When it comes to waste at home, the kitchen is an unfortunate hot spot.
It makes sense: the kitchen is the heart of so many homes. It’s where we make meals for ourselves and for our loved ones. It’s where we get nourishment and recharge throughout the day.
But, for every salad that we make, there are lettuce and tomato cores, carrot and radish tops and roots, avocado skins and pits, and lemon rinds as food waste, depending on the meal. For every barbeque, there are watermelon and corn cobs and meatless bones at least. All of that and more end up in the trash or compost—and add to our country’s growing food waste.
10 Clever Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste
1. Re-use your lemon rinds to clean
Past generations could have told us that lemon (and white vinegar) works wonders as a natural cleaning product. They are naturally antibacterial and act as bleach to clean, shine, and remove stains in bathrooms and kitchens. Plus they smell delicious. Add a little coarse salt to your lemon rinds and it’ll clean and disinfect your wooden cutting board.
2. Overturn spent grapefruits in the garden
Finished eating your grapefruit? Don’t throw it out, put it cut-side-down in the garden to attract slugs and other pests away from eating your garden’s leafy greens.
3. Plants love spent coffee grounds
Acid-loving plants love spent coffee grounds as compost! Save your grounds and sprinkle them on the soil of your tomatoes, blueberries, roses, azaleas, carrots, radishes, rhododendrons, hydrangeas and more. Give them water and watch those plants flourish.
4. Crushed eggshells in your garden
Crushed eggshells are great in gardens. Finely ground eggshells act as a natural calcium powder that is similar in makeup to fertilizers. Or, leave them coarse and scatter them around your slug-loving plants as the first line of defence against them.
5. Make a stock with your kitchen scraps
Stock is an important ingredient in so many delicious recipes. It can also be made at home very easily with plain old kitchen scraps. Collect your onion skins, vegetable tops, skins, and roots, wilted greens, floppy vegetables (like carrots and celery), and bones, in a container in the freezer or fridge until you’re ready to make a delicious stock. Just add water, a few bay leaves, salt and pepper, and boil to a simmer for the day.
6. Freeze your fruits and vegetables
If you have fruits and vegetables that are about to turn in your fridge, seal them in a freezer bag for later use. Make sure to label the bag using a permanent marker so that you know what it is and how long it’s been in your freezer. Check out our best before-dates article for more information.
Frozen greens, berries, and bananas make awesome breakfast smoothies. Or, heat your frozen berries up into a quick compote to drizzle over yogurt or French toast. The latter, by the way, is a classic great use of stale bread and stretching one egg for more people.
Another kitchen hack: Once you’re done with the freezer bag, if it’s in good shape, give it a wash, and reuse it.
7. Use your wilted greens
Wilted greens like kale and spinach or herbs are perfect in omelettes, scrambled eggs, stirfries, smoothies, and other dishes that would naturally wilt them anyways. They still have so much nutritional value and flavour that it would be a shame to bin them just because they droop.
8. Store leftovers to see them
If your fridge is packed with coloured containers, it’s like playing a mystery game to figure out what’s inside of them. Sometimes, that leftover dish that you planned to eat got pushed too far back to eat in time safely.
Put your leftovers in clear glass jars or containers and organize them in a way that encourages you to use them.
9. Beef up your leftovers
Just because you only have half a sandwich left over, doesn’t mean that you can’t have a full hearty meal. Make a side salad or soup, slice a pickle, toss a few chips on your plate, or vegetables and dip to beef up your leftovers. Have some fresh fruit and a piece of chocolate for dessert. If it’s a stirfry for one that needs to feed more, fry in some fresh vegetables, leftover meat, and add fresh veggies and herbs to garnish.
Leftovers are only boring if you let them be.
10. Transform your food scraps with creativity
Consider the avocado pit.
You can clean it and grow it into a whole new plant that looks great—and it may even produce more avocados for you one day. Or, you can dry the pits and rehydrate them in an all-natural dye bath to transform your not-so-white bedding into a pretty pink colour.
So many fruits, vegetables, and other plants can be repurposed in many clever ways.
You can regrow lettuce and green onions in water to sprout more food (your family can learn how at our upcoming symposium!). One clove of garlic will re-grow into a whole bulb if given enough time and garden space. You can dye clothing naturally with onion skins, beets, turmeric, coffee, tea, you name it.
