Trying to reduce food waste in your home? Follow this five-day meal plan, which will use up everything in your fridge for delicious, eco-conscious meals.
No one wants to throw out food, but we’ve all been there—it happens. Leftovers get lost in the fridge, die from freezer burn months later, or that half-can of diced tomatoes you swore you’d use up molds over. And who hasn’t uncovered a bunch of herbs, bought for one recipe, withering in the crisper?
It’s not because you don’t care, but there are definitely steps you can take to do better at reducing food waste. One of our favorite ways is to cook with sustainability in mind. To help you get started, we rounded up eight recipes low-waste recipes
How Much Food Is Wasted in the U.S.?
According to the USDA, food waste in the United States is estimated between 30 and 40 percent of the food supply. This corresponds to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food.
Why Is Food Waste a Problem?
Every year, 31 percent of the overall food supply is wasted, according to the EPA. Not only does food waste impact food conversation efforts, it’s also a massive contributor to climate change. When food is discarded, energy used to produce, process, transport, prepare, and store the discarded food is wasted as well.
Plus, food waste and loss carries a large greenhouse gas footprint. In a report published in 2016, the EPA found that food waste contributes to 18 percent of total U.S. methane emissions that come from landfills. How? Production, transportation, and handling of food all generate carbon dioxide emissions. And when food waste ends up in landfills, it creates methane (a potent greenhouse gas), according to the USDA.
How to Reduce Food Waste
These are just a few ways you can start reducing food waste in your own kitchen.
- Minimize packaging
Try to buy ingredients that minimize packaging (shop in the bulk aisle for things like oats, dried beans, or nuts) or whose packaging can be recycled (cans and bottles, for example).
- Buy in season
Buy foods that are in season and have low carbon miles on them—i.e., from farmers’ markets or local markets.
- Shop more often
Large and infrequent grocery runs can lead you to buy more than what you need when it comes to perishable items such as vegetables. Try to make your trips more frequent, but more mindful.
- Stock basics
Stock your pantry and freezer with frozen veggies, dried rice, beans, and pasta, which are all typically low-waste items.
- Be strategic
Keep your flavor profiles similar during a grocery trip, whether that means buying Mexican ingredients one week and Italian the next. Doing this makes it much easier to share ingredients and reuse them across multiple meals.
- Repurpose your kitchen scraps
Save vegetable scraps in a zip-close freezer bag and pull them out as needed for soup or stock. You can cook them right from frozen. You can also hang on to the rinds of hard cheese such as Manchego or Parmesan. Toss them into soups for extra umami flavor. Have a garden? Keep eggshells and coffee grinds for your gardening efforts.
- Keep the greens
Steam or saute the greens from beets, turnips, and radishes—or chop and add them to soups or salads. Leftover leafy green herbs? Turn parsley, cilantro, even carrot tops into pesto, which can then be frozen.
Food scraps such as peels, cores, and skins, can be composed in a small bucket you can keep right under your sink. (Skip citrus peels and onion skins, which can kill worms and other microorganisms in your pile.) Even if you don’t have the ability to make a compost pile in your yard, many cities and municipalities provide composting facilities.
A Beginner 5-Day Low-Waste Meal Plan
Let’s face it, recipes aren’t usually written with the idea of reducing food waste. But what if you cooked with the full intent of using as much as possible—and anything you couldn’t immediately use, you had a plan for? We put together five days of meals to help you get started with low-waste cooking. The recipes here have been written with the goal of using as much as possible from the ingredients.
Shopping and cooking with food waste reduction in mind might be new for you; it requires a different mindset but one that can become second nature with mindfulness and practice. The goal here isn’t perfection—because that’s impossible—but to begin to see the ways in which a lot of what we eat can be repurposed. You may be surprised by how creative you can get with these efforts.
The ingredients in these recipes are designed to play off each other. You can make them in any order that you like, but we recommend our easy-to-follow meal plan below.
The recipes are designed to feed three to four with little to no waste at the end of the five days, or two hungry adults with some leftovers. You can double or halve the recipes as needed.
Ready to get started and join us on this journey? We created a convenient shopping list featuring the pantry staples and ingredients you’ll need to make all of the recipes below.