Ways to Waste Less Food: Supermarket Edition

One of the things I’m conscious of is how much food my household wastes. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do this, but it’s always moving down to the bottom of the list, so I figured I could write some articles for PMag to keep me honest.

I looked at a lot of organizations’ tips on how to prevent food waste. Some of them were asinine. Some of them required immense dedication. Many of them, though, were universal.

The overarching recommendation was to reduce food waste by bringing less food into your home. (It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?) The best way to do this is by having a plan when you go to the grocery store. Yep, you need a comprehensive list every time. It prevents those impulse buys, which tend to be less nutritious anyway, if you’re anything like me (Number of times I’ve spontaneously purchased parsnips: 0. Number of times I’ve spontaneously purchased several hundred Fla-Vor-Ices: Three. Number of Fla-Vor-Ices I still have in the freezer: I don’t want to talk about it.) If you’re really ambitious, a lot of stores and health websites have meal planning guides, complete with grocery lists.

If your grocery list preparation is haphazard, you can refer to this simplified list template at I’m sure you can find a lot of helpful blog posts providing a lot more detail on this without little difficulty. I’m also sure that not all of them will be written by loathsome smugsters, so take heart.

Michelangelo grocery list
This is a shopping list Michelangelo gave to an illiterate servant. Not entirely on-point for this article, but it does show that he ate a healthy diet and clearly did a lot of meal planning. (Photo credit: Image is in the public domain.)

Another interesting tip some experts recommend is making sure you know the right amount of food to buy. The Love Food Hate Waste website has a calculator that allows you to figure out how much food you realistically need to feed a group, and to plan accordingly. BTW, the LFHW’s calculator gives results using the metric system, so you’ll need to convert it if you live in the United States (P.S. Amurricah!). To be honest, this one isn’t a huge problem chez moi, but it must be a problem if someone bothered to write a tip about it, ammirite?

A related tip is to buy exactly what you need — if your recipe requires two tomatoes, buy two tomatoes rather than a box. Greatist suggests buying loose produce to achieve this goal, using carrots as its example. My supermarket doesn’t sell loose carrots, so clearly I’ll need to do this on a veggie-by-veggie basis. You can also use the salad bar to get small amounts of certain vegetables, albeit at higher prices — you’ll need to do the math to see if it suits your situation.

Another thing most experts agree is to be extremely cautious buying food in bulk, because, as they point out quite logically, if you don’t end up eating it, you aren’t saving any money. Fair enough. I’ll also add in my own very specific advice about buying in bulk or at warehouse stores: even if something receives rave reviews when it is sampled at Costco, that does not necessarily translate into kids liking it on an ongoing basis. My husband, who ended up consuming a hundred chicken wontons when my daughter suddenly refused to eat them, can attest to this.

In later articles I’ll talk about food storage, food prep, ingredient selection, and food freshness (including the reliability of expiration dates). For the moment, though, I’d appreciate any tips you have, or hearing about any food waste issues you’re dealing with.

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Moretta is a caring nurturer, a member of several 12-step programs, but not a licensed therapist. Her Twitter is

7 thoughts on “Ways to Waste Less Food: Supermarket Edition”

  1. When I lived alone, I did a lot of cooking in bulk and then freezing meals so I wouldn’t always have to cook. But I have a roommate right now who refuses to eat leftovers more than once, so our food waste has increased. I’m trying to cook smaller and smaller batches to decrease the waste.

  2. Yeah! We also compost when we can and I freeze veg scraps & boil in water when I have a few extra hours on the weekend/if I’m working from home to make my own veg broth (& then freeze that, too, since there are no preservatives in it).

    I really recommend the web app gatheredtable–I use it to store my recipes and then make my weekly meal plan, and it’s been a really great way for me to not stress out about feeding myself every night, & save some money since I’m not doing wild last minute stops at the store not knowing what I’ll be eating–or if I am, I at least know I only need potatoes and oil or something.

    I also really love bulk spices, if you can find them! They are the Best Thing.

  3. I hate food waste. Absolutely cannot stand it. Luckily I have a very creative husband who can somehow generally whip up healthy and inventive meals out of nothing (I can too but he does most of the cooking). We generally do not throw out too much food, and we do generally only buy what we need- must be lucky here in NZ as most fruit and veg is sold individually so we can get what we need!

    One thing that made me feel slightly better about food waste was getting a worm bin- so if there is any food that needs to go out, it goes in there, becomes worm food which then becomes brilliant vermicast and worm wee for my garden!

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