50 ways to (seriously) reduce your food waste

50 ways to (seriously) reduce your food waste - Episode 169 of The Slow Home Podcast

I’m going to say this straight up: today’s episode is BIG. It’s packed full of practical tips and it moves prettttty fast. But I also think it’s going to prove to be super valuable. And I don’t just mean valuable in terms of the quality of the info we share, but also quite literally – in terms of the money you’ll save and the positive impact you’ll have on the environment. In short, this is an epic poggie.

So what exactly do we talk about in this epic, valuable pogpast? Food waste.

Ben’s got some astonishing stats to share in this episode, but needless to say, the level of food waste in Australia alone is eye-wateringly high. And given what we know about food security in the developing world, and even many communities in our own backyard, it’s truly devastating to think about. And while some of this waste is a result of systems put in place by massive supermarket chains both here and globally, a lot of it is not. Much of the food we waste in Australia is wasted in our own homes, and it’s this waste that we want to focus on in this big ol’ pogpast.

In part today’s episode is a pretty natural continuation of the overall theme of slow living – quality over quantity, use only what we need, local, intentional, environmentally conscious – but it’s also been spurred by the recent ABC series, War On Waste. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet I’ve included a link to it at the bottom of this page, along with a heap of other helpful resources. It makes me happy to see the ideas of sustainability and mindful living start to make their way in to the mainstream and I hope this is a sign of big changes to come. (God knows we need it.)

Despite my occasional dip in to big-picture despair, however, this episode is the antidote to the what-can-I-do’s. It’s quite literally packed full of things we can do today. OK, probably not all of them today, but I can guarantee you there is at least one idea we cover in this episode that you can try today. No purchase of backyard chickens necessary.

We start the show with a list of our own tips, tricks, hacks and changes, and follow that with a bomb-awesome collection of your tips, gleaned from a Facebook post only a couple of days ago. You guys are clever and committed and your ideas make me so so happy.

So BEHOLD! Our monster list of tips to help you minimise food waste:

Planning and Organisation:

    • Meal plan regularly and be realistic with that plan. If you know you’re exhausted by Thursday night, then don’t plan and buy the ingredients for a super-involved meal. Chances are it will go to waste. Similarly, if you’ve got kids and you wish they’d eat broccoli but you know they gag on it it, then buy a different veg instead.
    • Meal prep once a week (or at a regular time that works for you). We spend an hour or two most weekends doing things like cutting veggies for lunch boxes and dinner sides, maybe cooking a few big trays of roast veg or a pasta sauce and the difference it makes during the week is amazing. Not only do we have the makings of a couple of dinner meals, but we also have at least a few days worth of lunch sorted too. Think things like: felafel, fish cakes, meatballs, pasta sauce, stews, soups, curries, salads in a jar for work lunches, hommus, veggie sticks…
    • Go shopping with a list and don’t deviate, to avoid the just-in-cases or the impulse buys
    • Be sure to learn your quantities and buy only what you need.
    • Check your pantry and fridge before you go shopping or write your meal plan
    • Use what’s in your pantry and fridge before shopping or plan next week’s meals around what’s already in there.
    • Make a habit to clean out the fridge before you do the groceries. Doing this gives a good indication of what you are and aren’t actually eating, and allows you to use what’s already there in the meal you go shopping for. It also stops food from mouldering away at the bottom of the fridge for weeks on end, as the leftovers get used up or composted.
    • Embrace leftover meals! We have one, sometimes two nights a week where we plan on eating leftovers. This, plus the fact we eat leftovers for lunch quite often means we don’t usually have leftovers in the fridge by week’s end.
    • Scratch it nights are bomb. It’s basically a meal where we use what we’ve got or have something simple from the pantry. It sometimes looks like an omelette or veg on toast, other times it’s French toast or pancakes.
    • Be less fussy with the appearance of food. A bendy carrot is fine to cook. Cut out soft spots. Mould is obviously to be avoided but don’t be so hasty to toss the entire lot if one apple goes bad.
    • Know the difference between Best Before and Used By dates, and (in some instances at least) go on smell rather than date. Yoghurt, dips, sour cream etc are good examples of this. Seafood is probably not.
    • Treat the “Use within 5 days” warning with scepticism. Be curious before assuming food has spoiled and defer to the common sense taste test.
  • Keep perishable food that won’t last long at the front of the fridge to ensure you don’t waste it.

