5 Ways We Reduce Food Waste (And Occasionally Convince Our Kids To Eat Mushrooms)

I really dislike throwing out food; something deep inside me feels immense guilt and frustration. Not only is it wasteful environmentally and financially, but I also feel like I’m slowly understanding the true value/cost of food – the time and money and human effort and fossil fuels that go into putting that product into my fridge is mind-blowing (for more on this, check out A.J. Jacobs book Thanks A Thousand, where he thanks 1,000 people responsible for his morning cup of coffee).

In our household, we do everything we can to reduce food waste.

At the same time, we try to provide healthy, palate-broadening meals for our kids. Do they love white carbs? Absolutely. But they also like olives and aged cheeses and spinach salad and sushi and scrambled eggs and fresh fruit and veggies.

For the most part, they eat exactly what we eat. Kids eating habits can be a touchy subject and modern parents think about this a lot more than my parent’s generation. We try to balance realistic expectations and healthy eating patterns (nothing too restrictive, not calling things “good” or “bad” – they eat chocolate cake and cereal and boxed Mac N’ Cheese), with wanting to expose our children to lots and lots of whole foods.

Now back to those waste solutions…


These are meals that will be flexible enough to include just about anything. I know produce choices vary widely, so I’ll make a few specific suggestions from things we eat:

Leftover spinach and zucchini can go in…everything. Also, if your spinach needs to be consumed and you won’t use it in time, I just pop mine in the freezer for soups or smoothies. (Side note: this week my blog friend Suzanne categorized zucchini as the khaki trouser of the produce section and it’s so true – it goes with everything; tangent alert: if you’re really ready to howl, read her take on waiting for the doctor and wrangling into hospital gowns – we’ve all been there, and she just articulates the experience perfectly and hilariously).

  • I have a Chicken Pot Pie soup recipe that can play host to just about any vegetable. It calls for potato, carrot, celery, corn, peas, and grean beans but I have added spinach, zucchini, sweet potato, and turnip. Aside from the veggies, it’s just chicken stock (or I often cheat and just use water and some extra salt), shredded chicken, cream or coconut milk, thyme, salt and pepper; this is one of the easiest recipes I make – the corn and green beans are canned, the peas are frozen – and is one of the kids favourite meals; one time I counted and we had 13 veggies in the soup!
  • Chili is another great meal for using up extra veggies. To reduce time and mess (and to make vegetable textures less of an issue – neither of the kids enjoys mushrooms and one is quite resistent to bell peppers), I will blitz things up in the food processor. In a chili I made recently I chopped up: spinach, mushrooms (that I had bought reduced by 50%, see below), zucchinni, carrots, bell peppers and onion. We all devoured it.

Interestingly, I do find the kid’s preferences vary by meal. As mentioned, one child loathes raw bell peppers and will even pick them out of a stir-fry (or eat them with gritted teeth and lots of glaring); yet this same child has no problem with finely diced, cooked red peppers in one of my favourite meals ever – Chicken Mango Curry (I got my recipe from a book and can’t find it online, but this one is close). So if you have an anti-veggie child, it might be worth trying various meals with the disliked veggie?

  • I don’t eat much bread, but the kids typically have toast a few times a week for breakfast. We occassionally have an extra bagel, waffle, or a few slices of bread left over. Instead of throwing them out, I cube them up and pop them into the deep freeze. Once the bag is full, I pull it out and the cubes get turned into Baked French Toast (since I cube it before it’s frozen, I can actually prep it while frozen and then just leave it to soak/defrost in the fridge for a few hours or overnight before baking). I use a modified version of the Pioneer Woman’s recipe and the kids LOVE it. I also buy a lot of our bread reduced by 50%; it’s usually still days away from it’s best-before date, but I’ll freeze the bread and just defrost it straight from the freezer in the toaster.

2. Shop more often + buy less

About 3 days after grocery shopping. The one constant is a lot of eggs. We eat a shocking number of eggs each week.
Immediately after grocery shopping; it doesn’t show the fresh bananas on the counter or the head of broccoli in the crisper…but still, it’s pretty bare.

