6 Super-Duper Practical Ways For Parents To Cut Back On Food Waste

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Food waste is a big problem for families with small children, and it’s becoming even bigger. Places like Seattle have started fining residents if over 10% of their household waste is uneaten food, and food that winds up in the dumpster has an environmental cost as well as an economic one. What is there to do, besides force-feeding that neglected broccoli to your uninterested toddler?

National Geographic reported earlier this week that, on average in the USA, a four-person family sends half a ton of food to the landfill in a year: that’s close to $1500 of rotten tomatoes, mushy bananas, and “we’re totally going to eat more vegetables in this house, starting … any day now”. But what can parents do to make sure the food they buy doesn’t just end up going straight from fridge to garbage can, with or without a brief side trip across a toddler’s high chair tray? I have a few realistic and totally plausible ideas.

1. Goats

licky goat(via)

Goats will eat anything, even your one-year-old’s partially chewed granola bar plus the wrapper it came in. Works especially well if you have a yard, since Billy here can help keep the grass clipped.

2. Foraging

dumpster thief bear(via)

Why waste money at the grocery store when you can rustle up just the amount of food you need from your neighborhood? If cartoons have taught me anything, it’s that there are probably a dozen windowsills with fresh-baked pies on them in your immediate vicinity at this very moment. Add on neighborhood gardens, unguarded Halloween candy bowls, unlocked pizza delivery cars, and the occasional robin’s nest when you have a hankering for omelets, and you’ll never have to spend another penny at Kroger again!

3. Art supplies

aristocat painting


It might sound unsanitary, but your kids are going to use mashed potatoes, ketchup, and creamed spinach as finger-painting fodder anyway.

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  1. Personal

    October 16, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Flushing works for most foods.

  2. Angela

    October 16, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Ugh! This has been especially challenging since my son started school. School lunch here is awful so I dutifully pack him a lunch each day. All the foods I send are ones that he eats fine at home and I let him help choose what to pack. But most of the time he only eats a tiny bit and when I pick him up from school he’s ravenous. Apparently the food sounded good last night, but at lunch he’s “just not in the mood” to eat it. So every day I wind up throwing most of his lunch away and he’s complaining how hungry he always it at school. Makes me want to pull my hair out!

    • Emily A.

      October 16, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      That is such a bummer. I am fortunate to not have to pack lunches because my kids’ school lunch is AWESOME. (Example: I ate there today, and had Italian wedding soup, lasagna, and salmon and spinach salad.) I still had a kid come home who had eaten… plain noodles. Not awesome.

    • Angela

      October 17, 2014 at 9:51 am

      Wow, is this a public school?? That’s amazing! If that was the case I’d sooo not be packing lunches, but the food at my son’s school tastes terrible and is incredibly unhealthy.

    • Emily A.

      October 17, 2014 at 12:25 pm

      Sadly, it is not public. Seems like good food comes with a serious price tag, which just seems… wrong.

    • Maitri

      October 17, 2014 at 8:46 am

      How old is he? can he make his own lunch? My 6 yr old likes bologna sandwiches and fruit cups and (strangely) small cans of v8, so I let him put those together. He seems to eat it more often when he’s made it himself.

    • Angela

      October 17, 2014 at 10:47 am

      He’s five. Sometimes he’s helped to pack his lunch. For him it doesn’t seem to make much difference. He’s always been really finicky and has sensory issues, but for some reason it’s even more pronounced at school. I actually think that my own anxieties might have been part of the problem. It’s gotten to where every day after school I’d check his lunch bag and then pepper him with questions about why he didn’t eat his food, what I could pack that he would eat, why is he choosing to feel so hungry, etc. I didn’t yell or get angry with him, but still I think it just makes him dig in his heels more.

      This week I told him that I’m going to stop worrying about whether he eats at school. I said I would try to pack foods he will like, but that he’s going to have to choose whether or not to eat. I’ve waited to empty his lunch bag when he wasn’t around and started packing less food (still enough to fill him up, but only a couple food choices). When he asked me why I didn’t pack very much I just explained that I’m tired of wasting food and that I’m not going to pack more unless I have reason to believe it will get eaten. It’s only been a few days, but so far it seems to have worked (either that or he’s started dumping his leftovers in the trash).

  3. leahdawn

    October 16, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    I force-feed all our leftovers to DH by packing his lunch for him. It’s leftovers or it’s STARVATION, because we don’t have money to buy lunch everyday.

    • ted3553

      October 16, 2014 at 5:14 pm

      Ha! I do this too and because my little guy is dairy intolerant, his dayhome provider won’t give him any other option but fruit. Either way it’s fruit or leftovers.

