6 Lessons On Preventing Food Waste, Courtesy Of My Tiny Home
In 2017, my wife and small dog and I rented a fully furnished 375-square-foot cottage in Southern Oregon that we thought would serve as a transitional home. Little did we know what important lessons the smaller space would teach us over the two and a half years we spent there. A big one? How to make our home more sustainable, starting in the kitchen. Here are a few strategies for reducing food waste that I learned in a tiny home but that could be applied to any size space:
Pack the fridge strategically, and buy less at the store.
I've learned that a fridge works most efficiently when its contents are spread out and given a little room to breathe. Without proper air circulation, you'll quickly be left with sad-looking food. In my case, the irony of having a small fridge was that the total usable area shrank even more when I started packing it this way.
As a result, my grocery outings had to become more frequent and my selections even more intentional. I also asked myself whether each item needed to be stored in the fridge or could rest at room temperature. Potatoes, apples, citrus, avocados, late summer tomatoes, most herbs, and fresh farm eggs always found a home on the countertop.
Store food in a way that will extend its shelf life.
Once your groceries make it home, it's essential to prepare them before storing in the fridge—a skill many of us are never taught. To keep fresh produce from falling victim to the harshness of the fridge environment, read up on the conditions it prefers.
Naked greens, for example, will rapidly dry out as water evaporates from their leaves. The same goes for hardy carrots, turnips, and beets if the greens are left attached to the roots. To prevent spoilage in my kitchen, I started lightly swaddling greens in a damp tea towel (or paper towel) and placing them in a reusable bag or wrap.
If I did notice any delicate produce starting to wilt, I'd toss it in a sauté or a smoothie, where its appearance and texture wasn't as noticeable.
Keep cooking techniques simple.
My tiny home experience felt like camping at the time in that it tested my sense of resourcefulness and ability to think outside the box.
In my kitchen, we only had room for a two-top electric burner, large toaster oven, Vitamix, two pots, two pans, and some miscellaneous utensils. As a result of limited supplies, I relied heavily on simple cooking and one-pot meals to use up ingredients.
One of my go-to techniques was sautéing veggies in a shallow mix of water and liquid aminos (soy sauce or tamari also impart that umami flavor) until the sauce had thickened. Off heat, I'd add a punch of acid with apple cider or rice vinegar, along with a drizzle of grassy olive oil and lots of fresh herbs. Super simple and delicious. For a more filling meal, it was easy to add in leftover quinoa, rice, chickpeas, or just crack an egg on top and steam with a lid (or alternately, a pan or aluminum foil)—all served right from the cast-iron pan.
Another favorite was toaster-roasted veggies, tossed in coconut oil and sea salt, with spices added afterward so as not to burn them. Without a full-size oven, we saved electricity and a swath of heat within our tiny space.
Last but not least, soups were a staple for using up whatever was on its way out and experimenting with flavors. A hidden gem for food waste prevention!
Plan some meals, and improvise the rest.
My wife appreciates the anticipation of recipes while I prefer more improvisational cooking. Meet-in-the-middle solution: The first meal or two after we got back from shopping was made from a recipe. As the fridge started to empty out and look hopeless, I swept in with a creative concoction to use up all the remaining food in the fridge.
Use your pantry as a lifeline.
Another trick for reducing food waste is to keep stock of essential items in your pantry that can become the supporting cast for a meal featuring your fresh items or even star on their own.
I designated space for 12 quart-size Mason jars to fill with grains, flours, and nuts and eight small jars for loose spices from the bulk section. This way, I had some essentials in each category but also had room to rotate new flavors.
Dehydrated refried black beans were a mainstay for their easy portion sizes, versatility, and cost-effectiveness, and were particularly delicious flavored with cumin and fresh oregano and spread over tortillas or chips for chilaquiles.
Grow your own food, and you'll never want to waste a morsel.
Once you go through the process of nurturing a seed or seedling, you give it your utmost respect when it comes time to harvest. And that respect naturally extends to savoring the entire plant and squandering none of it. Otherwise, it would be a waste of your time, energy, water, soil, and love.
Living tiny instilled in me the joys of growing and harvesting our little plot, savoring fresh herbs, nurturing a compost pile, and sharing food with the community. And I'm so happy to have found these guiding principles for lower-waste living along the way.
Kristin Cole is a chef, educator, and coach who inspires others to think confidently in their kitchens and adopt the practical skills of simplicity and resourcefulness.
She encourages her students to lead with intuition and connect with nature in a world of overwhelming choices. It is through small lifestyle shifts that she sees the potential for change to our wellbeing and that of the planet. The reduction of food waste is at the core of Kristin's work—from selecting and storing ingredients to preparing healthy meals and reinventing leftovers. She is a graduate of Williams College and ALMA Culinary School in Italy.