17 July 2014

Food waste and how to avoid it

The rate of food wastage in many Western countries, including Australia, is shameful. The current estimation is that about 30 percent of the food we buy is wasted. That is just plain crazy. If you can organise yourself to not waste any food, you'll have money to pay off debt, to save or use to buy something you need. I think the main problem is a general lack of skills when it comes to selecting fresh food in the shops and then storing it correctly at home. Luckily these are skills anyone can learn.

If food spoils before you've had a chance to eat it then it might be wise to rethink your food buying and storage strategy. If food is stored in the fridge and sits there until it looks unusable or the use by date tell you it's not safe to eat it, then you're probably buying too much food, or at least the wrong kind of food.

Either way, you have to get rid of spoiled food. It either goes in the bin for transport to land fill or to the compost heap if you've got one set up. Maybe some of it can be given to the chickens but never give them food with mould or fungus on it. Often the compost heap is the only option. You don't need to have a working vegetable garden to have a compost heap. Composting your food waste is far better than sending it to land fill. Taking care of your own perishable rubbish, makes you more self-reliant and independent. Even if that compost heap sits there and the compost is never used, if it just decomposes and enriches the soil beneath it, it's a far better option than sending your food waste to the tip.

Our compost heap is a very simple affair - just lawn clipping, green leaves, fruit and potato peels, paper and old straw from the chicken pen etc, thrown together in a pile and kept moist. Over the weeks and months it will decompose.

To set up a compost heap, find a space on garden soil away from the house so you don't have to look at it all the time. If you have three sides holding the food waste in, that's ideal, but it can be done without it.  Just add your food scraps as you have them, add pieces of cardboard, shredded or ripped paper, old envelopes, contents of the vacuum cleaner, old pieces of cotton, wool and linen, cuttings from the garden and lawn clippings. You can add anything that has once been alive but do not add dairy products or meat/fish of any kind. That will attract rats and mice. When you've added the food waste, try to cover the heap with a layer of lawn clippings or cardboard. That will stop any smells and will keep the heap safe from visiting birds. When it's dry, hose the heap. It should be kept moist but not wet. If you do that, you'll be able to compost your own food and some household waste and save it from going to landfill. A worm farm will do a similar thing but it will use much less waste.

Even though you add to the compost heap all the time, it should be decomposing and therefore shrinking in size. But if the heap does grow a little and you're making good compost, get a spade and throw it around on your lawn or ornamentals plants to use it up.

The other great strategy to reduce food waste is to plan your menus every week. If you're only buying what you need for that week's meals, you'll have less waste (and more money).  There are many posts at the forum about menu planning. If you don't know what to do, read some of the posts, or ask someone to help.

Many people recommend growing your own fruit and vegetables but make sure that is a viable option before you start.  If you're starting from scratch and have to buy soil or enrich virgin soil, build or buy raised beds, fertiliser, seeds and seedlings, sometimes it doesn't make financial sense. If you want to start raising vegetables, start small - with easy vegetables such as lettuce, carrots and beans and build up your crops and skills each year. And don't just learn about planting and varieties, learn about harvesting, storing and preserving food as well. You'll do yourself no good if you grow a great crop of all the vegetables you want to eat but then waste a lot of them because you don't know how to store or preserve them.

If you can't use all your lemons, juice them and freeze the juice. I make lemon cordial during the summer months with our frozen lemon juice.

You need to be proactive when you produce food at home. If you're growing lemons, collect recipes for lemon dishes so you can use the lemons when you have an abundance, and you will have. If you don't want to use all of them, find someone to barter with. Almost everyone wants lemons, you won't have any trouble swapping them for something you want.  The same goes for everything you're growing. Know what you'll do with it when you have a small amount or a large amount.  Learn the skill before you need to use it. It is this kind of thinking that allows some homemakers and gardeners to get ahead while others struggle.

Learn how to make leftovers into something delicious on the second or third day. You'll save yourself the cost of making another meal from scratch, you'll save the electricity it would take to cook it and the time it takes to cook from scratch. Above all else though, you'll be building up your skills and fully utilising the food you have on hand. That skill might make or break you one day.

 Find some good recipes for using leftovers, then use them.

  • Clean out your crisper bins in the fridge before you shop. Use the vegetables and fruit that are still in there before you buy a new batch. Vegetables can be used to make a soup or casserole and that will be one less meal you have to shop for.
  • Have a plan for leftovers. Stretching a meal from one to two or three days is a skill we can all develop.
  • If produce needs to be stored in a certain way, do it.
  • Don't store potatoes or onions in plastic bags, they'll rot.
  • Wrap celery in aluminium foil - it will keep well for six weeks, still crisp.
  • Most vegetables store better in sealed plastic bags rather than just being open in the crisper.
  • Don't overstock your stockpile.
  • Buy only what you know you'll eat.
I wonder how you manage food in your home. Do you have any clever tips and hints to add to this list? I'd love to hear them.



