How We Stopped Throwing Away Food

by | Mar 23, 2014 | Catholic Living, Homemaking, Pope Francis | 30 comments


Pope Francis’ comments at a weekly audience last summer really hit home for me:

“This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition,” the Pope said.
“Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times we are no longer able to give a just value.
“Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry,” he said.

I spent the beginning of my homemaking career letting food go bad in the fridge, turning my nose up at leftovers, and tossing out entire meals because they hadn’t turned out the way I had envisioned.

I really thought I was experimenting, and bettering myself, and was pleased that I was teaching myself how to cook for my family. But I was also being really wasteful. Seen in light of Pope Francis’ comments, my early wastefulness with food feels especially humbling.

Over the years of learning to provide meals for an ever larger family, and becoming a more mindful homemaker, I have gotten much, much better at reducing food waste in our home.

Here’s how we do it . . .

1. Plan Ahead

A meal planning system of some kind, no matter how unsophisticated, makes a big difference in food waste. Meal planning means I don’t buy more food than I need. So I don’t have food that’s going to spoil before we can get to it. It also means I can plan leftover days, so they don’t just sit there until they’re inedible. And I can be sure to plan meals that will use up the food we already have before it goes bad.

I can plan meals that turn the leftovers from one meal into another meal, or two. I can serve roasted chicken on Sunday, have chicken fajitas on Tuesday, and use the carcass to make chicken corn chowder on Wednesday.

If unexpected things come up, and I can’t make the dinner I had planned for a particular night, having meals planned on the calendar means I can quickly see if I’ll be able to serve that meal soon, or if it needs to go into the freezer.

2. Eat it Anyway


Being less particular and encouraging the same in my kids has meant a lot less wasted food.

It fell on the ground? We rinse it off. The five second rule is scientifically proven. Science!

It’s expired? Unless it smells or tastes “off,” we eat it, regardless of the dates on the packaging. Which really don’t mean anything anyway.

It’s got mold on it? We scrape/cut/tear it off. According to the internet, that’s a bad idea, so probably don’t listen to me. But we’ve never gotten sick doing it. Again, unless it smells or tastes “off,” we eat it.

It’s got weevils? Extra protein. The first time I found a bag of rice with weevils in it, I threw away all the food in our pantry. The second time, I did some research, and didn’t throw away anything at all. We just sift it, and it’s fine. Seriously. It’s FINE.

It’s not exactly just the thing I’d most like to be eating in the whole world? Tough beans. We eat it anyway. This one can be hard. But eating something I don’t feel like eating on leftover night makes a great little mortification.

3. Turn it Into Something Else


We eat more parts of food than we used to as well. I buy stalks of broccoli, not just the crowns, and chop up the stems for cole slaw or to mix in at our family salad bar. I don’t hand whole apples to my kids.

But even so, there are some things that are kinda food, but we really don’t want to eat. We don’t throw those out either. We turn our strawberry tops, shrimp shells, apple cores, watermelon rinds, meat trimmings, eggshells, and underseat noodles into . . . EGGS. I have a little crock on the counter and all that stuff goes into it and gets fed to the chickens.

If you don’t like the sound of that you could always compost it. Either way, it’s not becoming trash.

Mindful homemaking has made a big difference for me. It helps me sanctify my daily work. It saves me time and saves our family money. Perhaps it would work for you too. Your pocketbook and your pope will approve.


  1. Mandi

    I feel like I've gotten better at not wasting by cutting up vegetables before they go bad and freezing them (and by not using the vegetable crisper because I always forget what is down there). I also have a few go-to meals for using up vegetables and leftover meat – I toss them in scrambled eggs, make fried rice, etc.

    • Katherine

      That vegetable crisper is the black hole of my refrigerator!! 😉

  2. Miss Jill and Mister John

    I read a post from a blogger that had a "free for all" left over night…. and her kids love it. She empties out the fridge and they can make their own smorgasbord type plate. The kids feel empowered and she accomplishes a clean out! My children are too small at this point but some day it may work.

  3. Jenny Cook

    Storing rice and flours in the freezer helps prevent the weevil problem.