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  4. Cindy Ailey

    October 16, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    We have a “compost” in the backyard which is actually a hole in the ground that we dump our uneaten food scraps into. It will turn back into dirt eventually, even though I don’t use it for compost in gardening.

    I did have a sad little vegetable garden this year but it didn’t turn into anything. We live in the woods and there’s not a single space in the yard that gets sunlight for more than 4 hours a day.

  5. EX

    October 16, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    It would seem to me that municipalities might be able to make money collecting food scraps to turn into compost which they can sell back to people for their gardens at a profit.

    • ted3553

      October 16, 2014 at 5:15 pm

      I’m actually surprised when big municipalities don’t do this. We have a garbage bin and organics bin that the city collects and composts. They then use it on their city landscaping or sell it back to consumers.

    • Emee

      October 17, 2014 at 3:54 am

      The problem with food compost is that it often includes things like bread and animal products (at least where I live) but my city (Edinburgh) does this with our garden waste. I thought it was great until my mom told me that in Berkeley the compost is free as long as you pick it up yourself. How awesome is that?

    • Lilly

      October 17, 2014 at 9:35 am

      Where I am (Toronto) the facility for the pick-up of compost doesn’t seem to have issues with meat/bones/bread (they even take tampons/pads/diapers/kitty litter) — I am sure that there is probably rats etc but it would be similar to a dump (and subject to the same environmental legislation) since it is such a large scale facility. I think they also introduce bacteria to speed up the decomposing process.

      The started this for purely financial reasons though (not altruism) as the city dump was near capacity and the city was having to pay other municipalities to take our garbage (mostly Detroit, which also had trucking costs), so there was a huge push for less going to garbage.

  6. Boozy Shark Lee

    October 16, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    I don’t understand how a city would figure out if 10% of someone’s trash is wasted food. Are they going through every garbage can everyday and weighing it? If that is the case the fines they are charging can’t possibly equal the extra labor they are paying out.

    • monamiemarie

      October 16, 2014 at 7:26 pm

      We have random checks where I live. They were frequent when our composting program began, but less common now. For us, it’s not by weight though. All food waste must be put in compost bins and all garbage and recycling must be put in clear bags. I think that would make inspection much easier!

  7. RW

    October 16, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Dog. Mine’s life has been heavenly since our son started eating solid food. He went from never getting anything but the odd special treat to getting to dine nightly on uneaten toddler leftovers.

  8. Lilly

    October 16, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    um, my city has compost pick up (green bins) all food scraps go in there to be taken to a municipal commercial compost and turned into dirt for city parks. that is where all the uneaten/partially eaten food ends up (and the kitty litter).
    This is fairly common in Canada — I take it it is not a thing elsewhere (somewhat surprised Seattle doesn’t have it).

    • Harriet Meadow

      October 16, 2014 at 11:24 pm

      We have that here in Colorado too. Though I don’t know what they do with it once they pick it up!

    • Seattleite

      October 17, 2014 at 4:08 am

      Seattle does have compost pickup. This article is misleading. The actual rule is that no more than 10% of your GARBAGE can be food waste, since you’re supposed to put your food waste into the compost bin instead.

    • Lilly

      October 17, 2014 at 9:17 am

      Where I am the compost is picked up every week and the garbage every other week (alternates with recycling) — this is the incentive to not throw gross food stuff in the garbage.

  9. monamiemarie

    October 16, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Yeesh, never have I appreciated the mandatory curbside compost collection where I live more!

  10. Emily A.

    October 16, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    We have a dog who needs more fiber, so veggie goodies like the ends of broccoli (seriously, who eats the “tree trunks”?) go to him. Rest goes to compost. Even not being a big gardener, it’s good to load that stuff into the garden once it is dirt again. (Also: next to no effort required. Things break down on their own.)

    • Maitri

      October 17, 2014 at 8:44 am

      I love the tree trunks, they’re almost sweet.

  11. superhealthy!

    October 17, 2014 at 4:15 am

    Of course, you could just stop buying any foods other than chicken nuggets and mac & cheese.

  12. Maitri

    October 17, 2014 at 8:42 am

    Make those “picky eaters” eat everything you serve, because it’s really just that you’re a crappy parent if you can’t make them eat it. (/sarcasm)
    I recommend a garbage disposal. Problem solved. We got one for Christmas last year and it totally only took 6 months before my husband installed it, but now it’s great.
    We do compost and it’s easy enough once you buy the composter thingie, but we live in Iowa and have a big backyard – someone living in a walk-up in Manhattan would have a problem doing that, methinks.

    • TashaB

      October 17, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      Harder, but you can get under sink vermicomposting bins (if you have the space under your sink). Then, you mostly have the problem of figuring out where to put the compost when it is done.

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