Bea Johnson lives waste-free with her family since 2008 and is the author of the bestseller Zero Waste Home (Zéro Déchet en francais)
"Since embarking on the Zero Waste lifestyle, our lives have changed for the better: We feel happier and lead more meaningful lives, based on experiences instead of stuff. My goal is to share its incredible health, financial and time saving benefits!"

Meal Planning

Much of regular household trash is made up of convenience (fast food) packaging, making Zero Waste an unthinkable goal for many.

But slow food is not that complicated.
As with everything else, a little simplifying, organizing and planning goes a long way.

Not so long ago (a couple of years ago maybe), my cookbook was filled with recipes collected over the years, many of them calling for processed or canned goods. Not-so-healthy and/or wasteful recipes mingled amongst healthy waste-free ones, not only crowded my recipe binder and made the healthy recipes hard to find, but also made zero waste shopping difficult, complicated and frustrating. Running around trying to find powdered sugar in bulk to accommodate my Bourbon Ball recipe did not make sense.
Then, it dawned on me:
A ZW home calls for a ZW kitchen
A ZW kitchen calls for ZW cooking
ZW cooking calls for a ZW recipe binder!
So I took my recipes through a much needed de-cluttering and lifestyle fitting exercise.
-I kept recipes containing ingredients locally available in bulk and recycled the rest.
-I parted with those that required too many ingredients, took too long or were too complicated. Simple concoctions can taste just as good as elaborate ones. Isn't taste what really matters?
-I also recycled those that I had saved but not tested. The weight of their un-accomplishment laid on my shoulders and made me feel pressured. Letting them go, freed my head and my to do list.
-I let go of the dinner party recipes that could not be prepared ahead of time. That's because I have come to realize that when cooking with company, I lose focus, forget ingredients or my sense of time, and end up apologizing for mishaps. I have found that I cook much faster and better alone. I manage dinner time more accurately with reheating, and I am a better host to my guests if my attention is not lost worrying about recipe ingredients. Taste usually is also better. Much like leftovers, flavors have had time to blend beautifully.
-I copied the few recipes I had bookmarked in a half-dozen books (you know, the book that you keep for the one recipe you liked in it), and donated the books. Others can enjoy them now and my kids have a shelf to store their homework.

-I created binder tabs to include:
Breakfast (pancakes, crepe batter...)
Finger Foods (deviled eggs, pate, stuffed mushrooms...)
First courses (individual goat cheese souffle, leek flan, savory carrot cake...)
Soups (cauliflower soup, garlic soup, gazpacho...)
Pies (quiches, pizza dough...)
Grains (lentil salad, pasta and rice dishes...)
Veggies (recipes not containing starch or meat)
Fish (sardine carpaccio, crusted salmon, trout meuniere)
Chicken (the "eco" and affordable meat gets its own tab!)
Meat (lamb keftas, beef bourguignon, cherry duck...)
Desserts (chocolate mousse, lemon souffle...)
Cookies (biscotti, butter cookies..., but also includes candied pecans)
Wild (= foraging: manzanita cider, thistle pesto...)
Pantry (jam, mustard, hummus, vanilla extract)
Menus (a set of 3-4 well coordinated recipes around a theme: Moroccan dinner or summer brunch) Home (hairspray, balm, toothpowder...)

-I attached my chosen recipes on used sheets, using paper tape for easy removal should I get tired of one here or there, and reused sheet protectors to store and splatter-proof them.
-I sometimes fantasize about transferring my recipes to a "kitchen" iPad. The downside would be the added electrical usage, but the upside would be having the recipes mobile (the binder is too heavy for travel to France for example). But what about my dirty hands...? I usually make a few recipes at a time and flipping from one to the other with wet, greasy, or sticky hands on an iPad might not be ideal ;)


Stored in two liter (two quarts) size jars, I always have on hand:

-One jar of a "rotating" bean: for example, when we finish chickpeas, we'll get peas.
-One jar of a "rotating" grain: for example, when we finish rice, we'll get couscous.
This rotating system helps maintain variety in our diet, reduces space needed for variety, and avoids grains going bad. Too often, pantry shelves are stocked with many types of grains, but just like a wardrobe, favorites get picked first while non-favorites take up space and end up going bad (usually rancid).
Note: The "Bulk Basics" guide available at Whole Foods has been most convenient to the uses and cooking instructions of unusual grains.
-Two "pasta" jars, each containing a different type (whatever I find in bulk, we're not picky).
-Two "flour" jars: I never want to run out in the middle of a recipe.
-Two "evaporated cane sugar" jars: I could run out in the middle of a recipe, but the kids could not, and they love to make desserts;)
Now that the cookbook and pantry were redesigned to fit our lifestyle. I overhauled our meal planning....
-I assigned a dish to each day of the week as a general guide.
As an example, here is our schedule (based on our vegetarian-weeknight diet):
Monday: Grain (couscous, dry beans, rice, quinoa, lentils, etc.)
Tuesday: Pasta (whatever shape I find in bulk, we're not picky)
Wednesday: Pie (quiche or pizza)
Thursday: Bread (to go with our veggie "fridge-clean-up" soup or salad)
Friday (shopping day): Fish with a veggie side and starch (usually potatoes)
Saturday: Dinner with friends or dinner out
Sunday: Meat with a veggie side and starch (usually potatoes)

-On weekdays: Beans, eggs, milk and/or cheese are used as a source of protein with the assigned meal of the night.
-I buy enough veggies for the week (at the farmers' market to keep my selection local and seasonal) and adapt them to the dish of the day. I plan and shop for a "specific meal" for company only.
-As mentioned before, I sometimes use a pressure cooker to speed up things (I also use it to can tomatoes in September).

My cooking has been easy since simplifying, organizing and planning our meals. My daily glass of wine might also have something to do with the stress-free aspect of it ;), but the quiche pictured above only took 12 minutes to prepare, and 30 to bake. Ordering take out and picking up would have taken longer.