  1. We are starting to compost again, after not doing it for a few years. It is easy to do it. We are getting better about not wasting any food.

    It is a continual learning process, but one that is enjoyable.


  2. A great post!
    Food waste is not a big issue in our home, I am a good cook and a great planner, but recently I've discovered another very unpleasant problem - I have moths in my pantry where I keep all the flour, buck-wheat, bran, starch and things like that. I looked through all the bins and containers but could not find any larvae. That's very upsetting, since it means I cannot really stock up beforehand.
    As for the food waste, I've noticed we use up all the food that is at home if we go shopping less often. This summer I've come to realize we can live much more frugally if we just buy bread and milk every other day and do some major shopping only once a month or so. Summers are certainly easier, since the garden helps a lot with fresh produce and an endless supply of ingredients for all sorts of desserts.

    This subject will always be important and it bears repeating. Wasting food is horrible on so many levels. Not least because we feel like failures when we throw out all the healthy foods we thought we would eat for sure but got sidetracked and let it spoil while we had junk. So thanks for a reminder, Rhonda!

    1. I have a big walk-in Pantry in a old house. I too have to be careful with food storage and moths etc. Here are the methods I use that you may find useful.
      Clean out all food containers and check for moth or weevil infestation. (The weevil's look like small black beetles) Discard any packages that are infested. Wash and/or wipe down all shelves. (Use a small amount of eucalyptus or tea tree oil in the water. Let the shelves dry. Place whole dry BAY LEAVES and WHOLE CLOVES on the shelves. Use as many as you can afford too. These get left there so do not clean them up. If you can get hold of them suspend the old fashioned sticky fly strips from the ceiling (these will catch the moths and let you know if you have a new infestation- if you can not get the fly strips use double sided tape on the shelves.) Replace your stores making sure that ALL packaged food is put in plastic or glass (labeled) containers. (you can put a couple of bay leaves in containers with flour based goods in them as well) Keep an eye on the sticky strips and replace these at regular intervals.
      Some people place flour base goods in the freezer for a day or two to kill off any insect eggs that are in them (yes this is were they all come from. We buy them with the goods)

      Hope that this helps Wendy Thornton.

  3. Rhonda, I used to waste an shameful amount of food but am happy to report that I've changed my ways. 3 things have helped me be successful:

    1) Growing more of our food (I can't stand to waste what I've worked so hard to grow so I had to learn how to preserve it and store it to prevent waste).

    2) Disciplining myself to keep better control of my pantry, freezer and fridges. This took the most amount of work (training myself). I rotate stockpiled food, regularly inventory what I have in storage and plan meals around what is in abundance (be it fresh or preserved). I force myself to use up leftovers creatively before making something with new ingredients. It has been a tough slog to change my ways but I feel much better now that the guilt of wasting food is gone. It's absolutely worth the effort!

  4. A great post you are right we do need to reduce food waste as a society. I would add try not to be tempted by offers and reductions unless you are sure you will eat them, they were something on your shopping list anyway or you can freeze them if you can't eat them immediately.

  5. I'm a huge fan of my stand-up freezer in the basement. I can cook a big batch of food and save rather than waste it--AND it makes for an easy meal when work gets crazy! We have also taken to buying whatever produce we need just a few days at a time--rather than doing it all once a week. That way, if our menu plan changes, we can change produce accordingly (rather than wasting as much). We still struggle with this, but at least we have some things that work for us!

  6. Great post -- I've been looking at our food waste lately and learning about how many parts of vegetables I throw away that are actually edible. I love having a compost heap. I can throw stuff in and forget about it, and my best vegetables are usually grown right beside it.

    1. We slice up broccoli and cauliflower stems and use them in stir frys like they do in Chinese restaurants and also in soups and stews. I also freeze celery, (without blanching) and store in small amounts to go in soups, stews and meat loaf. Any other tips for using vegies would be most welcome.

    2. Asparagus stems can be chopped very small and boiled in broth. Then wizzed in the processor to be broken down. Add spices and cream and you have cream of asparagus soup. I would think the same could be done with broccoli and cauliflower?