I think some of this is the minimalist in me talking, but I enjoy seeing an almost-empty fridge because I start to feel panicky when I catch glimpses of a lot of food that needs to be used up. For context – our 1970’s kitchen cabinets were designed to hold an apartment-sized fridge. If you think that’s crazy, friends of ours designed their renovated kitchen to only contain a bar fridge and toaster oven + portable induction burners. No full-sized (or apartment-sized) fridge; no oven/stovetop. Now that’s crazy. Unless you only have a bar fridge and toaster oven in which case it’s not crazy but very, very normal.

I do set up vague meal plans for the week, jotting down 4-5 ideas based on what’s on sale or what we have in the fridge, but don’t plan a concrete menu. I typically go to the grocery store at least twice a week. When we run out of fresh fruit or need more baby spinach, I know it’s time to go back.

This isn’t necessarily feasible for many people; I live 5 minutes from a small grocery store and it’s easy to pop in and out whenever necessary. But, if it is an option for where you live/your lifestyle, I think it is probably the primary way we avoid food waste.

3. Make Hodge-Podge Meals

We do this a lot and literally call them Hodge Podge meals.

The kids will often ask: “Can we have hodgepodge for lunch?” For this we use a random assortment of leftovers – that little dish of soup that’s not enough for a meal but, when augmented with cheese cubes, raw veggies, and some apple slices, is more than enough to go around.

Some things like cheese and olives are stable for a longer time in the fridge, so I use more or less of these depending on what I’m trying to use up. If I have hardboiled eggs, shaved turkey, and fresh raspberries that all need to be consumed, I might not even offer crackers or other non-perishables on the side.

4. identify your key offenders (and justify your purchases)

The worst for us is definitely avocados.

We love avocados but they never seem to be ready when I need them and then I end up forgetting about them until they’ve gone soft and brown. I get so frustrated anytime I have to throw out an avocado.

Grapes can also fall under this category, cucumbers have an annoying tendency of sneaking up from behind and going slimy, and I find it hard to get through an entire bunch of cilantro in time (but, see below, I have a plan for that too and it involves the freezer).

I now make sure I have a specific plan for avocados before I buy them. Being on sale isn’t good enough. Better to buy them full price and USE them, rather than buying a bag on sale and throwing most of them away. Avocados also can’t be frozen and don’t go into soups, so they’re harder to use up – for me – because they have a more narrow range of use than something like spinach (and I never seem to think of making guacamole).

This reminds me a bit of my habit of looking over my cart before I check out. For food products that I know won’t keep long (i.e. perishable fruits/veggies + meat), I try to make sure I have a clear plan for the item. It can be tempting to get things on a good sale or because it looks interesting or temptingly delicious, but I have left produce with the cashier when I realize there is a good chance some of it will be destined for the compost bin if I follow through with the purchase.

A prime example of this temptation – a basket of (seemingly) ripe peaches at the store in the summer. But, unless I can say: I have no other fruit at home and we will eat these in the next two days, I try to leave them on the shelf. Peaches do put out an alluring siren song for me, yet are so darn unpredictable; there is little more frustrating than salivating over the idea of a delicious peach and then biting into a sour/firm/unappetizing one!

5. find meals that freeze well

  • Chili, baked oatmeal, waffles; most soups I make can be frozen if there are leftovers.
  • If I have some veggies that need to be used but I don’t have a dish that requires them, I will dice them up and freeze them. While they’re not great in things like stirfrys where you want veggies with a bit of “bite”, they work fine for soups. I will do this with bell peppers (sometimes even dicing up things like cilantro and fresh ginger and freezing that along with the peppers so I have the main base of ingredients for that beloved Chicken Mango Curry dish). I’ve done this with raw carrots, onion and celery (before eventually turning it in to homemade Chicken Noodle Soup).
  • Sometimes I freeze veggies in their raw state, and other times I will pan fry until soft. Both strategies work. I have a Baked Rice dish we all love and I make up the cream sauce + fry the veggies so all I have to do is defrost the mix, mix in rice + water and bake.

