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How to Avoid Food Waste

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Our food experts share their simple steps to reduce the amount of waste leaving your kitchen.

Test kitchen pro Adam Hickman, a.k.a the Compost Man of the Cooking Light test kitchens, and CookingLight.com editor Mallory Brasseale, a.k.a the Use It Up Queen of meal planning, share their brilliant strategies for cutting back on food waste.

What’s the best way to avoid food waste?

AH: We develop and test a lot of recipes using fresh produce each week, so there is a lot of food waste. Fortunately, it will have a second life in the garden, but it still adds up quickly. The best way to avoid food waste is at the grocery store. Good planning and realistic expectations for what you can eat/cook can really make the biggest difference—more so than crisping drawers or special bags for keeping food fresh.

MB: When I first start planning meals for the week, I open my fridge and pantry and start jotting down a list of what I already have. Then I find recipes that use however much of that ingredient is left (say, half a bag of spinach) and plan it for Monday’s dinner. I also keep a magnetic dry erase board on my fridge and keep a running list of perishable foods there. As I use it up, I cross it out. It [has] really helped me [to] remember that bag of grapes I bought on a whim that’s hidden in the fruit drawer or the bunch of cilantro that I used to ALWAYS forget about.

What ingredients are normally thrown out that people should be using?

AH: I see a lot of greens and lettuces go to waste in the test kitchen, because they are so fragile and can break down quickly—great for composting, not so good for eating. Many greens that are usually eaten fresh can easily be worked into other recipes, because they reduce so much when cooked.

MB: I always use a little more veggies in dishes than called for, especially in soups and stews. This way there are fewer odds and ends of produce in the fridge.

How do you revive or revamp leftovers into a new dish?

AH: I find most any leftovers can be worked into a big bowl of brown rice or other whole grain pretty easily, from soups to steak, or even leftover chicken from a restaurant.

MB: I actually love leftovers, so I’m not one to revamp. Fish dinners do turn into fresh salads topped with cold fish, since seafood doesn’t really do well in the microwave.

Is there something you used to throw away that you now have a fantastic use for?

AH: I will never make guacamole without cilantro stems again. I think parsley and cilantro stems have more flavor than the leaves.

MB: I recently sautéed some droopy apple slices for Sunday morning waffles. It was really good!