5 Tips for Waste-Free Meal Planning

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Sometimes food waste starts before we even pick up a carrot or set foot in the store. A lot of times, we waste food simply because we don’t have a plan (or at least a realistic plan) for all of the things that we buy. A smarter meal plan can help you stretch your grocery dollars further and help the planet by using everything we bring into our kitchens. In honor of #NewYearNoWaste, here are our top 5 tips for waste-free meal planning:

Shop your fridge

Before you even make your shopping list, take a lap of your kitchen and peek inside your fridge and pantry. Anything perishable you spot now should become the star of your upcoming meals. Think of what you’re about to buy as the supporting cast for the ingredients you already own. If you’ll be attempting new recipes that require ambitious condiments or spices, check and see if you have them now so you don’t double buy!

Write down your greatest hits

A really useful exercise for meal planning is to try writing down the dishes that you and your friends/family like cooking and eating the most. By making a note of what you’re most excited to cook you’ll be able to shop for these fan favorites with less time, effort, and waste. Aim to buy “hero” ingredients that can be used in several of your favorites and avoid ingredients that can only be used in one recipe, especially if they’re perishable. You’ll also see the type of recipes and cuisines that you aren’t cooking but might want to learn more about later.

Look at your calendar

Looking at your calendar before you go into shopping mode will remind you how often you’ll be home with time to cook in the weeks ahead. It seems simple, but an honest glance at your schedule will prevent you from ambitiously shopping for meals that you don’t have time to make or guiltily forgetting about leftovers that you don’t have time to eat. It may sound counterintuitive, but scheduling nights when you don’t plan to cook is actually one of the best ways to avoid overbuying perishables and end up preventing food waste.

Compile “lifeboat” recipes for straggler ingredients

Things like pizza, pasta, curries, and stir-fries are great ways to build a waste-free meal. You can use bulk-buy staple ingredients and easily incorporate that half an onion, stray beet, or jalapeño on its last legs that you have in your kitchen. The mark of a good leftover recipe its ability to take a bunch of somewhat random parts and knit them together into a coherent and delicious whole. Practicing them is a good way to master one type of dish or experiment with new spices and sauces too!

Have a leftovers party once a week

Instead of trying to cook something different every night a week, give yourself a break and designate one night as your “use up the leftovers” night. When we think about using up food as a celebration instead of a chore it gets a lot easier!


  • Sophie Ostlund
    January 22, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    I love the idea of "lifeboat" recipes! I’m an avid meal planner (one of the reasons I love finding out what’s in my imperfect produce box a few days early – I have time to plan!), but this concept is new to me. Thanks for such a great tip!

  • Reilly Brock
    January 22, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    We’re so happy to hear it, Sophie! You’re very welcome. Thanks for reading the blog and sharing your enthusiasm for leftovers with us!

  • Micah Dobroslavic
    November 13, 2020 at 6:25 pm

    pro tip – use plastic/laminate place mats in your fridge.

    • Imperfect
      November 21, 2020 at 8:48 pm

      Love this tip!

      • Imperfect
        December 3, 2020 at 9:11 pm



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