The Wrong, Easy Way to Avoid Food Waste

On last week’s Food Waste Friday post, a reader (Hi, Laura!) left the following comment:

I like the idea of the Food Waste pictures. But I worry sometimes about the incentive it creates for myself when I view food going bad as a really awful thing. For one, I buy fewer groceries, so they won’t rot in the fridge or cupboard. But a year or two ago I realized I had a pretty bad habit of ordering pizza on the nights there were no good groceries in the house. That wasn’t a win from a financial or health standpoint. I also made a conscious decision about a year ago to overbuy produce, even though we do see some of it go bad. This is because I want us to eat more fruits and vegetables. I’d rather have us all eating an extra serving because there’s so much of it, even if some goes bad, then have the kids wander by the counter, feel a vague urge for a banana or apple, and then not have one there.

I actually agree with Laura, and this is such a good reminder, I thought we were maybe due to discuss this again.

Being mindful of food waste certainly doesn’t mean that we ought to quit buying fruits and vegetables, and it doesn’t mean that we should cut back on buying fruits and vegetables.

In fact, that hasn’t been my main strategy at all. Oddly enough, since I started blogging (almost 4 years ago now!), we’ve begun to eat more produce than we did before, mostly because I started shopping at Aldi, which meant I could suddenly afford more produce.

So, I buy more produce now, and yet waste far less than I did before.

How?

Well, for one thing, knowing that I’ll have to show you all of my waste makes me much more inspired to use up my produce. Before, I’d stare at the green beans and feel utterly unmotivated to trim and cook them, and now, even if I have no other motivation, I cook them because I don’t want to have to show you moldy beans!

Public accountability is a marvelous thing.

A second uber-helpful thing has been a more detailed menu plan. I used to buy produce willy-nilly, bring it home, and forget to use it. Now when I plan my menus, I write down which nights we’re having salad, or roasted green beans, or steamed broccoli. This helps me buy and use the produce.

A third useful tactic has been paying more attention to what’s in my fridge. Before, I used to rummage around in the fridge looking for whatever I was in the mood to eat. These days, I do more mindful rummaging (Is there such a thing??), searching for produce that might need to be used.

Lastly, I’ve learned to use the most perishable produce first. At the beginning of the week, we eat up the berries, spinach, and bananas, and by the end of the week, we’re more likely to be eating things like citrus fruits, carrots, and hardier greens.

Admittedly, I could have cut back on my food waste problems by simply buying less produce.

In fact, avoiding fresh foods is a very simple way to waste less. As a rule, the fresher and less processed the food, the more likely it is to go bad.

And if low food waste was the goal to trump all other goals, maybe I’d choose Ramen over avocados.

But, as so often is the case, there are multiple virtues we should be striving for, and elevating one way above the others causes us to have unbalanced lives.

For instance, if you strive for a low grocery bill above all else, you’re probably not going to buy enough healthy food (by the same token, if you raise organic food to the tip-top, you might find yourself in debt, especially if you shop exclusively at Whole Foods!)

If frugality in general is your highest goal, you probably won’t be generous.

And if zero food waste is the be all, end all to you, your kitchen probably won’t boast much green food.

So, please don’t ever think that I’m advocating a low-produce sort of existence. That’s not at all the point of Food Waste Friday. I want you to keep buying produce! I just want you to use what you buy.

Need more food waste tips? Check out 10 Ways To Reduce Food Waste. And join the rest of us on Food Waste Fridays! The accountability it provides has changed my life.

Your turn! How do you manage to buy plenty of produce without wasting it?

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Today’s 365 post: A photo from Sonia

Joshua’s 365 post: Germy

Comments

  1. Linda says

    I am fortunate enough to live and shop near a very large restaurant supply store. This store has a partner next to them who sells what the restaurants do not buy. So, I get large bags of cut up lettuce for $1. When I say large, I mean 4 times the size of the prewashed bags in the supermarket. I get 5 lbs of potatoes for $1. Strawberries, yup $1.

    I shop there at least 2 times a week because I never know what they will have. My menu will change based on what they have in their store. Yes, I sometimes do not need all that lettuce. I sometimes give part of the bag to my mother, mother-in-law, sisters, etc.

    I wish everyone had a store like that in their area.

      • Linda says

        The store is in New Bedford, MA called Friendly Fruit.

        Yesterday I got 3 lbs of strawberries for $1 each, 3 half gallons of apple cider for $.50 each, a head of cauliflower for $1 and a container of Olivia Organics baby romaine for $1.

