The Zero Food Waste Challenge: 10 Tips to Avoid Throwing Food Out

December 12, 2012 Permalink

The following is a guest post from Pauline Paquin, a French girl who has recently started to blog over at Reach Financial Independence. Born and raised in Paris, Pauline blogs about how she has been traveling the world for the past 10 years, while trying to build wealth and achieve financial independence, and how you can follow your dreams and reach your goals too. You can follow Pauline on Twitter @RFIndependence.

While Daisy has recently started a grocery budget challenge tracking all her food spending for a month, my challenge has been with food waste.

I hate wasting food. To me, it is simply like throwing money out of the window. I have to go shopping some 30 miles away, the car uses $20 worth of gas for the round trip, plus my time, and the money spent on food that will just go bad and be disposed of? No way. That is why one of my goals for November has been trying to waste zero food. Zilch. Nothing. A challenge because I just moved into a house in Guatemala with no electricity, meaning no fridge or freezer to lengthen the life of my food.

I am thrilled to report that so far, only half an onion and half a can of pureed beans has gone bad. The onion was because my BF put it somewhere I didn’t see, and the beans, well I bought a big can, we have them for breakfast (typical in Guatemala) and it is too big for two so it went bad, but the smaller can wasn’t much cheaper so it is not a complete waste, at least of money.

It is an important cause for me, and here are a few tips I have used during the month to avoid food wastage.

Make a list

For the first two weeks we went once a week to the supermarket, because we had no fridge and we needed the trip to buy construction materials for the house anyway. I had a list with what I needed for my meals, and bought a lot of dry foods, rice, pasta, sauces, canned beans and tuna… that would not go bad without refrigeration. Making a list will prevent you from getting things you don’t need, and probably will end up throwing away. There are some great apps out there, that would keep your standard grocery items from one shopping trip to the other, and you just have to add whatever you ran out of in between trips.

Make a meal plan

With a meal plan, you know what you will eat, and what you will need to buy. I am not very organized on that one, because I tend to turn something that could go bad into a meal with whatever ingredient is at hand, instead of following a plan. In the future I will try to plan the meals together with the shopping list.

Buy what you like

If you don’t know a product and feel like trying it out, buy a small quantity. Research how to use that new vegetable, or make a plan to eat that new thing shortly after you are back from the supermarket. We are animals of habits and it is easy to forget about something we are not used to eating. And throw it. And buy it again, to try it.

Reuse everything

Our handyman brought a hen one day. I made hen soup with vegetables. We ate the soup for two meals, then there was only one piece of meat left so my BF had the meat and I made some pasta on the side to eat the vegetables and soup with. The rest of my pasta was reused into a pasta salad the next day. The rest of the salad was a side for a steak dinner. And so on.

It is annoying for some people to eat the same thing five meals in a row. But reusing the steak from lunch to make tacos the next day doesn’t feel like eating leftovers.

What goes bad goes first

Now that I have a deep freezer, I have chopped all the vegetables that were about to go bad with some garlic and thyme into a big pot. It was a side for a meal, and a crepe stuffing for another one. The rest was blended into a soup and frozen in one-person portions for a lazy, no-cooking day.

Two more days and I would have had a garbage bin full of veggies, instead of three meals. You can have a shelf in your fridge where you put everything that is already prepared, like leftovers, or half a tomato from another recipe, and will go bad quickly. When you open the fridge, check that place first for something to eat.

Buy in bulk and prepare

I just got 20 huge grapefruits that grow on my BF’s ranch. Before they go bad, I peeled them and froze the flesh in little bags. I can then thaw one bag for a fruit salad, or blend some in the morning to have a glass of juice.

We also slaughtered a lamb that is stored in the freezer. Those were free, but considerable amounts of one product. If you buy in bulk to save money, and end up getting rid of half the food, you are not saving anything. Prepare your products as soon as you come home.