bonus suggestion – reduce waste at the STORE LEVEL

I’ve alluded to this already, but our grocery store has several dedicated “clearance” sections. Sometimes this includes produce that is past prime – overripe bananas (which I prefer for my beloved muffins) or tomatoes with bruises that will work fine for homemade salsa. I seek out these ingredients, not only for the cost savings but also because I know there is tremendous food waste at the grocery-chain level.

It can take a bit of extra creativity – and I look carefully at expiration dates/for signs of mold – but, generally, the reduced items are still highly edible. Sometimes things will go on clearance after a special event. Candy cane ice cream, for example, is now at rock-bottom prices at our grocery store. This is a bad example because I try to avoid dairy and no one else in my house really likes candy-cane ice cream (what is wrong with them?) but…if they did…now would be a great time to buy it if you’re willing to eat peppermint-flavoured treats after the calendar turns over into a new year.

Now it’s your turn – any suggestions for reducing food waste? Any candy-cane ice cream fans out there?

Header photo by Alexandr Dzyuba on Unsplash

26 thoughts on “5 Ways We Reduce Food Waste (And Occasionally Convince Our Kids To Eat Mushrooms)”

  1. I read this with great interest (and thanks for the shout out)! WHY do cucumbers go slimy so quickly?! I wish it were an option to buy a single one of the small cucumbers rather than a pack of five or a giant English cucumber. Same with cilantro! The bunches are giant and it goes bad so quickly, no matter what I do!

    You CAN freeze avocado… at least, if it’s pureed. My daughter likes Wholly Guacamole and I freeze the whole pack until she wants one and the.n I defrost one of the tiny tubs in cold water for her to eat. Costco also used to have a similar item that was JUST avocado. This is all to say, maybe it is worth experimenting with pureeing some avocado and maybe a little lime juice to preserve the color and freezing it in ice cube trays?

    1. Suzanne – you are a fount of humour and wisdom. Now that you mention it…I guess the grocery store DOES sell frozen chunks of avocado. I guess I just tend to want avocado fresh (to go on top of soups, in wraps, or just to eat plain), and I’ve never even loved the texture of frozen texture in smoothies…BUT pureeing it feels like it could be a game changer.
      I have found cilantro does better if I put it in an airtight container with paper towel underneath and on top…but still, there is always some waste. The heads are HUGE (and I always, always, always ponder the bunches to make sure I get the absolute biggest one which makes NO sense because I always, always, always, end up throwing out a bit of it).

      1. I’ll give you a tip for cilantro….(Mexican husband in my house= we use cilantro a lot since it’s pretty much all salsas): If you store it in a little cup with some water in the bottom (standing upright), it will last for a very long time. Just a little bit of water, as if you are keeping the “roots watered”, if you will. It will basically last forever this way. (well, not really, but it can last for a very long time, so long as the water remains in there.) It can be a bit of a hassle to find just the right spot for it in your fridge, but since you have a VERY empty fridge (ha!) I think you could make it work!

        1. Great tip. I used to do this, but did find it hard to find space to store it…but you’re right. With the current state of my fridge, I don’t have an excuse.
          We do the same with green onion. When we cut it down, we keep the ends in a cup with a tiny bit of water (right now we keep it on a cool window ledge). They will re-gro over and over!

  2. I can’t believe those pictures of your fridge! If my fridge looked like that, everyone would panic and think we were going to starve. But you’re right- if you can get to a grocery store two or three times a week (which I can) there’s no reason to have the fridge stuffed full. It’s impossible to know what’s in there when it’s so crowded.
    We’ve gotten better about food waste. I used to feel like I needed to make a new meal every night. Now I refuse to cook or go to the store if there’s food in the fridge- I’ll tell my husband there’s plenty of food, it might not look like dinner yet, but we can throw something together.
    My best trick for not wasting vegetables- get some guinea pigs! They need to eat fresh produce every day and they love things like cilantro, basil, the leafy tops of celery…. most things we can’t use up I can give to them.