Part of doing zero waste in a household is to let go of a previous set of ideas - and recipes. Simple cooking has been the best way for me to enjoy homemaking, stick to ZW, and eat healthier.
Did I mention the importance of my glass of wine in the success of meal prep? ;)


  1. I love it! I just bought a package of sticky arrows in an attempt to find and organize the recipes i like... but I like your copying idea much better!!!


    hip pressure cooking
    making pressure cooking hip, one recipe at a time!

  2. Thank you for this detailed article, Bea! This has given me a new framework for evaluating and simplifying my recipes and cookbooks.

  3. Anonymous2/01/2011

    I know you don't like ziploc bags, but I use one (over and over) to cover my iPad while I cook. It works great and I have gotten rid of all my paper recipes. I've been using the same bag for almost a year now. The iPad has allowed me to get rid of most of my books as well. It has been a huge blessing in lessening my home's waste footprint.

  4. Wow! This is brilliant! I have been on a slow path to simplfying the kitchen as well and have slowly been clearing out the pantry cupboards of items bought and never used. I love your 'rotating' ideas, am definitely going to employ the same system. Thanks for the tips!

  5. This is one of the best (personally useful) cooking posts I've read in a long time! Thanks!

  6. I was just thinking on this topic. I'm frustrated by the amount of packaging waste we have, but it's really hard to find allergy friendly bulk (we are gluten free/nut free/vegan). The quest continues. Going to try a couple out of the way stores next week to see what they have, if it's going to make a difference I could drive a bit further every other month to stock up... fingers crossed.

  7. Anonymous2/02/2011

    Bea, do you drink or serve coffee to guests and, if so, how do you make the preparation zero waste? French press? Espresso pot?
    Also, I just listened to your KPFA Terra Verde interview last night, and my attention was caught when you mentioned a time in your family's life when you had no income stream for two years! I am very interested in frugalista as well as simplification and waste free topics, and I would love a blog post on waste free finance! (Not only how to avoid wasting money but how to deal with the mountains of paper managing money seems to generate.) In the same vein, another post about how to avoid time wasting would be welcomed, although your wonderful tips are implicitly teaching us how to best use our time. Time, although intangible, is definitely a nonrenewable resource.
    As ever, thanks for being so inspiring!

  8. I'm on a similar track... Since January we've been using a "meal plan" with an 8-day cycle that covers breakfast, lunch (school lunches for my kids) and dinner. But I think I need to simplify it further. My kids made it for me as a present because I complained so much about making the lunches, so it isn't as rational or balanced as it needs to be to work well. So, thanks for your information, which will inspire me to keep working on it till I get something that works.

  9. Hi Bea. I’m a fan of your blog. I appreciate this your latest post, but I also think you’re addressing the tip of the iceberg here when it comes to zero waste living and kitchen economies. The current popularity of cooking, eating well, eating exotically, dining out—not to mention the popularity of cooking shows, cooking channels, food blogs, celebrity chefs and so on—perpetuates and sustains a whole host of environmental problems that are easier to overlook than say more obvious causes of environmental damage, like carbon emissions, for example. For instance, television chefs use vast amounts of wax paper, cling wrap, tin foil, plastic containers (often needlessly), imported canned goods, or specialty ingredients in their food preparations without so much as a comment about recycling or sustainability. It all seems ok as long as this is all going towards the creation of a delicious meal for your loved ones. And while there is some news buzz about the environmental impact of livestock and mass-produced meats, this hardly makes into the mainstream trends about cooking and eating. [Yeah, I’m looking at you Rachel Ray and your bulk purchases of discounted chicken breasts]. Instead, these important issues are relegated to documentaries, like Supersize Me or Food Inc. At most, the majority of food shows tend to think that as long as you are cooking healthy meals at home instead of eating out, that you are doing good for you and your family. Jamie Oliver, and other chefs who support organic food might be the exception, but their global consciousness seems to stop at the organic garden. I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here other than that as a guy who loves to cook and who is addicted to food culture and food media, I’m also frustrated by the way contemporary trends in home food preparation as seen in popular media turn a blind eye to the kinds of causes you and some food source documentaries are championing.

  10. We have a binder with collected recipes but I hate all the paper we end up using. This Christmas my husband purchased a kindle like contraption. It sits in the kitchen and we download recipes. He scanned the recipes that had been handed down and put them in this 'thing'. The object itself probably is more wasteful (building it, getting it from the manufacturer to the store, etc..) than all of the paper so I'm not entirely convinced this was a 'green' idea. It has simplified things.

  11. Kory - hang in there and keep looking. I'm wheat-free and vegan, and I've been able to find brown rice pasta and a variety of gf flours in bulk bins at a discount grocery store, as well as at Whole Foods. When added to fresh produce and bulk beans & grains, it results in a good variety of diet, with much less packaging.

  12. Anonymous2/02/2011

    Thank you thank you thank you. I have been waiting for this post! I am going to try these ideas out ASAP.

  13. Anonymous2/02/2011

    Do you pre-prepare certain foods or parts of a recipe beforehand? I'm thinking specifically of your quiche, because it always seems to take me a long time to make crust. Or do you use a simplified version of certain things (such as crust), or is it just that experience and practice have made it easy?

  14. great advice! there are definitely some tips here that will help me while i organize my pantry.

    what do your kids drink during dinner?

  15. Thank you for giving me the nudge to recycle the clipped-but-not-tried recipes in my stack!

    Have you posted photos of your pantry here yet? I'd be curious to take a peek...wondering specifically what size jars you use for your dry goods. I have been using large mason jars for quite some time now and like how they organize in my pantry, but are not always large enough.

