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10 Tips for Kids in the (No Waste) Kitchen

Having a No Waste Kitchen can seem like a daunting task, but try adding children into the mix! When you have kids in the kitchen, they can create more of a challenge. But, there are also many ways to get your kids involved in your No Waste efforts.

Teach Kids About Waste and It’s Impact

The first place to start is teaching your children why it is important to lower the amount of waste produced in the kitchen. This goes for everyone, not just children. If we don’t know why we are doing something, then it’s easy to forget.

Kids Books about Waste

Here are a few good books that you can use to teach your children about waste:

There are also some movies and documentaries that may help kids:

Lead by Example

The best way to teach children is to lead by example. Kids pick up on the things we do, the habits we have, whether they are good or bad habits. If you are working on reducing waste, and refuse items in plastic, your kids see it. They see your efforts in composting, and want to follow along.

We don’t use paper plates any more because they are wasteful. We can just wash these and reuse them again and again.

My son, Tyler, age 5

Preparing Meals with Kids

Let Your Kids Help Cook

My boys love to help cook and prepare meals. My oldest will tell you it’s because they earn “chore money” for helping in the kitchen. But really, they’ve been doing it long before it became something they could be paid for.

When kids help prepare a meal, they feel a sense of ownership. If you are working on cutting out processed foods, it can be a big change, especially to kids when their favorite snack is gone. Find healthy alternatives with less packaging that you can make together. For example, we like to make homemade granola bars which can be made with ingredients from a bulk bin.

Take Kids to the Library

The library is a vast resource for preparing meals. You can find books full of recipes, and books about cooking methods. Go together and find a few books to borrow and make a meal plan from it. Let your kids go through the book with you and pick out a few recipes to try together.

By using the library, you are cutting down on waste from purchasing new books, and teaching kids about the library at the same time. If you have a few recipes you really want, take a photo on your phone or type them into a word document or evernote to save for later.

Pack Waste-Free Lunches

There are many lunch box options that are made from stainless steel and are perfect for a kids lunch. Let them help pack their lunch for school and direct them to waste-free options. My youngest son, Ryan, loves cheese. He asks for string cheese all the time. For a long time, he didn’t know that I buy a large block of mozzarella cheese and cut a bit off for him every day until he helped make lunch one morning. Yes, the big block still had packaging, but it’s a lot less than if I was to buy individually wrapped cheese.

Create Meal Plans Together

Use those cookbooks that you borrowed from the library and create a meal plan. When kids help pick out the meals for the week, they are more likely to eat them. Bonus: try for at least one vegetarian or vegan meal per week.

Related: 12 Best Apps for a No Waste Kitchen

Grocery Shopping with Kids

Reusable Bags for the Kids

Let your kids carry their own reusable grocery bag. I will often give a bag to the boys, and let them carry some of the (more durable) foods that we are purchasing. They feel important carrying their bag, and will proudly tell anyone that we don’t like plastic bags.

Visit the Farmer’s Market

If you are lucky enough to have a good farmer’s market near you, bring the kids. Even if you aren’t planning on buying anything, check it out. Let them talk to the farmers and ask their questions. It really helps kids understand where food comes from when they talk to those who are growing it.

Grow Your Own Food

Start a Garden

The most obvious way to grow your own food is to start a garden. Kids love being outside and love helping in the garden. My boys like to dig when we are planting new plants, and really enjoy watering. They both get so excited when plants start to sprout, and get upset when they die.

Having a garden teaches children how much work it takes to grow food, and will also give them a better respect for those who do it. If you have the room, let your kids have their own garden area and see what they can grow. It’s a science lesson as well as a lesson in food growth.

Compost Together

Start a compost bin together. There are so many ways that kids can help with the compost. And trust me, if you do it right, it doesn’t smell and is fairly easy to maintain. You also don’t have to have a lot of room for a compost.

A few of the ways my kids like to help with the compost include:

  • Tearing cardboard to add more “browns” to the compost
  • Dumping the small indoor compost bin into the large one outside
  • Spinning the compost (we have one with tumblers)
  • Learn what they can and cannot put in the compost

Mommy, can this go in the compost? Can it be recycled?

Tyler, age 5, about everything he has before he reluctantly throws anything in the trash

28 thoughts on “10 Tips for Kids in the (No Waste) Kitchen”

  1. I was reading through this and realized that even 20+ years ago when I was raising my wee ones I did several of these things. It seems to me that you are teaching your children very well.

  2. I wish someone taught me about waste as a kid, this is amazing! I love the tips and the way they’re delivered to kids. Awesome.

  3. I do believe in the theory to lead by example which is what I have been doing with my 2 girls. This year, I was determined to grow my own foods so my younger one could appreciate eating healthy food better, I let time passed and never put the plan into action. Right now, I am still teaching and practicing the no waste food with my younger one.

    1. It’s not always easy to get a garden up and going. We’ve been at it for four years and still have mishaps out there. But, we are trying and showing the kids how to grow their own food. Eventually, I want more property and to be able to have a full greenhouse so we have more space to grow our food.

  4. Such great ideas and tips! I have 4 kids at home and am also trying to teach them to waste less. They are awesome at recycling so far. And we meal plan a lot to try and reduce food waste.

  5. Great tips! Hopefully if more parents take note we’ll have more responsible adults to help fix the mess we’re in with the environment!

  6. This is a great way to teach kids. I believe lead by example is a great way. I don’t have kids of my own yet but I can use these tips to teach my little cousins to reduce food waste.

  7. Including kids in developing these habits is really the best way to ensure a better future. I love that there are a variety of ways you included so all ages can start to help.

    1. I remember my parents talking about not wasting water and electricity growing up, but I don’t remember much else. Now, I am working on teaching my boys about all the things we need to preserve and be responsible about, not just those two.

    1. A lot of it depends on what they can do and understand. When my boys were really little, we worked on making sure to conserve water when brushing teeth and bathing. As they are getting older, there’s more they can do to help out. But, even at his age, leading by example is perfect because their minds absorb everything!

  8. I believe this is so important because i grew up in places where i saw real hunger even in children…we have to teach our children the importance of appreciating and caring for what we have

    1. I can’t even imagine. I’ve known of kids who don’t always know when they will get their next meal if they aren’t at school, but haven’t seen it first hand. There are so many ways we can reduce waste to try to help fellow people as well as the environment.

  9. These are all great things to do with the kids. Of course, as a librarian, I am partial to taking your kids to the library. And they do have a ton of great books about cooking with kids. I remember checking a few out to do things with my daughter. And i like your movie list to watch. Ferngully is good, but Wall-E and Happy Feet are classics.

    1. My boys just got their own library cards and we are planning to go again tomorrow! I am going to look for a few new books that are their level to reinforce the idea. I included movies because I know people learn in all different ways, and some need to watch rather than read. And hey, I used to watch Ferngully all. the. time. when I was growing up! 🙂

  10. This is awesome Stephanie! We are trying to reduce waste too, my children (7 & 4) are more and more aware that we don’t want plastic or extra packaging. Unfortunately, we don’t have a garden, maybe one day!

    1. That’s so awesome that they are aware of it all, too! Sometimes, it isn’t easy, but when we start young that’s just what they know. It took us a while to get the garden going, but you can always start with a few indoor herb plants if you want to do something little.

  11. I recently watched a YouTube video of 2 roommates and bfs who focused on the amount of food they waste daily to remain accountable…mind blowing…we need to teach our kids…I love this

    1. Oh, I will have to try to find that. Do you remember what it’s called or have a link? There are still a few big things we are working on, but I’d love to do a jar or similar to really get a perspective of what we are throwing away every day.

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