19 Clever Ways to Fight Family Food Waste

Does the amount of food you throw away make you cringe? Here are simple ways to toss less and save money to boot.
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An average family of four wastes about $1500 worth of food every year, according to the USDA. That seems downright shocking--until you think of all those half-eaten apples, discarded sandwich crusts, and untouched veggies that many kids leave behind. Even if you're not one of the many American families who struggle with food security, most of us are still on budgets, so cutting back on what we throw away just makes good sense.

There are lots of simple things you can do as a family to fight food waste. Here are some strategies I use in my own kitchen, as well as tips I gathered from the parents in my Real Mom Nutrition Facebook community. Maybe some of these will work for your family too.

  1. Pour any leftover smoothies into ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop cubes out into a freezer-safe bag. When your child asks for a smoothie, add a few cubes to a glass and let it defrost or zap it in the microwave for a few seconds until soft and stir-able.
  2. Put any juice from canned fruit into ice pop molds (my fourth grader recently deemed these "the best popsicles ever").
  3. Save uneaten candy from party goody bags (or trick-or-treat) for decorating gingerbread houses at holiday time.
  4. If you cut the crusts off of bread, whirl them in the food processor then bake on a baking sheet until lightly browned for homemade bread crumbs.
  5. Serve any uneaten packed lunch items as after-school snacks.
  6. Got an extra hot dog bun or two kicking around? Spread the insides with nut butter and place a peeled banana inside for a silly sandwich.
  7. Take leftover bits from cereal boxes, bags of nuts and dried fruit, and packages of pretzels and crackers to make homemade trail mix.
  8. If your kids didn't touch their veggies at dinner, pop them in a freezer-safe bag for making vegetable broth or pureeing into pasta sauce.
  9. Wash and freeze leftover fruit for future smoothies or to mix into pancakes or waffles.
  10. Plan one dinner a week for eating up odds and ends from the refrigerator. Instead of "Leftover Night" (boring!) give it a fun name like "Fridge Survivor", "Smorgasbord Night", or "YoYo Dinner" (You're On Your Own). RELATED: Best Meals to Clean Out Your Fridge
  11. Peel overripe bananas and bake into loaves of banana bread or chop and place in a gallon-size freezer bag for smoothies.
  12. Cut apples into slices instead of serving them whole (kids may be more likely to eat them this way). Save leftovers in the freezer, and when you have enough, make a batch of applesauce (here's an easy recipe for the slow cooker).
  13. If your kid didn't eat much dinner, save it for later that evening when they're asking for a snack. Or put leftovers in a thermos the next day for their lunch.
  14. Save leftover crackers and chips and crush to make a crunchy topping for mac-n-cheese.
  15. Bits of leftover cereal at the bottom of the box make a fun topping for yogurt or ice cream.
  16. If you have leftover bits of meat and cheese, cook them into a quick dinner or lunch of quesadillas.
  17. Let kids serve themselves at meals and talk about the importance of only taking as much as they can eat (be sure you allow for seconds so kids don't feel like they have to load up).
  18. Have your family do a food waste "audit" for a week or two: Post a list on the fridge and write down any food that's throw away. Then talk about the list together and come up with ideas of ways to waste less. 
  19. Consider packing less in lunch boxes. When I started doing that, my kids actually started eating more—and I started wasting less food!

Do you have any tips to add to the list?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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