        It’s a fabulous store to just stop in to see what they have. There are people who vacation on Cape Cod that stop there before they head to the Cape to stock up on produce.

  2. WilliamB says

    I don’t manage to buy plenty of produce without wasting some. But as with Laura, I’d rather waste some produce than not have any. And if I only have a little around I tend to hoard it “for later,” which doesn’t promote a healthy diet.

    My best ideas to use up produce that is going to waste:
    1. fruit – smoothies, quickbread.
    2. veggies – stir fry, soup (even lettuce), omlet. Keep the omlet from being weepy by cooking the veggies in advance, then cooling them. So if I see veggies doing bad I cook them, then use them another day for an omlet.

    • Cheeryshirley says

      William B ~ I also hoard things when they get too low…hoard them til they go bad! So glad to hear you do the same! For some reason it tickles my husband’s funny bone! :) But, then, he gets a chuckle out of lots of things…side-effect of a fun disposition! :) Good idea on cooking the veggies first for omelets…will try that! Thanks! Cheeryshirley

  3. says

    Thank you so much for this post! It is SO important that we eat our fruits and veggies, regardless of how frugal or unfrugal it may be. :)
    My best friend when it comes to saving on the brink of going bad produce (other than having my family gobble it up) is my freezer!
    I’ll grate and freeze slightly wrinkly zucchini for soups or bread later down the line, or pop those browning bananas in there to save up for banana bread, or chop up sweet peppers that I know I won’t use up before they go bad and put them in the freezer so they last longer.
    There definitely are ways to buy lots of produce and have it not go bad, and still have a low food waste week.

    And Linda, I wish I had a store like that in my area too, that would be SO nice. :)

  4. Maggi says

    My family has gotten so used to the idea of eating soup on Saturday nights for precisely the reason you describe: it allows me to use up what will go bad otherwise. I go shopping on Sundays, so Saturday I pull out all of the fruit and veggies and make an omelet for breakfast. If we have more veggies, then it is soup for dinner. Sometimes a pasta dish if I am feeling so inspired. My son calls it a ‘lucky Saturday’ if there’re is leftover fruit and I make smoothies that morning (something of a rarity). But about 98% gets used. Very little goes to compost.

    But yes, shopping frugally allows me to buy more produce overall. Once CSA season starts, I have a little less control over what I buy since the CSA haul alone gives us more than we need, usually, so I don’t buy from the grocery store. Nevertheless, being mindful and a ‘backup plan’ for using leftover produce is really the key to keeping waste to a minimum.

  5. Jill says

    I have a dry erase board I bought from Dollar Tree. I put in on the fridge. I write the produce we buy on there as a reminder to what we have in the fridge.

  6. says

    Love this post! One of the things I’ve started doing to waste less produce is freezing it. I freeze bananas for smoothies or banana bread. I freeze celery leaves, onion and carrot peelings for chicken stock and i freeze broccoli steams for soups.

  7. Courtney says

    We avoid wasting produce by making one dish dinners that involve a broad spectrum of items. Any extra gets frozen for later, or we continue eating the leftovers through the week. For fruits, we cut it up and make a fruit salad and eat that through the week as well.

  8. Elaine in Ark says

    I always, always, always have produce waste. I don’t really cook much (although more than before) and I always have some bagged salad, a dried-up carrot, or a moldering banana left. I am willing to pick individual produce items instead of getting pre-packaged, just so I don’t have so much waste. In fact, last year at the farmer’s market, the peach people had them bagged, and I only wanted 3. I paid a premium price but not one bite of those 3 wonderful peaches went to waste.

    It’s a real balancing act.

  9. says

    I freeze produce that’s about to go bad. Occasionally I’ll buy a big bag of onions (when they’re on sale) and I could never use that many onions so quickly; so I’ll dice & freeze them for a really quick and easy addition to almost any meal (I actually should consider doing this more often because I’m always sad when I run out of them–chopping onions is one of my least favorite things to do so I love having them ready for me on demand). I’ll also slice up peppers for fajitas or pasta dishes I make that use them; freeze bananas & berries for breads/muffins or smoothies. Even grapes will get frozen in our home–I love to eat them that way anyways. =)

    We eat TONS of produce around here. And even though I’ll freeze lots of it if it looks like it will be going bad too quickly–the best thing I can do to keep it from being wasted is stick to my menu plan. When I first started planning out our weekly menu, I would come home from work and gladly go with a frozen pizza or something much more simple than my original plan just because it was easier on me. This wasn’t good for our budget, our health or food waste. So these days I’m much better about sticking to our menu. And for those days when things do come up and we must stray–I’ll change the line up for the remainder of the week to use those items that would go bad first.

