how to prevent food waste with kids

Thanks to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation for sponsoring this post in support of its “Food Matters Action Kit”. This post does not contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own.

If you have kids in your life, you are familiar with them eating either everything in sight or nothing at all. Foods that are beloved one day are deemed unacceptable the next. It can be so frustrating to figure all this out while despairing the food that is wasted. 

Involving your kids in every aspect of how food comes into and goes out of your home is a great way to get them to actually eat it and take climate action by learning to prevent, recover, and recycle food waste. As parents, our job is not only to teach, but to learn with our children and build sustainable habits together. Tackling food waste as a family is a great way to learn about all things zero waste and put them into daily practice.


Kids need to know that food does not come from the grocery store. They need to be connected to their food from seed to table to compost. 


Facts About Food Waste

Almost one third of food produced around the world goes to waste, either in the field, during transport, at the store, or in our kitchens. This loss accounts for $278 billion USD in North America alone. In addition to empty stomachs and resources lost, food waste that ends up in landfill is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. What this all adds up to is a major, but mostly preventable problem. With so much of the waste happening in our homes, we can get the whole family on board with a high impact shift in habits.

Visiting local farms is great way to engage with food production at the source – food does not come from the store.

Remember that nobody is born knowing how to properly recycle, grow food, or start a compost bin – these are all things that must be taught. Whether you are a parent or educator, involving kids of any age in this learning builds a scaffold of eco-habits to bring forward into their everyday decisions. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has put together an incredible resource for kids from 5-25 to learn about all things food waste. The Food Matters Action Kit is chock full of activities and videos on everything from compost, to trash audits, to inventing new dishes from food scraps! 


Download the FREE Food Matters Action Kit here!


This guide is great for both at home and in school learning. As a former classroom teacher myself, I can see so many curriculum tie-ins and opportunities for inquiry, communication, and student-directed extension activities. The modules are quick and easily adaptable for your learning environment. But most importantly, they are fun! Check out some of our favourites below.

From Seed to Table – Teaching Kids Where Food Really Comes From

Kids need to know that food does not come from the grocery store. They need to be connected to their food from seed to table to compost. Learning how food is grown can be as simple as growing a bean plant in a cup to growing a backyard garden or a visit to a local farm. A garden of any size will teach kids about soil, compost, how plants grow, the care and commitment required for crops to flourish, and what to do with organic waste.

We have always had a small backyard garden, and over the years our kids have gotten a good education on the effort required to produce enough food for just dinner. No outdoor space for a garden? Try a small window herb garden or microgreens in a reused plastic clamshell container as a makeshift greenhouse. You can also try regrowing food from scraps, such as placing a cut green onion or celery base in water and watching it regenerate. 

Download this activity module for kids (5-13) or youth (14-25).

Helping to start seeds for our backyard garden. Save your toilet paper rolls to make little seedling pots.

Garbology 101 – How to Do a Trash Audit

One of the best places to start when you want to reduce waste of any kind is to look at what you are throwing away. A trash audit is a way to get a clear picture of what you are wasting and what changes you can make going forward. This exercise was very eye-opening for us, despite being several years into our zero waste journey! A good reminder that examining our habits often is key to thoughtful and eco-friendly behaviours. I recommend doing this activity at least once a quarter.


Download your FREE household waste audit worksheet here!


To do this, we looked at our garbage and recycling for a full week as well as what was in the compost bowl we keep on the counter. We noticed that we are buying more packaged food than normal these days, but hope to begin shopping with our reusables again very soon! I was very proud of my oldest for identifying some “avoidable” food waste in our bowl, namely peels that should go into our veggie broth bag instead of the backyard compost bin.

Download this activity module for kids (5-13) or youth (14-25).

A trash audit is also an exercise in data management, writing, and cooperation.

Food Innovators – Making New Things from Uneaten or Unwanted Food

Over half the food we waste at home could have been eaten. Sometimes my kids don’t eat the piece of fruit because it “looks weird” or has a bruise or some other grievance. Containers get left open and things go stale. A sandwich has one bite out of it and is forgotten in their school bag… you get the idea.

Before this food hits the compost bin, get creative and brainstorm different ways to use it. We freeze partially eaten fruit for smoothies (and turn unfinished smoothies into popsicles as the Food Matters Action Kit suggests), bake with overripe fruit, serve leftovers for lunch, and make “Bits and Bobs Bowls” for dinner out of whatever we find in the fridge.

We put this learning activity into practice by making veggie broth out of food scraps such as onion skin, vegetable peels and stalks, and a few herbs and spices. The kids help with dinner prep by peeling and then putting the scraps into a reused plastic bread bag in the freezer. We are working on cooking skills and safety by having them be in charge of simmering and straining the broth. This is a great way for kids to truly understand the value of food, even the parts we do not typically eat, not to mention how much work goes into making a meal. Kids are much more likely to eat what they help prepare!

Download this activity module for kids (5-13) or youth (14-25).

Kids are more likely to eat food that they help prepare. Time spent cooking together is well spent!

My favourite part of this guide is how well it teaches kids the “why” of preventing food waste in such a positive way. Kids learn by doing, and this is a comprehensive resource kit for all ages. In addition to the guide, the website has lots of great graphics, videos, and achievement badges. I highly recommend this guide as a tool to learn about preventing food waste in your homes, schools, and communities. Meaningful climate action begins with a seed.

How do you prevent food waste with kids? Share your tips in the comments!

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