Slate readers provide 10 tips on how to reduce your food waste.

Illuminating answers to environmental questions.
July 6 2010 11:03 AM

10 Tips To Reduce Your Food Waste

Slate readers offer their own suggestions for how to run an efficient kitchen.

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8. Keep track of what's in your fridge and pantry, with expiration dates. An up-to-date inventory not only prevents you from accidentally re-buying items but can also alert you to what's teetering on the edge of spoilage. Some readers use a simple notepad and pencil; others have developed more elaborate systems: "We put a white board on the fridge and everything that goes into the fridge gets written down on the board," says one commenter. "We write down perishable stuff in red ink, stable stuff in green, one section for ingredients and another for leftovers."

9. Use the freezer—and use it wisely. A handful of readers extolled the virtues of the vacuum sealer and those green plastic produce bags for keeping food fresh. But the most popular suggestion by far was the humble freezer. Keep a container in there for chicken carcasses, freezer-burned drumsticks, onion tops, and carrot peelings; when it's full, simmer all the contents to make stock. Ann Dorough blanches and freezes on-the-verge produce for later use. Jenna roasts vegetables (except for cucumbers and leafy stuff) before they go bad and then tosses them into a freezer bag; the constantly evolving mix goes into lasagna, soup, pizza, or casseroles. Fruit that's about to go bad can be frozen for smoothies, and at least four of you sang the praises of banana bread made from frozen, mushy Chiquitas.

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Meanwhile, Kristin Dzugan uses her freezer as soon as she gets home from the store, parsing out six-serving jars of pasta sauce into two-serving cups. ("This also keeps us from over-eating," she notes.) Other readers suggest freezing individual portions of prepared food for later consumption.

10. Schedule in your leftovers. After 46 years of marriage, John and Willie Wright have hit upon a winning system: "We eat 'new' food on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights, then on Thursday we have 'smorgasbord' with the leftovers from those three nights."

A popular variation on smorgasbord night was "back of the fridge night," when you challenge yourself to prepare a meal out of nothing but end-of-the-shopping-week ingredients. To do this, bone up on a handful of what reader Venkatesh Rao calls "meta recipes"—flexible dishes like quiches, stir-fries, stews, and dals that can easily accommodate a wide variety of ingredients. The Lantern loves using Mark Bittman's Food Matters cookbook for just this purpose. Several of you also recommended allrecipes.com, where you can search for dishes that incorporate up to four different ingredients.

Is there an environmental quandary that's been keeping you up at night? Send it to ask.the.lantern@gmail.com, and check this space every Tuesday.

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Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor, and is also the vice president for content at Figment.

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