7 tips on how to reduce waste in your kitchen and save money (52 ways to save money on a healthy diet)

(Read the rest of the 52 ways to save money on a healthy diet series here).

America wastes 40% of its food, which is really rather depressing. While we can’t necessarily control the waste that happens in grocery stores and restaurants, we can control the waste that happens in our own homes. Plus, the less we waste, the more we can save! If we are following the national statistic and throwing away 40% of our food, we could save a whole lot by cutting that number down. Here are a few ideas.

1. Reuse leftovers
You don’t simply have to microwave last night’s dinner to not waste leftovers. I think that is a big reason why “leftovers” are so unappealing to people. Microwaving food tends to change some food’s texture, heat unevenly, and that double cook time can also dry it out a lot. We don’t own a microwave and never have, and I think that has helped us enjoy our leftovers more as can’t simply pop it in the microwave. I also feel that the simple dishes I make tend to make good leftovers as they are easy to remake into something else!

Remaking leftovers ideas:
Leftover grains and legumes: Make rice salad, quinoa salad, or fry it up in some butter (so delicious!). Make it fried rice by adding peas, shredded carrots, bits of leftover meats, and tossing with soy sauce or tamari. Add leftover chilled grains or legumes to salads or soups (both of which are delightful). Make grain patties by adding a little arrowroot powder, an egg, and herbs and spices and fry up in a shallow pan. Mash leftover lentils with Mexican seasoning for a bean dip and/or then fry up in some naturally rendered lard for refried beans.

Leftover Meats: Add to soups, add to sandwiches by making chicken salads, thinly slicing beef, or pork, or shred it and make into taco meat. I like cold roast beef served with homemade biscuits and mustard to dip the meat into as a simple lunch. The trick is making it really tasty the first time around, and then it is good even if it is cold. Shredded chicken can be added to salads, made into chicken curries, chicken pot pie, or used as a tamale stuffing (shredded beef and pork works well here too). So many options here!

Leftover oatmeal or hot cereal can also be made into patties by adding a little rice flour or arrowroot powder and/or an egg with perhaps a bit of sweetener and a dash of cinnamon. Fried up in some healthy coconut oil or butter and then served with pure maple syrup and you have another excellent breakfast or snack.

2. Organize your leftovers.
Place leftovers in mason jars for a frugal and plastic-free option, and then label them with a bit of masking tape (you can use a fine pen or marker to write on it) and make sure you put the date on! Otherwise you may find yourself wondering how old that quinoa in the refrigerator is, and unsure whether it is still good or not.

3. Keep your refrigerator and pantry organized
This is something I am trying to improve because food (including leftovers and produce) tends to get lost in my refrigerator as one of our shelves broke, so we tend to pile food in. I will let you know how that project goes once I have figured something out! But I think this is the biggest reason I have wasted food. If it is out of sight, it is out of mind, and doesn’t end up getting eaten.

Keeping my pantry well organized also helps me reduce waste. If things are all helter-skelter (please no one examine them right now!), items get wasted as they are forgotten.

4. Serve small portions (especially to children)
I swear that our food waste went way up once we had our Aria (my two year old), simply because she is an inconsistent eater. One day she eats a huge bowl said food, and then the next day I serve it, she picks at it and barely eats anything. While I can save it to reheat, it is much simpler to serve small portions and give her multiple servings as needed.

5. Don’t buy food without a plan
I have learned this from my own (sad) experience of buying food that looked good at the market, and then never getting around to figuring out what to do with it. You don’t necessarily have to have plan when you pick it up, but make sure you do ASAP so that it doesn’t go bad as you figure out what to do with it.

6. Buy food with a menu plan in hand
The better I menu plan, the better we eat, the less I waste, and when done right, the more I save on food. Come up with a system for menu planning that works for you, plan simple and frugal meals, and then you will generally save money and waste less food.

7. Consider a leftover night
Some families have a night set aside to enjoy leftovers (and give mom a break). I think this may work best for those with microwaves. ☺ Other friends have a leftover soup night where they create a soup made out of leftovers in the refrigerator or slow cooker. Some very tasty (and unusual) soups have been created in their kitchen this way! Soups are a great way to use up random ingredients and less than perfect produce along with leftovers. We generally use our leftovers for lunches and that works well for us too.

The less you waste food the more you can save on your food budget, plus it is just a good use of your resources to cut down on food waste.

Any other tips? I’d love to hear what works for you.

Photo Credit: SashaW/Flickr 

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!


  1. says

    When it is time for planning the weeks menus, I always pilfer through the fridge to find something that needs to be used up and plan a meal with it! Smoothies are great ways to use up some produce, and sometimes prep and freeze produce.

