how to create a zero food waste kitchen

this post has been updated

***Shameful confession face*** I have a sordid past. I used to frequently leave leftovers in the fridge until a colony of green mould took up residence (okay, sometimes the mould was black).* I often left celery in the ‘crisper’ long enough for it to bend right over on itself – evidently there is a limit to how long a crisper keeps things crisp. I’d throw out containers full of meals large enough to feed five hungry adults. Frankly, the whole scenario was pretty bloody ugly. 

Statistically, I’m not alone. Young people (that’s me), households with incomes over $100K and families with children are the worst food wasters in the country.

But! From the depths of the rotted trenches I emerged with an aversion to food waste that you simply can’t achieve from sitting comfortably on the sidelines. I look at it this way – because I spent so long wasting food so vehemently, I know exactly how to waste food and therefore how not to. It’s simple. I do the opposite:

Instead of buying all my food... I grow some of it
You can catch up on what I grow here. This means I don’t have to harvest and keep vegies in the fridge to deteriorate. I pull out a few carrots and a few beetroot bulbs as I need them. I pick herbs fresh. It gets rid of all that hoo-ha of wrapping herbs in wet tissue paper to keep them fresher for longer. And it makes you utterly aware of how precious food is and how silly you are to waste it.

Instead of not thinking about how much of what is in the fridge.... I store food properly
• I buy unhomogenised milk in bulk and freeze it in 1L bottles (you can’t freeze homogenised milk) so it won’t turn before I get through it.
• I freeze meat and fish as soon as I buy it unless I know I’m cooking it within the next two days.
• If I have leftovers I know I won’t want to eat again too soon, I store them in portions in the freezer.
Tip: if you’re usually slow to use up a block of butter, store it in a container filled with water. A tip from my cheese dude who also makes fresh butter.

Instead of peeling everything... I don’t peel
• I eat pretty much all peels; pumpkin, beetroot, potatoes, carrots... you name it. Much of the nutritional content of vegetables is found just under the skin.
• After using the lemon juice or zest, I use the peels to wipe down my wooden chopping board before composting them. This helps to disinfect the board. I also pop squeezed lemon halves in the dishwasher – it helps to deodorise.
• Sometimes I make this traditional Greek lemon or orange peel spoon dessert. My dad loves it and it’s terrific atop yoghurt or cakes.
• If the ginger peel looks too tough to eat, I peel and use to brew ginger tea.

Instead of making fancy meals... I make simple meals
I abhor complicated recipes that call for 350000 ingredients, more than half of which you’ll never use again. I cook with what I can use from my garden or can find at the farmers’ market. 

Instead of throwing out the leaves and stems... I eat the leaves & stems
Many people don't realise you can actually eat the leaves and stems of veggies like beetroot, radish, kohl rabi, broccoli and cauliflower. Use them as you would silverbeet or spinach (just don't eat rhubarb leaves, they're poisonous).
Instead of filling my plate with more than I can eat... I eat until I’m 80% full
I’ve posted about this topic in more detail here. I’ve changed my eating habits so that I’m not eating until the point of bursting any longer. I stop just before I feel that familiar full feeling, which means that, over time, I’ve adjusted the amount of food I buy and cook. Smaller cooking portions, fewer leftovers to worry about.

When I do end up with scraps:

I compost
I have two compost bins which I’ve vermin-proofed to the nth degree and that feed my garden. Any food waste (including tea leaves and coffee grounds) I do end up with gets popped in there. If you don’t have a garden or the space for a regular compost bin – i.e., if home is an apartment without even so much as a balcony – get your hands on a Bokashi Bucket or other benchtop composting system. Here’s some more useful info about how to compost regardless of your situation.

I crush eggshells and use them in the garden
I go through my fair share of eggs. Instead of chucking the shells or composting them, I wait until they dry before crushing them and sprinkling them around my plants. A) this helps to keep snails off and B) the shells leach calcium into the soil as they break down, which is good for the soil and the plants.

I keep meat and fish bones in bags in the freezer until I have enough to cook a big batch of stock
I then freeze the stock in portions so I never have to buy stock. Some councils collect bones for composting, so check with yours’ first. 

I sprinkle used coffee grounds over and around my plants
It prevents pests from attacking said plant and acts like a bit of fertiliser too.

I feed ratty leftovers to my pets
I give bits of pork fat or any scrappy bits of bread etc that I don’t want to my pets, one dog and one dog-like cat.

More ideas for how to use leftovers

*A small disclaimer: Am I perfect now? Nope. I won’t even try to claim to be. My food waste monster does occasionally rear its festering noggin. Sometimes I miscalculate portion sizes, cook too much and forget about the leftovers. But this happens less, much less. And I try. It’s in the trying that succeeding eventually triumphs.

Got any clever tips you swear by to avoid food waste? Please do share below!


  1. I find dogs and chickens clean up any scraps we have. The rest goes to the worms (sometimes I really have to scrounge around to find something for them!).

    Thanks for your tips - I am going to start using lemon skins for cleaning. Great idea.

  2. i am digging the tips on using eggshells and grounds in the garden - that's pretty fantastic.

  3. Good tips- we all should aim for that



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