Got children? Here’s how you can reduce their food waste

Got children? Here’s how you can reduce their food waste

It’s probably no surprise that households with young children are likely to waste a lot more food than average.

Meal times can be fraught, no matter the age of your children and often, despite your best efforts, more food may end up in the bin than in your kids’ tummies.

In New Zealand, the average household throws away $563 of food in a year – but if you have children, that figure can be much higher.

Here are a few tricks that you can try to minimise how much food is being wasted:

Babies and pre-schoolers

Start small

When introducing a new food to a child, start with a very small amount. Studies have shown that many children have to try a food up to 15 times before they will eat it. Instead of serving them a whole portion of something, just give them a piece from your plate. If they like it, you can give them more.

Be realistic

Be realistic about how much food your child will actually eat. Don’t overload a young child’s plate as it can overwhelm them. If they’re still hungry once they have finished what’s on their plate, they will be sure to let you know and you can offer them more. The same applies when giving them snacks – give them half a banana or apple to start with. Then you can either give them the rest if they are still hungry or store it in the fridge for later.

Make things easy

Apple cut up

If a food is easy for a child to eat, they are likely to eat more of it. Cut up their meals or slice their fruit. Sucking yoghurt out of a pouch is often easier (and way less messy) than feeding it to them with a spoon.

Get creative

Vegetable ice cream? Nadia Lim swears by it. Be creative when it comes to serving your child food. If they are getting the nutrients, does it matter what form it is in?

How do we get Bodhi to eat his veggies at dinner time? With a bit of negotiation involving ‘ice cream’ (his faaaaavourite!). Little does he know the joke is on him because his ‘ice cream’ is just blended up fruit and veggies anyway! 😂😂😂Wonder how much longer before he realises?! On the left is pumpkin, carrot, mango and orange, and on the right is kale, avocado, mint, lime and pineapple🥒🥕🥑🥦🍍- get creative mums and dads and see what you can get away with!😉

A post shared by Nadia Lim (@nadialimcooks) on

Feed them what you’re eating

It is easier to modify your meal to make it baby or child-friendly than going to the effort of making something separate for your child, that may or may not get eaten. Simply adapt what you are having for dinner. It may mean serving them some pasta without the sauce, pureeing the vegetables or leaving the chilli powder out of the recipe.

Save even small amounts

Don’t discount small amount of leftovers; even a couple of tablespoons of rice or half a sausage can be added to another meal or eaten as a snack. While it may not seem like a lot, it all adds up in terms of food waste and money.

Keep leftovers visible

Store leftovers in transparent containers so that you can easily see what they are. Alternatively, have colourful containers that you only use for your child’s leftovers, so you will always know that it is something suitable for them when searching the fridge.

Be freezer friendly

If you make your own baby food or are freezing leftovers, freeze it in realistic serving sizes so that you only have to defrost the amount needed for the one meal. Large ice cube trays or moulds like these are the perfect size.

Eat it yourself

While some advice says that you shouldn’t eat your children’s leftovers, if it is stopping it going into the bin, we’re all for it.

As they get older:

Keep the crusts

Bread crusts

18,000 tonnes of bread crusts are wasted every year in New Zealand. If your child refuses to eat them, you can keep and freeze them and use them to make all sorts of things. Check out our bread crust recipes here.

Makeover leftovers

If your child didn’t eat their meal, giving it a makeover may trick them into thinking it is a whole new meal. Almost any leftover can be toasted inside a tortilla with a little bit of cheese to make a quesadilla, or used in a pie.

Salvage fruit


You’re probably used to seeing fruit that has only had a bite or two taken out of it. This fruit can be saved in a manner of ways: cut off the eaten area then save it for later, stew it, store it in a bag in the freezer then add it to the blender the next time you make a smoothie or use it to make jungle gelato.

Give children the choice

We’re not advocating that children be given free reign over what they eat, but asking them what they would prefer will help cut down the amount of food that is wasted. For example, asking if they would like peas, carrots or broccoli with their dinner ensures they are more likely to eat it when it’s served.

Let them serve themselves

Dinner table

Let children serve themselves at dinner time. Encourage them to start with small portions as they can always take more. It may take a bit of trial and error for them to get the hang of how much they need, but it is better to have leftovers remain in the cooking pot where they can be reused, rather than languishing on your child’s plate.

Save it for later

If your child doesn’t finish their dinner, put it into the fridge. Later on, when they complain that they are hungry, you can offer it to them. By making that the only snack option available to them for the rest of the evening, if they’re really hungry, it will get eaten.

Learn about lunchbox leftovers

If uneaten food is coming home in your child’s lunchbox, turn it into afternoon tea.  Half or uneaten sandwiches can be turned into a toastie for afternoon tea (remove any salad fillings before you toast it). You can also freeze all sorts of different sandwiches.

Toasted sandwich

If they are often bringing home food, have a chat with them about why – it may be that they don’t like it, it’s too difficult to eat, there is simply too much, or they may just not be very hungry at lunchtime.

Lead by example

One of the best ways to teach your children about the value of food is to lead by example. If your child sees you throwing away a brown banana or not finishing your dinner they will learn that it is okay to waste food, even if you are telling them otherwise.