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Reducing Food Waste – Easy Tips for Home Cooks

Most people I talk to are concerned about the amount of food they throw away and with good reason. The average American family wastes over $2,000 worth of food each year. That statistic is not good for our budget or the environment. As we move into the spring season and celebrate Earth Day on April 22, this is a perfect time to start practicing a few smart cooking tips to significantly reduce food waste, save money and help our planet. Here are 6 steps to get you started:

1. Plan your meals and make a grocery list.

Start by perusing through your pantry, refrigerator and freezer to see what foods you already have and what items need to be used up. These foods should be added to your meal plan first. From there you can fill in the rest of your menu. If you need a little inspiration, check out recipe websites, or cookbooks and magazines – Click here for a one-week menu featuring delicious Michigan Apples. Remember that meals don’t have to be overly complicated. Simply assembling a meal like a rotisserie chicken, frozen vegetables, whole grain rolls, and fresh Michigan Apple slices is just fine! Once your meal plan is done, make a shopping list of those items you need to purchase. The list will keep you on track at the store so you don’t purchase unnecessary products that may go bad and need to be tossed. 

2. Store food properly.

When you arrive home from the supermarket, the next step is to store all of your ingredients properly to reduce spoilage. Perishable items such as fresh produce and meat, poultry and seafood are the most vulnerable for going bad to improper storage.  Store meats on the bottom shelf of the fridge, below any prepared or ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination. If you don’t plan on using meat within a few days, it should be stored in the freezer. Fresh produce should be placed in the vegetable drawer, and remember to keep the ones that will spoil faster on top so you will use them first. The USDA FoodKeeper app is a great tool for assistance with smart food storage.

3. Use items with a short shelf-life first.

Check items such as bagged salads and yogurts for use by or best by dates to ensure you consume them at top quality. Also, tender vegetables and berries have a shorter shelf life than hardier items like apples, broccoli, carrots and potatoes.Michigan Apples, for example, can last for several months if stored in the refrigerator so they can be used for many weeks in recipes or for a handy, healthy snack thus avoiding waste.

Be creative with remaining ingredients and distressed produce.

Get creative with leftover ingredients so they don’t go to waste. Store vegetable trimmings and meat or poultry bones together in the freezer to be used for a stock later. Stale rolls or breads can be easily made into bread crumbs in your food processer. Use leftover beef, chicken or pork to top a salad, or in a sandwich.  If you have some “distressed” produce, think beyond banana bread to smoothies, roasted veggies, and homemade soups. Apples, for example, can always be made into applesauce, sautéed or used in this nutritious Apple and Almond Green Smoothie.

4. Use your leftovers in other meals.

Plan to use your leftovers in other meals. Create lunches to go from last night’s dinner or create simple new meals. Chili may be served with cornbread for one meal and used as a topping for nachos with cheese and avocado for a second meal. Use leftover beef in a simple stir-fry with frozen veggies and instant rice, or top a green salad with leftover shredded chicken, sliced apples and a handful of walnuts (like in our Kale, Chicken Salad with Apples & Almonds below.) A batch of applesauce can be used to top pancakes or to replace part of the oil in baked goods and half of a leftover apple can be diced on your oatmeal. Never leave a leftover for the waste can as the ideas for using them are endless!

5. Make the freezer your friend.

Leftovers that may not get eaten in time can always be put into the freezer. In addition, when you are cooking certain meals it may make sense to cook a double batch so you can freeze the extra to use during especially busy weeks. Freezing ingredients can also save you money at the supermarket. If meat is on sale, for example, it might be wise to buy extra and freeze some for another week’s menu plan. Just remember to label and date the items that go into your freezer and check the contents weekly to ensure you are using up frozen items in a timely manner. For more information here is a complete guide to freezing foods.

Since Michigan Apples have such a long shelf-life they are the perfect addition to a variety of meals and never have to be wasted. As you plan your spring meals, here are a few healthy Michigan Apple recipes – you get all the taste and no waste!

Kale, Chicken Salad with Apples & Almonds – This easy-to-assemble, nutrient-rich salad is a perfect spring time meal! Feel free to add additional fresh veggies that you may want to use up.

Makes 4 servings


2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken (or leftover chicken)

Cooking spray

5 ounces baby kale

1 cup sliced carrots

1 Michigan Apple, halved and cut into 1/4-in.-thick slices (try Honeycrisp, EverCrisp, Fuji or Gala)

1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted


1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon each salt & pepper


Combine kale, carrots, and apple in large bowl. Add dressing and toss to coat. Divide kale mixture evenly among 4 plates; top evenly with shredded chicken. Sprinkle with almonds.

Nutrition information per serving: 333 calories; 19g fat; 27g protein 20g; 13g carbohydrates; 4g fiber; 427mg sodium


Mini Apple, Goat Cheese, Walnut Pizza – Looking for a fresh twist on pizza? Thinly sliced Michigan Fuji Apples, goat cheese, walnuts and arugula provide an enticing blend of flavors.

Makes 4 servings


4 mini Ancient Grain Naan Flatbreads (or pita bread)                                       

2 Michigan Apples, thinly sliced

(try Honeycrisp, EverCrisp, Fuji or Gala)

4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (can use feta cheese)

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1-1/2 teaspoons honey

2 cups baby arugula

4 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted


Preheat oven to 400°.

Place naan breads on a baking sheet. Arrange apple slices evenly over breads; top with goat cheese. Sprinkle thyme evenly over cheese. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes or until cheese melts and begins to brown.

Combine oil and next 3 ingredients (through honey) in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add arugula; toss gently to coat. Sprinkle walnuts evenly over individual breads; top with arugula mixture and serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 292 calories; 13g fat; 7g protein; 39g carbohydrates; 5g fiber; 359mg sodium


Power Blend Slaw with Apples & Raisins – A prepared power blend mix and Michigan Apples team up to make an easy slaw that is crunchy, delicious and nutritious! This recipe uses many products you may have right in your kitchen. Enjoy with a sandwich or a side of seafood, meat or poultry.  

Makes 6 servings


1/2 cup light sour cream

3 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise

1-1/2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 medium Michigan Apple, chopped with skin on (try Honeycrisp, EverCrisp, Fuji or Gala)

1 cup raisins (regular or golden)

1 (10-ounce) package Power Blend slaw mix (such as Mann’s)


Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add chopped apple, raisins, and Power Blend; toss to combine.

Nutrition information per serving: 159 calories; 5g fat; 3g protein; 28g carbohydrates; 3.5g fiber; 81mg sodium


Meet the Author

Shari Steinbach

Shari Steinbach, MS RDN
Shari Steinbach & Associates, LLC

For the past 26 years, Shari has worked as a dietitian in the grocery industry for two major retailers in the Midwest. In her retail roles, Shari has managed consumer health communication, health influencer partnerships, nutrition programs, and solution-selling strategies.

Shari has served as a nutrition expert and corporate spokesperson, providing food and nutrition advice through monthly television spots on ABC, NBC and FOX affiliates and local radio segments. She has also conducted numerous educational presentations to community groups and professional organizations throughout the country. Her timely nutrition and food product information and strategic social media messages have reached millions of consumers.