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Eating Well with Less Food Waste

    • March 11, 2024
    • Eat Well
  • Laura O'Hara MS, RD/LD

We’ve all had days where we throw out moldy produce, paid for a large meal at a restaurant only eat half of it, or toss out our 5-day old leftovers we had saved for later. While it is hard to admit we waste food, it is estimated that Americans throw away billions of pounds of food each year. Not all food waste can be saved, but you can take steps to prevent it.

The easiest place to start with preventing food waste is right in your own kitchen. Let’s start with the more perishable items, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meats. To limit throwing these items away, it is best to plan your meals and snacks ahead of time before going to the store and buy only 1 to 2 different types of fruits or veggies for that specific week. This helps make sure you eat it all before it goes bad.

Personally, I have learned that washing and cutting up all my produce as soon as I get home from the store has helped tremendously for easy meal prep and snacking throughout the week. I am much more willing to snack on fruits and veggies that are already prepped and ready to eat; otherwise, I will grab the easier and maybe not as healthy options in the pantry.

Pro tip: you can also freeze most of your fruits and vegetables if they start to go bad! Frozen fruit makes a delicious, sweet treat and can be put in smoothies, along with frozen spinach, kale, or avocado.

It is also best to learn how to master the shelf life of foods. Practicing the “first in, first out” (FIFO) method allows the foods with the earliest sell by dates to be used first. For example, if you purchase more canned beans but you already have some unopened, move the older to the front of the shelf and place the newer in the back of the shelf. For dairy products, make sure to read the “use by” dates before purchasing to make sure it is far enough out for you. If you are not one to use your milk quickly, you can purchase a half gallon, or you can opt for lactose-free milk as it generally has a longer shelf life of about 2-3 months due to it being pasteurized at a higher temperature, killing more bacteria. Lactose-free milk may benefit an ageing tummy, too! The same goes for meats or seafood. If you prefer to buy fresh meat, it is best to cook or freeze by the use or sell buy date listed, and it can always be thawed when you know you are going to cook it.

Another great way to prevent food waste is to get creative with your leftovers and make meals out of versatile ingredients. For example, you may chop up a bunch of veggies and have grains such as rice or quinoa, and salad greens washed and ready to eat. This can be made into a wrap, sandwich, salad, or even turned into a soup if you have some other staples on hand such as beans, canned tomatoes, and broth. Some prepared taco meat can be turned into a taco salad or even be scrambled in with your eggs the next morning. If you have other meal plans for the week, simply freeze any cooked food to make another easy meal in the future. Remember, it is best to eat fresh food within 3-4 days, and frozen food within 3-4 months.

When eating out try these tricks to cut down on food waste: 

  • Share large meals with your family or friends you are dining with.
  • Order from the appetizer section of the menu for a smaller portion.
  • Ask for a to-go container at the start of the meal to pack half of it up from the start if you know you are not prepared to eat it all in one sitting.

Another great way to prevent waste and practice generosity: consider donating any canned goods you no longer want or need to a local food pantry.

For more information on this topic and on National Nutrition Month, you may visit and ask the staff at ArchWell Health for nutrition information in your center, provided by ArchWell Health’s very own Registered Dietitians.

Recipe: Leftover Vegetable Soup


  • Leftover vegetables (sweet potato, zucchini, bell pepper, squash, tomato, celery, mushrooms, cabbage, kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.)
  • Aromatics (yellow or red onion, garlic, leeks)
  • Olive oil or unsalted butter
  • Salt, pepper, and any other seasonings or herbs you enjoy.
  • 4 to 6 cups low-sodium broth or stock
  • Optional proteins and/or grains: chicken, turkey, beef (chopped or ground), beans, chickpeas, rice, quinoa, lentils, whole wheat pasta.

Steps to prepare soup:

  • Dice up the vegetables into a medium dice; smaller for hard, dense vegetables (potato or squash).
  • Cook hard vegetables until softened by sautéing in olive oil or butter, keeping heat to low and letting veggies cook well to develop flavor. Season with your favorite seasonings and herbs. Add any other vegetables or grains you would like to use such as beans, canned tomatoes, rice, quinoa.
  • Add at least a few cups of stock or broth (bone broth as a bonus protein source!) until veggies and additives are tender and fragrant, and to the thin or thick consistency you prefer. You may also puree all, or part of the soup with a blender for a creamy soup if you’d like.
  • Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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About the Author

Laura O'Hara MS, RD/LD, Nutrition Education Program Manager

Laura was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and landed in Oklahoma City after graduating college at Oklahoma State University (go pokes!) She obtained a master's degree in nutrition, and officially became a Registered Dietitian in 2019. Since then, Laura has worked with people of all ages and all conditions, from neonates to seniors. Laura says, "My passion for the senior population grew immensely when I heard of and learned about ArchWell Health and their value-based care model, and I quickly realized the growing need for and importance of nutrition education in this specific population."

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