  4. Jenn Anne

    Oh my goodness I needed to read this post five years ago! Tossing out old food is something I am FINALLY starting to get better at. I use a dry erase on my fridge for meal planning and even have a "use this up" section to remind myself what's on the brink!

  5. Jenny

    That part about weevils – and the subsequent link – makes me want to die.

    That being said, we regularly say in a sing songy voice at our table "What does Papa Francesco say? That wasting food is stealing from the poor."

    But still. Weevils.

    • Kendra

      Okay. I know I'm totally grossing people out. But if it makes it any better at all (and probably it doesn't) it's not like our rice is full of pincher bugs and beetles. Rice weevils are so tiny you can barely see them. They are teeny tiny grey specks that are honestly not noticeable at all, and since they're not bad for you, I just go with it. But it's okay with me if you don't.

  6. Iris Hanlin - Writer/Photographer

    Hah. Weevils are extra protein. We've never gone quiiiite that far, but we can relate to some of these. Some of our un-edible left overs end up as chicken food, too. 🙂

  7. sonja

    Thanks so much for this post! Ever since Pope Francis made that statement it's been weighing heavily on our minds. We try very hard not to waste food, but my major weaknesses in this department are 1) accidentally letting produce go bad and 2) a few leftover bites (read: 1/4-1/3 of a meal). I have a difficult time judging when produce will start to turn but feel so horrible if I have to toss it because it's totally gone bad. I do try to freeze as much as I can (and save the odds and ends for smoothies or bone broth), but those last bites of old meals are a real challenge for me. I will try to think of it as mortification like you suggested. Good advice.

    Question: do you feel like it's something worth confessing? I mean obviously wasting deliberately is but what if it's more lazy/distracted but you probably "should have known better" …. it never occurred to me prior to Pope Francis' statement, but now I wonder …

    • Kendra

      That's a good question. I never have, but I think it might be worth mentioning. It's certainly not a mortal sin, but confessing venial sins can help us conquer them. If you have a good confessor, he'll tell you if something you confess isn't a sin. Mine does.

  8. Anonymous

    I do a lot of these often and have to hide it from the boys in the family. If my (soon-to-be) husband knew I just cut off moldy parts and then gave it to him to eat, he would probably die. But, since he doesn't know- he is just fine.
    I dont know about the weevils though. If I saw them moving I probably couldn't do it, but if not- eh. A little dirt, bugs, mold, etc… is probably good for you. I will not raise any bubble-boys, germs here and there will just strengthen the immune system! 😉

  9. Amy Caroline

    We had a batch of fried rice go bad and I felt EVIL throwing it away yesterday. W used to have chickens and I always felt so much better about throwing food to them then to the garbage man. Unfortunately we don't have room for them now.

  10. Elizabeth@SuperSwellTimes

    I grew up with a Dad who was compulsive about saving leftovers, but refused to eat any of them. Suffices to say, we threw a lot of food away in my house. These days, I don't have a lot of money to waste by throwing away food, so I make sure to use everything we buy…even if my husband thinks its questionable.

  11. Lily

    I don't know how I missed your apple
    core picture the first time around! Brilliant! My boys are convinced a mere 1/2 inch pass the peel is all the apple there is! And thank you for sharing this, I am brand new to meal planning and this is our third week, I feel pressure sometimes to just go "forget it! Grab a pizza!" But I know 'waste not, want not' ! Great post!

