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hoffaTHE CHALLENGE

Over a three-week period, try to reduce how much food we throw away at home.

THE FAMILY

I live in Los Angeles, California, with my husband, Nick, and our four-year-old daughter, Maribelle.

Wanting to waste not:
Our kitchen looked orderly enough, but without any real structures in place for organizing inventory, shopping, and planning meals, we were always playing things by ear—and the result was wasted food and money. Groceries were often going stale or overripe before we had a chance to use or cook (or even notice!) them, and my husband and I would often accidentally duplicate each other’s purchases. And though we were pretty good about storing leftovers, there was definitely room for improvement; some– times containers would get lost in our jungle of a fridge and we’d end up having to toss the contents. Overall, we wanted to find ways to streamline the culture of our kitchen so we could run it more consciously, and, in turn, reduce the amount of food that went unused.

Dinner detail:
Nick and I aren’t “planner” types, and ours has never been a family that charts meals in advance. But pre-planning three dinners per week? That seemed doable, so we started shopping with those meals in mind. We also made some other changes to our shopping routine. First, we added a new pre-step: go through the fridge and pantry prior to shopping, in order to take stock. This allowed us to make more targeted lists, which in turn made us less likely to overbuy. Also, whenever our schedules allowed, we’d make a separate trip to the farmers’ market for produce. That way we knew our purchases would generally be ripe and ready to eat, making us less apt to put them aside and forget about them. The bonus was that my daughter loved these trips! She’d carry the basket and pick pieces herself, and often got to taste free samples. Being actively involved in the shopping process also made her more excited about choosing what went into her lunch box, which meant less food was coming home uneaten at the end of the school day.

Beginner composting:
I also decided to call Cheryl Kaufman, the gardening specialist at my daughter’s preschool, and ask for easy composting tips. I figured that whatever food waste we do generate should be put to good use! I learned that most food scraps are compostable: vegetable peels, fruit cores, even leftover rice and pasta. Cheryl instructed me to get a heavyweight trash bag and start mixing the scraps—which I collected daily in a lidded coffee can—with shredded news– paper and dried leaves at a ratio of about 40:70. At the end of the three weeks I added more paper, a little water, tossed it all together and sealed the bag. From here on out I’ll give it all a good mix every few weeks, and in about eight months I should have a rich, soil-like mixture that I can use to feed my outdoor flowers and indoor potted houseplants.

Learning curve:
Some of our habits, though, are taking time to break. My husband and I still accidentally double-buy sometimes, but now we save our receipts to make returns, or we’ll just donate the items to our daughter’s classroom. And we still often make too much food at dinner, especially when we’re hosting friends, but we’ve gotten better about using left– overs. I also send guests home with food—something everyone enjoys—and it makes for little waste at the end of the night.

The takeaway:
We definitely wasted less food—and shaved almost 20 percent from our grocery bills—over the three weeks, and it feels great. Best of all, I feel less overwhelmed by the contents of our kitchen. The changes we made were actually small and easy to implement, so we’ll definitely be able to maintain and build upon them. Thinking of trying to reduce your own food waste? Forget radical changes. Manageable, baby steps really do add up, and the concrete successes provide all the encouragement you’ll need.

What do you do to prevent food waste? Tell us in the comments!

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