Eat Good Food

Eat Better, Waste Less: Tips for Reducing Food Waste at Home

“What is good food and what is trash? ‘Trash’ and ‘scraps’ are ideas that people create when they decide what is in and what is out. Who made these rules?” – Mads Refslund

Nobody wants to waste food, but despite good intentions, it happens to the best of us. The good news is making a difference has never been easier.

Equipped with resources like Mads Refslund’s book Scraps, Wilt & Weeds: Turning Wasted Food Into Plenty, Dana Gunders’s Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook, and tips from Ambatalia creator Molly de Vrieswe’ve compiled some of our favorite smart tricks for lessening your contribution to the $165 billion worth of food that’s wasted each year in the United States.

Overall, minimizing food and packaging waste not only benefits our personal health and pocket books, but also our land, oceans, and the people that produce our food.

Molly de Vries of Ambatalia discusses the importance of stocking the pantry.

At the Store:

  1. Bring your own bags, jars, and containers to the store or farmers market.
  2. Shop smart. Plan meals, use lists, and avoid impulse buys. Buy what you need and in the amount that you’re likely to consume. Keeping an eye on what you throw away over the course of a week will help you make better choices at the store.
  3. Invest in reusable linens to cut down on napkin and paper towel usage. Molly demonstrates creative ways to use kitchen towels to tie up produce, bread, and even wine bottles in this video series.
  4. Head to the bulk section for dry goods such as beans, grains, flour, pasta, and rice. You can try as little or as much or something as you want, and eliminate unnecessary packaging waste in the process.
  5. Learn to love ugly produce. It’s perfectly good to eat, and buying imperfect produce at the farmers’ market or grocery store helps use up food that might otherwise be tossed.
  6. Get to know your farmers, butchers, fish and cheesemongers, stockists, and cashiers. Be curious – and kind! Here are some sample questions to ask. 
    • Is your favorite milk or kombucha available in a reusable glass bottle with a deposit program? Can you reuse your egg carton each week at the farmers market? 
    • Before heading to the bulk section at the grocery store, speak with a cashier to obtain the tare weight (weight of an empty container) and understand any in-house rules.
    • For meat and fish, inquire if regulations permit mongers to use your own reusable glass containers, instead of several layers of butcher paper. Consider asking your cheesemonger to skip the plastic wrap and use a bento bag instead.

At Home:

  1. Take stock of your pantry at the beginning of each season and write down the items that you always strive to have on hand, in addition to more regular purchases.
  2. Keep a running list of “house meals” and their ingredients that your household already enjoys.
  3. Invest in nondisposable materials to help you stay clean and organized. Here are some of our favorite options:
  4. Learn how to keep your seasonal produce looking and tasting fresh with these helpful tips
  5. Use your nose. Expiration dates are more often guidelines than hard facts. If a food looks, smells, and tastes fine, it’s most likely safe to eat. If any of these elements are off, then it’s time to compost it.
  6. Take stock of what’s about to expire and plan meals around those ingredients.
  7. The freezer is your friend. Keep a list of what’s in the freezer and when each item was frozen. Keep the list on the freezer door for easy reference.
  8. Designate one dinner each week where you “shop” in the pantry and fridge. Good oil and vinegar plus some other pantry basics like mustard, onions, garlic, canned tomatoes, honey, crushed chillies, and bay leaves are generally all that’s needed to turn near-wilting vegetables in the back of the fridge into a delicious meal.
  9. Eat your leftovers! (Labeling helps keep them from getting lost.)
  10. To test if eggs are still good, put them in a bowl of water. If they sink, they’re safe to eat.
  11. Use nearly sour milk as buttermilk to make delicious pancakes.
  12. Use all of your ingredients! Skins, stems, stalks, and more. Here’s one of our favorite recipes for pesto that features carrot tops.
  13. Make stock. Get started with a good pot. Then add water, vegetable and meat scraps, zest, rinds, and whatever else you have around.
  14. Preserve! Make jam, shrubs, pickles, or dried fruit and herbs.
  15. Donate what you won’t use. Our local gleaners will even come harvest from your backyard tree.
  16. Compost! We can’t. Get. Enough. Store any excess food scraps in a kitchen compost pail, crock, or bucket with a tight fitting lid.
  17. When preparing meals, check in with your hunger. Ask your body what it wants to eat, and how much. Reducing portion sizes is an easy way to reduce food waste.

Eating Out:

  1. Split large dishes with a friend.
  2. Take home leftovers. Ask your favorite restaurant about their to-go materials. Are they compostable and/or recyclable? Can your server able to pack up your leftovers from dinner into your own reusable glass or stainless steel container?
  3. Go trayless. When eating in a cafeteria, skip the tray. It’s hard to carry more food than you can actually eat.

Ready to take your personal waste stream to the next step? Learn more with our post on how to keep your compost pile happy.

Grow Your Own

Maintaining Your Compost Pile: A User’s Guide

Maintaining your compost pile requires some work, but will reward you with nutrient dense loam that will make your garden grow. Composting is a great way to reduce your environmental impact while creating a superb soil amendment.

After setting up your pile for success, maintaining your compost pile requires some ongoing maintenance. Here are a few easy tips.

1. Moist, Not Soaked

A healthy compost pile should remain moist to facilitate the breakdown of the organic matter.  If the pile is too dry, it will lack heat and there will be little evidence of organic material breakdown. The moisture content of your pile should be kept at around 40-50%, enough to feel like a wrung-out sponge.

