Simple Fridge & Pantry Ideas to Reduce Food Waste
To me, simplifying has always been about striving for progress over perfection. My personal goal isn't to produce zero waste, but to significantly reduce it the best I can while living within my means. I work hard to adapt small habits that I can actually integrate and SUSTAIN, rather than focusing on doing everything perfectly and 'failing'. Clean, conscious, simple, less toxic... these are always my front-of-mind values. So, why is the kitchen and more specifically the fridge such a great thing to tackle if you’re looking to lessen your waste and make more sustainable swaps? Because simplifying food; from the way you organize it and plan your meals to what + how much you choose to purchase can make a positive impact on your health and wellbeing, as well as the planet.
Here are my two cents on ways to get more organized, reduce waste, and save money in the process.
1. Buy less to save more.
Do you feel like you’re constantly discarding old food that you forgot to eat? One of the simplest ways to reduce food waste (and save money) is to buy less and plan ahead. Since it’s just Andrew and I, our fridge is rarely over-crowding with food. We buy a week’s worth of groceries at a time (with 3ish meal combos in mind). Most of our ingredients can easily be thrown together and mixed n’ matched to make simple sautéed bowls, salads, snack plates, and more.
Overall, we follow the “cook once, eat twice” rule. Andrew takes leftovers to work the next day, and I usually take part of the leftovers and make a big salad for lunch. Then, we repeat! By the time Thursday hits, we’re both usually down for a date night. When we don’t have guests in town, we aim to only eat out 2-3 times per week. Sit down with yourself or anyone you share finances with and get real about your priorities and desired lifestyle to find a weekly food shopping flow that works for you.
2. Keep it clutter-free.
While #fridgeselfies are a pretty pic for the ‘gram, let’s also not forget an organized fridge and pantry holds the key to less stress, less mess, and more eating! When you can clearly see and easily access everything in your pantry, you can take better inventory of what you already have instead of buying more crackers you don’t need when there’s another unfinished bag hiding behind chaos. The best way I’ve personally been able to bring order to the kingdom is to store everything in bins, baskets (shop mine here), mason jars, and glasslock containers.
See if you can carve out an hour of time to declutter your fridge and take inventory of what jars and containers you might want to swap in. Add it to the Google calendar as if it’s an important meeting! [Related: Easy Swaps for a Sustainable Kitchen]
3. Optimize food storage.
Let’s quickly talk more about containers. There are quite a few different containers I can recommend, but to get started, you can easily start by saving your glass jars (i.e. from pasta sauce and nut butters) and repurpose it for storing food like a jar of overnight oats, a to-go salad, or a stack of nut butter balls. You can also purchase a set of mason jars, which are fairly inexpensive and very versatile. Mason jars are an absolute staple in our household and can also be used as a drinking glass. Cheers to simplifying!
Aside from jars, I highly recommend getting a set of glasslock containers to store leftovers. It’s airtight, and without the lid it’s safe to use in the microwave and oven. Lastly, a pricey (but worth it) food storage option is a Stasher bag, which completely eliminated our need for plastic ziploc bags. Stashers can store on-the-go snacks, frozen fruit for smoothies, and it’s dishwasher friendly. It ain’t cheap, but once you own it, you’ll use it endlessly.
Now, when it comes to re-using plastic containers, it’s a little tricky. I try my best to avoid single-use plastic, but occasionally a plastic takeout container makes its way into my possession. I personally choose not to re-use that kind of plastic due to the chemicals that could potentially leach into my food. I always thoroughly wash and recycle when possible (but remember not every plastic container can be recycled).
More tips for keeping food fresh longer:
Keep fridge temperature at the recommended 38 degrees.
Store asparagus and herbs like cilantro and parsley with the stems in water (as you would with fresh cut flowers).
Store carrots, celery, and radishes submerged in water and sealed in a glasslock or mason jar.
For humidity drawers, keep foods that rot in low humidity and foods that wilt in high humidity.
Low: ripe avocados, tomatoes, apples, etc.
High: spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc.
For hearty greens like kale, you can wash it, wrap it in a dish towel, and store in high humidity drawer. I also keep the stems in a jar like I would asparagus if I plan on eating it soon.
Wash berries, dry them, keep them in fridge in an unsealed container (you’ll hear varied opinions on whether to keep it sealed or not, but this is what has worked for me).
Store matcha in fridge once the tin is opened.
Use sealed mason jars to store nuts, oats, and wheat/nut/seed flours in the fridge for optimal freshness (and you can see how much is left).
Pssst, have you tried composting?
Composting is one of the best ways to reduce what ends up in landfill while also giving nutrients back to the earth’s soil. I place all of my odds and ends from food scraps into my compost bin that stays on my countertop. I, then, eliminate my small bin into my larger compost bin that is provided by the City of Austin. Our city picks up compost every week. For those of you who do not have a citywide pickup, you can check your local farmer’s market to see if they will accept your compost or Google search ‘compost near me’. To keep bugs away, you can keep your food scraps in a bag stored in the freezer. I’ve never experienced any bugs or foul smells seeping through my compost bin - I highly recommend it. Once we develop our backyard garden, I’ll be utilizing our compost for soil rather than sending it out with the city. That will be one heck of a project, so stay tuned for whenever that arises.
Every little bit counts. Doing something consistently - big or small - to prioritize your wellbeing and help the planet makes a difference. By shifting your mindset to buying and USING up quality food and products, you’ll save money, lower your impact, reduce waste and reduce clutter. And don’t forget to celebrate the positive changes you’re makin’ along the way… because eventually all of these small victories add up to empowered and sustained change.
If you haven’t yet, check out my blog post on Home Buying Q&A + Fridge Organization where I talk about purchasing organizers for our new fridge. I kept it simple and point out some tips on buying kitchen containers and appliances.
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