  16. Lauran in Berkeley2/02/2011

    You've done it again! I love this post. This is so great. I really wanted to share with your readers that my daughter and I made butter the other day using heavy cream (Straus in glass bottle), salt, and our kitchen-aid mixer. It was SO EASY and fast and fun and no butter wrappers to worry about. We will definitely do this again. Here is the link about how to do it:

  17. Anonymous: Thanks for your question. We use a french press. We found that it works best for us. A few years back, we had a coffee machine. My husband did not like it. We then had an antique glass perculator, but it broke, the glass was too fragile for everyday use. Then we went to the stovetop expresso maker, but its base was too small for our gas stove and much of the gas and heat was lost on the sides (we put it in our camping equipment. We now have a stainless french press (see blog store). Finding one with no plastic bits was a challenge, but I am very happy with it. We heat water in our kettle for tea and coffee drinkers at once. Scott makes coffee for himself, I make tea. I love the coffee press/mug style, because it cuts a step in coffee making, but I have not seen a plastic-free one yet.

  18. Sharae2/02/2011

    a great read!

  19. Anonymous: I make a crust on the spot.
    Just flour crumbled with either salted butter or oil (if oil, I add salt), then water to stick it together and make a ball. Once you've done it a few times, you get the hang of it, and can make a crust in 30 secondes.
    I don't even use utensils, just my hands to make the dough and press it down in the pie pan (no rolling pin or pan greasing). Not having to look for utensils, or clean them after use, saves time.
    In the same dough bowl, and without washing it (its going in the same pie anyways), I throw together some quiche-worthy ingredients: any veggie sauteed with an onion, an egg or 2, milk and cheese if I have some (Bake at 375-400 for 30 min or until golden).
    Also, I call myself a "sink" cook and baker ;) I like to do as much as I can over the sink, so that the "cooking" mess lands in the sink, not on the counter (the mess gets concentrated in one place and is easier to clean).

  20. Anonymous2/02/2011

    wow bea,
    another great distillation about all you have experienced in the meal prep area. i will have to work on the crust making. without creeping you out, i want to say that i want to be bea! (bb)
    thanks for the great ideas,
    karen in olympia

  21. Anonymous2/02/2011

    Where do you purchase yogurt and cottagecheese in bulk?

  22. Edmund: I do not have tv, but I like your comment.

    Life Adorned: our kids drink water (my eldest) or milk (my youngest).

    Leah: pictures of the pantry is on the "Zero Waste Kitchen" posting.

    I have posted the jars and sizes I use with captions, on the store blog (I created the store for that exact purpose).

    Lauren: I too made butter with Straus cream. The butter tasted fantastic, it reminded me of butter from the Alps. Fun project, I thought, but truly not a financially sustainable or practical one, I found out (at least not for a family of four who bakes a lot). The expensive pint of cream yields about 1/4 cup of butter. Not enough to make a quiche crust;)

  23. HeatherFeather2/02/2011

    Just noticed the link to your "store" - I love it!!! Thank you so much!!!

  24. Anonymous: I used to make yogurt but because I was using the bulbs of my oven (2) to sustain the temp, I had to make 2 pints at a time to justify burning 2 lightbulbs for 6 hours. We unfortunately could not eat the mount of 2 jars fast enough and would end up making cheese with the second one. If an item is available in bulk or in a "deposit" container, I prefer not to make it, for simplifying reasons. So we now purchase St Benoit yogurt, and return the jar to the store for a deposit just like Straus milk. The yogurt does come with a plastic ring at the top, but Benoit himself has assured me that he is working on an alternative -in the meantime, please return it with the jar to remind him...
    We very rarely use cottage cheese, probably because I did not grow up with it. But I have made it using just milk and vinegar. I have not seen it in bulk.

  25. Bea great post! You should write a zero waste French cookbook and sell it as an ebook! I'd buy it! This gives mE A great framework and inspiration to attack the kitchen this weekend!

  26. Christy2/02/2011

    I am germaphobic about using the low bulk "bins" instead of the "cylinders" in the bulk section. Any thoughts to ease my conscience? I just can't bring myself to use the bins for that reason. For example with the bins the scoop handle is often submerged in the product itself or one just never knows who might have stuck their hand (or worse) in the bin. Do you ever worry about that or am I just being germaphobic? Thanks for your thoughts. Love the blog. Always excited to see a new post!

  27. Wrennerd2/02/2011

    Hi, Bea -- I've been following the blog for a few weeks and you've inspired me to get my pantry under control and into containers. This post brings it all together -- I LOVE the menu plan. Simple, repeatable, and yet never the same. I also like the "almost vegetarian" aspect.

    Reorganizing my pantry and reading your blog has inspired me to start a new Saturday morning (after-the-shopping) routine where I start a batch of yogurt, refrigerator bread dough, and soup stock for the next week. Now you've given me ideas on what to make with them each day. Brilliant!

    I have two questions:
    * Do you make extra dinner to save for lunches the next day, or what do you do for lunches?
    * Why do you object so strongly to plastic, even when it is heavily reused and not "disposable"?

    Thanks again!

  28. GREAT post. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

  29. @ Christy - A nurse buddy of mine recently made the same comment. She knows too much about germs and passing them... I think you may be on to something...?

  30. I have read through your entire blog, along with quite a few articles about your family, and I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your willingness to share your journey toward a minimal waste lifestyle.

    Years ago, when I lived in the county just north of you, several families got together to clean out our garages. We borrowed a truck and filled the bed to the brim before driving out to the Sonoma county landfill. Standing on the edge of a sea of trash, I had an epiphany about my own wastefuless and vowed to do better. A little more than a decade and two children later, I must admit to slacking off tremendously. I am ashamed of what I haul to the curb each week.

    So thank you for giving me a much needed wake-up call! I love your ideas and your passion for living more lightly on the earth.

  31. Anonymous2/03/2011

    Christy and tuckermama,
    i am also an RN. most pathogens (bacteria and viruses) require a friendly environment, warm and moist, to stay alive and reproduce. (i.e. a sweaty palm, nasal passages) even if a dirty hand contaminated a metal scoop that was then replaced in a bulk bin, in most cases the conditions would not support bacteria. most immunocompetent adults ward off a host of bacterial insults every day, but are just unaware of the amazing job their body is doing. interesting side note, Chron's disease is largely unheard of as a diagnosis in 3rd world countries. a growing body of evidence suggests that it is our super clean lifestyle in the US that somehow contributes to this autoimmune disease. i would hate to see someone avoid the bulk bins due to the germ phobic society in which we live. just my humble opinion.
    Karen in Olympia

  32. Bea: Our French press is metal and glass, with no plastic bits; it's an Alessi one that hubby was given as a gift a long time ago. (This model here: -- although I'm pretty sure our relatives didn't pay that much for it ;)

    It's also possible to get replacement parts for it, including the glass beaker and the metal press bit, so at least in theory, we'll be using it for the rest of our lives.