  10. says

    Thankfully my husband will eat just about anything so it’s rare to have anything go bad in our house. But other than his stomach we use a few strategies in our home.
    1. Use the delicate stuff first. Berries are eaten before apples. Spinach before potatoes. It’s easy to tell in our home when it’s almost time to run to the store becasue our fresh fruits and veggies stop making an appearance at our table, but I meal plan that way.
    2. Use the deep freeze. Sometimes I just don’t get around to using what I had planned on. I take a little extra time to chop up the veggies or cook the chicken in bulk and throw them in the freezer. I also put already prepped food in the freezer if we have too many left overs. Every week I can usually pull some ingredients that I need from the freezer. About twice a year I have “pantry raid week ” where we eat only what we have on hand to help avoid freezer burn.
    3. Feed it to the baby! I’m striving to make sure our little one isn’t a picky eater so I expose him to anything and everything. Little (healthy) odds and ends make it to his plate. Last year our CSA gave us way more radishes than I could ever use. Thankfully, little one loved steamed pureed radishes!

  11. says

    Well, I buy these containers from tupperware called Fridge Smart containers. At first I was skeptical on how they would work. But it is containers that has these vent holes that you open or close. The side container tells you what vents to have open or close based on the produce in the container. Anyways, I wasn’t sure how it would work. I bought them over a year ago and WOW. I love buying farm fresh strawberries but they sell you a whole crate and it goes bad before you can eat it all. Well, not with the Fridge Smart containers it will last 2 weeks before going bad. I actually bought another set so, I have room to keep all of my produce fresher longer. I also notice it kept the produce that I picked from my garden fresher longer. I put my spinach from Costco in the container and it is good for 2 weeks. So, I waste a lot less. Also, I find having a grocery list helps. I eat spinach probably every other day with my egg whites. So, now I don’t buy produce that I don’t like or I won’t eat or that isn’t on the menu anymore.

  12. Lauren says

    Thank you for writing about this. I buy plenty of produce and let way too much of it spoil, but I’m trying to mend my ways. I just recently found your blog, and this whole topic has been very helpful. Much appreciated!

  13. says

    Hi Kristen,
    I’m a big meal planner, like to save $$ on my groceries, and we have a super healthy diet. Meal planning definitely saves money for our family because we don’t use coupons. Most all of our food comes from the produce section or the bulk/bin section of our grocery store. They don’t make coupons for those – yet!
    If we don’t eat produce soon enough, I freeze it. Or, I toss it in a smoothy. We have smoothies 3 mornings a week (on the mornings when I don’t workout). Just this morning I tossed into our smoothy a half eaten banana that went to school and came back deemed “too mushy to eat” by my daughter, who’s in middle school. She drank the banana in her smoothy instead!! ;)
    I also freeze herbs (cilantro, basil, thyme) from my garden or the store for later use. Tossed into a soup, stew or hummus, you can’t tell they’ve been frozen.

  14. says

    Funny timing! I just posted this week about my “produce pile.” I keep as much as possible in the counter so we have a visible reminder of 1) what needs to get eaten so it won’t go bad and 2) accountability of how much produce we’ve eaten this week. If the pile hasn’t shrunk much by Wednesday, I know we haven’t been very good about eating our fruits & veggies and need to pick up the pace!

  15. says

    So true! We eat the perishable stuff first and by Tuesday night get onto the ‘tougher’ vegetables for that night’s dinner.

    This just makes me more mindful which I love. My best friend was over on Saturday and saw my compost bin and said “oooo…I better see that in Friday’s post”. hee…hee…

  16. says

    After several frustrating years of produce waste caused by the fact that I’m single and just can’t eat it all; I invested in Rubbermaid’s produce savers. Who knew lettuce could last for a month? Carrots, onions, even peppers last longer. I’ve disciplined myself to put all of my produce in a Rubbermaid container as soon as I get home from the grocery store, and now I rarely have produce waste. I recently purchased a container from Pampered Chef that is just for asparagus. Now my asparagus can last for two weeks! It usually takes me about four meals to go through a bunch of asparagus so being able to spread it over a couple of weeks is wonderful!

