Many people have discovered (or rediscovered) the pleasure of making their own meals and eating with their families during the pandemic, when cooking at home became more common. In the process, grocery-related purchases have increased. Unfortunately, so too has food waste.1
According to the 2021 report of the United Nations Environment Program2, Canada is ranked 3rd in the world for food waste at home and 1st in North America, with 79 kg (175 lbs) of food thrown away per year by each Canadian. This food waste ends up in landfills and produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
The good news is that you can take action to minimize food waste. It may reduce your environmental footprint and also save money.
Here are 7 hacks to help keep food out of the garbage:
1. Plan meals and make a grocery list
Meal planning can help with reducing food waste. Start one week at a time and make sure you always make a list before you go grocery shopping. A list helps avoid unnecessary purchases that you may not actually need. To avoid buying things you already have at home, consider looking in the fridge and the pantry before you hit the grocery store.
Have you noticed that when you go to the grocery store without a list, you end up filling your cart with just about anything, without really knowing what it will be used for?
Planning your shopping list and your meals in advance can also allow you to:
Avoid stress and improvisation during the week.
Our Registered Dietitians designed the Meal Planning Club to help you simplify meal planning.
2. Make one pot meals
The "one pot meal" consists of cooking all the ingredients together in the same pan or pot. This means you can easily double or even triple the recipe and freeze the leftovers for lunches or for days when you have less time. Not only will you potentially limit food waste, you may also find you have less dishes to wash.
3. Eat what’s in season
Fruits and vegetables that are in season are tastier and more nutritious than those harvested out of season. Out-of-season food must be transported from other countries to get here. This increases its environmental footprint, and reduces its shelf life. By the time it arrives on the shelf at the grocery store, it may already be slightly past its prime.
Eating seasonally also means eating locally. It can help you reduce waste because your fruits and veggies may stay fresher longer than if they had been transported from other countries.
4. Store food in the right place in the fridge
Not storing your food properly will shorten its shelf life. Make sure each category of food is stored in the right place in the fridge and it will last longer.
One tip for reducing food waste is to place the least fresh fruits and vegetables on top so they can be used first. Also, remember to put leftovers together and in a prominent place so you don't forget them at the bottom of the fridge.
5. Use the scraps
We often throw away some parts of our food when they still have a lot of nutrients to offer us. For example, broccoli stalks, celery leaves, onion, garlic or carrot peels are often discarded but can be repurposed to make broth for soup.
All you have to do is put the vegetable scraps, peelings and bones in a freezer-safe container. When it's full, empty it into a pot, cover with water, season to taste, simmer and you have your own, anti-waste, homemade broth. Got some veggies in the fridge that are about to go off? They can also be made into a broth or soup. And if you have bread that is about to go stale, consider using it for homemade breadcrumbs or croutons.
6. Re-purpose leftovers
Another creative way to limit food waste is to turn leftovers into new meals. For example, if you have cooked a meat sauce with spaghetti, you can use the leftover sauce to make tacos another time. Leftover meat can also be used for sandwiches or salads for lunches during the week. When making your grocery list and meal plan at the start of the week, it may be helpful to consider how leftovers from one meal can create another. The possibilities are endless, you just have to let your creativity flow.
7. Try eating plant-based meals
The benefits of plant-based eating are well documented. You can replace meat in your recipes with plant-based proteins. Whether it's chickpeas, peas, or dried beans, they all have the advantage of having a longer shelf life than meat. (And they’re often less expensive).
Not sure how to begin? Try starting with one meatless meal a week and then gradually increase the frequency. The goal is to avoid changing your eating habits drastically.
If you need some plant-based meal inspiration, sign up to receive tips from dietitians on how to incorporate more plants into your diet.
1. Amar Laila, Mike von Massow, Maggie Bain, Kate Parizeau, Jess Haines (2021). Impact of COVID-19 on food waste behaviour of families: Results from household waste composition audits. Socio-Economic Planning Sciences. Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0038012121001804
2. United Nations Environment Program (2021). UNEP food waste index report 2021. Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://www.unep.org/resources/report/unep-food-waste-index-report-2021