6 ways to stop wasting food at the cottage

It’s happened again. You’ve come to the end of another weekend at the cottage, and you’re standing in front of the fridge looking at a half-tub of spinach dip, three slices of bread, a quarter of a bag of baby carrots, and a desiccated half-head of lettuce.

It sure isn’t worth schlepping all that stuff back to the city—but add up a summer’s worth of wasted food, and you could be looking at big bucks, not to mention a growing pile of greenhouse gas-producing rotten food at your local dump.

Canadian households waste approximately $13.5 billion worth of food every year, which is a little more than half of the total food wasted in the country. Put another way, we throw out about 172 kg per person annually—about the size of a full-grown male lion.

Cottaging presents its own challenges, since many of us pack in the food that we’re planning to use—but really don’t want to pack out a bunch of straggly leftovers. We don’t all have easy access to groceries, which means buying in bulk and, usually, hoping for the best.  

So what can you do to avoid waste at the cottage? Follow our tips:

Plan, plan, plan

Make a menu—including snacks—before you leave, and use it to draft your grocery list. Plan to use up more perishable foods like berries and salad greens first, and keep sturdier fare like potatoes and carrots for later in your stay. And make sure you factor in the produce you might buy on your way to the cottage—picking up wild blueberries, juicy peaches, or fresh corn from a roadside stand is one of the great joys of being on the road.

Know how to use leftovers

If your family gets bored eating the same thing two days in a row, get creative with leftovers. If you have chili one night, make enchiladas the next. If you have chicken for dinner, make pulled chicken sandwiches for lunch. And remember—just about anything can go in a casserole if you add enough cream of chicken soup, a handful of grated cheese, and a crunchy topping of breadcrumbs.

Be wise when buying in bulk

Know the staples your family uses—toilet paper, coffee, paper towel—and only buy those. Buying perishables in bulk may seem like a great idea—but are you really going to use that two-litre tub of mayonnaise before it goes bad?

Prep your food before you need it

Wash, chop, peel and prep produce as soon as you get it in the kitchen. This will not only speed up your cooking time, but will also make it far more likely that your produce will get used before it goes bad. Dice a couple of onions, chop a few peppers, grate some carrots, and slice up that cantaloupe and you have an instant stir-fry, salad base, and dessert, all prepped and ready.

Store produce properly

Knowing what needs to be kept cold, what needs to be room temperature, and what needs to be dry can make a big difference in how long your food lasts. For produce in the fridge, plastic bags and too much moisture can speed up decay. Take items out of their bags, and don’t wash them until they’re needed. Keep tomatoes, peaches, pears, unripe bananas, and plums on the counter, since cold will make them rot faster—just be sure to eat them before those apples in the fridge.  

Find a fun way to use up those last few leftovers

Throw a “kitchen sink” potluck dinner party at the end of the season—everyone has to bring a dish that’s made of leftovers. You can award prizes for the most delicious or creative combinations. Or give an incoming neighbour a meal as you leave—brown bananas make the best banana bread, and you can add a whole lot of things to a pot of soup.

You see? Careful planning and a little creativity is all you need to stop the waste wagon in its tracks.