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Zero Waste Cooking: The Definitive Guide

Zero Waste Cooking: The Definitive Guide

Zero waste cooking might seem a bit overwhelming... You have to worry about avoiding single-use plastic when shopping for your food, not wasting food when cooking, needing the right tools to cook with, and storing food properly so it doesn't spoil - all without plastic.

Well, I guess that's why you came here - to learn exactly how you can conquer the challenge of cooking without waste!

This definitive guide will take you through each step of the cooking process, showing you how to complete each step with no waste.

I've also added in some delicious vegan zero waste recipes!

Okay let's dive into the first topic at hand - zero waste recipes!

Zero Waste Recipes

cooking quote

Warning: if you're hungry, proceed with caution

Read Top Rated Zero Waste Piping Bag (Cleaning Guide Included)

I'm no chef by any means so to save your taste buds, none of these recipes are mine! The best part of that you may ask? I've researched the most popular vegan recipes on youtube - and picked the top recipes that can be made zero waste.

Once you've decided which recipe you're going to make, don't forget you can make your way over to the next section of this blog. The next section shows you how to grocery shop for the ingredients without plastic!

Something to keep in mind when following these recipes is that you can always substitute ingredients! This is your food, make it how you like it!

Also, sometimes you won't be able to get a specific ingredient without plastic packaging - so swapping that ingredient out for another one that you can get without plastic might be necessary.

Vegan Chocolate Recipe

vegan chocolate recipe

This recipe is from my mom's friend Katarina. It's so easy, and sooo good!! As I'm typing this I'm thinking about the leftover chocolate from this recipe that's still in my fridge. I know what you're thinking, how is there leftovers of this stuff?

Well, now there isn't - because I just ate it.

Time needed: 5 minutes.

This recipe has a 5 minute prep-time, and needs about 30 minutes to an hour in the fridge.

  1. Gather ingredients

    Ingredients needed:
    1/3 Cup of coconut oil (melted)
    2 Tablespoons of cacao powder (can be swapped for cocoa powder)
    1/4 Cup of maple syrup (or any kind of liquid sweetener)
    Himalayan Salt
    Optional: Peanut butter, nuts, seeds, mint, dried fruit

  2. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl

    Gently blend coconut oil, cacao or cocoa powder, and maple syrup in a bowl.

    This is where you can mix in the peanut butter, nuts, seeds, mint, or dried fruit. You can also save those optional ingredients for toppings (maybe not the peanut butter).

  3. Poor into a mold or small tray

    Sprinkle some Himalayan salt on top of the chocolate to enhance the flavour. If you want to use any of the optional toppings, this is the step where you should put it on the chocolate.

  4. Place in fridge until solid (About 30 - 60 minutes)

    All that's left to do is wait until your vegan chocolate is solid! To check if it is, just poke it with your finger or a fork.

  5. Enjoy!

    Finally! Your chocolate is solid and ready to enjoy, if you try this recipe and like it, let me know!

How to make this recipe zero waste:

To make this vegan chocolate zero waste, you'll need to go to the bulk section of your local grocery store, or head on over to a bulk food store.

You should be able to get most of the ingredients listed in a bulk store or in the bulk section of a grocery store. I don't think syrup is very common in bulk, so getting syrup in a glass packaging is the next best thing!

Vegan Chipotle Bean Burrito Bowl

I've made variations of this countless time, it never fails to satisfy me! It's super easy to make, extremely versatile - you can really customize this bowl to your liking.

All you need to think about is what kind of; bean you want, your choice of rice (or couscous or quinoa), and what veggies you want in here. Once you've decided those three things the rest is a breeze!

The timestamp for the chipotle burrito bowl is 1:20


  • 14 oz dried Black Beans, soaked in water overnight
  • 3 cloves Garlic, crushed
  • Juice of 1 Lime
  • 3 cups Vegetable Broth
  • 3 Chipotle Peppers in Adobo (from a can)
  • 2–4 cups Water

Making this recipe without plastic:

To make the chipotle burrito bowl without plastic, you'll most likely just need to go to your local grocery store. In the canned section, grab canned beans (unless you find them in bulk), and the chipotle peppers.