  7. Great post, Rhonda. At my place we have 'Friday soup' - that's soup made with all of the leftover bits of veg and maybe something like red lentils and stock. I make this so that when I buy my fresh produce on a Friday it doesn't get put on top of the things that need to be eaten up. It's also a good way to use up the ends of the bread as croutons, and those little bits of cream or sour cream that might otherwise get wasted.

    I honestly don't remember food being thrown away when I was growing up, Rhonda, and we were reasonably well off. I puzzle over all of the things that have changed since those times. Were our parents just more organised? Less inclined to waste because they had seen hunger during the war? I know for sure that we shopped only once a fortnight at the supermarket, and bread and milk were delivered - I guess if we ran out in between deliveries we just managed. I guess we ate more basic food too - meat and three veg, which didn't call for exotic ingredients which may or may not be used up.
    I actually started compiling a list of all of the frugal and thrifty things my parents did which differ from the common way of doing things today. I thought I'd only remember a few ideas, but in the end it was over 6 pages!

    1. Hi Madeleine, would it be possible for you to post the list, with rhondas consent of course, on one of rhonda blog pages in the future? It would make a good post and start us all off on what we could do to improve. I know I would look at myself and my mothers frugal ways.!

  8. I agree Ronda...wasting food is a terrible thing but I used to be one of those people. I would go to the shops without a list and just buy things, oh that looks good...will get that etc. but a lot was never used. Then about four years ago, my husband and I started making a menu plan for the week which included our lunches for work and it worked. We made the menu planning part of our Saturday morning breakfast routine. And guess what, no more waste (or very little), smaller grocery bills, using seasonal produce, more creative meals and we only had to plan once and not have to stand in the kitchen thinking about what to cook for dinner and then find out I am missing something.... jump in the car to go an buy that one ingredient (waste of fuel and time) and most probably buy something else at the same time that I didn't need. Now that we are living and traveling in our caravan, menu planning is more important and we shop more often. Menu planning saves us time and money and has made us more creative in using left overs to make yummy meals. Great post as always Ronda. Thanks and have a top day.

  9. I am looking forward to our new garden because I hate having to buy big bunches of things like spring onions which I can never seem to use up before they get past it. Some things aren't such a problem (e.g. Tuscan cabbage) because I wash and chop then freeze in portion sizes which makes life so much easier when I have to quickly pull dinner together after a long day at work. Planning really does make all the difference. I was quite happy to see the new IQS slowcooker cookbook has recipes for leftovers for all its big meals (i.e. it will have a recipe for beef cheeks and a recipe which uses the leftovers from said beef cheeks). It's very handy when one is still trying to get their head around meal planning and using up leftovers.

  10. Totally agree, food wastage is very shameful for a number of reasons- not only are you throwing out (once) perfectly fine healthy food (and therefore money) it feels horrid to know how many in the world go without nutritious food when so much is thrown out. As I am reading this I'm eating some left over lamb casserole! All the veg left at the bottom of the fridge went into this. My partner and I live alone so at times cooking for two was wasteful, until we learned to cook PROPERLY. That is, one meal is no longer one meal, it's several. Instead of cooking two chicken breast fillets for dinner, we'll roast a whole chicken and have meals for the week, even the carcass gets used for making homemade stock! Now, we plan our menu around wastage. We don't overshop and buy only what we need. Using up the surplus in the meantime. Good planning saves us time, money, and reduces food wastage.

  11. Oh, and another tip to reduce food wastage! Save the tops and ends of foods like carrots, the skins on other vegetables and all the usual "throw aways", freeze them until you're making a batch of homemade stock (for example from a roasted chicken carcass) and add them to your stock mixture! We freeze our stock in ice cube trays (then into bags) so we always have the right amount of stock needed.

    1. I do this too B. I save all the peelings in the freezer until the autumn when the wood stove goes on and then I cook it up for free!

  12. I'm continually picking up tips from you Rhonda, I've never wrapped my celery in alfoil before, I'll have to try that one. Any left over meals I make usually include Rice or Pasta, a great way to stretch any meal!
    It's nice to pop in and visit again Rhonda, I'm finally back blogging and so far so good. Life is starting to feel normal again for me, someone told me it would take about two years to settle in and it has, almost to the date! Have lots to do in the garden still, I've had to start from scratch but we're getting there again, one step at a time. Karen xo

  13. We try not to waste any food; whatever can, goes to goats, chickens, or bunnies. Then, the rest goes to compost. We have less than one bag of trash a week because we recycle everything that is recyclable. My favorite cookbook is the "Mennonite Cookbook" that focuses on frugal cooking. It has a ton of ideas on how to use leftovers and I recommend it highly! Another cookbook/ preservation book that I love is the "Farm Journal Cookbook" from the 1960s. One of the most interesting ideas there is to save bits of fruit to make a jam. There are some fascinating ideas -- raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries... Just think of the great options!

