Zero Waste Living

How to Plan your Meals in Order to Reduce Food Waste (and Save Money)

40% of all food is thrown away. Think of how much money that is. Think of all the resources that went into a particular item of food that is, well, literally being thrown away.

And that’s not even the worst. The worst is that food waste, when thrown in a landfill, doesn’t break down and biodegrade (a common misconception I used to have). That’s because the food doesn’t receive enough oxygen in a landfill in order to properly compost. Instead, it slowly releases methane gas – a very strong greenhouse gas.

According to one source, “methane is 28x more potent than carbon dioxide”.

Additionally, “decomposing food scraps in a landfill are also a potential source of organic leachates that can contaminate surface and groundwater” (source).

Basically – not good.

So what can we do?

We can work to be more active in reducing and eliminating food waste at home.

This post has 11 meal planning tips to help you do just that.

how can i reduce my waste footprint


Let’s dive in.

Make a list of what is in your freezer

Is your freezer where items go and never see the light of day until months later? Have you ever purchased something from the grocery story, only to find that you already have that item in your freezer? Do you curse whenever you open the freezer because it is incredibly unorganized and when you’re trying to find something stuff falls out and smashes you on the toe? Just me?

I am embarrassed to admit that all of these things have happened to me more times than I care to admit. Our freezer used to be a source of frustration because of lack of organization, food I didn’t want to eat, food that had gotten so freezer burned that it wasn’t good anymore but I felt bad throwing it away so it just sat in the freezer getting more and more burnt…

As a minimalist, this went completely against my ideals of reducing clutter for better mental clarity. It also prevented me from wanting to go into my freezer. All around not good for preventing food waste and saving money.

So what did I do?

I took a page out of Marie Kondo’s book (not literally) and reused some smaller cardboard boxes to organize parts of the freezer. Then, after everything was organized, I wrote down what exactly was in the freezer so I wouldn’t have to dig around for stuff, and could save energy by not having to open the freezer every time I needed to look in there.

If you think this would help you as well, I created a free printable checklist that you can use TODAY. Of course, you can also use a blackboard, whiteboard, etc. if you have one on hand. Yes, I realize the irony of writing about reducing waste and then creating and sharing something to print. However, for me, there are just some things that are easier for me to write down on actual paper. And in my mind, my printing on a piece of recycled paper has less impact than a bunch of food waste because my freezer was so unorganized. Anyways…

Additionally, I use this list to plan out my weekly menu. Which leads me to…

Plan your weekly menu

Menu planning could be an entirely separate post, so I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail here. There are a ton of great meal planning blog posts, apps, and websites to help you if this is something you’re interested in. A simple Google, EcoAsia, or Pinterest search will help!

Meal planning is a great way to:

  • Use up food you already have on hand – thus preventing food waste and save money
  • Ensures that you only buy what you actually need for meals
  • Plan meals around food items that spoil first
  • Keep your sanity!

I personally use ‘Wunderlist’ to store my recipes and meal plan. I plan my meals two weeks out (because I really really really dislike grocery shopping), so I only have to go to the store once every two weeks.

Here is how I have it set up:

This setup works great for me because after I consult my freezer for any protein, vegetables, or ready-made meals that we have on hand, I can easily go to that section of my recipe lists and find something to make that week.

This setup also works well if you’re using sale ads to plan your menus each week.

The 2019 Ultimate Homemaking Bundle contains four resources specifically on meal planning! Two of the resources alone cost more than the entire bundle itself (with 104 resources plus 10+ bonuses).

Click banner below!

Add a ‘flex’ night

When I’m meal planning, I always include at least 1-2 flex nights (usually one per week). This is for those nights that you end up grabbing lunch with a friend last minute, or the nights that you’re too tired to cook and just end up eating pasta with olive oil (this can’t just be me…).

I can’t think of any time that we haven’t used the flex night! If by some off chance we don’t, we can easily run to the store and grab something on the way home.

Having a flex night ensures that you don’t over buy on food that may end up going bad.

Have a plan for leftovers

Are you in the love or dislike leftovers camp? I’m definitely in the love! That being said, if there is one area that my family and I struggle with food waste the most, it’s leftovers.

Here are some tips for using up leftovers:

  • Eat them for lunch (this is what we do 95% of the time) the next day
  • Incorporate them into a new recipe (for example: I made a pasta salad with roasted veggies as a side dish. The next day, I added chickpeas and turned it into a lunch and ended up getting two more meals out of it)
  • Save them for your ‘flex night’
  • Reserve a night specifically for leftovers
  • Freeze them (don’t forget to write it on your freezer checklist!)

And if you’re in the ‘dislike’ leftovers camp? Half recipes the next time you make them so you don’t have as much (or any) leftover.

Plant your own vegetables and incorporate meals around them

Yes, this one may seem a little off-topic at first, but hear me out.

During the summer months, I love going out to my garden to get vegetables/herbs for dinner that evening. Not only do they taste better, but doing so saves money and reduces waste, because I don’t have to buy produce from the store. I simply keep the vegetables on the vine until I need them, thus ensuring each one will be fresh!