  2. says

    I actually do my menu planning a little bit backwards in that I plan what we are going to eat the next day based on what’s about to go bad soon.

    I also make “Random Soup” about once every week or two and clean out what’s in the frig. And when I make too much smoothie (or the kids don’t finish their’s), I pour the rest into popsicle molds in the freezer and it comes off as a new treat!

    When some items start to go “bad” you can actually use them in a different way. Potatoes starting to develop eyes? Cut them up and plant them. Garlic sprouting some green shoots? Plant that too. Water been sitting out and has that funky taste? Water your houseplants with it. And when raw milk starts turning sour, you can bake with it like buttermilk. Pancakes!

    Also, the fact that I compost makes me feel less guilt when something does go bad because it will eventually go back into the ground to produce more food.

    Great post topic. Thanks!

  3. says

    I love my large toaster oven for reheating leftovers without microwave! We use it for everything—toast, reheated egg strada, broiling, baking, everything! My kids can also use it safely. Also, the type of fridge I have totally makes a difference in how well I see/ reuse leftovers. When things are at eye level in a side by side, they’re easy to pull out! When I had the other style, with fridge below waist level , I never put in the time to lean down and survey.

  4. Jen says

    I completely agree that serving small portions to children saves waste. I have a 2 year old who is an inconsistent eater, and I learned the hard way. I will occasionally stick his leftovers in the frige for later, and if it’s a soup or stew he barely touched, I’ve been known to dump it back in the main pot on the stove (still simmering and hot) rather than store it separately in the frige or throw it away. 🙂

    We don’t have a microwave either, and I still do leftover nights occasionally. When I look in the frige and see leftovers from the previous 2 or 3 meals, I can’t justify cooking another meal until we finish those. I LOVE leftovers! I pack them for my husband for lunch, and the children and I eat them for lunch the next day.

    Something I have found to save waste in my kitchen is to clean and prep produce shortly after puchasing. It saves time when cooking meals too, because I don’t have to stop and scrub carrots or wash produce before I can cook with it. When it comes home from the store or farmers market, I immediately clean my sink, fill it with cold water, a little apple cider vinegar, and a small quirt of my non-toxic dish soap. I figure if we can wash dishes with it and eat off them, it should be safe for cleaning produce and then eating it. 🙂 First I soak things like apples, carrots, celery, radishes, peppers, etc. for about 10 minutes, then rinse it twice. Air dry on a kitchen towel on the counter, then store, ready to go, in the frige. Next I clean any lettuces, greens or herbs, and throw a large bowl of salad together, ready to eat. This really worked for me to actually use up my produce before it went bad. Having it ready to go makes it so much more likely to get used.

    Great post!

  5. Heather says

    I wash my veggies well and save all the inedible parts for my stock pot. For example, I wash my onions, trim off the ends and then peel off the skin with the first layer of onion and save all those trimmings. Other favorites are carrot peels and ends, zucchini ends, mushroom stems, celery tops, bottoms and leafy parts, and the centers of the bulb of garlic that are almost too small to peel (I just chop them with the skin on). Some trimmings aren’t so good for the stock pot like cucumber or beet or too much broccoli or cauliflower, which will make a bitter broth, so those things get composted. The good stuff gets added to a perpetual bag in my freezer and I dump in what I have with each pot stock. I also just learned that you can reuse your bones two or more times when making stock. What a revelation! I just strain off the liquid and then add more veggie trimmings and maybe a chicken foot or a couple egg shells to the pot along with more herbs and cover again with water to make another batch! That’s what I call turning trash into treasure! :^)

    • Roz says

      When you freeze those vegetable bits, do you blanch them first? and if not do any go mushy in the freezer?

    • Dharma says

      Wow!! egg shells in your stock pot? I never thought of that. I will try that today. I do just fill water up to make up for the water I took, add any new bones on top of old and the veggies are added on a cheese cloth bundle so its easy to remove and every week I throw it all away and start again. This is what another lady I met was doing and it works well. I mix bones too, chicken and beef etc. Depending on what I have on hand. But I have noticed no one else but that lady and I do it like this. Is there any danger in what I’m doing?
      I’m a mom with very little time trying to eat real food I cook at home frugally. It works well and the stock is always flavorful, but just got wondering if I should be throwing bones away every 2 days and starting fresh?

    • Dharma says

      I love the post, the site and the tips. Thank you for that !

