Kitchen Habits for Eating Healthier
and Reducing Waste

By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

We’ve all had to throw away food that’s spoiled, we’ve all failed to eat well despite keeping healthful foods in the house. Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RDN, EP-C, and author of Body Kindness, gave us her take on kitchen practices that encourage better eating and reduce waste.  

“Our minds really respond to our environment,” Scritchfield says. “Not that everybody has to be a neat freak, but food and eating and cooking is more appealing when we see fresh fruit in a bowl, when we don’t feel like we have moldy food in the fridge.”

Here are habits you can adopt in the kitchen to promote healthier eating and cut down on food waste.

Organize simply

Grouping meal ingredients and components together will help you visualize what you have, what you need, and what to eat first, especially when you open your pantry or fridge on a busy weeknight. “If we’re having a taco night,” says Scritchfield, “I keep canned diced tomatoes, chiles, beans, and tortillas together.” The same goes with produce and refrigerated foods—if you keep ingredients together, then no one is accidentally snacking on meal components and no item gets overlooked.

To encourage family members to eat better food—make snacking grab-and-go. Keep cut up veggies in glass containers near the hummus and cheese, keep yogurt cups together, group washed and cut fruit. Make sure healthy snacks in the fridge are highly visible, either by labeling or putting them in clear bins or containers.

Put nuts and crackers in clear jars and leave them on the counter. Keep fruits like apples, oranges, and bananas in bowls or baskets so those are the first things hungry family members see when they come hunting for something to eat.

Purge regularly

Take just a little bit of time to purge and clean out the fridge and pantry. “At least once a month, take the extra minute to open up the fridge and just look at everything that’s in there. Give it all a good wipe down, and toss anything that’s old, organize the shelves. This is something that you can do in just ten minutes.”

  1. Throw out anything that’s gone bad. (Don’t forget the door and drawers!)
  2. Bring to the front of the fridge anything that should be eaten in the next day or so. Let your everyone in the house know what needs to be consumed first and plan meals accordingly—extra veggies can simply be thrown into a stir fry or a stew.
  3. Wipe down shelves with a mixture of white vinegar and water.
  4. Group meal ingredients and snacks together.

Take twenty minutes to prep

Take 20 minutes on Sunday to chop veggies, fruit, and cheese for the week. Veggies can be grabbed for snacks or thrown into a stir fry for lunch or dinner. Put them in single-serve containers to encourage quick snacking.

“The other thing I do is meal planning,” says Scritchfield. “I plan food by looking at my kitchen and pantry first. I typically meal plan on Friday night. What staples are we low on? I add it to the shopping list. What do we have around that we we need to use up? If we have a few veggies around that might turn, can I combine them with eggs and make a frittata? Can some be chopped and saved in the freezer for a stew or for a later date?”

If you’re short on time or culinary skills, get help from the grocery store, she says. “Go for taste, if you know you like curry sauce and a butter sauce, add any veggie you want, and add a leftover piece of chicken. Go in with the mindset, ‘I can’t mess this up.’”

Keep a shopping list that everyone can see and add to

Scritchfield uses a chalkboard in her kitchen to keep track of what’s on deck for dinner for the week, what foods are about to go bad, and what needs to go on a shopping list. “Some people will stop buying healthy foods if you think you are just throwing them down the drain,” she says. So keeping track of fresh foods can help you cut down on how much you throw out because it’s spoiled.  

If you’re more tech savvy, use Alexa or HomePod to keep a shopping list, or create a shared Google Doc where everyone in your household can log items needed and items to be eaten. Whoever goes to the store next is responsible for checking the list. You can also organize items by store—here’s what we need from the farmers market, from the grocery store, from Target.

Plan your shopping trips strategically

Trips to the grocery store alone can be stressful for many, so if you can, avoid the busiest times for your local store. “I try to go to the store once a week and I don’t go less than that. But I do recommend to people that if they can go at a less busy time, you might find the experience less stressful.” Simply Google the name of your store and check the sidebar on your results page—the popular times block will let you know which times of day tend to be the most crowded.

You can also ask your grocery store manager when new shipments come in and and plan to shop that night or the next morning so you have your pick of the freshest produce and other fresh foods.

If you can manage it, smaller, more frequent trips to the store can help you avoid buying more than you can eat. This also makes it easier to stock up on fresh foods rather than canned or packaged.

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