All it takes is a bit of effort to set these food scraps aside—and creativity to use them when you have the time and energy—to hack your food waste systems in your home.
During the pandemic, grocery, manufacturing, supplier, and distribution employees worked tirelessly to keep Canadians across the country fed with healthy, nourishing food. They were diligent to try to keep everyone safe and socially distanced while keeping shelves stocked.
Recognizing Frontline Workers with Grocery Heroes Day
Grocery Heroes Day commemorates the hard work that workers in the grocery industry have done to help feed Canadian families during COVID-19.
As Canada’s largest food rescue organization, Second Harvest is proud to take this opportunity to recognize the outstanding work that our grocery partners and their frontline workers have done throughout the pandemic. They have helped put food on the tables of millions of Canadians during an unprecedented time, despite supply chain disruptions and added health and safety precautions.
Thank you to all of those working in the grocery and food industry.
How Grocery Stores are Addressing Food Waste and Hunger
Second Harvest’s Food Rescue App is a tool that grocery stores across Canada, including our partners Loblaws and the Empire group of stores, use as part of their sustainability strategy. Retailers of any size can use the free app to manage their surplus food and help keep it from being wasted—and feed those community members in need.
Grocery Heroes Day is a great time to celebrate the frontline staff at grocery stores who are not only doing vital work for the community members they see in-store, they’re also working behind the scenes to rescue their stores’ unsold food and donate it to non-profits in their communities. As we commemorate the first-ever Grocery Heroes Day, we asked staff at just two out of the hundreds of grocery stores across Canada that rescue and donate food why they do what they do.
Samantha is the assistant store manager at Sobeys Meadowbrook in Edmonton, AB, which has been using the Second Harvest food rescue app since May 13. She is involved in the Sobeys Food Rescue Champion committee which is a group of eight very involved Sobeys store employees who promote the Food Rescue program and help enhance it.
“I feel a responsibility to try to help feed as many people as I can, and the Second Harvest app has given me the opportunity to do that through day to day business at a job I love,” says Samantha.
“Making connections and building relationships in our community is incredibly important to us. The Second Harvest program has allowed us to further our relationship with our community partners and help to create positive change for those facing food insecurity.”
“We love working with Second Harvest!” says Susan Hardy, franchisee of Hardy’s YIG in Devon, AB.
“For us, it can be hard to find the time to get out and donate our extra food and divert food from the landfill. We have been looking for ways to do this, and we could not find alternatives. Second Harvest has given us the help we needed to be able to accomplish this.”
“They have made the process so easy for us! We just go onto the website and insert what we have to donate and the rest is basically done for us. We are now able to support our community and donate all our extra food, allowing us to both give back and create less waste.”
Let’s say that you decide to make granola. You drive to the store, buy the ingredients for $30 plus a 10-cent plastic bag, and spend an hour of your time (and oven electricity) preparing and baking it. Even though it’s delicious and perfectly fine as-is, you decide that it’s missing an ingredient and want to start over again. You toss the granola into the 10-cent plastic bag and into the landfill. How much did that cost in food waste?
You might think it cost $30 for the ingredients, plus however many resources it took to produce, harvest, process, package, transport, and sell the ingredients to you. But no, in the food value chain, the cost of waste is often calculated as just the landfill or disposal cost—like the 10 cents for that plastic bag. The rest isn’t measured.
Now imagine this on a global scale.
One-third of all food produced globally goes to waste. Food loss and waste represent nearly 60% of the food industry’s environmental footprint. If food waste and loss were a country, it would be the worst emitter of CO2 after China and the U.S. Food that goes to the landfill creates methane gas, which is 25 times more damaging to our beautiful planet than carbon dioxide.
This is exacerbated by disruptions in our food supply chain, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent impact on the restaurant and food retail industry. Comparing April 2020 with April 2019, for example, Second Harvest received over double the amount of surplus food than the pre-pandemic period.
In honour of Earth Month 2021’s theme, Restore Our Earth, we are looking at the cost of food waste on our planet along every step of our supply chain and restorative actions to take in order to slow our impact on our climate crisis. Addressing the issue of food waste and loss through measurement and planning across all levels of the supply chain makes our system less vulnerable and more sustainable.
Food Loss in Production: Challenges and Solutions
Surplus food is a complex problem that starts on the farm (or field, ocean, or greenhouse).
