If you stocked up on extra groceries or are just more conscious of not throwing food away, here's how to make sure your food makes it to your plate, not the trash.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
March 22, 2020
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Grocery shelves are clearing out from people shopping in bulk to make sure their kitchens and pantries are well-stocked. Whether you recently bought more food than usual or you are just trying to cut down on the food you waste, these tips are for you. From how you store you produce to what you do with your scraps, these six ideas are so easy you'll cut down your food waste in no time.

1. Store It Right

Storing food correctly is crucial for extending how long it can be used, especially if you stock up on more than normal. The average American wastes about 40% of their food—that's basically half of what you buy, which is staggering both in terms of actual waste and money wasted. In times of uncertainty and potential shortages, it is worthwhile to get this number down. Luckily, we have in-depth tips on the best way to store fruits and vegetables (i.e. you're probably storing those cucumber wrong) as well as how to organize your pantry to make the most of what you have. Most of all, make sure you use older food before breaking into your new purchases.

2. Make a Plan

In these unpredictable times, a little planning can bring a sense of ease and can help you prioritize the foods you need to use first. If you are spending more time at home and have the capacity to cook, find a new recipe you want to try each day that calls for ingredients you have and need to use. Also, check what you already have and make a list of specific things to buy before going grocery shopping to help you stay focused and only get what you really need. This will help you cut down on your grocery bill, as well as on what you waste. We even have this healthy staples shopping list to get you started.

3. "Kitchen Sink" Recipes

I always keep a few recipe ideas I can make with just about any vegetable, grain or protein that needs to be used up ASAP. Dishes like bean and veggie tacos, stir fries and soups are versatile, flavorful and easy for nights when you just need to get something on the table. Another "kitchen sink" meal I love is shakshuka. Saute up mushrooms, peppers, onions, greens, garlic, zucchini, or whatever you have on hand before adding in the juicy tomatoes (fresh or canned) and letting it simmer. This is a great way to boost the produce in your meal and make sure fresh foods with shorter shelf lives are enjoyed in time.

Getty Images/Tiina & Geir

4. Freeze What You Can

When push comes to shove, there are a lot of things that can live happily in your freezer for much longer than they would in your fridge or on the counter. Even several prepared foods, like soups, stocks and grains, can be made in bulk and frozen for a rainy day. Keeping your freezer stocked with these certain ingredients, like pizza dough, frozen veggies and cheese (yes, you can freeze certain cheeses), will help you pull together healthy meals in a pinch as well. If you have bananas that are browning, stick them in the freezer for delicious baked goods, like our Baked Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups. Be sure to take a look into how to prevent freezer burn, like wrapping things up really well, to ensure your foods are good for when you need them.

5. Repurpose Scraps

There are inevitably some parts of food that are not edible or go bad quicker than we expect. Instead of tossing them, find a way to use to them. My personal go-to is homemade vegetable stock. I keep a gallon bag in my freezer (labeled "stock", so my roommates don't throw it away) for things like carrot peels, onion ends or the last few celery stalks or scallions I couldn't quite get to. There are also several foods that are totally edible and can be used in their entirety, like broccoli, carrots and more. Check out these recipes for more inspiration on how to use up food scraps.

6. Consider Donating

So, you got a little carried away and don't foresee using all 30 cans of chickpeas you panic-bought at Costco. It's OK! It happens to the best of us sometimes. But that doesn't mean they don't have a really valuable purpose. Consider donating things you know you won't use up anytime soon to a local food shelf. Even if your local food shelf is not taking food donations, consider donating money—it goes a long way. This can usually be done without even leaving your home (or the couch). There are many people in need and it is so important, now more than ever, to support others if you are lucky enough to have what you need.

Bottom Line

Making our food last and taking steps not to waste should be important to us all the time, especially now. These six easy steps will help everything from produce to pantry staples last until when you need them. And if you are really worried about having too much, donate to a local food shelf or food pantry for those who are struggling to have enough.