  17. says

    This may sound contradictory but we actually eat more variety due to reducing food waste. Food-stuffs do not get discarded and new meals or take-out purchased in place of. I am a fanatical meal planner, and it is rare there is any item unaccounted for in my Fridge as I only buy 7 days worth of perishables. I’ve even been called irresponsible on another blog’s comments for my lack of ‘back up’ perishable food. However life happens, and should I have anything left on a Friday by the time my fridge gets photographed then it’s time to conjure up something (No Waste Tastes Great Challenge). This is where the variety comes in… and also the reduction of take out food. Last week I had a few items left including one sweet and one white potato. From very little I made a slow cooked curry that I never had before, it contained tomato, sultanas, coconut milk, peppers, potatoes even mushrooms as I had a couple deteriorating in the fridge. I wouldn’t have necessarily put any of those things together, but it worked, and I didn’t order take-out. It’s important to keep your eye on the ball (which is why FWF is so important). Buy an extra few bananas don’t forego them, but as they don’t get eaten, pop them in the freezer and make smoothies from them.

    • says

      Wanted to add whilst on the subject of freezers. I don’t pack mine to the rafters with meals etc as much of what we eat is cooked from scratch. However I do keep in a substantial amount (most of the time) of frozen vegetables and some fruit (for smoothies) – we only have a small freezer (3 drawers). This is a fantastic way of reducing food waste and still having these things to hand. The only problem I envisage is when freezers are so full you don’t know what’s in them – I’ve seen freezers like that. Mine also usually contains home-made vegetarian soup. This is a great way of using up produce and eliminating waste and also means you have a nutritious meal to hand should the cupboards be bare! Better than ordering take out! ;-)

  18. Emelen says

    We’re big fans of freezing produce that’s on its way out, if we can catch it in time. Frozen fruit can be thrown into smoothies or used for compote or muffins or pies or applesauce. The kids definitely appreciate these uses the 2nd time around! The frozen veggies can be thrown into soups, stocks and some smooties as well. Reduces food waste without having to reduce the purchases!

  19. Jenessa says

    I don’t buy a huge amount of fresh produce because the two of us don’t go through it very fast. I have to have a plan for our produce if it is going to get used up. I am not big on impromptu, thrown together type meals and I hate smoothies, so those types of ideas don’t work well for me. As long as I mostly stick to my meal plan though, we don’t waste much food.

  20. says

    We love fresh fruit and veggies. My husband HATES wasting food so much so I think he developed a Powerpoint presentation to along with his Wasted Food Speech for the picky eater kids who visit ;)

    I freeze fresh produce or fruit that’s soft and we might not eat before it goes bad. I don’t have an extra freezer. Mine is a top mount freezer on the top of my refrigerator. I like having the fresh frozen veg on hand when we run low and to get us through to the next grocery shopping trip.

    On those rare times I buy fresh herbs, I dry the leftovers in a paper bag and store them in a repurposed spice jar in the pantry.

  21. says

    Great post!! I manage to use seemingly unreasonable amounts of produce by processing it right away, making it easier-access. I bulk-process fresh things about twice a week. I’ll cut up fruit and plate it, cover the plate and put it in the fridge so it’s ready to go, and do the same with veggies for a veggie plate. I’ll also cut up leafy greens and other veggies, compose a huge salad minus dressing, and put the finished salad bowl in the fridge. To serve it, i just add dressing, or the eater adds his or her own dressing. The other day I cut up a cantaloupe and put it in Tupperware so we had ready-to-serve cantaloupe for a couple of meals. I wait to wash grapes because they get moldy, and I wait to slice apples and pears because they lose their color and crunch, but they’re pretty easy to process, anyway.

  22. cyndy says

    I agree with both of you but I also think there are ways to use what would be wasted – freeze it. Fruit can be cut and frozen for later use in smoothies, ice cream toppings, fruit chutneys, etc. Vegetables can be frozen for later use to make broths, soups, and sauces. Cooked meat freezes well for use later in stir frys and soups. Trimmings from meat can be frozen raw for use to make stock later when you have enough. So as long as you don’t let them mold, when they start looking wilt and soft my motto is cut and freeze. I have a large gallon size freezer bag labeled veg scraps that I throw my beyond fresh vegetables and my cut-off scraps from broccoli, cabbage, carrots, etc. as well as onion peels. I have another for raw meat scraps & bones for stock. Another for cooked meat chunks. For fruit, I freeze the types separately so I can choose my flavor/s.