    1. That’s genius! We’re likely soon adding a hamster to our family; I think they love cucumbers so that might be a great solution!?

  3. I live fifteen miles from a shop, so I shop once a week my fridge is a lot fuller than that when I have been shopping plus I am feeding three adults (teenage boy who eats SO much) and one child. When my children were younger my fridge was not nearly as full. I rarely if ever buy reduced things as I have a list and don’t buy anything that is not on the list. I meal plan and buy the ingredients to cook the meals on my plan so I never have to throw anything away because it has gone off as it will be used. We very rarely have leftovers either and on the rare occasions that we do it comes out for dinner (midday meal) to see if anyone wants to add it to whatever else we are having or it is snacked on by the always hungry teenage boy. I occasionally buy reduced fruit especially bananas which I make into a banana bread and freeze it, or reduced things that can go straight into the freezer but again rarely. Meal planning has been a game changer for me, I started when my second child was a teeny baby to make things easier for myself, I would start preparing the evening meal in the morning and throughout the day to ensure that we actually ate at a reasonable time. It saves huge amounts of time each day thinking about what we are going to eat and like I have said before nothing ever goes off because I only buy what we need. I meal plan, midday meals as my daughter and I are at home every day and evening meals. Breakfast is make your own here, husband has homemade granola, teenage boy porridge, daughter has cereal, bagels or pancakes and I have boiled eggs/pancakes and sometimes those rare leftovers (I prefer savoury breakfasts).

    1. I know so many people who find meal planning so liberating. I do this loosely, but enjoy being flexible with it. Especially since I like to shop reduced items at the store. I have a pretty standard set of meals I make with an ingredient list I know quite well but I think I will have to get more strategic as the kids grow and eat a lot more!
      I love savoury breakfasts (and love having breakfast foods at any meal,to be honest).

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this post! Food waste is a pet peeve of mine and sadly something that seems to go with the territory of feeding young kids. Baby Will is in the stage of throwing food on the floor. We take his food away when this starts but it’s super frustrating. Our toddler is also super picky so that is challenging. Talking about feeding kids can be really triggering for me because I feel like we’ve done the right things and it hasn’t mattered? But I am hoping Paul is a more open-minded eater when he’s a bit older and more rational?

    For us, limiting food waste is all about meal planning. We do have a concrete meal plan and that dictates the shopping list. We will stock up on non-perishable goods when they are on sale but besides that, Phil sticks to the list. I have found that Aldi sells smaller bunches of cilantro so I am less apt to waste it if we buy it there – and it’s cheaper there. But I don’t think Aldi is in Canada?

    While I really hate throwing food out, I do appreciate that my city has compost recycling. Phil calls me the compost Queen because I am often saying – ‘wait, you can compost that!’ Since it’s a commercial compost program, you can put more in the bin that you would if you were composting it yourself – like meat by-products (bones, skin, fat, etc). And qtips, kleenexes (which we are going through in droves over here w/ my never-ending string of colds), and the list goes on. So when I do have to compost something, I comfort myself by knowing it’s not going to a landfill and will be turned into compost.

    1. It is such a hard topic. We definitely lucked out with our kids, who aside from some infant allergies, have been reliably “good” eaters. I know all about feeling like doing the “right” things and not having it work out on track with our envisioned plan. Hope this improves with time; I do think both kids have gotten better and better about eating as they’ve gotten older. And, yes, the throwing food stage is exhausting and frustrating and messy. I really don’t miss it, I will admit. But you’ll get to the other side – I promise you will!
      I think there might be Aldi’s in some major city centre’s here? I rarely shop at big stores anymore (we have some big supermarkets about 10 minutes away), preferring to shop at small stores in town and little roadside stands (of which there are quite a few because we live in a fertile valley).