Good Food Storage Habits

    • Put dry goods in containers once they’ve been opened so they don’t go stale, get weevils or spoil. (Crackers, flours, pasta, cereal etc)
    • Lots of veg can be stored in containers in the fridge to avoid becoming dehydrated and lacklustre. Celery, carrots, cucumber sticks, carrot sticks, zucchini, beans, snow peas, herbs – simply trim ends and put in glass jars in the fridge with a little bit of water in the bottom. This keeps them fresh all week.
    • To keep kale, spinach, lettuce and other greens fresh for as long as possible – rinse well and trim as soon as you get home from the shops or market and wrap a stack of the leaves in a damp clean teatowel, storing in the fridge. This keeps them fresh and green for much longer than leaving them in the crisper.
    • Meat – only keep out what you’re cooking in the next day or two. Separate rest of the meat into meal-size portions (or better yet, take containers to the butcher and ask them to separate for you) and pop in freezer, labelling if you need to. (We don’t.)
    • Glass jars are great for storing excess veggies, fruit, herbs, sauces, etc.
  • Sturdy glass containers like Pyrex are great for storing excess meals, meat, bones, offcuts for stock and soups, etc.

In the Freezer:

    • Broccoli and cauliflower stems can be fried up or rinsed and blitzed in a blender. Freeze the blitzed stems on a tray and transfer to jar. This can be added to sauces, pies, soups etc. It has the benefit of adding nutrients to your meals, and is undetectable to fusspots/kids.
    • Don’t compost your squishy, over-ripe bananas. Peel, slice and freeze on a tray, then transfer the rounds to a container. These are perfect for for banana bread, smoothies, protein pancakes etc
    • Freeze your parmesan rinds and add to soups.
    • Keep all your veggie offcuts, peels, skins and trimmings in a container in the freezer. When there’s a good amount, put it all in a big saucepan, cover with water, and cook for a few hours. It makes a delicious rich (free!) veggie stock that can then be frozen and used as needed.
    • Do the same with your leftover meat bones, roast chicken carcasses or seafood.
  • Try a bulk baking session once or twice a month. I make things like chocolate cake, date loaf, chocolate slice, bliss balls and apple muffins, freezing them in containers until needed.

Random Food Waste Tips:

    • Think about food as money. When you have to toss out your waste, picture yourself tossing cash in to the bin. It’s a great motivator to waste less food!
    • Chickens are great for reducing meal scraps to virtually zero. So are dogs!
    • Composting and worm farms are excellent for those scraps chickens can’t or shouldn’t eat, as well as scraps like egg shells and coffee grinds.
  • Composting/worm farm/chickens are great but don’t let them become your easy out. Try to only give them genuine scraps and veg offcuts, and instead focus on maximising your use of all the good stuff.

Now over to the collective wisdom of you, our wonderful listeners!

There were, of course, some common ones that many of you contributed, including:

    • Meal planning.
    • Composting (traditional pile, compost bins, enclosed tumbler set up OR Bokashi bin, which can be used to compost dairy and meat).
    • Backyard chickens and other pets.
    • Making your own freezer scrap stocks (both veggie and meat versions).
  • Be sure to eat leftovers for lunch/dinner.

Then there’s these super practical genius ideas too. Many of which I’ll be implementing over the coming weeks!

    • Freeze apple slices left over from the kids’ lunch boxes and when there’s enough, use them to make apple sauce. Freeze leftover cheese (you know the slightly hardened, maybe slightly sweaty pieces left over from a party) and use it for homemade mac and cheese. (Morgan)
    • Freeze foods that are commonly used but rarely all used in one recipe. Chopped onions, celery, small portions of lemon/lime juice, etc. (Candace)
    • Keep the top shelf of the fridge for food that needs to be eaten in the next few days. When going through the fridge, move things up to the top shelf as needed. (Em)
    • Use a meal planning framework. For example: Meat free Monday, Taco Tuesday, Pasta Wednesday, Soup/Slow Cooker Thursday, Freezer Food Friday, Kids Choice Saturday and a big, more involved family meal on Sunday (which is then used for leftovers during the week). (Briana)
    • Learn to recalibrate quantities of ingredients as your household needs change. And then challenge yourself to the occasional month of cooking from food that’s already in your freezer or pantry. This will likely mean lots of soups!  (Jennifer)
    • Combine backyard chickens (who get the fresh scraps) with a soldier fly larvae farm (that gets the rest of the scraps or anything not suitable for chooks). In a big old life cycle of food recycling, the larvae are then fed to the chooks. (Wallace Bear) 
    • Figure out how much meat your household eats in one meal (this family of four eats about half a pound of meat per meal, which is approximately quarter of a kilo) and then freezes meat in those portions. Pull out the meat as needed a day ahead and defrost in fridge. (Jessica)
    • Learn to love casserole dump bags! When you arrive home with your casserole ingredients, prep all meat and veggies straight away and put everything together in a large zip lock bag, freezing it until needed. Then when it’s time to pop the casserole ingredients in the slow cooker, it all goes in together. (Wendy) 
    • When meal planning don’t forget to account for all three meals a day and two snacks as well. This can help stretch her shopping out, saving money and food waste (Abby)
    • Get an enclosed composter, which means you can put soup bones and other traditionally ‘uncompostable’ materials in there. (Amanda)
    • Make a fried rice with all the little bits of veg left in the fridge at the end of the week. (Kim)
    • Move to Florida in summer! It’s so hot that there isn’t much cooking to be done (except the occasional crock pot meal) and as a result, eat mostly fresh veggies and fruit. (Deb)
    • Try getting a weekly seasonal fruit and veg box delivered. Plan your week’s meals around what’s in season once the box arrives. (Carly)
    • When meal planning, go all in. Figure out how many apples, oranges etc you eat in a week and buy only those amounts. Invest in a thermos for leftovers for school or work. (Kel)
    • Cook less food than you think you’ll need. If people are hungry there is always snacks like fruit and cheese. (Colleen)
    • Write a list and keep it on the fridge, to act as a reminder of what needs to be cooked or eaten before it goes off, then use that list to inspire meal planning and online food shopping. (Mandy)
    • Delay food shopping for a few extra days and get creative! (Sam
    • Worm farming is great for those people who don’t have the space or inclination for traditional composting. (Amy)
    • Avoid stockpiling randomly. Instead try having a 72 hour kit of ingredients and keep very little else on hand. (Danielle)
    • Make delicious bubble and squeak with leftovers! (Lisa)
    • Focus on only buying fresh fruit and veg, so all the leftovers can be composted. (Dallas)
    • Buy only what you know you’ll eat, not what you think you SHOULD eat and not what you wish
    • Make Friday night dinner an “allette”. ie An “all goes in the omelette”. (Mamta)
    • Make end of week stews and soups, learn to grow your own, learn to dehydrate foods. (Angel)
  • Keep leftover cooked veggies in a container in the freezer and make felafel out of it. (Teach me your ways!) (Margaret)