In the produce section you should be able to find naked (packaging-free) garlic and limes. As for the vegetable broth, you can make it yourself - or pick up vegetable flavoured Better than Bouillon which comes in a glass container.

Vegan Penne Puttanesca

The recipe for penne puttanesca is actually in the same video as the chipotle bean burrito bowl. The timestamp for this recipe is 4:33.


  • 4–5 cloves of Garlic, minced
  • ½ cup Kalamata Olives, cut in half
  • 1 ½ tbsp Capers, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp Oregano
  • ½ tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 28 oz. Crushed Fire Roasted Tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp Tomato Paste
  • 12 oz. Pasta of Choice*
  • 3 ½ cups Filtered Water
  • Fresh Basil, for garnish (Optional)
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste

Making Vegan Penne Puttanesca plastic-free:

You can follow the same plastic-free shopping guide as the recipe for the chipotle bean burrito bowl. The only difference here is the spices, olives, capers, crushed tomatoes, pasta, and tomato paste.

The olives, capers, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste can all be found in cans.

You'll be able to get the spices and the pasta in the bulk section of a grocery store or a bulk food store.

One Pot Vegan Meals

All of these vegan meals can be cooked with zero waste. Again, you may need to sub out one or two ingredients - but for the most part they should come in sustainable packaging.

The only ingredients that you might have trouble finding in sustainable packaging are the tofu and rice noodles in the Curry Noodle Soup, and the vegan Worcestershire in the Mushroom Stroganoff.

Luckily, we can get around this. You might be able to find tofu without packaging if you have asian markets near you. I found a reddit forum where someone said their local asian market keeps package-free tofu in an unmarked bin in the refrigerator next to the other tofu products.

As for the right noodles, if you can't find them in 100% paper packaging or in bulk, you might have to sub it out for another type of noodle that you can get in sustainable packaging.

From what I've seen, vegan Worcestershire sauce comes in a glass bottle, but it has a plastic wrapped seal on the lid. Luckily, it's super easy to make!

Before you start zero waste cooking, you need to know how to grocery shop without waste!

How to zero waste grocery shop

Once you know your way around a grocery store and how to shop without plastic their, zero waste cooking is pretty easy.

I think the best way to teach you how to zero waste shop for groceries is to first list out all of the sustainable packaging you should look for when buying groceries...

Sustainable packaging to look for when grocery shopping

  • No packaging
    • This is the first type of "packaging" I look for when grocery shopping.
    • You can find things like produce, bread, pastries, spices, grains, nutritional yeast, and so much more without packaging! Just look in the bulk section of the grocery store.
  • Your reusable container
    • Using your reusable container as the packaging still counts as no packaging, but I just felt like this needed a separate bullet point.
    • You'll be able to put anything that you get over the counter into your reusable container. Just smile and say you'd like your food put in your container as you hand it over to the person serving the over-the-counter food!
  • Glass jar
    • Glass is the next best type of packaging I look for. It's super recyclable, and really easy to reuse and store food in after you've eaten what's inside.
    • You'll find things like pickled veggies, maple syrup, olives, sauces in glass jars.
  • Tin cans
    • Tin cans are right below glass jars because they're still really easily recycled, but they're not as easy to recycle as glass jars are.
    • You'll most likely be finding your sources of protein (if you're vegan/vegetarian) in cans. Things like beans, lentils, and legumes will most likely be in tin cans (or in bulk if they're raw beans).
  • 100% cardboard packaging
    • I try to stay away from this type of packaging as much as possible, but sometimes it's needed as a last resort.
    • You'll most likely find pasta in cardboard packaging with a little plastic window on it - be careful and look out for that! I found that store brands usually carry pasta in 100% cardboard packaging. Other than pasta I really cannot think of anything else that will come in 100% cardboard packaging.

The only zero waste shopping tools you'll need

So now that you know what type of packaging to look for, all you need now is the right tools!

When you're heading out the door to go grocery shopping, all you have to remember is two (maybe three) things; reusable bags, reusable produce bags, and reusable containers if you're buying over-the-counter food.