      Wow!! egg shells in your stock pot? I never thought of that. I will try that today. I do just fill water up to make up for the water I took, add any new bones on top of old and the veggies are added on a cheese cloth bundle so its easy to remove and every week I throw it all away and start again. This is what another lady I met was doing and it works well. I mix bones too, chicken and beef etc. Depending on what I have on hand. But I have noticed no one else but that lady and I do it like this. Is there any danger in what I’m doing?
      I’m a mom with very little time trying to eat real food I cook at home frugally. It works well and the stock is always flavorful, but just got wondering if I should be throwing bones away every 2 days and starting fresh?

  6. Lisa Evans says

    Try a “lazy susan” in your refrigerator to put all of the condiments and little jars. It helps corral things, yet keeps them visible. Now I use my door shelves for our containers of leftovers we made for lunches, and use the main shelves for the fresh things.

  7. Amanda says

    I always eat leftovers for my lunch. If there is stuff that is going to go bad it goes to the chickens or the worms. This has reduced my guilt of throwing things out by 100 percent!

  8. Allyson says

    Can you really add egg shells to stock? I never knew that!

    One of my kids favorite meals is using leftover grain based dishes (like the Simple Mexican Quinoa Bowl) in an egg bake. They like it best if we do individual egg bakes in smaller dishes, but will eat it either way. Unfortunately, the husband does not like egg bakes.

  9. says

    You have the right idea when it comes to leftovers. I totally agree that if you can, make them into something else. Once I learned to do that, my family no longer dreaded eat the leftovers.

  10. Joli says

    I almost think I have the opposite problem. I’m very good at not letting food go to waste, but I wish I more frequently had foods on hand for snacking. Maybe my kids are getting to a new stage and eating more. I need to make lots of extra snacks and keep more food on hand. I often start my dinner prep with whatever fresh vegetables I want to use and build from there.

  11. says

    WOW! I am just marveling at this website and so incredibly happy to have found it. My husband and I are grilling ourselves over our food budget right now, and I’m looking for tips to make things cheaper without sacrificing my ideal of wholesome and nutritional foods. I love the Weston Price info and appreciate these helpful ideas for integrating it into practice.

    I’ve studied your “52 ways” series, and am eager to start making broth. The idea to know how much each meal costs is really priceless, and although it sounds challenging, I am eager to figure this out. I have twins, 2 and a 5 month old baby boy, so I’m a hungry nursing mama and very busy, but all these ideas seem do-able. We are thinking we will join Costco! We have got to get our spending down from $900 !! Thank you thank you thank you thank you.

  12. jess says

    i use mason jars to store everything, in my pantry and in the fridge.
    i just write directly on them with a fine-tipped sharpie i keep nearby in the silverware drawer- when it’s time to clean the jar, the writing just scrubs right off in the sink!

  13. Roz says

    I use leftover beans (ie. lima, kidney, etc.) on grilled toast topped with cheese for lunch, you can also use meat and tuna mornay this way. I use left over rice in rice griddlecakes (soak the rice in milk over night with raisins/ sultanas and add flour ,eggs, spices to make griddle cake mix) the recipe is somewhere online. There must be endless variations on griddle cakes to use leftover food. My Daughter will have leftover rice with milk, sultanas, cinnamon and a small sprinkling of sugar as a breakfast cereal. Left over oat porridge can go in bread dough if you are baking. Even small amounts of left over gravy get frozen and later put in a pasta sauce or stew. Bread crusts that my little one doesn’t eat get diced and stored in a bag in the freezer until I have enough to make croutons, which she loves! Stir fry dishes are also great for those bits and pieces of vegetable left in the fridge.

  14. says

    Great post. We are also big into reducing the amount of food we waste. We compost and plan meals, however I have noticed that we are falling down on condiments and pantry organization. I like the Lazy Susan idea, but unsure how practical it might be for us.

    We are changing house in six weeks, and I want to start from scratch. Please share your tips for organization of spices and fridge! I will also document what I learn. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Pamster says

    Freeze leftover bits separately and make a soup broth every 10 days or so. Keeping leftovers separate for this purpose means you can keep cabbage/broccoli/cauliflower strong flavors away from delicate peas/green beans/lettuce and so forth. The resulting broth gets strained, the bits composted and the broth becomes a base for soup, gravy, pan sauce, or to cook a batch of grains. Any leftover bits of grains (quinoa, rice, oats, even potato) gets added to bread. You can add 1/4 cup of leftover cooked grain to any bread recipe and it won’t stand out in the finished loaf. It will only add a bit of extra moisture, fiber, and nutrition.
    The most wasted vegetable in my opinion is broccoli. People eat the top and waste the succulent stalk. Peel that stalk chop it up and enjoy it.

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