PHEW! I told you there was a lot of wisdom in this episode! If you’ve got a cracker of a tip we haven’t included please leave a comment below and we’ll pull them all together and update the master list.

In the meantime though, let us know what one change you’re going to make this week to reduce food waste, and be sure to share it on social media too. (You can use #slowhomepod everywhere there are good hashtags).



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11 Responses to 50 ways to (seriously) reduce your food waste

  1. I LOVED this episode! It’s so important that we all get better at what we do with our food, so thank you so much. Prepping snacks / chopping lots of veggies is such a good idea. I know Alexx Stuart from Low Tox Life has mentioned that in relation to dinners, but to do all the week’s snacks in one go will make such a huge difference to my week.

    Randomly, I found this recipe for sweet potato falafals this morning, Brooke – while I’m sure the listener who made the suggestion of “fridge clean-out” vegetable falafels will give you their recipe, this one might be a good place to start: https://iquitsugar.com/recipe/sweet-potato-falafel/

    Thanks for an always-wonderful podcast.

  2. This episode is such an amazing resource! I listened to the pogpast while grocery shopping and walking home. As soon as I got there, I trimmed the radishes and put them in a glass jar with a bit of water, then wrapped the kale in a wet dishcloth. See, you’re already changing your listeners’ habits :-)
    Thank you and the ingenious listeners who came up with all these tips!

  3. Hi guys. Thanks for another great episode. Unfortunately the War on Waste series does have a geo block on it (very sad, as an Aussie living in NZ, not to be able to watch ABC TV online). However, someone has kindly put episode 2 on YouTube, which I watched, along with my 6 & 8 year old today.

    We are having great conversations about this kind of stuff in our house and our kids have started to pull up other family members on their plastic bag usage :) I haven’t listened to your episode on reducing plastic use yet but I might listen to it in the car and see if my kids will listen along too.

    By the way, my food waste tip is that I put all flour and grains in the freezer as soon as I get them home. I freeze them for at least 24 hours before they go in the pantry. Since I’ve been doing this I haven’t had any infestations of pantry moth. It also keeps things quite fresh, which is good for items such as nuts and seeds. I have also made calico bags for storing veges in the fridge. I find things keep much better in cotton, since they tend to wilt if left out or sweat in a plastic bag and go off faster.

    ps: If anyone wants to put episode 1 and the rest of the War on Waste series on YouTube, that would be greatly appreciated!

  4. This episode rocked! The practical tips are awesome and so accessible. THANK YOU! One way my family has drastically lowered our food waste is to shop at the farmer’s market. It means less variety but we’re eating in season and there is rarely junk available! Plus, because I have to carry it all rather than push in a cart means I’m far more aware of what we are buying/need. It also requires that I plan and am intentional with meals as market is only open 3 days a week. So if we run out of milk on Monday there won’t be anymore until Friday. It has been a micro lesson on availability and stewardship within our home.

    Thank you for your always steady encouragement to make changes but in healthy manageable ways.

  5. Shrivels grapes? Bruised apples? Mushy melons? Overripe mango? We take all these (and any other less than pretty fruit) and we them aside in the fridge or freezer. When we need an easy breakfast, we throw a bunch of this in the blender with yogurt and nut butter to make smoothies.

  6. Fruit that has gone soft and not nice for regular eating can be made into a shrub for cocktails or cocktails! Yum :)