Even when buying food in bulk, I just use my produce bags. They have a tight enough mesh to hold rice, quinoa and small things like that. If I need to get something like cocoa powder, I'll bring a reusable container.

For more information on zero waste shopping, I've written a really great post on a quick start guide to going zero waste for beginners.

Zero waste cooking essentials

As I explained in my post about zero waste swaps, one of the tricks to going zero waste is to use what you have first, then buy what you need to replace it.

So the same goes for zero waste tools! If you have a few rolls of paper towel for example, make the most of those rolls and stretch their lifespan out, but when they're done buy cloths to replace them.

Be careful of this when you're looking to buy zero waste cooking tools

There's a ton of products out their that claim to be eco-friendly. It can get really overwhelming when you're trying to be more sustainable and everyone's yelling at you online saying you have to be x,y,z.

My advice? Stick to the bare minimum. All you really need in the kitchen are cloths, a bamboo brush that will last you a really long time, reusable containers and that's it!

As for dish soap, you go to a refill store to fill up a container you already have, or make your own dish soap!

Tips to avoid food waste in the kitchen

Food waste is such an important topic that I feel like it doesn't get talked about as much as it should. Did you know that 1/3 of all food produced (in the world) is wasted?

Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States (FOA)

So what can we do to avoid food waste? Here's a list of awesome tips that will get you headed in the right direction to fight food waste.

  • Store leftovers in a reusable container
  • Save veggie scraps for vegetable stock
  • Use coffee grounds to fertilize your garden, keep bugs at bay, and more
  • Don't let your eyes be bigger than your stomach, serve yourself reasonable portions you know you can eat
  • Try planning your meals out for the week - know what you're going to make so you know how much produce and other spoilable food to buy
  • Think you won't be able to finish leftovers before they go bad? Store them in the freezer!
  • Download FlashFood to get deals on food that's about to expire (contains affiliate link - if you sign up for FlashFood with my link I get FlashFood credit at no cost to you)
  • Avoid cluttering up your pantry, fridge, and freezer - this is to prevent you from not seeing food and forgetting about it until it spoils
  • A lot of the time, expiration dates don't tell you when food goes bad - just when it is no longer perfect.
  • Carving a pumpkin for halloween? Save your pumpkin seeds, soak them in water overnight, let them dry, add salt, and toss them evenly on a baking tray at 300º Fahrenheit until golden brown - stirring occasionally.
  • Compost food scraps only if it's absolutely necessary
  • Learn how to properly store food

How to properly store food without plastic

Zero waste cooking has two aspects to it - preventing plastic waste, and preventing food waste.

One of the best ways to prevent food waste is to learn exactly how to store food properly.

It is extremely important to keep cold food cold and hot food hot, so that your food never reaches the "temperature danger zone". This is where bacteria can grow quickly and cause food related illness.

The Government of Canada

The first step is to have your refrigerator and freezer set at the right temperature.

It's recommended to have your fridge set at 4 °C (40 °F) or lower and your freezer at -18 °C (0 °F) or lower to keep your food out of the temperature danger zone.

A few other food storage tips...

  • Learn exactly how you can store ginger without plastic
  • Only need half an onion for a meal? Put the other half in a bowl cut side down, and you don't need to cover it.
  • Put leftovers in a reusable container with the lid on, make sure the lid is tightly sealed!
  • Tired of the top layer of iceberg lettuce getting soft in the refrigerator? If you leave that soft top layer of iceberg lettuce on top of your lettuce head and it will keep the layers below it crisp!
  • Storing hot food in a mason jar? Leave the hot food on the counter for at least 30min to bring the temperature down a bit, then throw it in the fridge for an hour. Once cooled, you can put the mason jar of food in the freezer. If you put hot food in a glass jar then into the freezer right away, the glass jar will break.


Well, that concludes it! The definitive guide to zero waste cooking. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or just want to say hi, comment below and I'll get back to you!

If you learned something from this post, please consider sharing this on social media so others can learn too! you know what they say, sharing is caring!

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