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Six Tips to Most Effectively Use Leftovers and Decrease Food Waste

By Kate Davis | April 01, 2016, 5:41 p.m. (ET)


According the United Nations Environment Program, around 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the U.S. is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month. Worldwide, about one in four calories intended for consumption is never actually eaten (see more stats here). Those facts are mind-blowing, especially when it is so easy to use the food that you buy, minimizing the amount that is wasted. Here are some steps you can take to decrease your food waste on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

1. Meal Plan

It sounds basic, but simply planning to use what you plan to buy is one of the most effective ways to cut down on food waste. This will assure that fresh food is used quickly and completely. Pick one day of the week as your "meal planning day" (mine is Monday night) — preferably close to your shopping day (mine is Tuesday morning). When planning, be sure to assess your current stores in the fridge, freezer and pantry before bringing in more. Finally, consider which meals often create leftover components, such as rice or potatoes. Use those for dinner 1-2 days after the first meal to assure that component gets eaten.

2. Shop Weekly

One way to use what you buy is to control how often you shop. I find that shopping weekly is far enough apart that you have to plan but not so far that you feel the need to overbuy in fear of running out. Again, the key here is not overbuying. Knowing that you will be back in one week should provide assurance that you do not need to do that. But honestly, if you do run out, most of us are not hurting for a store close by.

3. Utilize Bulk Items Only When It Makes Sense

Many families enjoy going to bulk-based stores to stock up on everything from clothing and household items to produce and meat. Be careful to not be swayed into buying that package of 12, when you typically only use two. Buying in bulk isn't always the best choice if the food will go bad quickly and doesn't freeze well. Another type of bulk buying is visiting the bulk bin of your local grocery store. This can be effective for purchasing items such as chia seeds or ground flaxseed that you may not use quickly — or any food that moves slowly in your house. 

4. Package With Purpose Post-Meal

After finishing meals, immediately package up the leftovers in a reheating-friendly fashion. This means packing individual meal servings into containers you can easily pop in the microwave or oven. This is especially helpful for using dinner leftovers for lunch the next day. 

5. Utilize Your Freezer

Remember that leftovers are only good for around 3-5 days after a meal is eaten (with the range depending on what the meal is). Pay attention to "use by" dates on raw meat. If you are not going to use the items in time, the majority of food freezes well. So instead of tossing it, stash it in your freezer for another time in the future.

6. Compost

Composting is a great way to return nutrients to the soil rather than throwing them in a landfill. With a little online searching, you will find many great tutorials available for all types of composting.

Kate is the owner of RDKate Sports Nutrition Consulting, based out of Naperville, Illinois, where she offers expertise in sports nutrition, eating disorders/disordered eating, intuitive eating and weight management for sport. Katie holds a master’s degree in nutrition with an emphasis in exercise physiology. She is both a registered dietitian and one of only 550 RDs in the United States to be board-certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. As a runner, triathlete, snowboarder and rock climber, Katie understands the physical and mental challenges of being a top athlete. Katie has previously consulted with NCAA Division I and Division III, NFL and NBA athletes; she truly brings both her knowledge and experience to the table as sports dietitian. Katie is available for individual consulting, team talks and group seminars. Visit her website at; from there you can navigate to her weekly blog, Eat to Compete, and connect with her on Twitter or Facebook. Contact her directly at

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.