Being mindful: easy tips to stop food waste

Large display of colourful fruits and vegetables

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Do you feel guilty every time you throw out food? Save yourself time and money by reducing food waste. And the best thing about being more mindful of food waste? You’ll eat far more healthily by planning ahead, and you’ll be more aware of the decisions you make when you’re shopping. 

Food waste is a huge problem

Food waste is rampant in most developed countries. Yet millions in third-world countries are starving. We can’t afford to keep throwing away good food.

It dishonours the labour of farmers and producers, not to mention the animals that provide us with food.

Food production also needs water, seeds, minerals and energy. Sadly we’re running out of these limited resources.

How can we reduce this problem?

Here are 12 tips to make you more aware of what you buy, and why you buy it. Following these quick strategies will stop food waste, and save time and money as well.

Being more mindful will help reduce food waste. This may mean rethinking the way you shop and cook. But you don’t have to change everything at once. Just start with one or two small things at a time.

Keep this up for a few weeks, then change one more thing, and so on. You’ll be more successful than if you change everything all at once.

As a bonus you’ll eat more healthily. The next article will describe some longer term strategies to stop food waste.

Before shopping:

1 Check out how you’re feeling

It’s hard to withstand temptation if you’re hungry, thirsty, tired or upset. Be aware of your internal state in order to reduce impulse buying.

Every time you go shopping, check yourself out beforehand. If you’re: 

hungry: eat a healthy snack of fruit, dip and carrot sticks, nuts or cheese.

thirsty: drink some water.

angry or upset: do some relaxation and slow breathing.

If you can, postpone shopping until you feel better.

Mindfulness of your emotional and physical state can help reduce spending.

2 Work out what you need

When you run out of an item through the week, make a note on a list. Look in the fridge and cupboards before you go shopping. See what you have already, and what you’re missing.

Consult your master list if you have one, or your meal plan guide. Or write down what you’ll cook over the next week. 

Make a list of what you need for these dishes. Add in things for breakfasts, lunches and a few snack items.

Be honest with yourself – only list things you know you’ll use.

If possible, leave your children at home with someone responsible. That way they can’t pressure you to buy things you don’t want to.

3 Be mindful when shopping

Be aware of what you are doing and thinking as you shop. This is another example of everyday mindfulness in action.

Notice every decision you make, and every item you put in your trolley. Only buy things from your list. Put back everything else.

Don’t mooch around on autopilot. That’s when you grab items from habit.

Focus on the outer aisles where there are more fresh foods. However, frozen or tinned fruits and vegetables are good alternatives. Just check how much salt or sugar is contained per 100 grams of tinned goods.

Being mindful means you’re less likely to make impulse buys, and therefore more likely to stop food waste. 

4 Be supermarket savvy

Notice the strategies used by marketers to part you from your money.

Shopping malls and supermarkets don’t have many clocks or windows. This cocoons you from the outside world. Then it’s easier to forget your resolutions to buy less.

Notice the music playing. What emotions are they trying to produce in you and why? What colours and displays are used to make stock more attractive? What’s cooking in the supermarket deli? BBQ chickens, cookies, fresh bread?

Analyse how these techniques make you hungry, or more eager to buy certain goods. 

5 Make your own decisions

Marketers rely on you not realising you’re being manipulated. Choose not to be taken in by them.

Don’t let others decide what how much you’re going to buy. Don’t let others decide what you’ll eat. Make a decision only to buy what you need, and cut food waste.

6 Limit temptation to stop food waste

Keep moving. The more you dawdle, the more impulse buys you’ll make. 

Limit time spent in the inner aisles with more processed foods. Focus attention straight ahead if you walk past sweets, cakes, or fast foods.

At the checkout, focus on unpacking and packing your trolley. Avoid looking at the arrays of lollies. 

7 Take stock of your purchases

Once you’re home, note how many impulse buys you made. Don’t be angry with yourself. Try to understand what made you buy them.

Then do some problem-solving to work out how you can reduce these in future.

The more you analyse your buying habits, the more you’ll gain control over what you buy. And that will help stop food waste. 

8 Notice what you do and don’t use

Check your fridge and cupboard regularly for things about to turn limp or stale.

Try to use these items as fast as possible; change the order of meals if you can. Or cook and freeze them quickly, to use later in another meal and stop food waste. 

9 List what you don’t use or throw out

Do you notice a pattern over time? Is it that you don’t really like this item, or you don’t know how to cook it? Or do you have good intentions, but life gets in the way? For example, the fresh fish went off, because you went out to dinner and didn’t cook.

Alternatively, have you been seduced by gourmet cooking shows, and buy food you’re never going to get around to using?

How can you plan ahead to stop this food waste? 

10 Cook multiple meals at once

Cooking and freezing lots of meals at once is time-efficient. You don’t have to repeat the same steps every day. You use fewer dishes overall, and only have to wash up once.

And you stop food waste by using all the ingredients at once. For example, you can throw leftover vegies into a soup or stew.

So try making several batches of the same meal. Or cook several different meals in the same session.

Then you’ve always got something to drag out of the freezer when you’re tired, and tempted to get takeout. 

11 What stops you doing this?

Does this all sound too hard? Are you telling yourself you can’t be bothered? That you’re too tired? Or you don’t have enough time?

Perhaps a little planning will make it easier. 

Do you need to make room in your freezer? Do you need freezer bags or storage containers? Marker pens, labels?

Could you shuffle older food to the front? Could you add a double batch of just one meal?

Can you pick just one strategy, and work out what stops you doing that one? Once you’ve got that one sorted, can you pick another to work on?

Eventually you’ll work through them all, and will find it easier to stop food waste. 

12 Work out why you still waste food 

But perhaps you’re still having trouble with wasting food. 

See if you can analyse what else is happening to make you throw food out. 

Do you go out a lot? Would you rather get takeaway than cook? Is it hard to find time to cook? Or do you hate cooking? It is too late to cook by the time you pick your kids up?

What other things stop you using the food you’ve bought? See if you can pinpoint what is leading to you throw out food.

Brainstorm solutions to each issue, one at a time. Then take one step at a time to stop food waste. 

This is something everyone can do for the planet. 

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