Make tomato sauce, pickles, preserves with fruits and crops. Bake a pie, cook some stew, or just organize a big cooking party with your friends and let everyone go home with a dozen portions of a home made meal.

Know your basics

Virtually anything that can go bad can be turned into something basic, like pasta sauce or an ingredient for fried rice. I often prepare a salad called ”anything”, where I put anything that only has a couple of days left in my fridge: tomatoes, opened cans of tuna, olives, eggs… together with fresher ingredients. I chop my old carrots into a stir fry, and so on. By knowing a few versatile basic recipes, you will be able to use any food easily and avoid waste.

Freeze extra portions

I freeze my pizza dough, vegetables that are already cooked, meat in one meal portions… all of this is easy to find in the freezer and put in a sandwich bag because unfreezing just one steak from a 5lb bulk of meat is impossible.

By freezing my leftovers in convenient small portions, I not only can have a variety of food ready to eat, but also thaw exactly what I will eat.

Unfreeze at the last minute

Plans can change. If I know I will be home for lunch, I take a meal portion out of the freezer. It can be yesterday’s leftovers, but if I decide to eat out instead, my meal stays frozen, while in the fridge the leftovers would go bad.

Keep your food alive

We have a few hens at home now. We can chose to kill them on the same day we will eat them. I am not telling you to start a homestead just now, but if you are growing some tomatoes on your balcony, or cultivating a little garden to save money, your food will start going bad from the moment you harvest it. Keeping your tomatoes on the vine for another week instead of cutting them all on the same day will help you spread your consumption and avoid waste.

What other tips do you use to make sure you do not waste food at home?

46 Comments
  • Jamie Dickinson
    December 12, 2012

    Boom! I do all of these! Hate waste and I love taking left overs for lunch the next day. Much more economical way of doing weekday lunches.

    Good luck with the blog.

  • Goldeneer
    December 12, 2012

    This is a great challenge and it’s one I plan to undertake next month.

    I’ve come a long way in preventing waste food but am not satisfied until there is zero food waste. I especially like your tip to have a space in your fridge where you put all your short life items in order to use them first. Thanks for the tip as I will replace where my items go in my fridge.

    • Pauline
      December 12, 2012

      Good luck with the challenge! It is very easy to forget vegetables in the veggie rack. Having them on the top shelf is a nice reminder. You can also have a tupperware in your freezer where you put any vegetable about to go bad, and then empty it once in a while to make soup.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules
    December 12, 2012

    Good tips Pauline! We do many of these. We recently cut back to shopping once every 10-11 days as opposed to once a week and it has really help with this. We used to throw out quite a bit and now if we do throw anything out it’s very little.

    • Pauline
      December 12, 2012

      In my ideal life I go to the supermarket once a month and buy fruits and vegetables every 10 days at a nearby village. It would save a lot of gas but since we go to buy construction materials anyway, so far supermarket runs are weekly. Organization surely helps to reduce food waste.

  • Michelle
    December 12, 2012

    We meal plan and try to buy only what we need. Has worked so far!

    • Pauline
      December 12, 2012

      great job!

    • Pauline
      December 12, 2012

      Great job! I try to plan for one dry meal or two, so if life happens and we don’t eat it, it doesn’t go bad.

  • Cat
    December 12, 2012

    I’m a big freezer girl – if it won’t get eaten in time, it goes in the freezer! Mostly we end up wasting sauce from the odd take out food, or the odd dip that I just don’t finish. Overall, we’re pretty good..

    • Pauline
      December 12, 2012

      The freezer is a great investment, properly organized it makes it super easy to achieve close to zero waste.

