9 Clever Tips to Shop Smart and Avoid Food Waste at Home

This blog post was contributed by Kelly Brown—Health Coach, Founder of Real Food House and a mom of three who knows a thing or two about food waste.

I think most of us can agree that seeing food go to waste doesn’t feel good. The sight of wilted kale or rubbery carrots in the bottom of the crisper drawer makes my stomach sink. And, while there are many ways to incorporate these older items into stocks, smoothies and sauces, I've realized avoiding food waste starts at the grocery store.

The smarter you are about a few important rules while shopping and planning, the less food you'll waste. And less wasted food is good for the planet, your wallet and your peace of mind.

Here are my 9 shopping tips for avoiding food waste: 

1. Opt for vegetables that can be eaten raw or cooked.

You're less likely to throw away foods that can be eaten in multiple ways because you'll have more options when it's time to cook. For example, it's easier to find a way to use spinach than lettuce. Spinach can be used in a salad, a smoothie, scrambled in eggs, tossed in a pasta sauce or sautéed with garlic. Lettuce is less versatile and often goes to waste if you don't eat enough salads that week.

2. Add flavor with items that last a long time.

How many times have you thrown away fresh basil? Unless you have a plan for fresh herbs, mostly choose items that add flavor but last a long time like onions, garlic, ginger, shallots, lemons, limes and dried herbs.

3. Choose items that are easy to prepare.

Our lives are already busy, which means we're more likely to use foods that are simple to prepare. During the week, choose vegetables that are quick and easy like broccoli, peppers, or zucchini instead of something that requires trimming like whole green beans or artichokes. When choosing proteins, opt for legumes that cook quickly like lentils or smaller cuts of meat like ground turkey, fish fillets or boneless chicken. In many grocery stores you can also ask the butcher or fishmonger to slice your proteins into smaller pieces, for a stir-fry, for example, eliminating the need to handle raw meats at home and increasing the likelihood that you’ll find time to cook.

4. Keep an inventory of items you often throw away.

If any food goes to waste, take note of what you threw away, how much and why. Once you start paying attention, you'll notice patterns and you can make changes. For example, do you always throw away lettuce in the winter? Maybe salads aren't your thing when it's cold outside. Do you throw away lunch ingredients? Maybe you’ll realize you prefer to go out to lunch with co-workers. The more in touch you are with your habits, the less likely you are to waste food.

5. Only buy items you like to eat.

Sounds obvious but sometimes we buy items because we're inspired by someone else's Instagram feed. Sure their Detox Omega-3 Salmon bowl looks inspiring but when it comes down to it, you don't really like salmon. We’re bombarded with so many food messages that sometimes we lose touch with our own tastes. You'll waste less food if you're honest with yourself about your likes and dislikes.

6. Limit yourself to one or two trendy foods at a time.

No one loves experimenting with new foods more than I do. Matcha powder? Cacao? Goji Berries? Yes, please. The problem is these items clutter up the kitchen and are difficult to track and use if we have too many of them. Stick to one or two trendy foods at a time and explore them to their fullest before moving on to the next.

7. Plan your meals with an open refrigerator, not a recipe book.

When we follow recipes we buy specific ingredients, ignoring what we have on hand and throwing away items we don't use. Instead, try looking in your fridge for something that may expire soon and using that ingredient to inspire a meal. If you need more guidance, you can always Google around for some recipes using your chosen ingredient.

8. Buy mostly neutral foods that pair with a variety of cuisines, then add a few pops of flavor.

We're more likely to waste food that serves only one purpose. For example, blue cheese tastes great in martinis but once the party's over and you're sick of Cobb salads you're likely to throw it away. Stocking your kitchen is like building a wardrobe; buy mostly neutral items like whole grains, long-life vegetables and high-quality proteins. Then choose just a few bold flavors at a time like fresh herbs or gourmet cheeses to make your meals taste amazing.

9. Keep your pantry stocked and create a reusable shopping list.

Having a pantry stocked with items that have a long shelf-life like grains, beans, oils and vinegars means you'll only need to add a few fresh items to the mix on a weekly basis. Create a list of all of your favorite items, so you’re less likely to go astray when shopping and so you always have something for dinner. Here's my ultimate shopping list to help you follow the rules and avoid wasting food.

My Ultimate Shopping List to Avoid Wasting Food

I recommend buying mostly the items on this list then add just a few seasonal ingredients or bold flavors at a time.

Fresh Items

  • Vegetables that can be eaten raw or cooked: kale, spinach, chard, arugula, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, mushrooms, asparagus, zucchini, bell peppers
  • Fruits that last a long time: apples, oranges, grapefruit, melons
  • Long-life flavor enhancers: garlic, ginger, onions, shallots, leeks, scallions, lemon, lime, chili peppers
  • High-quality proteins that are easy to cook and prep: Ground beef/turkey/chicken, boneless cuts of beef/pork/chicken/turkey, chicken/turkey sausage, fillets of fish (any kind, ideally with bones removed), shrimp, tofu

Kitchen Staples

  • Oils: olive, sesame, coconut, avocado
  • Vinegars: white/red wine, sherry, champagne, rice
  • Seasonings: Kosher salt, sea salt, black pepper
  • Broth/Stock: chicken and/or vegetable, coconut milk
  • Grains: rice, quinoa, pasta, barley, oats, millet, amaranth
  • Beans/Legumes: lentils, canned beans with no salt added, other dried beans if you have time to soak and cook them
  • Canned tomatoes: diced, crushed, sauce with no salt added
  • Dried herbs/spices: You only need your favorites. My most-used are oregano, thyme, cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, turmeric, crushed red pepper
  • Sauces/dips: tamari gluten-free soy sauce, miso, mirin, salsa, hummus, Dijon mustard, ketchup
  • Sweeteners: honey, maple syrup
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds + peanut butter/almond butter
  • Beverages: coffee, tea, wine, sparkling water
  • Long-life fridge items: butter, eggs, milk, nut milk
  • Frozen vegetables/fruits: at least two vegetables and fruit for smoothies

By following these steps you'll avoid wasting time and money buying food you don't use, and as a bonus, you’ll eliminate wasted-food-guilt and always have the right foods on hand!

Join Kelly and Lily from Wild Minimalist for an event on "Creating a Zero Waste Kitchen" on May 30th 2019 in San Rafael, CA