If you start having a surplus of vegetables, you can prep and freeze them, can them, and/or plan your menus around them! Have a ton of tomatoes that need to be used up? Make some salsa or tomato sauce for spaghetti or pizza.

Want some tips for growing your own vegetables/herbs? I’ve got two huge guides for you!

The ‘So Big it Should’ve Been an E-book’ Guide to Growing Your Own Vegetables (Zero Waste Style) In Any Sized Space

The Beginner’s Guide to Growing, Harvesting, and Preserving Fresh Herbs

eat me now fridge area

Create an ‘Eat Me Now’ section of your fridge

If you’ve been following the blog for a while now, this will be a familiar tip for you. If not, let me explain.

My family and I created an ‘eat me now’ section in our fridge (there is literally a sign – see above). Anytime there are leftovers, produce that needs to be eaten, etc., the item(s) get put into the eat me now section.

If anyone in the family is looking for a snack, lunch, or if we’re in search of food for leftover/flex night, this area is where we go to first.

Doing this has significantly helped us reduce our food waste, because it has prevented stuff getting shoved to the back of the fridge!

Plus, it’s super easy and free to do.

What are you waiting for?

Your freezer is your friend

Yep – talking about the freezer again. If you’ve got food that you know is going to go back before you get to it, you can probably freeze it. There aren’t a ton of foods that you can’t freeze, and I’m definitely in the camp of ‘let’s try it and see’ (that may not be the smartest move so I’m definitely not advocating you do the same). If you have a food item that you aren’t sure if you can freeze or not, a Google, EcoAsia, or Pinterest search will help you out.

The book ‘Zero Waste Kitchen’ is also a great resource for learning what foods you can and can’t freeze.

Just remember to write down the item on your freezer list so you don’t forget!

Running out of room in your freezer? My family and I have a chest freezer that we use to buy items in bulk, and to freeze items from the garden. I see these all the time secondhand, so if you’re in the market, check your local community groups/thrift store first!

Finally, the freezer is also a great option if you are going out of town for a while and have food you won’t be able to eat in time (giving it away to family, friends, and/or neighbors is another option as well).

Bring your own container while eating out/Split your meal with a friend

This is where meal planning comes in. If you know you’re going out to eat, be prepared by bringing your own container to take any leftovers home (if you have any).

Or, I’ve seen some people split the meal with a friend or partner to ensure it all gets eaten up.

And of course, if you do take any food home, make sure you put it in the ‘eat me now’ section so it actually gets eaten!

Know how to store your food

Dumpster dive

We’re going to file this under ‘advanced’, and also ‘could be illegal’. Please note that I am in no way advocating that anyone goes out and does something illegal. All I’m saying is that in some areas, dumpster diving is legal, and is a way to prevent food waste.

For those that are unaware, dumpster diving is really what it sounds like: where someone goes to a dumpster – usually from a grocery store, and finds food items that can still be eaten/used. There are a number of Instagram accounts where people do this and show their findings. The results are actually quite sad because SO much food is thrown out simply because of a ‘best used by’ date or because the item is not in a condition where the average person would want to buy it.

I know this isn’t for everyone, and again, it is illegal in a lot of areas. But I wanted to throw it in this list because:

  1. it may be something that someone in an area that it is legal wants to do
  2. because following people who do this and seeing their results is quite the motivator to want to work to reduce food waste on your own. Here is a list of 40 Youtubers who dumpster dive.

zero waste christmas events

Look to your local community for organizations doing the work

If dumpster diving isn’t for you (don’t worry, it’s not for me either), there are other ways you can get involved outside of your own home.

There are lots of organizations out there working to reduce food waste from grocery stores, restaurants, and individual homes. Some of these organizations provide connections between individuals within the same community, all the way up to food organizations that help at-risk communities.

There are too many to list here, but here are two posts that may help:

Check them out, and get involved!

compost tool


If all else fails, and you find yourself with food that has gone bad (it happens), the next best thing you can do is compost it to avoid sending it to the landfill.

Composting is a whooooooooooole separate topic, but lucky for you, I’ve written a huge guide to help you start composting in any sized space. And if you’re already composting, but have found yourself with some questions, I also answer ALLLLL the questions!

You can find the post here:

The Ultimate Guide to Composting (in Any Sized Space)

I was super intimidated by composting (as in, I put it off for almost two years after I moved in to a house with a yard (not having a yard was an excuse before that, but as you’ll see in my post, it’s not an excuse!)). However, it is actually super easy, and plus, you get beautiful and beneficial ‘garden food’, as we call it, at the end! Oh, and of course, reduce methane. Win. Win.

There you have it! Do you plan your plans in order to prevent food waste? What are some of your tips?

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Natacha i EasyBusyVeganMom

Wow, that’s a great post! Food waste is so huge these days! I am doing the best I can, but sometimes I have some veggies which turn bad too quickly…


I will definitely be trying the “eat me now” fridge section! Thank you so much


Thanks for this! So important thing we too often neglect, and these tips are so good to follow!


[…] love meal planning in order to save money and reduce food waste. I have an entire post on that which you can find here. Meal planning also prevents me from just randomly buying things at the store which I don’t need […]