Are you trying to start a meal planning routine and want to minimize your food waste? Zero waste meal planning is the answer! Although it sounds intimidating at first, I promise it’s not that bad. You’ll be able to make healthy meals, save money, and reduce your waste at the same time.
How does meal planning help with food waste?
When you complete a weekly meal plan, you’re making an intentional choice about what to prepare and eat throughout the week. This is already a great practice to start reducing your waste!
Instead of just buying things you think you’ll like when you’re grocery shopping, you’re only purchasing what you need to complete your meal plan.
This is a great way to reduce the methane gas released by food waste in landfills. With about 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions coming from food waste, it is a major contributor to the climate crisis.
7 Zero Waste Meal Planning Tips to Get You Started
1. Set up a zero waste pantry
Meal planning is way easier when you’re set up for success! One of the first things you need to do is to stock your zero waste pantry with the simple staples from the bulk section that you use all the time like olive oil, oatmeal, nuts, seeds, brown rice, and more.
2. Get a zero waste meal planner
Create or purchase a zero waste meal planning template that prompts you to look for leftover food first. Do this before you start meal planning and then find ways to use your leftovers and aging produce in your meals for the entire week!
3. Brainstorm a list of favorite meals
Especially if you find that you’re ordering meal kits or take out more often than you’d like, you need a master meal list. It’s the answer to those nights when you suddenly forget what you like to eat anymore!
Simply write down your favorite simple recipes so you can refer to them again and again.
Get the zero waste meal planning tool that does it all
I created this minimalist-style zero waste meal planner to help me start using up my old produce each week. Since I started using this tool, I’ve noticed that we’re eating all of our leftovers, composting less and less, and we’ve actually been grocery shopping less than normal!
As an added bonus, this file also includes a pantry staples list to help you set up your zero waste pantry and a favorite meals list so you can fill out your meal plan in just minutes!
This is everything you need to start an easy, zero waste meal planning routine in no time at all! See how to use it here.
4. Brainstorm how to use up your leftovers
I’m a big fan of throwing all kinds of random vegetables into one dish. Especially if you chop them up really fine or even pulse them in the food processor, they’ll cook down and you likely won’t even know that they’re there! I love hiding vegetables in pasta sauce…it’s such a good place to sneak some extra food scraps!
I prefer to use up my excess produce in my lunches because I typically meal prep one huge recipe for lunches and this is a great place to sneak in lots of extras.
5. Plug your favorite meals into your weekly meal planner
Once you know how you want to use up the things that are the closest to going bad, add those to your meal planner template. Then, you can come up with other meals based on the recipes in your zero waste pantry. Start with items from your pantry and add to them.
For example, you might decide that you’re going to make baked oatmeal for breakfast during the week. Most of that recipe will come directly from the pantry, but maybe you want to adapt it to add more fruits or something special.
Focus on simple recipes made with pantry staples, but feel free to add to them as your budget and the season allow.
6. Write up your shopping list
Once you know what you want to eat for the week, add the ingredients you’ll need to your grocery list. Whether you’re shopping at a conventional grocery store, hitting the bulk bins, or visiting the farmers market, carry your list with you so you only buy what you need.
7. Plan a fridge clear out night
Although we are typically pretty good about making just the right amount of food, sometimes we notice that there are small portions of leftovers from different meals still in the fridge by Saturday.
To make sure we have all of our meal prep containers ready to go and to avoid food waste, we like to eat leftovers on Saturday for either lunch or dinner.
In the worst case scenario, if you don’t have leftovers to eat, you can make your Saturday meal something simple like quesadillas, nachos, or even pancake night!
Essential Zero Waste Meal Planning Tips to Minimize Food Waste
Setting up a zero waste meal plan is just part of running a zero waste kitchen! Use the tips below to shift how you think about food.
Visit the bulk section or zero waste shops
Especially if you focus on cooking from your pantry, focus on loading up your pantry with the highest quality staples you can afford. Visit your bulk store or zero waste shop to minimize packaging waste.
Prioritize seasonal food
Learn which crops are in season in your area and focus on those. Try to visit a farmers market or local farm to reduce your food miles even more. Don’t forget to bring your own bag!
Read: How to Afford Local Produce on a Budget
Focus on simple meals
Again, try to cook from your pantry. Use your pantry staples as your base ingredients and enhance them with seasonal ingredients or different spices.
For example, a simple meal might be chicken thighs with roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli or a taco bowl with brown rice, black beans, cheese, fresh corn, and salsa. Try to focus on cooking whole foods and combining those together in an easy meal.
Try batch cooking
Save yourself some time and effort and double up your prepping or cooking tasks whenever possible. If you know you need onions throughout the week, chop one or two, store them in a glass bowl, and use them as you need them. Although it seems like a small step, it can save a lot of time!
Learn more tips to simplify meal planning here.
Shop once per week
One way to reduce the amount of waste you produce and tackle your grocery budget is to shop just once per week (or even less)! Anytime you go into a grocery store, you’re more likely to see products on end caps or sale items you want to buy.
It’s a lot easier to stick to your zero waste meal plan when you limit how often you go to the store. This move saves money, too!
Stretch or swap out animal products
Conventional animal products have a high carbon footprint. If you are still eating factory-farmed meats, try stretching it out with beans and vegetables. Consider eating vegetarian one night per week, too.
Learn how to store food
There’s an art to keeping foods fresh! This is a simple way to minimize your waste and extend the freshness of your products.
- Store pantry staples in airtight jars.
- Freeze nuts to avoid them turning rancid.
- Keep potatoes and onions separate.
- Store apples and oranges in a low humidity drawer in the fridge.
- Add a cloth to your salad greens.
- Store cilantro and parsley in a mason jar like a boquet.
- Keep celery and carrots in water.
Find more than 80 tips to help you fight food waste in this list of zero waste frugal food hacks.
Save food scraps
One great way to make less food waste is to start looking at foods in different ways. After you chop an onion, for example, notice what you’d normally throw in the trash. Typically you’ll leave the onion skins and the roots. Is there any way that waste can be used again?
Yes! Keep a scrap bag in the freezer to hold onion skins and stems, carrot peels, and an assortment of random end pieces from your produce. When the bag is full, add them to your Instant Pot, cover with water, add salt, and let them slow cook until they turn into broth.
Store little pieces of banana and extra fruit scraps in a tub in your freezer to use in your next smoothie!
Get smart about expiration dates
Did you know that expiration dates a really just a suggestion? Actually, food expiration dates contribute to global warming because they cause people to throw away perfectly good food before it’s necessary. People have forgotten how to tell when foods are fresh by using their senses!
Although I’m very cautious about food safety, I also know that most foods will give you a sign when they are no longer bad. By paying close attention to things like mold and bad smells, I can tell when foods are still safe to eat.
Get a compost bin
Although this might not be an option for everyone, a compost bin is a much more sustainable way to dispose of food waste than a landfill. In a compost bin, the item will break down quickly and return its nutrients to the soil. If you’re composting at home, this means your food scraps can become food for your future food!
More meal planning tips
Are these zero waste meal planning tips helpful?
Do you have other questions I can answer? Share your thoughts in the comments!