Production food loss can be caused by anything from fluctuating market prices, demand, labour changes, or harvest issues to aesthetic criteria, where produce is graded based on looks. For example, if a tomato has a blemish or it isn’t the right variety, it may not leave the farm despite the time, cost, and energy that went into growing, harvesting, and handling it.
For one pound of feedlot beef, it takes 2,500 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 25 pounds of soil, and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gas. All of that is wasted if that one pound of beef never even leaves the processor. Millions of tomatoes are grown in Canada every year and it is expected that hundreds of thousands of them won’t make it to the market. According to a research project for the WWF by Dr. Ayana Johnson, half of the fish caught for the U.S. and EU goes to waste.
The biggest challenge and solution for food loss at the production level is to optimize the harvest.
Recommendations to Curb Food Loss at the Production Level:
Find alternative, emerging markets for imperfect and less-than-grade-A foods, including retailers and food rescue programs
Work with buyers to move away from restrictive aesthetic criteria
Ensure food waste and loss measurement practices that consider causes of loss for specific commodities
Food Loss in Processing and Manufacturing: Challenges and Solutions
Manufacturers and processors turn raw, perishable foods into products. For example, they may take raw dairy, eggs, or meat, for example, and process and package it to be safe (and delicious) to consume. However, when supply chains are interrupted, as they were in COVID, manufacturers may end up with an overabundance of that perishable product. That’s exactly how Second Harvest ended up rescuing potatoes-turned-french fries and delivering them to communities in need across Canada.
According to ReFED, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending food loss and waste in the U.S., almost 90% of surplus food in processing is byproduct and production line waste. The key to their success is improving efficiencies.
Recommendations to Curb Food Loss at the Processing Level:
Find new uses and market for production use of edible byproducts and establish relationships with food rescue programs for surplus donations
Improve inefficiencies and avoidable waste/bycatch along production lines such as date coding and labeling
Encourage facilities to measure food loss within their operations and set reduction targets
Food Waste in Distribution and Retail: Challenges and Solutions
Food waste happens for many reasons at the distribution level. The product may not have been stored or shipped correctly or shipments may have been disrupted or delayed, which might trigger best-before date issues. Or, it could have been handled incorrectly and caused bruising, wilting, or rotting that either the distributor or retailer could reject.
Once the food reaches the retailer, such as a grocery store, food could be wasted because of stocking issues such as over- and under-stocking, food date labeling, or pricing issues. Or because of human error. Many foods require food-safe temperatures and if they’re not put into fridges or freezers fast enough, they could spoil.
Retailers have a lot of power over consumer buying behavior and connecting the supply chain. Even just how a product is visually presented could mean the difference between a purchase and a loss.
Recommendations to Curb Food Waste in Distribution and Retail:
Start measuring food waste and find out where it’s happening. Set goals to reduce
Educate employees to understand best-before labels for stocking and donation
Engage employees in redistribution models for surplus food donations
Food Waste at Home: Challenges and Solutions
After all of that, what a waste if the food finally makes it into our homes only to get tossed. What a shame. The average Canadian will spend $1,766 per household every year on avoidable food waste. That is food that was still good and safe to eat but looked wilted, bruised, or was opened a few days after the best-before date.
When did “when in doubt, throw it out” become a contributor to the global issue of food waste on our planet? What if “when in doubt” is a nod to our lack of education around best-before dates and expirations? If we all knew how bad food waste was for our beautiful planet, would we not think twice about throwing out perfectly good food?
Extra Readings and Resources to Reduce Food Waste at Home
2020 and 2021 thus far have taught us many things. Prepare for the worst. Stock up your pantry. Hunker down. Wash your hands, keep your distance and make your own meals. Because of this, our kitchen cabinets, cupboards and pantries are full of more canned and dried goods than we know what to do with—and, unfortunately, most of them only last one year past their expiry date.
In one survey of Canadians in March 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, 45% of respondents shopped for groceries that would last them between one and two weeks. Some 9% more said that they bought enough food to last more than 30 days.
It’s easy to push our canned goods, sauces, spices, jarred jams, chutneys and pickles, teas, soups, grains, flours and cereals to the back of our cupboards and forget about them until they’re ancient and ready for the landfill. It takes work and conscious effort to do the opposite—and avoid the cost (to our wallets but, more significantly, the planet) of unnecessary food waste.