      Yes! We have a compost (and separate paper, cardboard AND plastics recycling, too). I put all of my scraps in leftover cereal/cracker boxes and store that in the fridge freezer until it is full and then put it all into the green bin which gets collected every two weeks). Great point – even the things that do go to “waste” are at least moving toward a greener end by way of compost.

  5. I’m going to put the A.J. Jacobs’ book on my TBR; thanks for the rec.!

    SO many similarities in our kitchen practices: we too waste very little, go through boxes of eggs every week, don’t plan dinners ahead too tightly, and use recipes as suggestions or starting points. I’ll cook an Indian meal or two during the week so the cilantro goes fast. Avocados–I halve and pit ’em, pour a dollop of ginger dressing in the cavity, and spoon all that goodness straight into my belly.

    1. Mmmm. An avocado full of ginger dressing sounds divine. Is it a homemade vinaigrette? If so, I need the recipe. I love ginger!

  6. About the avocadoes- if you only need half of it, KEEP the pit in it and squeeze a little lime or lemon juice on it before storing in a baggie. That will help to prevent it from turning brown for longer until you can use the other half. Same if you make guacamole and don’t want it to go brown- if you store the pit in the guac container it helps, along with making sure to include plenty of lime juice.

    1. Yes! I do this, too! I more have the problem of forgetting about it and when I go to use it, the inside has turned blackish-brown/too soft. I just need to use the darn things up!!

  7. My pet peeve with food waste is my kids. Like those half bowls of uneaten milk soggy cereal or the apple that they take two bites out of and then leave on the counter. Argh! I don’t want to give them an unhealthy complex about being “clean platers”, but every time I scrape even the smallest bit of uneaten dinner into the trash my heart cries a little. I’m definitely one of those parents that eat leftover scraps off their kids plate rather than throw things out sometimes. My friend calls parents “human trash disposals.”
    Kitchen sink meals are so satisfying to make! Frittata is another one that we find really easy for using up veggies. That Chicken Pot Pie soup sounds awesome.
    I love how you can see everything in your fridge. Our fridge definitely collects things… leftovers, hot sauce, various batters and doughs ready to be made, condiments. Pickles. Pickled and fermented things take up a whole shelf. My love of pickled things does drive my husband a little bonkers, but they keep forever so I’m never in any rush to finish them. Does it count as food waste if I have aspirational plans for their consumption, even if it’s been… longer than I care to admit?

    1. Such good points about waste with kids (and sauces/fermented things that last a LONG time)!!
      We used to have A LOT more sauces, but our fridge is very small and space on the door is especially tight. I passed along a number of our sauces (they can last so long, and I like to re-home things that are still edible that we’ll no longer eat) because it was driving me slightly crazy – just today I gave a friend the rest of a bag of chia seeds because I just had too many + some excess raisins.
      I finish bites off my kids plates too and still cut up their apples into slices because we have SO much less waste that way (and I can refridge extra slices).
      I tend to start the kids off with very small portions, but the oatmeal/cereal thing definitely happens to us too (mostly just for one child). If something can be saved (like a 1/2 eaten PB and J can go in the fridge), it will sometimes be repurposed for hodgepodge another day.
      I guess the more common culprit is lunchboxes coming home from school. Again, it’s only one child that is the chief offender, but something like 1/2 a hard-boiled egg will come home and it gets all over everything…I do hate throwing it out…but ick. It’s so gross.
      We tend to eat leftovers pretty quickly, usually before I make a new meal and it’s not uncommon for us to eat the same thing two nights in a row. Interestingly this is VERY different to how I was raised. My parents would make a new meal each night and their fridge is always bursting at the seams with TONS of leftovers and food and I always go on a rampage when I visit and throw out boiled potatoes that got lost in a little Ziploc at the back of the fridge and started growing blue fuzz. Also, I will store all the leftovers from a meal in a single container (mashed potatoes, turkey, gravy, carrots) where my mom will store EACH leftover in it’s own container. No mixing and matching allowed in her house – haha.
      Thankfully my family all loves leftovers and don’t seem to complain (or know any different) from eating things up until they’re gone and then moving on…