  14. Like eeoc, I have found that shopping for a few days only means less wasted food. Only the two of us normally so this works well. Also if we suddenly have a change of plan and I don't need to cook a meal that day it doesn't throw my food supplies out too much and. I am not left with too many things needing eating before they go off.

  15. I'm proud to say that I have zero food waste, but, of course, this wasn't always the case! I have a completely different mindset now that I grow most of my own and my animals' food which takes thorough planning and lots of hard work. Yet, when I worked full time in a very stressful job, driving 25 miles a day to and fro work, it never even crossed my mind how much food I bought or how much of that was wasted, or, most importantly, the real cost to me. I think that most of us are used to having a fully packed fridge and find that comforting and panic when it is empty, but that's probably how the food industry has brainwashed us.

    There was something you wrote in another post Rhonda that really struck a cord with me, something to the effect 'you will really let yourself down if you do not process or untilize what you grow'. Sound advice which could equally be used for the food we buy also!

  16. I have to say I do very well at buying only what we need and meal planning. I buy top quality food and don't want to waste any of it. I store well with aluminum to keep fresh and crispy longer shallots an celery. We worm farm and must get back in to composting as we don't have a terrible mice problem anymore. You should of seen the amount of pefectly good food that was thrown away at a big supermarket I use to work at in my 20's.

  17. It is amazing how much you can reduce household waste when you plan meals. Why haven't I made lists before? Lol. We have compost holes in our backyard as well as a worm farm. Reducing packaged food also minimises the bulk of our rubbish. Today we automatically took the bin out for collection but my son realised there was nothing to be collected! Thanks for another thought provoking post.

  18. Interesting topic, and I love some of the tips from the comments too (such as freezing vegetable scraps to make into stock later)! I loved the tip about storing celery in alfoil, celery often goes a bit floppy (we still use it in stews though) in our household, as you only use a stick or two a time.
    I'd be interested to hear from large families who manage food waste well. My gut feeling is that it's much easier with singles or couples (shop more often, requires less organisation etc). I've seen some frightful family fridges!
    Another tip: label left-overs with the date you put them in the fridge, especially if you're a larger family. This saves you having to guestimate what night the left-overs are from!

    1. Having managed a household of seven and now being empty nesters I feel like I had way less waste when we were seven. Those kids were always eating and would eat anything. As a household of two I find that every recipe makes way too much even if I cut it in half and then we get sick of eating it leftover. Also, my number one wasted item now is the end of the bread loaf. When the kids were still home we never wasted a scrap of bread. So many things just come in too big a quantity for two and even though I do all that I can to use it all I just sometimes don't get through it all before it goes bad.

      I had a shelf in my fridge that was only leftovers when the kids were home. It really helped not to have them spread through out the fridge so that they could see them and eat them.

    2. Why not make breadcrumbs or croutons with the ends and freeze them?

  19. Thanks for the tip Rhonda, I will have to try the foil around the celery as this is one vegetable that seems to go to waste for me. We are looking into composting more just haven't gotten there yet. You are right when I don't plan ahead or fail to follow through with the plan, that's when I waste and get disappointed in myself that I've wasted food and money.

  20. Very wise - don't start a garden because it is trendy. You will waste money until you learn how to be efficient. Worth it if you want to learn. Try a pot garden first. My waste disposal order for organics is dog; chooks; worms; compost. Worm farms are small and easy - most organics including shredded paper. The juice is great fertiliser, and the broken down remains are wonderful fertiliser.

  21. Fro me the biggest way to prevent food waste is to look at what we have before deciding to shop. It is quite easy to get into the habit of shopping on a certain day because you have always done so. Most of the time if I really take a look at what we still have I really can and need to wait a few more days before going. I have cut the food budget by 20% by doing this of late.

    We have composted for 20 years and I cannot imagine not having that good rich compost for free any time we need it. Funny story though---I have a large bucket with a lid, full of compost on our back deck. Our 22 month old grandson took the lid off and stared in wonder and said, 'Chocolate!'. We stopped him just before he began to eat it!

