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Start a Zero Waste Meal Prep Routine in 4 Simple Steps

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If you’re trying to live more sustainably, you’re probably already aware of the environmental impact of food waste. Beyond that, it’s also likely that you’re trying to eat better and save money while you’re at it! This means you need a zero waste meal prep routine, but where do you even begin? In this post, you’ll learn the basics of how to set up a simple zero waste meal prep routine today!

How does meal prepping help with food waste?

Prepping fresh vegetables for cooking in the kitchen with diced zucchini, tomato, white onion , green capsicum or bell pepper and eggplant arranged around a wooden chopping board with a knife

If you don’t know what you want to make for the meals each week, you’re likely just buying whichever items you like when you go to the grocery store. 

Since you don’t have a plan in mind for how to use them, it can be hard to use them all up before they go bad. This wastes money and food, which requires a lot of resources to produce and transport around the country.

Plus, the food sent to the landfill releases methane gas, which is 25 times denser than carbon dioxide. (Source) Food waste makes up 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions and is a significant contributor to climate change. (Source)

However, if you set up a simple zero-waste meal plan, you’ll be able to make a plan for the food you already have on hand and be intentional about what you bring home. This results in less food waste (and less money wasted, too)!

Start with a zero waste meal plan

Carrots and cucumber on cutting board in kitchen

When people talk about meal prep, they’re typically referring to preparing breakfasts and lunches they can pack for work during the week. 

This is a great way to avoid last-minute prepackaged meals and snacks. It’s so helpful especially during those really busy weeks!

To be a successful meal prepper, you may want to set up a meal planning routine. A meal plan is a weekly menu of all the meals & snacks for your week. It’s a simple way to make intentional choices about your meals before you go grocery shopping.

With a zero waste meal plan, you’re taking one crucial step before writing out your shopping list. 

Instead of just dreaming up whatever meals sound good that week, you’ll start by looking at what fresh foods need to be eaten first. 

This helps you reduce the amount of waste heading to the landfill or compost bin. Plus, you’ll be throwing away less money, too!

Zero Waste Meal Prep Tips

Here are a few tips to help you set up a simple zero waste meal prep routine:

1. Check your fridge first.

View Looking Out From Inside Of Refrigerator As Woman Opens Door And Unpacks Shopping Bag Of Food

The first thing you need to do is identify the food you currently have that is closest to expiring. If you don’t eat them now, these foods will end in the landfill!

Look through your fridge for leftover veggies and other food scraps that need to be eaten. Write down what you find on a list so you can make sure it gets used.

2. Plan to use up leftovers

If your list shows that you have some old carrots, half an onion, and some broccoli to use up, think about how you could combine those together in one dish.

For example, you could make a fried rice dish that includes all of these old vegetables and more! 

Prioritizing the food you already have saves money and is a great way to produce less waste at the same time.

3. Get creative

Don’t worry too much about your leftovers fitting in perfectly to a recipe. It’s unlikely that you will find a recipe that can accommodate the exact ingredients you have on hand.

Especially if you have a small quantity to use up, you can usually just add it to your recipe. This is easier with vegetables and cooked grains, like rice. Pulse up some leftover onion or aging zucchini in your food processor and cook it down.

Of course, food safety is very important, so only add foods that are still safe to eat.  

4. Keep it simple

Meal prep does not need to be complicated at all and should build on your zero waste pantry staples, like beans, grains, nuts, etc. 

The best meal prep recipes come together quickly, fill you up, and taste delicious.

Focus on dry goods that you can get without packaging waste from your local zero waste shops.

Enhance those simple yet high quality ingredients with fresh produce, meats, or dairy from your local farmer. 

Brainstorm 3-4 simple, but delicious recipes that you can rotate each week to make your meals a little more exciting.

Vegan and vegetarian zero waste meal prep ideas

Shrink your carbon footprint with these meat and animal product-free recipes! Many of these healthy meals come together really quickly, which is perfect for busy professionals or the whole family.

Zero waste meal prep containers

Once you know what you want to make for your meals, you need reusable containers to hold them until you’re ready to eat! There are plenty of zero waste meal prep container options out there, but these are some of the best.

Glass containers

Healthy meal prep containers with quinoa, chicken and cole slaw

Glass containers are some of the most popular food storage containers because they’re completely food safe. You’ll never have to worry about plastic byproducts leaching into your food.

Glass containers can be heavy though, especially if you’re carrying multiple of them. Try looking for containers with sealing lids to avoid spills in your lunch box.

Beeswax Wraps

Beeswax wraps are a great way to transport snacks & sandwiches in a lightweight and zero waste way. Wrap your sandwich in beeswax wrap or fold it into a little pouch for crackers, pretzels, popcorn, or more!

Reuse your plastic containers

Especially if you’re on a budget, you’re likely starting your meal prep routine with plastic containers. This is a great place to start!

Since the plastic likely won’t last a very long time, try to replace your plastic containers with glass eventually.

You can often find meal prep containers at thrift stores, so you might stumble on a great bargain.

Mason jars

Canning jars are great for meal prep, especially for soups, chia pudding, overnight oats, yogurt parfaits, and more.

You can typically find canning jars pretty inexpensively new and many thrift stores sell them for a quarter or two each!

Repurposed containers

If you’re really starting from scratch, use the containers you already have. Check your recycling bin for yogurt tubs, pasta jars, and more.

These containers are only single-use if you use them once!

Zero waste meal prep is an important part of a zero waste lifestyle

Even if you’re not ready to start prepping every meal, focus on the meals you’re most likely to grab on-the-go.

If you’ve been ordering takeout for lunch, focus on prepping just lunches this week!

It will be so nice knowing you have healthy, zero waste recipes ready to go. Plus, you’ll be avoiding a lot of single-use plastic and saving money, too.

Do you have a zero waste meal prep routine?

Do you have any favorite recipes or tips to share? Add your thoughts to the comments below!

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