  33. Hi Bea,
    Great ideas! We, like many who have commented, have considered ourselves eco-conscious...we compost what we can, but no curbside for our apartment in Oakland :(, we recycle, and we try not to buy any plastic. However, we now see how much more we can do! We made our first exciting trip to the store armed with a few glass jars and lots more bags for bulk products and loved buying less packaging. Of course, first we returned our Straus glass milk container. Thanks for the inspiration!

  34. Anonymous2/05/2011

    Bea, would you consider doing a post on doing zero waste with kids? I'm really intrigued by the whole "4 bins of toys" thing, and I know you have talked some about it before, but what I would really like to know is how the transition went with your boys. Were they resistant to purging toys at first; how long did you take for purging; are there any other rules about toys besides having to fit into the bin; that sort of thing. It would also be interesting to hear what their friends have to say about their toy selection (I can imagine when new friends come in they might be horrified at having 'so little,' but I can also imagine that the play value is much, much more when there are fewer toys around!).

  35. Thank you so much. This is the only place where I've seen all the threads come together: cooking with a family when both parents work; using zero waste practices and bulk food; and "keeping it simple." I'll be referring to this for long time. Thanks again!

  36. As a dietitian, I will be sharing these tips with my clients on how to eat better and do better for the environment. Thanks for the inspiring blog!

  37. Anonymous2/05/2011

    thanks bea...always great for thought and always an inspiration! i also really enjoy your straight-forward, polite yet no-apologies approach to life. you are confident and sure, yet never cocky. longtime follower -- i love your blog. wonder if you've considered writing a book (with lots of photographs) about the zero waste home? i'm sure we'd all buy it!!!! and there are many of us that follow your blog religiously.

  38. Bea, I think it's interesting that your St. Benoite yogurt comes with a plastic ring. I buy ours at a co op in Isla Vista (Santa Barbara) and it has a foil cover screwed down with the mason jar ring. I return it with both the foil and the ring. I wonder if you can contact them about doing the same for your area?

    Love the new post, more great ideas to incorporate into our ZW lives.

  39. I don't want to contribute to the consumption of electronics, but I've heard that the ipad works even when it is encased in a ziplock bag. That could be a way to store your recipes but keep it clean.

  40. I went to Whole Foods with jars in hand. The lady behind the meat counter said that I would need to put on a pair of their gloves and she would hand the meat to me over the counter and I could put it in the jar myself. They will not take the jar over to their side of the counter for health reasons. Do you think wasting the pair of gloves is better than wasting the paper they wrap the meat in? Can you think of any other alternatives to this situation?

  41. Kiyomi2/07/2011

    hi trishalou78,
    I had the same experience the first time I took my own container to Whole Foods meat counter. So, I went to the customer service desk and asked what their policy was. The customer service rep didn't see anything wrong with it. So, I asked her to bring it up in their meeting and discuss it. After that, I've never had any more problem. They even give me a 5 cent bag discount on every container I bring!
    So, maybe you can try that too...?
    Hope this helps.

  42. Sandra2/08/2011

    Bea, what are your favorite cookbooks/magazines/other resources for zero waste recipes? I'd love some suggestions to get my own ZW recipe binder started. Thanks!

    Here's another suggestion for a completely plastic-free, stainless-steel french coffee press: the "Columbia" french press by Bodum (

    The Whole Foods "Bulk Basics" guide you mentioned is also available online at their website:

  43. Anonymous2/08/2011

    I recently found your blog and have found it to be very inspiring. I have made a goal of simplifying my home by the end of the month (one shelf, drawer, closet at a time). I'd also be interested in reading more about simplicity with kids. I have 4 young children and am meeting much resistance in my simple/zero waste quest. Thank you for sharing so many great ideas!

  44. Anonymous2/08/2011

    Your blog is so inspirational. Thank you and keep blogging! I'm nowhere near zero waste, but I'm making changes every week--Straus milk, buying as much bulk as possible in cloth bags (not brave enough to do the fish/meat in glass containers yet), composting our food scraps, refusing catalogs, etc. We are big purgers and second hand store shoppers, but there is so much more to do. Need to work on getting my husband more on board since he does a lot of shopping/household maintenance. I did get him to shut off TV/Cable and it was the best decision. We do watch movies on Netflix and read a lot!

    Would love to know what immersion blender and juicer you use or recommend.

    I've shown your blog and Sunset article to my children and they are curious about your two sons and what they think of zero waste. How do they handle parties with gifts and packaged snacks? Do they crave packaged foods/toys? What do you do with toys with packaging you get from people for special occasions? I know you encourage gifts of experience (which is great), but it is hard to control the outside world! Are they teased or made fun of at school?

  45. Just saw the news story. Very cool keep up the good work.



  46. Another option for plastic-free coffee brewing is a Chemex. It's a glass carafe that uses a (compostable!) paper filter. It is not so zero waste, because you have to recycle the box the filters come in. But clean-up is sweet, the filter and all the grounds go straight into the composter (we all know that coffee grounds are really bad for sewage/septic systems, right?), then a quick rinse with a little leftover hot water. I'll use soap about every 3rd brew. Beats the heck out of cleaning out the mesh filter of a press. And it brews a wicked cup!

  47. Hello! And THANKS FOR THIS POST. Best ever in all I've been obsessively reading regarding meal planning and a svelte kitchen.
    QUESTION for you:
    How do you keep fresh veggies fresh without using plastic bags? I put all my veggies in the two veg drawers in my fridge and leave them bare. They don't retain their freshness for very long . . . thoughts??

