Reducing Food Waste And Kids: This post is part of my ongoing Reducing Food Waste 101 Series.
One of our biggest food wasters loves playdoh, legos, books, riding her scooter and the color pink. I feel like if I could just figure out her eating patterns that we could reduce the food waste in our home by at least 75%. But she’s a soon to be three-year old and impossible to predict so the best I can offer is the few tips I’ve recently learned for reducing food waste with kids. These tips aren’t perfect, nothing in parenting is, but I’m trying and that has to count for something.
Be Prepared To Save Everything For Later:
I box up everything. Nothing is too small for me to save, as mentioned here. Her morning pb&j wrap with one bite taken out of it, the half eaten apple, the 1/4 of a fruit leather she hands back when she’s had enough. Instead of tossing these directly into the compost, I save them for later.
When Noe was first-born we were gifted with a lunch bag that included a ton of little storage containers. At the time, when she was exclusively breastfeeding, it seemed like overkill and I almost re-gifted it. I’m so glad I didn’t. It’s become one the most useful presents I’ve ever received. These little containers come in handy day after day. I usually have one or two of them tucked into my bag, at any given time, for storing leftover food.
Teach Them How To Eat Like Adults:
Sure, she eats random snacks I’d never buy otherwise but I don’t make her those cutesy cut out sandwiches or anything made with cookie cutters for that matter. Unless you’re planning to eat the crust off those sandwiches yourself, leave it on. Noe’s never known any different so she’s never taken issue with eating crust or gnawing on a slice of watermelon right down to the rind.
She isn’t a picky eater in general and I’ve never been so desperate for her to eat that I feel the need to stamp out special sandwiches or make star-shaped watermelon bites, so please, do what’s best for your situation. But, I do wonder if her lack of pickiness is in part from treating her meals like adult meals from the start. I don’t shy away from spice, flavoring, texture, etc. If she asks for a bite of my food, I always say yes and I offer up whatever I’m eating, unless it’s super spicy.
Include Them In The Cooking:
Over the past few months Noe has become increasingly interested in what I’m up to in the kitchen. I encourage her to pull up a chair and include her whenever I can. This may mean stirring something or mixing ingredients (yes, it’s a bit of a mess every time) or it may simply be letting her smell each ingredient. I love to open spices and let her take a big whiff and she often asks Michael and me to smell the grounds before we make our coffee in the morning. I truly believe getting her involved in the creation of food makes her more likely to respect it and eat it.
Offer Leftovers At Different Times, In Different Situations:
I offer leftovers in different ways all the time. If she eats half a banana for breakfast whole, at lunch, I’ll slice up the other half and put it on a plate. For some reason, seeing it in a different form makes it seem new and she’s more likely to eat it. I use different size plates, bowls, containers, different techniques for cutting, even different environments.
As an environment example, I may take leftover apple sauce to the gym as a snack when it’s usually part of her school lunch or send unexpected leftovers like pizza, mac ‘n cheese or pasta to school for lunch. I don’t know why this works, maybe it’s the break from routine and predictability.
That said, as a loose rule, I usually give a food three tries, in three different situations, before I look for ways I can use it myself or freeze it.
Eat It Yourself:
We all know the drill, nothing is as appetizing as what mom and dad are eating. This happened the other day with Michael. I had a few fruit leathers in the diaper bag that Noe opened and then didn’t eat. As we were leaving the gym one morning, I offered one to Noe and she refused. But Michael, hungry from his workout, said he’d take them. Something about seeing her daddy eat her snack immediately made it more appetizing and she quickly ask for the other one. What could easily have been wasted money and food turned into an opportune snack for both of them.
Ask Your Kid’s Schools To Save Food:
We are very lucky, Noe’s teachers box up any uneaten food from her lunch to take home. My guess is that your kid’s probably aren’t eating every last bit of their lunches either. If your kid’s lunch boxes are coming home empty, think about contacting their teachers and asking them to box up leftovers. Consider speaking to older kid’s about what happens to their unused food as well. It could be a good teaching moment and opportunity for them to re-pack their own food for reuse.
Consider Ways To Reuse:
We’ll sometimes buy Noe a steamed milk when Michael and I get our weekend coffee. Yes, it’s a little extravagant but she loves having her own reusable cup to hold like her parents. However, more often than not she doesn’t drink it all. Instead of dumping the leftovers, I put the cup in the fridge and give it to her with dinner. If that doesn’t work, I throw what’s left into her morning smoothie. Seeing food as precious instead of disposable really helps reshape my mindset on its uses.
Snack From The Bulk Bins:
Noe likes to try different snacks but isn’t one to finish a whole bag of much of anything. I’m learning that for things like pretzels, dried fruit, trail mix, etc. bulk bins are great tools. I can tailor how much I buy, usually no more than a half cup of something new. If she loves it I buy more. If she hates it, well there’s likely less than a serving of it left, not a whole box I then have to figure out what to do with.
Practice What You Preach:
My little girl is such a sponge and monkey see, monkey do. I practice what I preach constantly. Eating what I have, storing what I don’t, using up leftovers. I find that setting a good example can do wonders. I talk to her constantly about the importance of food, how lucky we are to have it and that we don’t throw food on the ground. We talk a lot about not throwing food on the ground…I think it’s starting to sink in 🙂
This is far from a perfected list but one I’m finding helpful as I wade into the world of reducing food waste with kids. If you have any tips of your own that seem to work please share!