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Week #8: Keeping Food Out of the Pail in the First Place

Eight weeks into the Compost Challenge, many of us are gaining confidence diverting our food waste from the landfill. So now that we’re experienced composters, here’s an upstream question: What can we do to prevent food waste to begin with? Last week we asked for your advice, and you all delivered! Here are some of the best practices you shared for reducing food waste in your homes:

Thoughtful Shopping – At the Store and At Home

  • Several of us described the value of meal planning. As one participant said, “I never go to the grocery without a list, and I try to buy only what’s on that list. But even more important, I try NOT to buy too much food…That practice has saved me a great deal of angst in throwing out food that went bad.”

  • Others described the delights of “shopping at home.” Before heading to the store, see what’s already in the pantry, fridge, and freezer: How can we make tasty use of what we’ve already got? This practice both reduces food waste and saves money. As one household put it, “Eat what you have.” 

Laudable Leftovers

  • Many of us make great use of leftover food: “I try hard to use everything, including making broth or soup from bones or pieces of meat that are too fatty, and I try to keep a freezer full of summer vegetables to use all year.”

  • Others make leftovers into their own event! As one composter put it, “When we have leftovers from the past few days, we schedule a leftover night. My husband has gotten good at doctoring up leftovers!”

  • Not sure how to work with nearly-bad produce that you’d otherwise compost? One household recommends Carleigh Bodrug’s book Scrappy Cooking for ideas about how to use up produce that may be tipping towards its last days. They especially recommend her “kitchen raid” recipes like “Sunday Sauce,” which they say are “so flexible for using up veggies, herbs, and mushrooms.” 

Glorious Gadgets

  • Several households shared tools and technology that help them repurpose or save their food. For meat, these include large freezers, smokers, and vacuum sealers. Others described the value of a blender to make sauces, pesto, and smoothies.

  • Another composter described how much she enjoys using a dehydrator to make her own seasonings: “If you make tomato sauce (and therefore need to remove tomato skins), you can dehydrate said skins and grind it into a tomato powder. This can replace canned tomato paste and add flavor to your dishes. Same with onion skins.”

  • Other items are simpler but can make a big difference. One household described the value of storing leftovers in mason jars because “opaque or less attractive containers makes it less likely that I’ll see the food and consider it a viable option when I’m poking around in the fridge.”

Kid-Friendly Practices

  • Many parents shared strategies for reducing their children’s food waste. As one parent put it, “My kids are wishy washy about which fruits and vegetables they eat…I usually ask their input before [shopping] so they don't sit in my fridge and turn into a gloopy mess.” Another explained that their children “do not prefer to eat their veggies in their ‘natural form’ so we add them to other things like broth or sauces so we don't have them left on the plate.”

  • Another parent shared a creative way of using partially-eaten food: “My kids are in that stage where they take a bite of an apple then are done with it. Instead of throwing it in the compost, I take their uneaten fruit and stick it in the fridge. After it builds up I will make overnight oats with it and repurpose it into a healthy breakfast…I can always count on a rotting banana being somewhere in my house to use as the sweetener, then will dice up any apples or shriveling blueberries we have left over in the fridge.” 

The Power of Giving

  • Finally, many households noted that giving food away allows them to share their bounty and reduce waste at the same time. Some described donating food to those in need. Others described sharing extra greens with neighbors and friends, and one household said they share with coworkers or donate food to their local Fire Department. 

  • Of course, some lucky food recipients reside in our very homes! As one household wrote, “Our dog loves sweet potatoes, so they never make it to the compost pile.”

Thank you to everyone who responded with these creative, practical, and waste-busting ideas. Some of you wrote to say that you’d like to know more about canning, freezing, and making your own broth, so we’ll be sharing ideas over on our Compost Challenge Facebook Group!

Now, please click the green button below to access the simple data upload page. Thank you as always for your participation!

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