  48. Christy: your concern is commun and is the reason why the packaging and antibacterial industries are booming! these industries have turned our society into germa-phobic consumers, which has done more harm than good (killing the good germs). You're not germa-phobic, they just make you think you are or need to be. I cover germa-phobia in this article:
    I don't think I have ever had to "submerge in the product" to retrieve a scoop. They usually have a dedicated slot on the bin.
    That said, if bad germs where hanging out in those bins, I would expect our family to constantly be sick!
    And Thank you Anonymous RN for your valuable input.

  49. Tracy: Our veggies keep fresh for a week (between farmer's market runs) in the veggie compartment of our refrigerator just fine.

  50. Roxa: Just a note to mention that reusable coffee filters (see blog store) are available. Reusable is better than compostable.

    about blender: also in blog store.
    about kids: the hardest part for kids is to refuse. As I mentioned before, kids are sponges though and ours did not even notice our efforts until I pointed out the lack of packaging in our pantry to them. That is to say that they did not "crave packaged food" to realize that we did not have them. As long as they are provided for, they are satisfied. Whether a cookie comes from a box or bulk, they are just happy to have a cookie.
    It's even hard for our kids to talk about their lifestyle. Because it is so normal to them, they have trouble putting it into words. Asking a child, from an average household, how he feels about eating a cookie from a box, would get you the same blank stare.
    Max and Leo are not made fun of at school. I am not sure what you have in mind that they could be made fun of. Perhaps you can be more specific?
    As for presents and packaged snacks, those invited for birthday parties respect our kids lifestyle and offer experiences instead of stuff. In turn, our kids respect their friends lifestyles and accept "packaged snacks" when offered at parties.
    Finally, to answer your question: "do they crave packaged toys?" My son had a birthday yesterday. We asked him what he wanted for a birthday present. He replied: "A guava, I really want a guava" (!?!) ;)
    Had we kept up our previous lifestyle, his answer would have probably been "a gadget of some sort".

  51. Wrennerd:
    about lunches: we either make baguette sandwiches or eat leftovers. Often, we even put leftovers in a sandwich.

    about plastic: Put aside the growing evidence of the negative impact of plastic on our health (please refer to the book "Slow Death by Rubber Duck" for more info), here is more to consider:
    -Accepting plastic in your home (whether you reuse it or recycle it later), creates a demand to make more and supports our society addiction to oil.
    -Once created, plastic never goes away (please read my article on recycling). IF recycled, it is made into a non recyclable product, the end of its useful life is meant for the landfill.
    -When purchasing plastic you need to consider its life cycle. And sadly, many plastic do not even land in the landfill but rather in our oceans. Put aside the great garbage patch, you'll see what I mean if you pick up a beach after a storm.

  52. Sandra:
    My binder is made up of recipes collected over many years. Some have been shared by my mom, others by my mother in law, others I found in magazines (when we subscribed to them), or books (when we had them). I cannot recommend any source since everyone's need is different based of their access to bulk.
    That said, if I were looking for a recipe book, I would be looking for one containing recipes organized by seasons, because so much of my cooking is based on seasonal produce.

  53. Trishalou:
    I too had that problem when a new Whole Foods opened in my town. My jars had already been filled for a year in a different store in town, and when I was told that this new one was not going to accept my jars, I literally teared up. I could not even start envisioning going back to my old wasteful ways.
    On my first visit, the deli associate told me that I had to put gloves on and do it myself or she would have to run my jar thru her dishwasher. I told her that the other store had been doing it and after checking with the manager, she was given the Ok to go ahead and refill my jar. I have not had any problems since.

    Generally, I found out that telling a "new" store that other stores refill my jars, is the best way to get them to cooperate.

    So you might want to test another store...

    I also had a problem at the local gelato place. She explained to me that the regulations state that the utensils (if used) should not touch the jar for fear of cross contamination (one of the reasons why WF won't have a funnel in their spice or at the olive oil dispenser). She said that to fill my jar, she'd have to sterilize it at home (because she does not have a dishwasher at work), fill it for me to pick it up the next day. We did all that, and it was a big pain in the neck. She said that the way around it would be to pour a soft serve into it.

    In the case of the meat counter, no utensil is involved, so they are fine with it. Sometimes they put the jar on the scale and add the meat straight into it, sometimes they weigh the meat on a small piece of paper and fill the jar (it all depends on the counter's experience with the scale). Anyhow, their regulations has them swap gloves between every order anyways (but that's another pet peeve of mine ;).

  54. Anonymous (bb): I am not creeped out by your comment, I am rather flattered ;)

  55. Anonymous2/09/2011

    OK--So it sounds like your kids are eating the package snacks and receiving/playing with the plastic/packaged toys they get at other peoples birthday parties, etc. We had thought they were "refusing" like you do.

  56. Anonymous:
    I am sorry if my answer was not clear...which in turn made your comment inaccurate.
    More clearly:
    -our kids respect and accept their friends lifestyle choice to offer packaged snacks at a party.
    -their friends in turn respect our lifestyle choice of not "receiving/playing with the plastic/packaged toys" you mention.
    Please refer to Zero Waste Kids article for further info. Thanks!

  57. Anonymous2/10/2011

    New to your blog. We buy much of our food in 50-lb bags. It's the same bag as the store uses when refilling the bulk bins. Does this "count" as zero waste?

  58. I didn't read through all of the comments to see if this one is in there, BUT...
    I have adopted MacGourmet software for my laptop, which syncs with my mobile, and imported a bunch of recipes in there. I've given seasonal recipes keywords, like November, so that if I want to plan a locally sourced meal in advance of shopping, I can glance at the list of November recipes.

    It's also handy for:
    1. Looking up a favorite recipe while I'm shopping. (recipes are searchable by ingredients or keywords I've assigned)
    2. creating a cookbook as a gift (I haven't tried this idea yet).

