Share on Facebook

A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

9 Tricks to Cut Back on Food Waste (and Save Money)

A shocking 40 percent of food in the United States ends up not on your dinner table, but in the trash. That means we're not only wasting food but money, too, to the tune of $165 billion each year. To top it off, the foods rotting in landfills are the single largest component of U.S.municipal solid waste. Learn how to stop wasting food, save money, and make the world a healthier place.

1 / 9
iStock/Robyn Mackenzie

Give leftovers new life

Leftovers again? Give them a tasty second life by turning them into something new. Take roast chicken. The next day, shred the leftover for tacos or cut-up and toss in a salad. When you’ve cleaned up all the meat, toss the chicken carcass in a large pot or slow cooker. Add water, spices, and chopped veggies to make stock. Leftover beef or pot roast from Sunday dinner? “Turn leftover beef or pork roast into soup or pulled beef/pork dish for an easy meal the next day or slow cook the leftovers in water with onion and garlic overnight and freeze as a base for a future meal,” says Heather McCurdy, creator of Real: The Kitchen and Beyond. Leaving town for a few days? Instead of returning to a smelly fridge and tossing the contents in the trash, McCurdy suggests freezing any leftovers. You’ll have a meal ready to thaw and heat when you return exhausted from a trip.

2 / 9

Use vegetable scraps to grow new food

Seriously! You can reduce food waste and simultaneously grow new food from the scraps you would normally toss in the trash. Romaine lettuce, green onions, bok choy, celery, fennel, garlic chives, cabbage, leeks, and lemongrass can all be regrown with just a bit of water. “Save and place the core or trimmed end of the food in a jar or bowl of water,” says Stephanie Merchant and founder of “Replace the water daily to keep it clean and look for new growth.” What about the scraps you can’t regrow? Broccoli stems are great in stir fries, soups and stews, and for juicing. The core of a fresh pineapple is too tough to eat but you can chop it up and use for a smoothie or toss the chunks into your water bottle for a flavor boost. Check out these 10 natural flavored water recipes.

3 / 9

Serve dinner on small plates

Kids are notorious for wasting food. It’s the whole “eyes are bigger than their stomach” mentality. It moves them to put mountains of food on their plate, only to leave most of it behind, says Stacy Haynes Ed.D, LPC, of Little Hands Family Services in Turnersville New Jersey. To combat this, she recommends serving meals on smaller plates. This works great for young children because they are more inclined to eat all the food when it is on a little plate. It has a great benefit for adults too because we can trick ourselves into eating less by managing portion control.

4 / 9

Double down at meal prep

If you’re already chopping the veggies, washing the lettuce, and making pasta, why not make extra for lunches or future meals? “Consider what happens when you don’t use the other half of that onion or leaves of lettuce,” says Lauren Feingold, co-founder of the Shanti Bar. If you do’t use it immediately, chances are you’ll toss it a few days later, she says. Feingold suggests giving leftovers a new flavor profile by spicing it up with hot chilies, fresh ginger, or soy sauce.

5 / 9

Be a zero-waste chef

Not sure what that even means? Try to find a use for every part of the food your are making from roots and stems to stale bread. Chef Silvia Baldini, a winner of Chopped on the Food Network, recommends using veggies scraps for stocks and broths; tossing leftover meat and or veggies in an omelet or use as ravioli filling, turning stale croissants into bread pudding, and using stale bread as bread crumbs or croutons. Once you start using your imagination, the possibilities are endless!

6 / 9
courtesy of

Rotate the food in your fridge

When physician and chef Sonali Ruder, MD, thefoodiephysician, and author of The Greek Yogurt Diet: The Fresh New Way to Lose Weight Naturally was in culinary school, the first tip she learned was first in first out (FIFO). Simply put, it’s a method of rearranging your fridge to help reduce food waste and food born illness. “When you purchase new items like milk, place the new milk in the back of the fridge and move the older milk to the front so that your use it up first before it expires,” recommends Ruder. Instead of storing fresh produce in the veggie drawer, place it on an eye level shelf in your fridge, where you’re more apt to use them.

7 / 9
courtesy of

Shop like a European

A few reasons why food waste in America is worse than in Europe: Europeans generally have smaller refrigerators and less space overall in their kitchens, plus the quaint, open-air markets are a convenient way to get fresh food every few days. Roland and Galina Denzel, authors of Eat Well, Move Well, Live Well: 52 Ways to Feel Better in a Week suggest to shop more often instead of stocking up. “It seems counterproductive, but buying just enough food for the next few days can be more efficient.” When food isn’t stock piled in the fridge, its much more likely to be used. Conversely, when too many items are in the fridge the food in the back often is forgotten and rots. If you live within walking distance to the store the Denzel’s suggest shopping every day and buying only what you can carry home. “If you only shop for a day or two, you’re more likely to be excited about what you’re going to eat,” the duo says.

8 / 9

Practice pantry smarts

We’ve all heard the old saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” This is especially true when it comes to food hidden in the depths of a pantry. If we don’t know it’s there, it’s probably going to spoil and get tossed in the trash. “Take 10 to 20 minutes each week before you create your grocery list to meal plan to reorganize your refrigerator and pantry,” says Alison Massey MS, RD, CED, director of diabetes education at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Her favorite ways for staying organized are spice racks, a lazy Susan, bins for grouping like items like pasta, beans, snacks, etc., and label markers for labeling the bins. Read more smart strategies for organizing your pantry.

9 / 9

Don’t pass by “ugly”

Don’t judge fruit by its cover. “At the farmers market they often have ‘seconds”, which is the produce that is a little bruised or otherwise funny looking, but still delicious,” says Massey. They may not seem appealing in a fruit bowl, but they cost less and they’ll be just as tasty as fresh off the farm when you use them in smoothies, juicing, soups, stews, and casseroles. Fruit that is bruised or overripe is great for sauces, cobblers, tarts, and crisps. For example, bananas that are turning brown can be placed in the freezer to use at a later date in breads or smoothies. Overripe fruit can also be used to make a light and refreshing salad dressing. Just place the fruit in a blender with a few tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon of vinegar, and your favorite spices or dried herbs.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and, among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.