No one intends to waste food, but things happen — an overenthusiastic shopping spree at the farmers' market, an unexpected string of meals eaten out instead of at home, a container of mystery leftovers lurking in the back of the fridge. Fortunately, a lot of food waste can be prevented by integrating little habits into your cooking routine. Not only will you save food, but you'll save money, too.
1. Make a plan. Set aside a regular time to plan your meals and shopping lists so you buy only what you need. When choosing recipes, look for ways to fully use perishable groceries like bunches of herbs, root vegetables and their tops, and dairy products. If you like the flexibility of seeing what's good at the market, you might create a shopping list with general notes like "2x green vegetables."
2. Wash and prep ingredients. Before stashing away groceries, tackle ingredients that you'll be more likely to eat if you clean and prep them first. For example, wash and dry lettuce for salads, cut carrot sticks for snacks, or roast vegetables to use throughout the week.
• Video: Cook a Week of Vegetables in One Afternoon
• 5 Tips for Making A Week's Worth Of Salads On Sunday
• How To Eat More Fruit Every Day: Wash It, Slice It, Store It
3. Organize by freshness. Adopt a "first in first out" system in the refrigerator and pantry. Place older foods in front so you use them more quickly, and store newer, fresher ones in back. Or create an "eat me first" box or basket for quick-to-expire ingredients and foods.
• Reduce Waste: Cycle Older Foods to the Front
• Waste Not: Make an 'Eat Me First' Basket in Your Fridge
4. Use your freezer. Get in the habit of anticipating when you're likely to have an excess of food, and freeze it before it has a chance to rot or go stale. Good candidates for the freezer include leftovers, big batches of soup and casseroles, bread, fresh herbs, and scraps that can be turned into stock.
• Waste Not: Freeze First, Eat Second
• Freeze & Preserve Fresh Herbs in Olive Oil
• Stockpiling Your Scraps: What to Save & Freeze for Stocks
• 25 Time-Saving Freezer Tips
• Choosing the Right Freezer Containers
5. Pickle it. Prolong the life of vegetables by making easy refrigerator pickles. Though pickling is often associated with windfalls of produce, it can also be done in small batches. Got an extra half a cucumber, a few pieces of cauliflower, or a handful of radishes? Yes, we can pickle that.
6. Label everything. Use big, clear labels to eliminate the problem of mystery leftovers, to add a well-visible expiration date to a carton of milk, to draw attention to items you want family members to eat, to organize entire shelves in the fridge — anything that will remind you to eat the food you have.
• Kitchen Cure Tip: Label and Date Everything In the Freezer
• Professional Kitchen Tip: Use Masking Tape to Label Containers
• Tip: Label Containers with Painter's Tape
What are some of your habits for preventing food waste?
Related: 5 Ways To Combat Food Waste At Home
This post was requested by aprilco for Reader Request Week 2013.
(Image: Vereshchagin Dmitry/Shutterstock)