  59. Wrennerd2/16/2011

    Limited Acquisition

    What I'm seeing from this and a number of other blogs I read is that visually limiting acquisition of things to a reasonable amount is the best way to not only get organized, but STAY organized. By having designated canisters for the things she needs, Bea has a visual reminder to tell her when she's out and needs to refill. She has given herself a limit: this much, and no more. I've containerized similarly (though I have to admit my canisters are BPA-free plastic -- I can't bear the thought of dropping a glass canister on my tile floors and having to replace a tile -- they were hard enough to install the first time!). It is helping me to NOT stock up simply because something is on sale, and the odd result is that it's costing me less than it would have if I were buying things on sale, because I'm not buying more than I need. I've done something similar with Wonder Hangers in my closet: I can have five of these, but no more (various categories -- I do have more clothes than Bea, but less than everyone else I know). And I just bought two masala dabbas for organizing my spices: I can have 7 savory spices and 7 baking/sweet spices, but no more until one of those is used up. So rather than using containers/organizers to organize, I'm using them to limit acquisition. When a certain category of "stuff" gets out of control, I search for an organizer for that category. (I'm still struggling with books.) "Limited acquisition" is the term I'm using for it right now -- a little stuffy perhaps, but it is the most accurate description I can come up with at the moment...

  60. I have jumped whole heartedly into my ZW home. After making the commitment a few weeks ago we have said no to 99.9% of all packaging when we shop. I am driving 45 minutes to the nearest co-op because of their bulk selection. I was encouraged that they had no issues when I brought my jars in and didn't think twice about it when I filled a jar with peanut butter at Whole Foods on a recent trip to a nearby town. I was told by the cashier that I couldn't use it and I asked for a manager to intervene. When the manager came over I explained that I had had jars filled at other WF stores (slight stretching of the truth based on your experience!), I was told it was a recent policy change and they could no longer accept personal containers. Like you I almost cried. A WF store is opening near our home this fall and it would save me over an hour of driving if I could shop there. I hope I was only getting the run-around and that this isn't actually a new corporate policy. I'm wondering if you or any of your other readers have heard anything similar recently.

    It does confirm my belief that there is a need for a true bulk store (sim. to Unpackaged) and I am looking into what it would take to open one. As I designer I can see it all in my head - similar to your pantry it could be visually so appealing!

  61. Anonymous2/22/2011

    Eating meat, fish, chicken as you do is probably the very worst thing you can ever do for the planet and in truth, undoes all the other trivial little things you try to do. Just do some research and walk your talk and go vegetarian or vegan because raising animals for meat is one of the most energy intensive and destructive things to do to the planet... besides it causes unbelievable horror and suffering to sentient beings. If you're not eating 100% vegetarian or vegan then you are huge part of the problem.

  62. Bea, as an American living in Europe with their tiny trash cans, huge recycling bins and returnable glass bottles/jars, I've been shown the error of many American ways. And honestly, it's so inconvenient to have to always take plastic to the recycling center and separate it out, or to drag the trash can, albeit small, out to the curb every other week. As you've said in other posts, you're completely right that the sizes for trash and coompost are mixed up; for our two-person household that makes pretty much everything from scratch, we fill up the counter-top compost at least twice a week, sometimes 4 times. Keep it up, I can't wait to read more.

    As regards the person who says vegetarian or vegan is healthier for the planet than eating meat, you obviously haven't done your research. Nor do you know how many vital vitamins and minerals are found in animal products (I suggest you read Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions). A vegan lifestyle is much harder on the planet than one that consumes moderate portions of meat/animal products. Raising animals in tiny pens is terrible, but using cows to graze non-arable land to help refertilize it with their waste and encourage grass growth by churning the soil with their walking is far more sustainable than mono-cropping soy. And using chickens to graze underneath fruiting trees to keep pests at bay and consume the otherwise wasted fallen fruit actually HELPS the environment/waste issue.

  63. Not to nosy in, but I went to Whole foods (in OR) last week and filled two glass bottles (one with soy sauce and one with agave) and the cashier was happy to deduct the tare weight. I also took my glass jar over to the meat counter, and after the employee turned to ask the manager, they filled it up! I was so happy and relieved.
    Leigh- hopefully there was some sort of misunderstanding and the policy has not changed!

  64. Leigh: have not heard of any policy change either.

    Rachel Melone: Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! for your comment. I am quite honestly getting tired of constantly explaining our (small) meat consumption...

  65. Your cookbook idea is amazing! I did something similar last weekend after coming across your blog and it has GREATLY simplified meal planning and cooking so far! Thanks for sharing such a practical meal planning strategy :)

  66. I just heard about your blog. You and your family are very impressive --- and while my family has been making major strides towards zero waste, we're not quite as far along as you are. I do like your first three words "refuse, refuse, refuse" --- which is clearly what most should do before going on to reduce, reuse, recycle. However, I am curious that you haven't gone vegan. You still eat meat. We stopped all forms of animal proteins about five years ago, in large part because of the environmental impact. I just wonder if you've also been cutting back on how often you eat meat. It seems to me that is one way to really cut back on the old carbon footprint.

  67. Anonymous2/27/2011

    Liz Siler - Rachel Malone's comment about four comments up from yours will answer the vegan/vegetarian thing. And Rachel, I think your comment is the best worded response to all of the vegans I know who judge me for eating a small amount of sustainably farmed, organic meat as part of my healthy lifestyle.

  68. Vanessa2/27/2011

    Hear hear, Anonymous and Rachel Melone!

  69. Hi Bea,
    I am curious about how you transport your jars to and from the grocery store. I also use jars and have found that I end up clanging them around in my cloth bags. I am envisioning some sort of crate that holds 6 mason jars...

  70. Lacey: I really do not have an issue with the clanging. They really only clang when carried from the cart into my car trunk (2ft) and from the street up to my house (36 steps). But even there, the hold and weight of the tote tighten them enough that they stay in place. Clanging was more an issue when I rode my bike to and from the store.
    Sometimes, the bagger will put my jars in extra cloth bags. I don't feel the need, but it might work for you;)

  71. Lacey, I rescued a low-profile cardboard box from the recycle bin to carry the few glass containers I use. Unlike Bea, I also use some plastic. Over the past few years, I've accumulated a small collection of Ziploc containers (my MIL, who is not at all a zero-waste type frequently uses them to send home leftovers with us). Being a use-what-you've-got kind of girl, I re-purposed them for bulk containers.*

    Bea, since you made this post, I have recommitted to living a low-waste lifestyle, and I was filled with a sense of accomplishment this morning when I made a breakfast of turkey sausage and biscuits without making any trash. All of the ingredients, from the turkey to the spices, had been bought bulk using my own or returnable containers.