  22. Before I squeeze any citrus I skim off the peel and dry it. I use the peels in dessert recipes.

  23. I forgot to say how beautiful your garden looks.

  24. A good post, Rhonda, and also one necessary to remind ourselves (myself) often... I know there are many tips on keeping fruit & vegetables fresh...one I found useful is the information at the ecologycenter/Berkely site - storing without the use of plastic...e.g. the storage of certain fruit & veg at room temperature (and not hidden behind some obscure packets in the fridge) demand that they be used.
    I like your idea of cleaning the crisper before shopping...I put the "older" veg at the top shelves & the "fresher" ones at the bottom....but your idea is more efficient (& logical)....
    thank you for the reminder

  25. It's an interesting challenge i'm finding moving countries from Australia to Germany. I have moved recently from a house with a veggie patch, worm farm and bokashi and plentiful freezer to a tiny rental kitchen with a tiny freezer. There's no scope to compost. I find european fruit and veg goes off a lot faster than that in Australia. I used to teach preserving so I'll be doing plenty of pickling, jams and relishes but I miss having freezer and fridge space. We have a local farmer's market in the town square twice a week (as well as plenty of supermarkets). Things I used to take for granted like bicarb soda and borax for cleaning and yeast for baking are non-existent so I'll be buying in bulk on ebay.

    1. Have you tried bin composting? Here is a link:
      Best of luck!

  26. Excellent post Rhonda!
    The changes that have worked for me are:
    1. Know the ripening and storage requirements for the different foods and use them. There are many helpful user- friendly visuals as well as extension service word documents that are available on-line. Some are climate specific, so just keep looking for what fits your situation. http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1103 is a very straight-forward for fresh purchased produce
    http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/factsheets/vegetables/storage.pdf is more comprehensive and deals with storage for home gardeners as well as fresh vegetable storage
    2. Organization and access. (This is what work for you.) Adding ventilated plastic baskets to my frig has solved my problems with organization and access within the frig. I can stack the baskets and easily move them in and out. I formerly had problems with items dropping at the back where I could not see them, and pulling out all the items in front was a major challenge. Now I just move a basket for easy access! I see at a glance what I have! I can also arrange the items in the basket according to size, regularity of use, expiration date as well as storage requirements. When the basket is empty, wash it and store it until the next market day’s produce comes in. (for us, once a week farmer’s market) As the baskets are removed, it is much easier to see what needs to be used and what and how much needs to be purchased.
    3. Moisture control. I have had to add racks at the bottom of my crisper drawers to help with ventilation. This has helped reduce spoilage and makes cleaning the crisper drawers easier.
    4. Buy in season, local produce as much as possible.
    5. Have options in place to bulk buy, share, use and store. For me, these include:
    5.1 people who will buy a portion or who receive a donation,
    5.2 variety of recipes for immediate use /canning /freezing /baking /fermenting and
    5.3 storage space. I am still looking into a freezer, which I think would be very helpful.
    6. Portion control. Better to use small portions for the children and let them ask for second and thirds than have on-plate wastage.
    7. When trying a new food, buy enough for sampling, in case the preparation is not a hit.
    8. A food may have to be prepared in several different ways and offered several times for children to like it. Don’t give up after the first try. Slow and easy.
    9. Letting children help grow and prepare the food increases their interest in eating it and encouraging others to eat it too.
    10. Upcycle your leftovers! Use them for tomorrow’s lunch! Make leftovers interesting and fun!
    11. Compost the rest!

  27. I recently got lucky at my green grocer: they had bunches of asparagus for 10 pence each and crates of chestnut mushrooms for £1 each. We've happily eaten our way through the five bunches of asparagus (I hated to be too greedy) and I roasted and froze most of the mushrooms as soon as I got home. There is no point in buying a bargain if it all goes to waste. We eat a lot of stir-fry in this house! That and steamed veg. And chopped fruit. Some vegetables do better steamed (carrots) and others are better not steamed (aubergine). There is very little that can't be eaten steamed, stir fried or raw. I switch up the spices I use and of course buy what is in season. Our meals are simple but healthy. I don't find I need to use recipes very often unless I just want to try a new idea. My theory is that if you're hungry you'll generally eat (and enjoy) what is put in front of you. If not, maybe you're not hungry enough?

  28. Tips for storing fruits and vegetables without plastic:


  29. Hi Rhonda, a few years ago I downloaded an ebook from the nsw govt on how to reduce food waste. I printed it out and it lives in my recipes folder. I refer to it regularly, especially before I grocery shop, to remind me to use up what I have first. I'm not sure of the etiquette of posting links in the comments section, but I thought it might be a good one for your weekend reading list next week. If you google lovefoodhatewaste you should find it, it is under the auspices now of the EPA and is packed full of helpful tips and recipes. There is a UK version as well. I couldn't find the ebook on their site but I have a copy if anyone wants it. I don't think I would be breaching copyright, it was free. Thanks for a great post (as always); food waste and using up leftovers is something I need to be constantly mindful of. Anne x


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