to provide residents with household green bins. There are also smaller bin options for balcony composting. 

With so many options, it’s easy to reduce your food waste. A little planning and some creativity can go a long way toward keeping good food out of landfills. 

For more tips on how you can reduce food waste in your household, talk to a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians in the TELUS Health MyCare app can give you personalized tips that fit your budget, lifestyle, and living space. Book an appointment in the app today, and see a registered dietitian conveniently from your home. 

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