How to reduce food waste to zero!

family-eating-at-dinner-tableThis week, Small Footprints is taking us to the kitchen where we’re going to reduce our food waste.

Did you know the average person in the UK throws away 1/3 of the food they buy?

While people across the world die from starvation, we are throwing perfectly good food in the bin. It’s a bit immoral don’t you think?

Reducing food waste is one of my particular passions and I pride myself on having very little, if not zero, food waste each week.

Here’s how we achieve that goal and save ourselves an estimated £500 per year.

Meals are served from large serving dishes, rather than put straight onto plates. This means everyone can choose the amount of food they can eat and there is no waste. Anything left in the serving dishes is effectively ‘untouched’ and perfectly safe to be refrigerated and used the following day.

Once a week, usually on a Sunday evening I check the contents of the ‘fridge for anything that needs using up.

I separate the food into three lots; using a different shelf for each:

On the top shelf are things that need using within 48 hours

On the next shelf are fresh fruit and veggies and other things that need using within, say 4 days

On the other shelves are foods which will last longer.

I then check the fruit bowl and vegetable box.

Anything that needs using straight away is put on the kitchen work surface where I can see it.

Are you getting a picture here? Things that need using quickly are on the TOP shelf of the fridge, or right on my kitchen work surface – this avoids the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality that can lead to food waste.

I then make a very loose menu plan. I deeply admire people who can set up a plan for the entire week; but that just doesn’t work for us. Appetites fluctuate, life gets in the way, Little Miss Green’s favourite food suddenly becomes an overnight ‘I can never eat that again’, so you can see why I need a little fluidity with planning.

The ‘menu plan’ is based around the foods that need using imminently.

For example last night Little Miss Green wanted to cook her own tea. She wanted bacon, potatoes, broccoli and carrots.

I took her to the fridge and showed her the ‘use up’ shelf. It contained ham, salad leaves, cucumber, 1/2 red pepper, tablespoon sweetcorn, some cream and some soft cheese.

We agreed that bacon and potatoes would come later in the week but we needed to use up some of the other food first. She ended up making a delicious pasta bake served with a side salad.

If I had agreed to the bacon meal, the ham would have gone off overnight and the cream would probably have been tossed too. By compromising, there was no food waste…

So there we are – with a bit of clever housekeeping you can reduce food waste to virtually zero. Here is a recap of my tips:

  • Take a regular food inventory and plan meals around things that need using up
  • Keep foods that need using in sight so you don’t forget them
  • Use your freezer! It’s a great way to keep little bits of food that you might otherwise throw away. Store them up until you have enough to cook a meal with.
  • If it works for you and your family, create a weekly menu plan
  • Serve meals from serving dishes so people can take exactly the amount they can eat, then store anything not eaten until the next day
  • Ban the word ‘leftovers’ from your vocabulary and replace it with “‘ingredients'”!

What about you – how do you keep food waste to a minimum?


  1. nadine sellers on November 28, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    with holiday cooking and baking ahead, these tips need to be glued to the fridge door..(with a magnet)
    perhaps the most important turn around change will be to scratch that “leftover” word from the public lexicon…children imitate their parent’s attitudes so perfectly that it takes a whole generation to remove a poor habit and instill positive the most of everything..

    turkey broth in glass jars this week, chicken noodle tomorrow< turkey is just a big fowl, isn’t it? tetrazinni casserole next round…sandwiches with grated cheese and red pepper in between..i love lefto…i mean ‘ingredients’

  2. Small Footprints on November 28, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    What a great idea!! Your food placement plan totally eliminates the “outta sight, outta mind” dilemma. Brilliant! As I was growing up, my family always cooked a lot of food … no one was ever to go hungry and there was enough for the frequent visitors. In truth, though … it was way too much food. When I became an adult, even though there were only two of us, I still cooked for an army. I’ve since learned that cooking just a little more than we’ll eat at one sitting works better. As you’ve suggested, we serve it family-style but since I’m not making a ton of food, there usually isn’t much leftover. What is leftover works great as a breakfast the next day or a snack.

  3. Small Footprints on November 28, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    @nadine sellers:

    I really like the idea of eliminating the idea of leftovers and, instead, thinking of them as ingredients. It’s a whole new mindset! Thank you for the idea!

  4. All Natural Katie on November 28, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    I really like your shelf system! Sometimes, I put stuff that needs to be used on the top shelf, but not always. Food always getting shoved to the back on the middle shelf, so I need to reorganize more throughout the week!

  5. Alicia@ eco friendly homemaking on November 29, 2011 at 3:20 am

    Oh wow this is an awesome post!! What great ideas and tips. I love how you have your food placed on different shelves. That is such an awesome tip and I agree I love the idea of thinking ingredients rather than leftovers.

  6. Mrs Green on November 29, 2011 at 9:09 am

    @nadine sellers: maybe that should be our 2012 campaign. To incinerate the words leftovers and rubbish from our vocab 🙂

    @Small Footprints: I tend to army cook too. It’s because there is a closet ‘Mum of six’ residing inside me I think 😀

    @All Natural Katie: Sounds like you had some great plans in place Katie; Good luck with the challenge!

    @Alicia@ eco friendly homemaking: Thanks Alicia – hopefully we can ALL reduce some food waste over Christmas 🙂