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6 Tips to Reduce Food Waste on a Plant-Based Diet

February 15, 2021 by Ginger Hultin MS RDN

What comes to mind when I say “food waste”? I’m so excited to explore this with you today because it’s way more important than you may realize. Food waste is a major issue around the world, with the U.S. being one of the worst offenders. Approximately 30-40% of food produced in the U.S. is thrown away. This translates to more than 130 billion pounds of food that goes to waste. Why is this an issue? This is perfectly good food that could be used to feed hungry families that instead ends up in a landfill. It is also a tremendous waste of resources including land, water, and energy that went into producing food that was never utilized. This contributes to global warming, deforestation, and the overuse and pollution of limited natural resources. So what can we do to make a difference? I’m talking all about 6 Tips to Reduce Food Waste on a Plant-Based Diet today because guess what? What you eat matters here! 

Interestingly, the majority of food is thrown out at retail and consumers levels. This means that as consumers, we have the power to make an impactful change to reduce food waste. By being more mindful of our practices we can easily live more sustainably and reduce our carbon footprint in a meaningful way. This is where 6 Tips to Reduce Food Waste on a Plant-Based Diet comes in. I’m going to show you how to implement these tips starting NOW so you know exactly what to do for your part in reducing food waste and living more sustainably.

6 Tips to Reduce Food Waste on a Plant-Based Diet

Meal Prepping

Planning meals for the week and making a grocery list before you do your grocery shopping are simple steps to take in order to reduce purchasing more food than you need. With a plan in place, you know exactly what to buy and how that item will be used. This prevents purchasing items that you won’t use and that will just be thrown away. 

An important part of meal planning and making a list is taking note of the food you already have. Plan meals and snacks around items that you already have on hand so as to not buy extra food that is not needed. Short on time? Simply snap a picture of your fridge and/or cupboard to reference items you already have while grocery shopping.  

Lucky, lucky you that I have the best resource for meal planning: my Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep book! If you’re doing this program, you have to let me know in the comments. 

Using Leftovers

A lot of food waste is generated by throwing away leftovers. Eating leftovers doesn’t have to be boring. If you feel bored eating the same thing again, repurpose the leftovers by using them as an ingredient to make a new meal. Instead of leaving leftovers forgotten in the fridge to go bad, simply incorporate them into a completely new dish. 

Reinventing leftovers can look like making a soup or stew with leftover produce, proteins, or grains, using leftover rice for a fried rice dish or a stir fry, or making a healthy salad incorporating leftovers and extra vegetables in your fridge like tomatoes and carrots. It may take some creativity, but using leftovers as an ingredient for another meal will drastically cut down on the food waste you produce. If there is no way you will be able to use the leftovers before they go bad, pop them in the freezer to use at a later time. Tips below from this source!

Fruits & Juices 1 year
Vegetables 8 months
Nuts & Seeds 3 months
Butter 9 months
Milk 1 month
Cheese 3 months
Ice Cream 2 months
Fish & Seafood 3-6 months
Casseroles (cooked), Pasta and Rice (cooked), Soups and Stews  2-3 months
Breads, pastries, muffins, waffles 3 months
Cookie or bread dough 1 month


Understand Food Date Labels 

Food date labels on items can be very confusing and lead to unnecessary food waste. The only food that is legally required to have an expiration date is infant formula. Other dates included on food items are decided by the food manufacturer. These dates refer more to quality of the product rather than an actual expiration date related to food safety. 

For example, there may be some texture or taste changes after the “best by” or “use by” date, but the food is still safe to eat. Often these dates are conservative, and you may not notice any changes after the date has passed. To learn the real expiration date of a food, you can look up the food item here: Still Tasty. This will prevent you throwing out perfectly good food unnecessarily. Below is an outline of what food date labels really mean.

  • Best if used by: this label is not about safety but quality. This is the date up until the manufacturer guarantees the best quality for a product. After this date, texture and flavor may change.  
  • Sell by: this date is for retailers. It is the date that the manufacturer sets to ensure the retailers display the item when it is at its best quality. Many items are still good past the sell by date.
  • Use by: this label is about quality rather than safety, except for in the case of infant formula. This is the last date that a manufacturer guarantees the best quality of the product.

Eat Ugly Produce

We often want our food to look beautiful and have a certain aesthetic. Food retailers have a high standard for the appearance of the foods they will carry. These strict cosmetic standards result in farmers not being able to sell produce that doesn’t meet the “blemish free” standards. This produce ends up being thrown away and wasted.

