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7 Ways to Adopt Zero-Waste Cooking at Home

Family making dinner, using all the food with minimal waste.
George Rudy/Shutterstock

Learn about what you can do at home to reduce food waste and save yourself thousands of dollars each year. From proper food storage to freezing extra produce, we’ll throw you some guidelines.

What Is Zero-Waste Cooking?

The idea behind “zero-waste cooking” is taking steps toward wasting less food and getting as close to no waste as possible.

Collectively speaking, restaurants generate food waste in astronomical numbers each year, and the money equivalence is just as high. American households also waste high amounts of food, and sometimes it feels unavoidable.

We understand some foods spoil faster than others, feeding picky eaters is a job in itself, and convenience beats cooking many days of the year. However, there are numerous ways to work toward adopting zero-waste cooking; here’s how.

Know What’s in Your Fridge

Before you run off to take care of your weekly grocery shopping, take stock of what’s in your fridge and pantry. You might have forgotten a few ingredients hanging around and don’t need to purchase them again.

How many times have you come home to realize you bought ingredients you already had in your fridge? It happens to everyone.

Always have a plan for what you’ll cook during the week, and be sure to check your fridge and pantry before making that list.

Properly Store Your Food

Storing your food in the right place is a great way to ensure you’re using it up and allowing it to keep a lasting shelf life. Most refrigerators have cold spots that can cause foods to freeze. Keep your produce away from that area to ensure they don’t freeze and defrost into a soggy mess.

Another trick to properly store food is by using the acronym FIFO. This stands for “first in, first out” and ensures food with the nearest use-by dates is consumed first.

For example, if you have a few gallons of milk, be sure to keep the carton with the nearest use-by date in the front, so you don’t open multiple cartons and over time waste the milk.

Mindful Grocery Shopping

Always grocery shop on a full stomach; otherwise, you’ll end up with many foods you didn’t plan to purchase in the first place. Don’t end up buying all the foods you’re craving at the moment, and then throw them away. This one also happens to everyone.

When you go to the grocery store with a list and stick to it, you’ll more likely use all the healthy foods in your fridge. Here are three rules to adhere to for a successful and mindful grocery shopping trip:

  • Plan your meals for the week.
  • Make a list according to the meals.
  • Strictly follow the list at the grocery store.

Don’t forget to update your list: If you buy certain items a few times and never end up cooking with them, stop restocking based on what you think you’ll use and shop based on what you do.

Save Skins, Greens, and Stems

A man chopping fresh vegetables in a sunny kitchen.

Always wash your vegetables and fruits thoroughly, but don’t bother with the peeling part. You’ll save time and reduce food waste, all while taking in the nutrients that many veggies hold in the peel. We also understand some skins aren’t supposed to be consumed, so obviously peel those.

While you’re at it, find a purpose for your nutrient-dense greens like turnip, beet, or radish greens and carrot tops. You can toss them in with baby spinach and make a salad or chop it up and add it to a soup or stew.

Stems can also make a great addition to a soup or stew but also taste great sautéed with a few other essentials like olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper.

Learn How to Freeze, Ferment, or Can

Having extra vegetables or fruit you don’t use up in time is inevitable and will happen from time to time. Rather than throwing out that produce, learn how to blanch and freeze it for later.

Your freezer is made for more than chicken nuggets and tater tots. That’s right—with a few freezer bags and a quick blanch, you can have an abundance of fresh-tasting ingredients in your freezer for many future meals.

Fermenting and canning are two other wonderful ways to preserve foods, especially when your garden provides an abundance. Take up a new hobby and learn how to ferment or can foods.

Be Creative with Cooking

The very best part about cooking is its creative aspect. Although it’s helpful to plan your meals ahead of time, leftover ingredients are inevitable.

Next time you look in your fridge only to find odds and ends, don’t give up and turn to take-out as your next best option. Consider these random ingredients and start thinking how you can use them.

With a little ingenuity and online research, you’ll be amazed about what you can come up with. Whether you call it a concoction or your innovative food invention, it might just become a new family favorite.

Learn About Composting

When all else fails, you can easily take your leftover ingredients and throw them into a compost bin rather than your trash bin. Even spoiled foods that are growing bizarre fuzzies can get tossed in the compost pile.

This is a great way to give back nutrients to the soil and can easily go toward your future garden ingredients.

The main takeaway is to simply focus on ways you can minimize waste and over time those changes will become habits. Whether that means freezing leftovers, cooking new creations, or not buying food you know you’ll never cook and eat in the first place, it’s all done one step at a time.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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