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  • Elissa Strassman

8 Tips to Reduce Food Waste and Use What you have on Hand

Updated: Apr 26

With Earth Day around the corner, with COVID-19 and our focus to reduce unnecessary trips, as well as look for ways to save some money during this uncertain and unstable time, it only seems fitting to talk a little bit about what we can do to help reduce food waste, and use what we have on hand.


So here is your game plan, for whether you choose to shop every one-week or every two:


Before you shop:


Meal plan:

  • Think about, and record, what meals you will have over the next week, or two (think about breakfast, lunch, dinner, sides, and snacks).

  • If you plan to make a big batch meal, or one that typically yields leftovers, think about how and when you will use them. If you plan to re-purpose, or re-use, within your one or two week planning time, be sure to incorporate that too.

  • Include a combination of fresh, frozen, and canned produce.

  • Typically fresh fruits and vegetables will last about one week, if stored properly. Some will last longer. The key to keep in mind when planning; is to plan to use the more delicate produce items first, and the hardier ones thereafter.

  • You pantry and freezer items can help to keep nutritious vegetables and fruits on the table, as the week(s) go on, while also helping to extend or round out a meal.

Take inventory and develop a list:

  • What do already have on hand, and what do you need to purchase in order to prepare your planned meals or snacks?

  • Make a list of any items you will need, and in what quantities.

At the store:

Buy only what you will need to cover your one-week or two.

  • Pay attention to quality and the ripening stage, if things are already starting to turn, chances are they will not last much longer, you’ll need to use those items right away. Additionally, some items can ripen on your counter, and may provide you with a few extra days, so you can enjoy later.

Back at home:

Practice proper storing: this will help foods to last longer, maintain their quality and ensure you are keeping foods safe.

  • For all products purchased practice the FIFO method: First in First Out, making sure you use the old stuff first, and the new stuff last.

  • Place all new items behind their older counterparts.

When preparing for and making meals, forecast how much people will actually eat. This way you can cook or prepare things proportionately


If you have leftovers, have a game plan for what you will do with them.

  • Usually leftovers will last 3-4 days in the refrigerator, however, when frozen, they can typically last at their highest quality for at least 3-4 months, some up to a year, but all will keep indefinitely if stored properly!

Need some ideas? See some suggestions below:


  • The filling for pulled BBQ chicken that you may have at first served on a roll, can either be frozen and reheated for another meal down the road, or stored in your refrigerator and used within 3-4 days. Try it as a salad topper, placed in a wrap or tortilla, used as a taco filling, put over rice, stuffed into a baked potato, in a quesadilla with cheese and beans, as an ingredient in a casserole, a pepper stuffing, or even used as a pizza topping!

  • Leftover grains can be frozen, or added to salads, soups, used as the base for a grain bowl, or stir-fried!

  • Raw or cooked veggies can make for great snacks, sandwich toppers, pizza, or salad toppings. Think roasted peppers and onions on a sandwich-delish!

  • Potatoes can be turned into a hash, or used as an omelet filling. Baked potato skins can be turned into, well…stuffed baked potato skins!

  • Ingredients that you may have needed only needed a small amount of, like tomato, pasta, pizza sauce or broth; these all can be frozen. Try freezing in ice cube trays, or in half, or one, cup portions. This way you can use for individual servings whenever you need them.

  • Herbs can be tossed into salads, dried, or frozen as well.

Have a favorite no recipe, recipe, to use up leftover or produce items.

  • Aromatics like onion, garlic, celery and carrots, can make for great soup or stew bases. Just add whatever veggies you want, and a can of tomato sauce/chopped tomatoes for a stew, or add broth to create a soup.

Above all, the most important thing is to always practice proper food safety and handling. Be sure when preparing, cooking, serving, and storing leftovers to keep this at the forefront of everything you do. I have included some resources from the USDA for proper food storage and safety below, as well as some great apps that you can turn to, if you are ever in doubt.

Basics for Handling Food Safely

Leftovers and Food Safety

Freezing and Food Safety

Safe Defrosting Methods

Two apps to check out:

Download one of these two apps to help with freshness and storage guidelines, as well as food safety:

Food Keeper

Is my food safe?

A guide for storing fresh produce:

Keep in mind days of storage are only guidelines for the best quality. With proper storage, your produce may last longer and still taste great!

Fruit and Vegetable Storage 101

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©2020 by Elissa Strassman, RDN, CDN.