I feel pain when I throw out leftovers or when I have to toss a bag of zucchini from my vegetable crisper that, rather than being “crisp,” has become more of a “mush.” Over the years I’ve gotten better about cooking only enough for my family to consume in one meal, but from time to time I overestimate what the kids will eat and there are some dishes that don’t scale down all that well.

Food waste is always a problem and never more so than these days, when costs have skyrocketed. Nobody wants to throw food away, but we all do. There are, however, some things we can do to minimize the issue.

My wife likes to meal plan, and while I prefer to figure out what to cook based on what I feel like eating at any given moment, I have come around to her way of thinking.


The benefit of planning out meals should be obvious: you know in advance what you’ll be cooking and thus you buy only what you need to make the meals you’ve planned. The trick is to know how long the things you buy for your future meals will last, and what to do if certain ingredients aren’t living up to the “Best By” date on the package.

I heard a short piece on the radio recently in which a young woman suggested pickling vegetables that have gone past their prime. This struck me as a less than useful suggestion for most people, despite the fact that I regularly pickle things. Over the Christmas holidays I gave multiple neighbors and friends jars of preserved lemons, pickled habanero peppers and in the case of one neighbor who loves German food, sauerkraut.

Pickling is great but it’s not something you want to rely on for saving produce that’s gone past its prime. Not only because the best pickles are made with the best ingredients, but also because if that’s your solution you’ll rapidly go from throwing things away to make room in your refrigerator to throwing jars of pickled zucchini mush away two years later when you discover them in the corner of your pantry.

One good way to avoid throwing food out is to repurpose it. Leftover rice? Fried rice is your friend and you can legitimately use just about anything to make it. The same is true of eggs – throw whatever you have leftover into a skillet and heat it up. Add eggs and after a few minutes on the stovetop, pop it in the oven to finish and voila, you have a frittata. If you think about it, you can also turn most stuff into a pasta sauce, too, or a filling for crepes or as the base for a “shepherd’s” pie under leftover mashed potatoes.

Cooking like this – using what you have on hand – is to me a sign that you are actually a good cook. Anyone can blindly follow a recipe, but can you make something good by improvising?

One of the best things I’ve cooked in months were fritters I made using leftover black eye peas I’d made on New Year’s day. I mashed them up and added an egg, flour and baking powder and soda for leavening and once I realized that a tablespoon was the perfect size for the fritters to cook through before the exterior burned, they were fantastic. Full disclosure: I still ended up throwing some leftover black eyes away.

Years ago, I bought a vacuum sealer, both because I was interested in cooking sous-vide and so that I could better store perishable things I buy in bulk like chicken thighs or, now and then, whole cuts of meat that I cut into portions before sealing and freezing. The end product is dramatically better than what you get if you just throw stuff in a zip lock bag, because if you do it correctly you avoid freezer burn.

You can find vacuum sealers at a reasonable cost at many retailers, but I’d recommend looking at reviews and spending a few more dollars to buy one that will be reliable. Definitely shop around for rolls of the heavy-duty plastic you can cut to size for storage purposes, because those can cost a pretty penny.

There are a lot of things you can do to reduce the amount of food you discard, and I’d be happy if you’d share your ideas by email.