Get reinspired by your pantry!
Here are tips and recipes ideas to help get you inspired to eat your way through your pantry.
How to Get Inspired By Your Pantry—and Curb Food Waste
Inspired Pantry Tip: Organize, Inventory and Purge
Knowing what you’re working with is the first step in curbing your food waste and finding new inspiration in your pantry ingredients. Dig around, pull everything out, get rid of (compost and recycle!) long-since-expired goods (use our blog post on everything you need to know about best-before dates as a guide). Consider what you have.
Is there a better way to store your canned and dried goods so that you canseethem (and actually use them)? Organize your cupboards and pantry in a way that works for you. If nothing else, doing an inventory will remind you of what you bought and should eat. But, it may even inspire you.
Inspired Pantry Tip: Up Your Cookbook and Recipe Game
Spend some time leafing through your favourite cookbooks or looking at blogs or websites for recipes. If you’re not finding inspiration or getting hungry from what you’re looking at, maybe you’re searching for recipes in the wrong places. A world of recipes is at your fingertips.
Foodgawker or Epicurious are great places to look up specific ingredients and find recipe ideas. Bon Appetit and NYT Cooking may inspire you—and they both have recipes for specific pantry ingredients. Pair your non-perishable goods, such as dried and canned items, with perishable goods to add extra nutritional value to your meals. For example, warmed-up canned butter beans taste delicious with a splash of olive oil (for extra fat and omegas), coarse salt, pepper and lemon zest (for vitamin C).
Brainstorming Recipe Ideas for Pantries Full of Beans
Speaking of beans, do you have canned or dried beans that need eating?
What about making homemade baked beans? Soak dried beans overnight and cook them all day on the weekend or if you’re working from home. Or, use up your canned tomatoes, beans, corn and spices in a batch of chili. Here’s an NYT Cooking post on 19 Great Chili Recipes for inspiration. Beans are also great on salads, as a traditional side with eggs and toast in the morning, or added to soups. If you have sausage, why not make a white bean, sausage and kale soup or a bean and smoky sausage stew?
Beans aside, every pantry ingredient has thousands of recipes featuring them. Who knows, you may even find that you enjoy trying new recipes and spending time cooking at home.
Inspired Pantry Tip: Plan and Shop Ahead
Planning ahead is the single most important thing that you can do to curb food waste while creating inspired meals based on what’s in your pantry.
In the restaurant industry, what is often overlooked is the fact that chefs must use what they have and buy only what they need. That is how a well-run kitchen functions. It is also the art of the pantry: using what you have and buying only what you need.
What we’ve seen today is that using up what’s in your pantry doesn’t have to be dull, boring or uninspired!
Modern eating habits are a world apart from those of past generations.
We have apps on our phones to order delivery within the hour (or less) from hundreds of local restaurants. We can buy our groceries online and have them packed and delivered to our doorsteps. By the end of 2019, almost 16% of Canadian respondents said they were buying groceries online. We have tropical fruits, rare spices, local specialty ingredients and fresh vegetables delivered year-round anywhere from around the globe. We grocery shop often—some 26% of Canadians “micro-shop” by going to the grocery store two or three times a week.
Prior to COVID-19, 54% of Canadians reported eating out once a week or more. While half of us eat out for the enjoyment of it, 40% eat out for convenience, having no time to cook or not knowing how to.
The further back in time we go, of course, the bigger the difference between modern eating habits and those of past generations. Many of our grandparents and/or great (great) grandparents had fully stocked pantries and food cellars, for instance, with preservatives, canned and dried goods, root vegetables, cured and frozen meats.
They made meals from scratch because they had to. They didn’t have grocery stores online or around the corner. Premade meals and baked goods were made by neighbours and friends, not corporations. They swapped recipe cards and had well-used dog-eared cookbooks at hand in the kitchen.
Cooking took time, love and effort. The reward was most often more delicious and nutritious than today’s frozen, pre-packaged meals. Ingredients were made of whole foods straight from the garden, farmer, mill, butcher or monger—depending on the generation.
But despite how far we’ve come (or gone), there are some lessons that past generations can teach us about food preparation and preservation that are timeless and relevant today.