Luckily, several organizations, like Imperfect Foods, Misfits, and Hungry Harvest, have stepped in to purchase excess food from farmers that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill. In addition, they work to redirect food that would have been wasted to people in need by donating to food banks. The purchase of these perfectly good and nutritious foods helps to fight food waste and hunger, for a lower cost than buying produce at the grocery store. I’ve used a couple of these programs and they are GREAT. If you love them, too, drop me a comment and let me know which one you’re using. 

Shift Towards Plant-Based Eating

One of the most impactful changes you could make to reducing your carbon footprint is to center your plate around plant-based foods. Plant-based foods require significantly less resources than animal based foods. Not only is a plant-based eating pattern healthier for you, it requires less land, water, and energy use. 

Plant-based proteins offer a similar protein profile when compared to animal-based proteins, with a lot less input. According to a report in Science Magazine, meat, eggs and dairy use approximately 83% of the world’s farmland and contribute around 58% of greenhouse gas emissions, with half of these emissions coming from beef and lamb. 

Pulses, like lentils and beans, are some of the most affordable and environmentally friendly plant proteins. Not ready to give up meat entirely? Opt for smaller portions, some meat-free days and more variety. In addition, pulses can be mixed into meat-based dishes to decrease the total amount of meat used. For example, beans like lentils or black beans can be incorporated into a homemade burger. 

If you want to learn more about plant-based eating, check out Kids Eat Right Vegetarian and Vegan and How a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet can Promote Health and Prevent Disease. If you want to learn more about how types of foods you eat can impact the environment, check out my Tips for Reducing Your Dietary Footprint.   

Composting and Using the Whole Food

Often we throw away parts of a food that is actually edible. Instead of throwing away the green tops of vegetables, seeds, and peels, consider incorporating them into the meal. Use creative recipes that reduce or reuse food scraps like chef Max La Manna’s Seeds to Skin Squash and Sage Pasta or Food Waste Vegetable Stock.  

However, having extra food scraps is inevitable. It’s what we do with it that makes a difference. Food waste makes up approximately 22% of municipal solid waste. When food ends up in the landfill, it rots and produces the greenhouse gas called methane. Composting helps keep these food scraps out of landfills and avoids these polluting emissions from being produced. 

Composting can be done at home, even in small apartments. Keeping a compost bin in your kitchen instead of throwing food scraps in the garbage is an easy way to avoid food waste from ending up in landfills. Contact your city to find out if they offer composting in your city. If not, reach out to community gardens or farmers at farmers markets to see if they could utilize your compost. 

If you’re into this subject, this podcast session on reducing food waste is really amazing and it’s done by two wonderful registered dietitian friends, Liz Weiss and Chris Vogliano. 

Start Using the 6 Tips to Reduce Food Waste on a Plant-Based Diet Today

I hope that you’re thinking about some ways you can incorporate these ideas into your daily life to reduce food waste. If everyone took small steps like the ones above, it would make a huge impact and help us to live more sustainably. Tell me, which one of these ideas are you ready to try?

If you would like some more resources to help you get started, check out these helpful links below:

USDA food waste FAQs

Creative Ways to Reinvent Your Leftovers 

Food Waste: It’s About What You Choose to Eat

The State of America’s Food Waste Report

Fight Climate Change by Preventing Food Waste

How to Prevent Food Waste on a Plant-Based Diet

How to Reduce Food Waste

The Advantages of Lentils Over Beef

Nutritional and Environmental Sustainability of Lentil Reformulated Beef Burger

Plant-Based Diets Can Help Fight Climate Change – UN

Liz’s Healthy Table Listen Notes – Reducing Food Waste

How Moving Towards A Plant-Based Diet Could Help Solve Food Waste

Post written in collaboration with my wonderful dietetic intern Melanie Ferre! She is a dietetic intern currently getting hands on professional experience to become a registered dietitian. She received her Master of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University and is passionate about plant-based nutrition. When not cooking up some delicious plant-based meals Melanie likes to hike around the Seattle area with her husband and rescue pup.


  1. Herpezine on March 19, 2021 at 2:50 am

    Given all the resources demanded for food production, it is worth our while to make sure that the food we produce is not wasted.

    • Ginger Hultin on March 20, 2021 at 7:53 pm

      Totally agree – thank you for stopping by!

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Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO

Integrative nutrition specialist helping clients navigate complex health conditions to reduce inflammation and feel better.

Thanks for visiting! If you're struggling with a cancer diagnosis, autoimmune condition, gut health problems, or even a medical mystery, nutrition can make a HUGE difference in your day-to-day life. I run a virtual, concierge private practice where I partner with my clients over time to help them improve their health through nutrition. Be sure to visit the blog for easy, plant-based, anti-inflammatory recipes and our "Resources" page for a variety of self-paced programs, books, e-books, and nutrition podcast episodes.

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