The One Thing Parents Can Do to Create Less Kitchen Waste

updated Sep 30, 2020
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Didn’t I Just Feed You is a candid weekly podcast about feeding families hosted by Stacie Billis and Kitchn’s Associate Food Editor, Meghan Splawn. Each month, Meghan brings the best of Didn’t I Just Feed You to Kitchn with practical takeaways for parents who want to make family meals easier, more fun, or just a little more delicious.

Earth Day is upon on us, which means that everyone from big magazines to our first graders are entering our homes with their best advice about how we can — and we must — reduce waste. Most of these stories link to the expensive reusable cups we can buy and mention how we should stop packing after-school snacks in single-use plastic bags.

But I’ve personally found this solution to buy more things — things that I need to keep track of, keep clean, and store in my tiny kitchen — just another mounting pressure in the world of modern parenting. Instead, I prefer to focus on something slightly different. As parents we have a ton of buying power — and with that power comes a super-simple but impactful way to reduce waste in our family’s kitchen.

Switch Your Focus from Plastic to Food Waste

In our most recent podcast edition of DIJFY (Episode 35: Reducing Waste and Debt), Stacie and I were joined by Roshanda “Roe” Cummings — one half of the minimalist duo Brown Kids. While we meant to nail down practical, easy ways that parents can reduce waste and help the planet, our conversation kept coming back to the same point: When we shop intentionally for food and we store it with care, we can have a much greater impact on waste reduction than any fancy silicone snack bag can.

Reducing waste in the family kitchen doesn’t have to start with another long list of chores or purchases that weigh us down. Rather, Roe helped us see that if we start by just buying and cooking what makes us happy, waste automatically gets reduced by a tremendous amount.

As Roe said, “I only buy what I eat! I know that sounds stupidly simple. But I’ve found in lots of conversations with — even the moms in my community — that often times we go to the store and we buy what we think our family will eat or that our family should eat. So we end up with all this kale and mixed greens for our aspirational selves and then they go bad. So let’s stop buying all the things we think that we should eat!”

This big (but easy!) idea that being more eco-friendly in the kitchen starts with being honest about what you love to eat and cook — and only buying those things — removes a lot of the pressure to reduce other types of waste. And it leads to a happier kitchen.

And if you and your family are happier in the kitchen, you can then use that renewed energy to each take on one other thing you can do better. Some ideas we talked about include the following:

  • Replace plastic containers with glass. Roe says her one hope for families is that “they can get plastic out of their fridge.” After discovering a theory proposed by Edna Lewis, Roe and her partner found that their food lasted much longer when stored in glass. And from their Jar Method class was born.
  • Find alternatives to single-use plastic snack bags. Those silicone alternatives are great, but you can use muslin or cotton bags (even the ones you buy in bulk at the craft store) for dry snacks like crackers and popcorn. Or use them for sliced fruits and vegetables and just throw them in the washer between uses.
  • Use cotton towels instead of paper towels. If you’ve ever struggled with when to use cotton towels instead of paper towels, Roe’s simple advice is “Paper towels are only for really nasty things. Water spills and regular messes are for cotton towels but things like grease and raw chicken are for paper towels.

Chime in! Do you find that meal planning helps you reduce waste? Have you mastered food waste and moved onto reducing single use plastics? Let us know in the comments!