  12. Camilla

    Yep. So thankful to read I am not the only one–because around here I AM. Friends do not GET how my monthly grocery budget is so low, but monthly menu planning and simplification is the key. Simplified/repetitive breakfasts and lunches (leftovers), and dinners are repetitive, too. Once a week dinners: homemade pizza, pasta night, mexican night, soup day, leftover day, sandwich day, and one "wild card" day (like baked fish or quiche). When lunchtime rolls around and my kids turn their nose up at the reheated soup? I say, "Oh, then you're not hungry. Catch you at dinner." My kids have never known true hunger. I also shred up all parts of veggies and sautee/steam them and add them to the pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, burgers, casseroles, and more. Never a wasted veggie, and lots of added nutrition for the kids. I hear excuses all the time–about how hard menu planning is, and being that organized, and being too tired, and how horrible/tiring it would be to eat (pizza, burgers, spaghetti) once a week (seriously?)… but the bottom line is, I had to decide that this was my calling, and this is how I serve God (especially with the budget He provides us). It is a priority ministry of mine to be a good steward of God's provisions to our family and feed my children well and responsibly. If I put God first… this is how my kitchen operates. That's all. Whatever we eat, drink, buy, cook… all for His glory. And the rare nights that we do just grab pizza–oh, those are nights it is TRULY needed and I'm so grateful for the convenience–but it feels better knowing I don't do that more than necessary due to my lack of own motivation and planning. My sweet husband actually called one night not too long ago (now 15 years and nearly 7 kids into our marriage) and asked, "Would it be easier if I just brought pizza home?" Bless him, the dumbest question he ever asked me.

  13. kelly

    We do all of this, but we didn't always. Recently my seven year old checked out a library book about recycling. She came to me so excited to begin saving the world. When she told me we should recycle our soda cans I reminded her that we don't buy soda. When she told me we should compost, I reminded her we use ours to feed the chickens. When she said we should recycle our newspaper I reminded her that we use the internet. It went on and on. She felt so defeated instead of feeling proud that we have all along been saving the world!

  14. Munchie Mommy

    I've been lurking here for a while and will finally comment since reducing our food waste is something I am always working on! Here's a couple of things that I do that I haven't seen mentioned yet:
    1) i save all the kid's half-finished cups of milk and use it for my baking rather than dumping it.
    2) I try not to fill my fridge to the brim. This way, I'm not buying too much, but also I no longer lose stuff in the back of the fridge only to find it covered in mold several months later. I also go through the fridge at least once a week to "catch" food before it goes bad.

    • Kendra

      I love that idea with the milk. I usually dump it in a new glass, since the one it's in is probably cruddy, then keep it in the fridge. But cooking with it is a great plan.

    • Munchie Mommy

      additional possibly gross secret: milk that has gone a bit sour is still okay for baking. Personally, I draw the line at visible chunks.

    • Emily Q-F

      My husband will save milk from the kid's cereal to reuse! We don't give them milk to drink, but for cereal it's a nice treat. I will often find random cups of milk in my fridge. 😉

  15. Veronica Gantley

    I found you through the Catholic Bloggers page over on Facebook. I look forward to seeing more of your posts.

  16. Betsy

    Great post! One thing I do that helps me limit waste is I try to keep everything in the fridge toward the front. It's rare for me to stash anything in the back where I can't see it, and often when that happens the food goes bad before I remember it's there. I also keep a list of meals I have in the freezer on an excel spreadsheet – it helps for meal planning especially since I keep track of when it went into the freezer (this is for make-ahead freezer meals). So, if I see that something has been in the freezer for nearly 3 months I make sure to plan it into our meals for the week before it starts getting to that iffy stage.

  17. Angela

    Yes!! We save all our scraps for the chickens or occasionally the dog….hey our scraps to them means less money spent on dog food and chicken feed! My dad just sent me a link on composting everything, but it seemed too tedious for my taste!! But still a great idea if you really want to use up everything!

  18. Lucy

    I love this, and your blog! I always learn something. Have you thought about explaining, say, your top 10 terms? I went to Catholic school but I still don't know what a mortification is. I love when bloggers do regional / cultural lingo posts – but for your blog especially, I feel like I ought to know what some of this stuff means! 🙂

    • Kendra

      Thanks Lucy, that's a cool idea. Any other terms you'd like on the list?

  19. Leanna Coyle

    I was so moved by the Pope's encyclical this past summer. Creation care is fundamental to the human experience–it was our very first charge! Thank you for being faithful in this way. Food waste accounts for an unimaginable percent of landfill (check out "The Clean Bin Project" for a funny, well-rounded documentary about "waste.").

    Would you write more about how your family cares for God's earth?

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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