5 Lessons From Past Generations to Curb Your Modern Eating Habits
1. Harvest Your Own Food
Depending on where you live, you may be lucky enough to have a kitchen garden outside. If not, many herbs and lettuces, for example, can grow inside in a sunny window or on a patio. Perhaps there is even a community garden nearby that you can access. There is nothing more rewarding—and nutritious—than growing, harvesting and enjoying your own food.
Past generations grew much of their own food and ate seasonally. Many of them also harvested their own meat, eggs and fish by raising chickens and farm animals and hunting or fishing. Or, if they grew their own grains, for example, perhaps they could trade with their neighbours who had cows for milk or beef.
Eating foods in season is nutritious for you, too. When fruits and vegetables are picked fully ripened by the sun, they pack a flavour and nutrient punch. Foods that are in season offer your body exactly what you need. Thirst-quenching water, vitamins and minerals in the summer; hearty, warming and fatty in the winter.
Knowing—and appreciating—where our food comes from is a huge step toward better and more sustainable modern eating habits.
2. Preserve Seasonal Freshness
Past generations cured, froze, smoked or dried meats. They canned, dried and jammed fruits. They pickled, dry-stored, roasted, canned and froze vegetables and dried herbs and grains. All of this preserved the seasonal freshness of the spring, summer and fall harvests year-round. This is still done today by some communities out of necessity but also for enjoyment and love for seasonality and the homesteading process.
If you grow your own tomatoes, for example, you’ll know how deliciously superior the flavour and nutritional value is to imported ones that are picked before they’re ripe so that they can last through shipment and storage on grocery shelves. Try roasting your cherry tomatoes and freezing them flat before putting them in a freezer bag to add to pasta in the winter. Look into canning or freezing them too—your future self will thank you.
3. Support Local Businesses and Farmers
Thankfully, some of the best qualities of the past have remained strong today. There are dozens of farmer’s markets, butchers, bakers, fishmongers, cheese makers, local millers and other food craftspeople to support in every city. The next time you go shopping, consider visiting a local farmer’s market or try to buy local, seasonal and/or organic produce.
If local fruits and vegetables are in season, why not buy a box of imperfect tomatoes from the farmer and make a batch of tomato sauce to freeze? Or do the same with cucumbers, garlic and dill and make pickles, or canned peaches or berry jams?
You may not have a kitchen garden, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t preserve freshness of local foods just like past generations did.
4. Spend Time Cooking
Sometimes, the ingredients make the meal. If you’re already growing and harvesting your own food or supporting local farmers and makers, you’ll want to honour and celebrate those foods properly. Freshly cut lettuce and herbs straight from your garden (or farmer’s market or local produce from the grocery store) just needs some olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper to shine.
Give yourself the space and time to cook. Figure out what you need to make the experience enjoyable and make it happen. This may be finding inspiration in cookbooks, recipes online or watching how-to videos—or it could be decluttering your kitchen or just scheduling enough time after work to cook.
Listen to your favourite album, get an apron on, make yourself a refreshing or warming drink, snack and have fun with it. If you want to eat at 7:30 PM, make sure that you’ve given yourself at least an hour or more to prep—and have all the necessary ingredients at hand.
Remove the obstacles and you may just find that you love to cook (or at least enjoy the reward). Practice makes perfect. Cooking for one isn’t an excuse either, because you can always cook for two: yourself for dinner tonight and for yourself for lunch or dinner another day.
5. Waste Not, Want Not
Speaking of leftovers, find ways to spruce them up. For example, if you’ve made pasta, consider eating it two days from now (so that you didn’t just have it—boring!) and make a side salad or saute vegetables to make it different. If you know that you’re not going to eat the leftovers immediately, freeze them instead.
Once you’ve grown your own fruits and vegetables or raised your own eggs—or spent more money on supporting local businesses—you’ll understand the importance of waste not, want not. It is a shame to let your hard-earned tomatoes rot on the vine. So eat them!
Consider the love and care that you give to something that you have grown and transfer that to ingredients that others have grown for you.
Modern Eating Habits: Convenience Versus Reward
Modern eating habits have stripped away all of the challenges that past generations faced. Convenience is so easy and tempting. It takes work to go against the grain and grow our own food, to support local or spend an afternoon canning, jamming and curing. It takes time and effort to make bread from scratch or roast vegetables to add to your homemade soup.
But think of the reward for you, your body and the planet. Past generations knew it well.