To keep your compost wet, water it. When you add scraps or turn the pile, you can use a hose on any dry areas. The pile might need some watering during the hottest months; covering it helps to retain moisture.

Too much water will cause your compost to become anaerobic and smell bad. During rainy periods, covering the pile will help keep it from becoming too wet.

2. Carbon/Nitrogen Ratio

When creating your compost pile, look for a balance between green carbon-rich materials, and brown nitrogen or protein-rich materials. A healthy compost pile should have more carbon than nitrogen. A simple rule of thumb is to use 2 parts carbon-rich (brown) matter to 1 part nitrogen-rich (green) matter.

Carbon-rich materials include branches, stems, dried leaves, shredded paper, straw, sawdust and wood chips, egg cartons, egg shells, corn stalks, cardboard, and wood ash.

Nitrogen or protein-rich materials include manures, grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, used tea bags, and non-diseased green plants.

3. Materials to Exclude

Do not compost meat, bones, or fish scraps (they attract unwanted rodents or raccoons); perennial weeds (they can be spread by compost); or diseased plants.

Do not use pet manures in compost that will be used on food crops.

Avoid foods with pesticide residue.

Large stalks and woody materials take longer to break down, so if you want to speed up the composting process, chop the larger material into smaller pieces.

4. Temperature

Your compost pile should warm up as materials decompose. Large piles can grow as hot as 180℉, while smaller ones can be expected to reach 50-113℉.

Because smaller piles do not heat up as much, the decomposition process takes longer. If you are just getting started, your compost pile may take up to a year to fully develop.

If your pile is not heating up, add more brown material to increase the temperature. You can also try covering your pile with a layer of dirt or straw to trap heat. Covering also has the added benefit of deterring flies around your pile.

5. Odors

Strong, foul odors usually indicate that the anaerobic bacteria in your compost are not getting enough oxygen. Here are a few troubleshooting solutions:

  • Turn your compost to infuse the pile with oxygen so that odor-free aerobic bacteria thrive and smelly anaerobic bacteria do not.
  • Add more brown matter for a balanced carbon/nitrogen ratio
  • Top with dirt
  • Avoid meats or oils

For more information on what to keep from your kitchen, check out our Kitchen Composting Tips post.

Grow Your Own

Kitchen Composting Tips To Get You Started

Composting kitchen scraps is one of the best and most readily available sources of organic materials for home composting.

Why? Because kitchen scraps such as vegetable and fruit waste, meal leftovers, coffee grounds, tea bags, stale bread, and general refrigerator spoilage are everyday occurrences in most households. And composting these scraps is easy!

The best way to store food scraps until it’s time to throw them into the compost is to collect them in a kitchen compost pail, crock, or bucket with a tight fitting lid. The collection container should be sized for your needs and kitchen space, and located in a convenient place, generally next to the sink or beneath it.

Empty your scraps daily or every few days, depending on how much waste you generate. To insure that no smells permeate the kitchen you can always cover the scraps inside the container with a wet paper towel or newspaper.

If your compost pile or bin is located a distance away from the kitchen, it can be helpful to have a larger food scrap bucket (ours is five-gallon plastic bucket with a lid) outside for storing scraps over a few days until you’re ready to haul it all out to the compost pile.

Wondering what food scraps you can compost? Here’s a list to help guide you!

Do Compost

  • All your vegetable and fruit wastes, (including rinds and cores) even if they are moldy and ugly
  • Old bread, cookies, crackers, pizza crust, pasta: anything made out of flour!
  • Grains (cooked or uncooked): rice, barley, oats — you name it
  • Coffee grounds, tea bags, filters
  • Fruit or vegetable pulp from juicing
  • Old spices
  • The contents of outdated boxed foods from the pantry
  • Egg shells (crush well)
  • Corn cobs and husks (cobs break down very slowly)

Some food waste can attract rodents or other scavenging animals, and cause your pile to become anaerobic and smelly. These are best avoided.

Don’t Compost

  • Meat or meat waste, such as bones, fat, gristle, skin, etc.
  • Fish or fish waste
  • Dairy products, such as cheese, butter, cottage cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, etc.
  • Grease and oils of any kind

Kitchen scraps are only half of the ingredients needed to make a healthy compost pile. If you don’t have a compost bin or pile yet, here’s our guide on how to compost, and tips for maintaining healthy compost.

Of course composting helps recycle waste, but it’s important to reduce waste too. Carrot top pesto is an inventive way to use every part of the vegetable. For more tips on how to conserve in the kitchen, check out this post on one of our favorite blogs: EcoCentric. It will not only help cut your food waste, but also save you money!

Grow Your Own

How to Compost

Compost is a mixture of rich, dark, crumbly organic material that is a wonderful soil amendment and natural fertilizer for your garden.

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Farming, HomeFarm

Make Your Own Dirt!

As part of SHED's commitment to the land and to farming, we compost all of our kitchen scraps every day. Six days a week, we fill up large green buckets with meat- and dairy-free discarded food from our kitchen, cafe, and coffee bar and haul it back to our HomeFarm. There, SHED co-owner Doug Lipton sheet-composts it with his tractor. It's not the easy way to go, that's for sure, but it is the right way to go.

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