  23. says

    This is a great post and it is really encouraging that so many of us do the same things. I love participating in FWF because I am very intentional about using produce. We had a few unexpected things happen this week and the asparagus I was planning to use Tuesday is still in the fridge.
    Last week I trimmed and cooked 2 pounds of green beans and stuck them in the freezer. This week I’ve grabbed some out twice. Very handy!
    Thanks everyone for being so encouraging.

  24. says

    Hi Kristen – thanks for this post! Yes, it’s always a balancing act. All scrimping and no splurging makes Jack a dull boy. All splurging and no saving makes him broke. As for food waste, this week we made banana bread with some bad bananas and have put a lot of veggies into chili. But the kale is about to go bad and no one is stepping up to the plate, alas ;)

    • says

      Laura, chop the kale and saute with onions and a bit of oil, (cook the stalks and all but saute the stalks longer than the leaves – they’re tougher and take longer to cook). Meanwhile, crack eggs into a bowl and when your kale/onion mixture is soft, pour the eggs over the kale/onion mixture. Salt, pepper and you’ve got dinner!

  25. susanna says

    I’ve done much better on the food waste the past year or two – before I’d buy stuffa nd it’d just go to waste -s ame with leftovers. this week I’m tossing a 7 layer salad – too salty for me and too much sour cream. Im’ bummed because I made the salad to use up the refried black beans I’d opened and not used but I forgot the salt in them – reg canned beans I drain and rinse a couple of times but can’t do that with refried(at least not easily!)

    now I try to have meals in mind when I buy produce/bread – I have 2 buns left (well 3 but one will be another burger) and the plan is to either freeze the remaining 2 buns or fix another type sandwich.

    I’m also really angry with Randals’ -t hey’re the grocery nearest me and I can’t count the times I’ve bought produce there that’s no good – I get home and eat 2 clementines and the rest are hit and miss – some already moldy or dried out. happens with berries too -pick up some before work and get her and ready to eat them around 9 or 10 am and they’re already moldy. I think bananas are the safest thing to buy there and apples – otherwise I have to cross my fingers. walmart is bad too sometimes. Kroger I’ve done better with but it’s a drive there.

  26. Alexandra says

    Kristen, i saw the picture the other day and didn’t get to ask the question, and here it is again. What do you do with beets? I don’t see any recipes with beets in your weekly menu plan that week, and i would love to get new ideas for using them. Thanks!

    • says

      I thought I’d pop in here about beets. We love cooked beets sliced and warmed in orange juice. Or we add some to the top of salads. They are really good in salads, especially with spinach! You can put cooked beets in pickle juice and then eat them just like that as a side dish or on salads. You can cook them “Harvard style” with a little vinegar and sugar and then thicken the sauce with a bit of cornstarch. Mix slices with orange segments for another salad. layer with pieces of avocado for quick salads that are delicious! Enjoy!

  27. says

    I can’t stand throwing away something that cost me money unless it’s totally used up. Once I threw away an avocado that I just didn’t use in time (but could have), and as it dropped into the trash I realized that it was just like throwing a dollar bill away. That made this skinflint cringe. :P

    My response, since I don’t exactly like vegetables anyway, is not buy very much, and only what’s really cheap. This results in not having a very well-rounded diet, which I also was not happy about…. But lately we’ve been buying from Bountiful Baskets (it’s an online thing) and it gives us much more variety for an acceptable price. It’s kind of fun to see what we’ll get and to enjoy eating the yummy stuff that I would have a hard time buying otherwise due to how expensive it is at the grocery store.

  28. says

    I live in a town where you can buy big bowls of fruit and veg in bowls for just 1. Now theres just two of us in our house so i never usually bother buying these bowls of food as i just couldn’t get through it all.

    However in the summer I do tend to buy soft fruit bowls and we share it with our neighbors and they share their veg with us. It’s so much cheaper than buy half the amount for more money. for instance 1 red pepper in Sainsburys costs about 80p but I can get a bowl of about 5 red peppers for a 1.

  29. says

    We love the quality of the produce at Aldi’s. Not only is it affordable, it’s usually fresher than what we find at our local grocery store.

    I usually check on the produce before making a meal in case I’ve forgotten some that needs to be used. Using the most perishable first is the best! For the “end of the week” produce we include beets in a jar, onions, carrots, and (hangs head in shame) frozen veggies. We almost never buy canned veggies because of the can liners, but we still buy frozen veggies, especially stir fry mixes.

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