  • Greg@ClubThrifty
    December 12, 2012

    Great tips Pauline. We hate wasting food in our house! Right now, we are trying to eat everything up before we leave on a trip. Unfortunately, that means that we have almost nothing here to eat:)

    • Pauline
      December 12, 2012

      This is how my fridge looks the day before the supermarket trip. Pretty sad, but there is always pasta and frozen meat in case it is too tight.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup
    December 12, 2012

    Nice job Pauline. I do most of these in order to save money on groceries. We also only create two large meals for the week and eat off of them for the whole week. It works for us as we love leftovers and have no problem eating off of them for a while.

  • AverageJoe
    December 12, 2012

    I like how you disguise your leftovers in other, different tasting dishes. I just read Kitchen Confidential, and that’s what restaurants do at Sunday brunch!

    • Pauline
      December 12, 2012

      That is why I always avoid the “little bit of everything” dishes at a China buffet, you never know how long the food has been there for!

  • Rod J. Rogers (@FreeAgentRogers)
    December 12, 2012

    The ‘anything’ salad is a regular at our house. Regular, but ‘different’ every time.

    • Pauline
      December 13, 2012

      Quick, easy and you never feel like it is the same!

  • Emily @ evolvingPF
    December 12, 2012

    Great tips!

    I find that most of our food waste comes from:
    1) buying something unfamiliar to try out (usually gets wasted if prep/knife work is difficult)
    2) overbuying fresh produce.

    After reading American Wasteland last year we really cut way back on our waste. We used to get unfamiliar produce through our CSA and then let it sit for a week or two. Now if we buy something new we always at least have a plan for it that we’re excited to implement right away. I also make an effort to chop up the vegetables we buy in bulk the day I buy them so that we’re more likely to use them when we’re pressed for time.

    • Pauline
      December 12, 2012

      There are great websites where you can just type the ingredient you have and they give you recipes. Any vegetable you are not used to should go well in a stew or a soup, any fruit in a crumble.

  • Jacob @ iheartbudgets
    December 12, 2012

    This is awesome. I hate food waste as well, thoughit’s usually me who does it!

    An example of how awesome my wife is, was that she took our fall decorations and made a meal out of them a few days ago! We had squasha and lentils, and bought some chicken sausage and onions to throw in the mix. It was fun eating the things that were house decor just a month earlier!

    • Pauline
      December 12, 2012

      lovely idea! Squash are delicious. Many people do pumpkin pie out of the Halloween one.

  • maria@moneyprinciple
    December 12, 2012

    We do all of these apaprt from ‘keep your food alive’. I can’t do this one, I am afraid because I end up befriending my food and then it all goes very morally wrong :).

    • Pauline
      December 12, 2012

      That is why I called my hens Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner :). Who am I kidding, I like them now!

  • Canadian Budget Binder
    December 12, 2012

    Good Luck to both of you with your Challenges I’m sure you will both come out on top. I’ve been posting our Grocery Shop in our weekly Grocery Game Challenge on the blog with a growing number of fans almost all year. Ok, I learned about saving money and where I can improve but it wasn’t until Oct when I participated in the Welfare Food Challenge that I realized that we waste food that we can put to good use. One thing I often talk about is the vegetable peels from onions,carrots, ginger scraps, tops of celery, fennel, broccoli bits etc etc. I now put them in a freezer bag and once a week I boil them up to make a lovely deep brown vegetable stock to make a pot of soup. I learned that we don’t need to throw everything away and that some people use everything to the last drop. We are fortunate but we also will continue to learn about our cooking and eating habits to keep our budget low and stop wasting food. Great Post!! Cheers ladies. Mr.CBB

    • Pauline
      December 13, 2012

      Thank you Mr CBB! I saw a recipe for an appetizer with fried vegetable peels, you just coat them with flour and fry them, they look like soft fries and are pretty good! I want to try that with animals because I have some cattle and want to kill a calf instead of selling it and buying meat. At the moment I mainly eat lean meat and no liver/head/feet… So there would be a lot of waste. People here eat everything and it is very inspirational.

  • Destiny
    December 12, 2012

    Ok, so silly question… If you have no electricity, how are you on-line blogging?