    *I do not recommend going out and buying plastic containers if you do not already have them.

  72. Anonymous3/03/2011

    @Lacey, if you are having trouble with the clanging the boxes from the liquor store are great. They have the inserts inside to prevent the bottles from being broken. They usually throw them out or hopefully recycle them but are always willing to give them away. Just an idea :)

  73. You are so amazing.!! You are great at explaining the basics of how you got started. You have totally inspired me. I have been taking baby steps for years now, but really want to take it that next step forward. Thanks so much for your inspiration. Keep up the great work..

  74. Love this post. I am trying to round up resources in the Seattle area for some of the items you've mentioned. Our Whole Foods up here has a poor bulk section. No oils, pb, or honey. I would love to buy more items in deposit containers. I can only pray that in the future these businesses will catch on. Bless your journey. Tamara

  75. Hi Bea,

    I just finished reading your archives after seeing the amazing video of your ZW Family (at least a dozen times). I am in shock and awe and unbelievably inspired (I stayed up through the night reading your posts).

    Having said all that, I too, wish you'd consider a cook book of sorts--and/or other cooking tips posts--I think it is HOW you cook more than what you cook that is fascinating and inspiring. If you were to do a book, I'd be looking for the insights like that of the dough making and easy quiche.

    Stephanie in Berkeley

  76. This is fantastic! I just discovered your blog and will treat it like my new eco-bible. I've very recently started my own blog about trying to become a more eco-friendly family. So far the transition has been rewarding. Although I've touched on getting rid of toxic chemicals, buying in bulk, and becoming vegetarian, I am embarrassed to admit I have not yet thought of reducing the waste. It's shameful the amount that gets thrown out and I'm so inspired by your blog to do better. Thank you! I'm a new huge fan.

  77. StacyC3/14/2011

    First, I wanted to thank Laura K for the ziploc bag trick! I use my iPad in the kitchen for recipes all the time and I'm pretty sure I have a used ziplock in the pantry. Also, I wanted to share with everyone that I love the website I am able to meal plan and create my grocery list all on line. I take my iPad or phone to the store to shop. And there are so many recipes to choose from that I only choose the ones that allow me to buy bulk ingredients. I am not, by the way, affiliated with that website at all. Though I'm sure my husband wishes I was!

  78. Thank you for saying you got rid of recipes that have too many ingredients or are too complicated. It's strange how things don't occur to you until someone else says them, and then they seem completely obvious. I just deleted a bunch of recipes I had bookmarked that had the weirdest ingredients that would not be easy to find without driving all over town. Much less mental clutter, and I feel not a bit of remorse. Cheers!

  79. Stacy C; Thanks for your input. A great coincidence. I actually tried RelishRelish last year and gave it up almost instantly when I looked up the recipes ingredients. The free week that I joined, not one recipe was waste-free (doable with bulk only). They called for cans, exotic spices, non-seasonal items or packaged meat. That experience made me realize that I needed to go thru my own recipes... the rest of the story is this posting...

  80. I love what you are doing and LOVE the rotation of beans/grains. I'm simplifying as we 'speak' and have looked in the bulk pantry (grains/beans) numerous times w/o a solution. THANK YOU THANK YOU! Keep fighting the good fight. I voted for you!

  81. Maggie4/02/2011

    hi bea, thanks for a such an inspriational blog. i wanted to suggest what i think are two fairly good cookbooks that lend themselves to zero waste. they're the weight watchers' "take 5" and "ultimate flex and core" cookbooks. most of the recipes are easily made using bulk products, fresh produce, products you can get completely without packaging, or ingredients you can make yourself (e.g. making stewed tomatoes - very easy - instead of buying them in a jar/can). i do have to use substitutions (e.g. regular mozzarella for the fat-free stuff, regular peanut butter instead of low-fat pb, etc.), and i tend to add a little more oil/butter than the recipes call for. i'm pleased to report that even with the changes the weight is staying off, probably because i've eliminated most of the pre-prepared stuff from our lives. it's much harder to eat yourself silly on locally grown organic carrots than on a big plastic bag of potato chips.

  82. Hello,
    I just found you recently. Thank you for posting this. The kitchen is an area that needs improvement for me. I am a SAHM with 4 children at home.

    Making everyone happy isn't always easy to do.

    I'm going to start overhauling my kitchen and are inspirational
    thank you,

  83. Anonymous4/15/2011

    Although you already have a great system, you should check out the book urban pantry, if you havent already. It is fantastic, and I was reminded of it when I read this post. Just finished making some Ginger ale from that book, and it was super good and easy...may actually help break my diet dr pepper habit.

    Thanks for writing this blog, btw. Your ZW solutions are so elegant and visually appealing...and trash can as compost collector? Why didn't I think of that?

  84. Anonymous4/22/2011

    Why not store the recipes electronically?

  85. Bea, you have inspired me! I saw you on tv a couple weeks ago and now i am joining the war agains plastic and waste. It is strange though, i get more negative comments about it than positive. Not what i was expecting. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and tips with the world. I already feel the weight of "stuff" being lifted off my shoulders and it is wonderful! Do you think you could post more recipes on here? I am compliling my own recipe binder right now and would love to copy some of your recipes! Especially quiche, i love it but i haven't found a great recipe yet. Thanks!

  86. Anonymous5/12/2011

    I am so glad I found this blog. Loads of great ideas and you've made me seriously consider what waste comes into my home. So much packaging!

    I am proud to say that I no longer buy plastic wrap, foil or ziploc bags. My childen take their lunches in reusable containers and drink bottles. Their school has recently begun composting all the food remains like apple cores and sandwich crusts, which is a great thing!