  8. these are great suggestions. another flexible one is frittata. I also hate wasting food but don’t like going to groceries often especially now that husband is charge and I don’t like to ask him to go for small things. Also I find fun trying to create meals with whatever we have in the fridge and pantry, it’s like a challenge and I feel very satisfied with the empty fridge before next groceries fun.
    I do always keep some frozen vegetables as fresh vegetables tend to be the first ones to be used up, so I can always make a meal with some veggies, a protein (eggs are always abundant at our house), and some starch (noodles, pasta, rice). Oh… some frozen dumplings too, a must for our household.

    1. Frozen/canned veggies/fruit are a GREAT solution. And we always have lots and lots of eggs. It is a bit shocking how many I use in the run of a week (dozens, always).

  9. How I love using things up! For me fresh herbs are usually chopped all at once and frozen in ice cube trays. Works like a charm!

    My favorite ways to use up vegetables are tomato pasta sauce (which can also be a base for chili, like you mentioned) and curry sauce. Somehow the flavor profiles of both those dishes tend to taste good with most things.

    1. Your fridge always WOWS me!
      Do you freeze the herbs in water? Or just put them in cube trays on their own? I think some people put them in oil, too?

      1. I usually freeze them on their own. Once they’re chopped they tend to have enough of their own moisture to hold together in cubes once frozen.

        Something about a tidy fridge makes all of life feel more manageable. Your fridge pictures give me a little thrill. 😂

  10. I love your tips here. A few of them I also do like freezing veggies that I can’t use up at the moment or keeping left overs in the fridge. I always think I remember what I freeze and then weeks later I wander what is in that container. Cucumbers rarely go bad here we go through at least 3 a week right now. But we do have too much food waste mainly because I have one picky eater in a household of two. Or we have sizes that are too big for two people and I can’t freeze and can’t use. That is really annoying. I want to make that French toast bake now but need to save up some bread. we never have any left over though.

    1. Some things definitely don’t freeze well, sadly enough. And it can be hard to make some dishes in small quantities so there can be a lot of leftovers…

  11. I am also very dedicated to not wasting food and have blogged about it during NaBloPoMo. I love all your tips. Hiding extra veggies in dishes or having a hodgepodge dinner happens sometimes, but our primary way to not waste food is to meal plan and literally just buy what we know we’ll use in our meals (save for shelf stable items or snacks that won’t go bad quickly).

  12. These are all great tips! Particularly for hiding veggies in other dishes. I love how kids’ preferences / dislikes depend, literally, on whether something is cooked, or the way in which it’s integrated into a recipe. I just think they’re more sensitive to slight changes in texture, or perhaps there’s some role for any sauce/other flavoring that may influence how it tastes. (Maybe someone has studied this! :>)

    With the caveats that a) it’s only me, b) 90% of my plate at lunch and dinner is veggies, and c) I shop once a week, my secret superpower is a complete disregard of expiration dates. And I mean complete. I will open yogurt 2 weeks past its expiration date. It’s sour milk. If it’s not moldy, and doesn’t smell off, the chances of it poisoning me are tiny. 🙂 Oh, and texture doesn’t really bother me so I’ll just freeze cooked whatever and then defrost it and eat it – even with things like cooked carrots, or broccoli.

    1. Your expiration date comment made me laugh (and also that you call it your “superpower” – have you ever seen Jerry’s Seinfeld’s stand-up bit about expiration dates. It is hilarious.

      I definitely mind mushy vegetables and am not a big fan of frozen veggies (except peas – I LOVE frozen peas). I wish the texture thing didn’t get to me, but it really does. I like all veggies to have some “bite” and I find frozen veggies usually have an unusual texture that I just can’t get behind unless I’m putting it into something like a casserole or soup.

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