10 Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste with Young Kids

Did you know 63% of the food Canadians throw away could have been eaten?


Are you trying to reduce the amount of food you throw out?

If you have young kids it might seem like an impossible feat, the amount of food that doesn't get eaten in your household seems to go up astronomically once your child starts joining you at the table (even worse when they enter toddlerhood!).


It is never a good idea to blame or punish your child for the amount of food that goes to waste, and doing so can actually make picky eating worse.


Instead, adopting small habits to reduce food waste can make a huge difference in the amount of food that goes to waste.

Here are some small changes you can try to reduce your family's food waste:

(oh, and most of these are tips that can also help improve your child's long-term relationship with food - BONUS!).


One meal for everyone

Planning meals can be a huge headache when you have young children and sometimes it can feel so much easier to just serve your child something different so that they will eat anything.

In the long run, preparing separate meals will only make your life more difficult and produce more waste.

Try to plan only one meal for everyone at the table.

Though, you still want to be considerate that your child is learning to eat, without preparing separate meals. Try to include at least one food that your child is comfortable with along with other foods the family enjoys. More on that here.


Family-style meals

Eating family-style meals rather than putting food directly on your child's plate can help develop more adventurous, mindful eaters and teach children valuable skills.

With family-style meals:

  • You place everything on the table or pass each dish around

  • Each family member can have as much as they want as long as there is enough for everyone

Family-style meals allow you to accommodate multiple preferences and encourages intuitive eating while creating less waste. One of my favourite ways to do this is putting all of the meal options in different re-sealable glass containers to make clean-up and storing leftovers super simple.


Tiny Portion Sizes

When you are pre-plating your child's food, start small..smaller...even smaller.

Your kiddo can always ask for more if desired but as soon as you put that food on the plate, you run the risk of wastage.

  • For foods your child loves, try starting with about 1 Tbsp,

  • for less desired foods, 1 tsp.

  • For the food you don't think your child will eat but you want to expose them to, about 1/4 tsp.

  • For babies just learning to eat, start with 1-3 pieces of food at a time and keep extras on a separate plate so they don't end up on the floor.

The Your Nourished Toddler program covers more detail on appropriate portion sizes for 1-3 year olds.


Meal planning based on familiar foods

Meal planning is one of the best ways to reduce food waste. When you are only buying what you need from the grocery store you will reduce any unnecessary produce rotting in the back of your fridge. Make your meal plan realistic and only include meals you can actually see yourself preparing in a week.

Plan for your child's familiar foods to make preparing one meal for everyone (tip #1) a lot simpler (ex. having soup? plan to have some of your kiddo's favourite crackers as a side).


Store and plan for leftovers

Making extra portions of a meal and meal prepping are great strategies to reduce time in the kitchen but only if you're actually going to eat the leftovers!

As a work-from-home mama, I know that me and my kiddos will be eating up all of the leftovers from dinners at lunch but I always plan at least one 'leftovers night' the night before the next grocery shop- if there aren't any meals to eat up, I opt for something like a snack tray, sandwiches or pita pizzas to use up any extra bits and bobs in the fridge.


Forcing a child to eat the food they skipped at a past meal so they don't waste it is not a respectful approach.

Repurposing leftover meal components or serving it with a new side can help add more variety to leftover foods.


Frozen Produce

Frozen produce is a much more environmentally friendly way to enjoy un-seasonal produce in the winter. There is no reason to buy fresh berries shipped from California in January if you live in Ottawa. Not only is that a huge environmental cost, but they will also probably go bad the day after you purchase them. The best thing about frozen fruit and veg is you can defrost or cook only what you need for that meal, with no waste.


Ditch the 'baby food'

Not only does packaged baby food create packaging waste, but most prepared baby food also needs to be thrown out if your baby doesn't eat it in a single sitting. Whether you opt to mash food at the table or take a baby-led weaning approach, you can reduce waste by continuing to prepare only one meal for everyone. Learn how to offer your baby the food you're eating in the Baby Led Weaning Confidence program. Here are some more tips for reducing food waste with a BLW approach:

  • Only offer 1-3 pieces at a time, keep the rest on a separate plate so it doesn't end up on the floor

  • Put a table cloth or plastic liner under the high chair, for the food that does end up on the floor

  • End the meal if your baby is just throwing, they're probably trying to tell you that they want to play instead of being stuck in their chair

Planned Snacks Instead of Grazing

Having a structured meal and snack routine (yep, I cover this in the Your Nourished Toddler program) to stop constant snacking (grazing) between meals means more food will be eaten at actual mealtimes (less waste) and you don't have to be buying so many snack foods to have available (less waste).

Treat snacks like mini-meals when they are offered, this is another great time to offer leftovers.


Repurpose Scraps

Before your food scraps end up in the compost, find a way to re-use them. Vegetable scraps and animal bones can be saved for making stock. Half-eaten apples and their peels can be used to make homemade apple cider vinegar. Bread ends can be saved for making croutons, bread pudding, stuffing, etc.


Composting

Reducing the total amount of waste created is the first step, but you will inevitably end up with some scraps. If you don't already have an option for composting - find one now! Food that ends up in the trash doesn't naturally decompose and takes up space in landfills while producing the greenhouse gas methane.

Even if you don't have a city-wide composting option (I don't!) you can start your own compost pile in a small yard, use a vermiculture bin (raising worms is a great learning opportunity for kiddos), or even find a neighbour who is willing to accept your compost bag for their pile.



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Changing habits can be difficult, so start small. If you're trying to produce less food waste, pick one thing from this list and try to stick with it for the next week to see how it goes.


What are your best tips for reducing food waste? I'd love to hear them!