    I read that you buy bread in bulk for freezing. Could you explain how you store it, do you use a container, freezer paper, etc to keep it fresh.

    Keep your ideas coming!

  87. Bea,
    Thank you for another extremely helpful post. In switching over, I had gotten overwhelmed with all my glass jars of grains/beans. Loved your tip on rotating them.
    I also want to mention for your gluten free readers that I purchase whole grains like millet, quinoa, and brown rice and grind them into flour for my recipes using a Vitamix. This is much healthier than many of the premade flours. You can also grind them ahead of time and make your own gf flour mix to have on hand.
    I know the Vitamix has a plastic containter and is not as simple as an immersion blender but I find it an invaluable tool in making flours, green smoothies, instant ice creams and fruit slushies that keep my children satisfied and away from packaged food.
    Also, just want to echo the sentiment about meat. I have found that my body needs (consciously, sustainably raised) meat occasionally, no matter how much my heart is a 'vegetarian'. We meet our animal protein needs with eggs from our well loved backyard chickens, raw goats milk from a local tiny family farm ( for anyone in orange county-glass jars for milk and fresh baked bread carried home in my cloth bags), and grass fed beef from a local rancher (and I live in a typical so Cal suburb!) We are an incredibly diverse human species with different metabolic types, and no one else can dictate what works best for our body. Really, the more we simplify and reconnect to the earth, the more the diversity of the wild reminds me to honor all paths/needs..

  88. Anonymous5/28/2011

    I'd love to know your recipe for pie crusts. My current recipe involves a food processor and many complicated steps. I like your idea of simplifying cooking to make it more manageable.
    Also, quinoa is one of the few grains that is a complete protein meaning that it contains all nine of the essential amino acids (amino acids that our body does not naturally produce). It is a simple way for vegetarians or people who want to reduce meat consumption to get a complete protein. No more worrying about trying to combine the right foods together to get the right nutrition.

  89. Just want to second the suggestion for the cookbook Urban Pantry by Amy Pennington. I came across this book a few weeks ago and absolutely love it. It totally meshes with the zero wast concept. The author encourages buying in bulk, in small amounts that you will use, store in glass jars-of which their are several cool pictures. There are recipes for "stocking the pantry" and includes pie crust, stock etc. She has a second book called Apartment Gardening which promotes gardening similar to what is described in Bea's post. Plant in containers, mostly herbs, she recommends a few veggies that do well in containers. She also has a chapter on foraging, microgreens and sprouts.

    The books are not totally "zero waste" as there are some packaged things recommended. But following the steps suggested would definately lead in the right directions.

    Amy has a pantry tour of her kitchen and garden on youtube, just search for her name. It's not as glamorous as Bea's but I found it nice to see an average kitchen used in such a great way.

    No, I don't sell this book and I don't know the author. I have just been so into this book and the recipes lately and it meshes so well with what is described on this website I had to share.

    Another book that comes to mind is Julia's Kitchen Wisdom. It is a small book of basic recipes from Jullia Child. They are all pretty simple, no all day fancy french techniques. There is even a quiche recipe with variations :-)

    Bea, I'm with you on the binder to organize recipes. I have an ipad and thought it would be great. I tried an app for recipes too. The organization is nice but I don't like the spatters on my ipad (I like the baggie idea though, have to try it) But my other issue is that I like to listen to music while I cook and my Ipad can't be in both places in my kitchen at the same time. I have a speaker for the ipad in a corner and then the cookbook area is on my island where I do the majority of food preparation. There is just something about a binder and page protectors. :-) Love 'em

    Thanks for all your work and willingness to share the info!

  90. Hi,

    Recently found your blog and loving it! I'm definitely going to implement the rotating concept.

    This isn't directly about the post, but in regards to comments above about veganism - there are a ton of sources on both sides of the argument about the health and the environment issues. I'm vegetarian, trying to go vegan, and I'm not writing this to judge you for eating meat one day a week! If only everyone ate like that!

    From what I've read, the environmental impact is better going vegan. Obviously, I can't prove that. There are pros and cons both way. If we weren't controlling animal populations, I think they'd figure out how to maintain environmental equilibrium on their own.

    But more importantly, I'm of the opinion that vegan is absolutely the best health choice. In regards to nutrients, the only nutrient that can't be found in plant sources is B-12 - and the only reason B-12 can't be found in plants is because we're too sanitary. If we allowed our food to keep beneficial bacteria on it from the soil, the microbes would provide it.

    Just throwing that out there. :)

  91. Sandra8/21/2011

    Hi Bea,

    Perhaps this tip will help resurrect your Bourbon Ball recipe:) I've been making my own powdered sugar by grinding regular cane sugar with a mortar and pestle. No need to search for powdered sugar in bulk, which in my neighborhood is difficult to find. No mortar and pestle? Not a problem. You can also use the edge of a heavy-bottomed pan. Now I just buy one type of sugar, and grind the amount of powdered sugar I need for a specific recipe.

    Anonymous: For pie crusts, there's no need to use a food processor to blend the flour and butter together. There are several alternatives (using your fingertips, a pastry cutter, etc.), but the one I like best involves using two knives and a mixing bowl. Use the same ingredient amounts as specified in your original recipe. Put the flour and butter in a mixing bowl, and using a crisscrossing motion with the two knives, cut the butter and flour into smaller pieces. Then, add ice-cold water a tablespoon at a time, and use the knives to "toss" and combine the ingredients. Add just enough water for the dough to form a shaggy ball, but not too much that the dough feels wet when you touch it. Once you try it out a couple times and get the hang of it, it should take less than 5 minutes to make the pie crust. The key is to work quickly and keep the ingredients as cold as possible, so the butter doesn't melt into the flour. I prefer this method to using my fingertips because the butter tends to melt from the warmth of my hands.

    Re: comments on eating meat, I just wanted to share this link to the Environmental Working Group's 2011 Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health ( I'm still learning more about this topic myself, and I found the EWG's website to be helpful. I like that they clearly detail the methodology they used in their report.