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How to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” food waste before it happens!

I think most of us are very familiar with the recycling mantra, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”  My little town of Hodgenville, KY has a wonderful recycling center.   When COVID-19 originally forced closure of the facility, we continued to keep all our recyclable materials in an outbuilding at the farm.  (When the center opened back up several months later, it took us several trips to get caught back up!)    Recycling cardboard, plastic, glass, etc. is a habit – but we are also in the habit of using the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra to help prevent food waste in the kitchen before it even happens:

1 – “Reduce.”

This is perhaps one of the easiest topics to address.  If you want to reduce the amount of food that goes bad, either (a) stop buying so much or (b) learn better methods of storage.    How often do you go to the grocery store?  I plan out our meals based on this frequency.  This means I plan out a full week’s worth of menus and I buy a full week’s worth of groceries at one time at the store.

If the thought of planning a week’s worth of meals seems daunting, I encourage you to check out the many FREE resources available online to help with this task.

Though it took a little bit of time (and effort) to start planning out our meals this way, I found that in the long run it actually saved time.   A detailed grocery list, prepared in order of the store layout, means less time spent in the store.  It also helps knowing I purchased everything to make our meals for the week, which means no more “last minute runs” to pick up an ingredient or two that was missing for a recipe.

I am a HUGE fan of the online meal planning system Plan To Eat (affiliate link).   I copy the URL from a recipe on almost any website, upload it to my account, and then plan out my meals either at my desktop or on an app on my phone.   There is also an option to manually enter recipes.  And perhaps the best part?  IT AUTOMATICALLY CREATES YOUR GROCERY LIST BASED ON YOUR MEAL PLAN!

screen shot of plan to eat menu

Also, I am completely in love with my FoodSaver system.  Especially, the accessory port and jar attachment.  Storing food in jars, and vacuum sealing it, keeps it fresher longer and also reduces plastic use!   Win, win!

foodsaver system with jar attachment and soup

I am in the habit of eating something I like to call a “breakfast salad” most days for breakfast.   Farm fresh eggs, a meat of some sort, some cherry tomatoes if I have them, all on a large bed of fresh greens starts my day out on a good note.

greens, farm fresh eggs, ham, tomatoes

But, storing greens so they can last long enough for the whole week can be a bit of a challenge.   I love the early spring/late fall when I can just walk outside to the garden and harvest straight from my own backyard – but for the “in between” where I purchase greens from the farmers market vendors, I like to use the “wash, portion, and wrap” method from Foolproof Living.   I use clean dish towels, and my greens stay happy and dry.  As a side note – you will be amazed how much longer the shelf life is between greens purchased from the chain grocery store as compared to greens harvested locally, usually within hours of delivery to the farmers market.



2 – “Reuse.”

One way to “reuse” in the kitchen is to review the weekly meal plan, and see what ingredients could be used for more than one meal.  This is especially true for fragile fruits and/or vegetables that don’t last very long in storage, or for a specialty item that is infrequently used.  For example, if this delicious Caramelized onion, sausage, and basil pizza is on your meal plan for Tuesday, you could use the leftover basil on Thursday for Pistou Soup.  Even though I know I can make homemade buttermilk from ingredients I always have on hand, if it is an important ingredient in a recipe I much prefer to purchase “real” buttermilk.   (Making my famous red velvet brownies for market – which requires buttermilk – always means we will have copycat Chuy’s dip before the week is out!)  Leftover rice easily lends itself to be added to the most delicious gumbo bowl ever.

At the end of the week, sometimes my best intentions don’t quite hit the mark.   When I have extra vegetables, I try to incorporate them into a “clean out the fridge” dish such as a simple stir fry for a Friday lunch.

quick stir fry made with use-up refrigerator vegetables

And with extra fruit?   A Sunday morning muffin is perfect:

reduce reuse recycle food waste, How to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” food waste before it happens!



3 – Recycle.

Leftovers seems to be a polarizing issue in many families.   My father-in-law would never eat leftovers (let me assure you my mother-in-law is an amazing cook) – but at my house growing up, leftovers were just as much a part of a weekly dinner as a newly cooked meal.   My dad’s office was very close to our house, so he would come home and eat a leftover lunch almost every day.  At my house, I intentionally plan at least 1 meal each week for “use-ups.”

You could also recycle many parts of an entire meal, to make something completely different.   This article from the EPA gives some additional tips to avoid food waste over the holidays.  With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, I encourage you to plan to do something new with the leftovers so you and your family don’t get completely burned out on reheated turkey and dressing.

I hope you feel inspired to think about new and different ways to “reduce, reuse, and recycle” in your kitchen this holiday season!


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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Amber

    Love the ideas to reduce and reuse!

  2. Christine

    Great post! I agree, planning a weekly menu is key in reducing waste. Thanks for sharing these great tips.

  3. Lisa, Casey, Barrett Dog

    Wonderful ideas on how to reduce, reuse, and recycle food waste! Thank you for sharing.

  4. Lyssa

    Great ideas! I have been trying to be more mindful of the waste my family creates.

  5. Jimmy Clare

    great ideas that i have to try

  6. Jeanine

    These are brilliant ideas to reduce food wastage…some I use another I will be from now on thank you

  7. Jenna

    Such useful tips on how to reduce, reuse, and recycle to avoid waste! The wash, portion, and wrap method for greens sounds great. Thanks for the tips. By the way, your salad looks and sounds absolutely delicious!

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