    • Pauline
      December 13, 2012

      When the electricity was not connected, I was using my laptop on its battery as little as possible, with scheduled posts, and a 3G wireless modem. I had a small generator that allowed to charge phones and laptop, and when I went to visit friends or to a restaurant I would charge it there. Then we promised the electric guy a nice tip to connect us quickly and there is now electricity at the house, so I am back to the blogosphere!

  • Crystal @ Prairie Ecothrifter
    December 12, 2012

    Good luck with your challenge and I think you have some excellent points! We’ve been trying to cut way back on food waste ourselves, so we started shopping from a list and making sure to eat the stuff that is about to go bad…

    • Pauline
      December 14, 2012

      That is a great start! I used to count how much money I was throwing away, a great motivator to reduce to zero waste.

  • sarah
    December 12, 2012

    I feel so guilty when I throw out food, but also try to keep my fridge clean so that I know what is in there and keep things from spoiling.

    Since I live alone, hate cooking, but am attempting to eat better, I tried e-meals this week. I was able to download the plan for the week, grocery shop Sunday morning, then spent all day Sunday cooking for the week. The e-meals plan I used is for two people, so I divided and froze half of each meal I cooked. I’m now stocked up on food for at least the next two weeks. Hopefully, none of it will go to waste.

    • Pauline
      December 14, 2012

      Nice to have some frozen ready food if you don’t like to cook! I don’t know about emeals, will have to look that up.

  • Eddie
    December 13, 2012

    I gotta say that I do all of these, but great tips. Up until a few years ago I disliked taking leftovers for lunch, then I became frugal and now its become second nature!!

    • Pauline
      December 13, 2012

      My boss once asked if he paid me enough, because I brought leftovers to lunch. Then I retired at 29 and he kept working there.

  • Anne @ Unique Gifter
    December 13, 2012

    Wow, you really are good at this no food waste stuff. I really like the suggestion of having one shelf designated as the “eat this first” shelf.

    • Pauline
      December 14, 2012

      It was a big deal in my family to finish your plate and use everything in the fridge. My grandparents lived through WWII and food rationing, so food was a very serious topic.

  • The Happy Homeowner
    December 13, 2012

    Great post! I recently started meal planning, and I always take a list with me and don’t shop while hungry–both have made a big difference in my food waste reduction!

    • Pauline
      December 14, 2012

      Thank you! I usually buy unhealthy snacks when I shop hungry, it doesn’t risk going bad but certainly is bad for the budget!

  • Holly@ClubThrifty
    December 13, 2012

    This is all great advice. I really hate throwing food away. We are avid leftover eaters so luckily it doesn’t happen very often!

    • Pauline
      December 14, 2012

      Thanks Holly! I hate waste in general, but food is a specially sensitive area.

  • nicoleandmaggie
    December 14, 2012

    We’ve found that keeping leftovers and other things that need to be used up in clear containers in the fridge helps a lot. We actually remember and eat stuff.

    Here are more suggestions: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/how-do-you-keep-from-wasting-food/

    • Pauline
      December 14, 2012

      Great tip! Having different sizes and shapes or labels also helps identify which is what and save money on energy by not opening the fridge for so long.

  • Elizabeth @ Simple Finance
    December 15, 2012

    Couldn’t agree more. A few years ago, I bought some expensive mushrooms for my husband to cook with (he is the chef in our family), and we both completely forgot – they went bad. I was so frustrated by that experience that we’ve made it our mission ever since to buy in moderation so that food doesn’t spoil, and we RARELY throw anything out!

    • Pauline
      December 15, 2012

      Buying something special and having it go bad is really annoying. I would try to make a special effort to cook the ingredients I am not familiar with first to avoid that.

  • David @ bankruptcy Help
    December 16, 2012

    These tips are remarkable. We should avoid wasting food absolutely. It’s time to value your food and the hard-earned money your spent to buy these provisions.

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