Dining Out Waste Free

Who feels like cooking, no one?  Ok, we’re going out.  We usually dine out once a week.  Inevitably, there are leftovers that need to come home so we can a) get our money’s worth and b) not waste food.  Every time the waiter/waitress brings the leftovers container, I kick myself because I haven’t gotten my “restaurant leftovers take-home kit” together.  So there it is, I am declaring that it is getting done!  Some people keep a first aid kit in the car, I’m going to have a “restaurant leftovers take-home kit” in my car.  I do have a first aid kit but there’s no telling what’s in it.  The kids are a bit older now so we don’t have the antiseptic, variety pack of bandages, gauze, tape, and ointment in the glove box.  There’s probably one bandage in there and it’s most likely got cartoon characters on it because I’m sure it’s been years since I’ve checked it.

When the waiter or waitress shows up at your table with the container, it’s usually either plastic or styrofoam.  The plastic containers can usually be recycled, depending on your curbside hauler and their requirements.  If they won’t take it, you can probably take it to a recycling facility.  If it’s styrofoam (recycling symbol #6), well, that’s going to present a challenge.  Styrofoam takes centuries to break down so it’s pretty bad for the environment but where can you recycle it?  You can check out Home for Foam to find a recycling facility near you but if you live outside of the Northeast (United States), it might be a challenge. So, it’s best to just avoid it whenever possible.

What’s Going In The Kit

  • reusable drinking cups
  • reusable coffee cups
  • stainless steel straws
  • reusable utensils
  • cloth napkins
  • take-out/leftover containers


I figure if I’m going to do it, I’m going to go all in and do it right!  I’ve got a minivan, so there’s plenty of room.  I’m going to have enough for all four of my family members so whether we are just going to dinner and then coming home or if we’re heading out on a road trip, we’ll be prepared for any “away from home dining event”.


Rather than using a disposable plastic or styrofoam cup, bring your own.  If you have kids or go to sporting events, you have any number of plastic cups at home.  Just stash a few in the car and bring them into the restaurant.  If we’re going to a sit-down restaurant, I wouldn’t bring it in but anywhere that has disposable cups, bring it on.  If you’re worried about spills, just bring a cup with a lid.  I purposely bought a reusable coffee cup to keep in the car so in the event I’m on the go and dying for a cup of coffee, I’ll always have a cup with me.  I now recognize it as my “car coffee cup” so after I use it, once it’s cleaned I take it straight back to the car so I’m never without it.


Straws are another area where we can opt-out.  Either skip the straw or bring your own stainless steel straw.  Glass straws are an option as well however, I broke the one I was given shortly after receiving it and now I’m extra careful when I use it.  Needless to say, it stays at home.  Paper straws are another option, however, they can get costly and I find that they don’t hold up well for long periods of time.  I need to get better about talking with the waiter/waitress as soon as he/she shows up at our table so they don’t put a straw in the glass before it even gets to the table.


You may not need utensils for leftovers but if you happen to be at a restaurant that uses plastic utensils or you need to take your food with you, say in the car or back to the office, reusable utensils are a definite must.  It’s estimated that more than 40 Billion plastic utensils are used in the United States every year.  The majority of which are neither reused or recycled.  You can either purchase a specific set to keep in the car or at your desk or you could just bring some from home.  Put them in an old (clean) sock and keep them in the car or in your desk drawer at work.


Paper napkins are another waste item that is easily replaced.  I would venture to guess the majority of households have a set of cloth napkins that are not used and can be left in the “restaurant leftovers take-home kit”.  My family is not fancy so we have more of what I would call casual cloth napkins for when we pretend to be fancy.  It’s sorta like when you get married and register for fine china (do people still do that?), our “fine china” is the mid-range level from Crate and Barrel.  Many people probably consider it their everyday china.  That’s what my cloth napkins are like.

Food Storage

I’m in the process of transitioning my food storage from plastic to glass.  You can read all about why I’m doing it right here.  I will include a few different sizes of glass containers in my Kit.  Glass is heavier than plastic and maybe a bit of a pain to lug in to the restaurant, however, I can generally gauge how much my kids are going to eat before we even get out of the car so I’ll bring the right size container.  Glass containers can be a bit of an expense upfront but if you’re not in a hurry, wait for a sale to pop up.   If you’re patient and check frequently, you may be able to score some at Goodwill or another thrift store.

Remember you can always start small and then work your way up.  If it seems overwhelming, start with the reusable cups and remember, straws aren’t really necessary.  You can always just skip it! If you eat out and frequently have leftovers, would you put together a “kit” to bring so you don’t have to use disposable containers or plastic straws?

Make it a green day!

~ Heather


restaurant table filled with food




11 thoughts on “Dining Out Waste Free

  1. Thanks for the tips. I need to get better about leaving a coffee cup in the car. I like your idea of the specific “car cup” so you always have one. I save leftover containers that are plastic and washable. my intent was to start bringing them when we eat out, but I have yet to remember. Gonna try harder this month.

  2. What a great idea! I always bring my leftovers home and enjoy them later to prevent food waste but I never thought of bringing my own reusaeable to go box/kit.

  3. I recently stopped using straws, and I usually have utensils and a water bottle with me. And thank you for the tip on cloth napkins! This is the first time I’ve come across that idea and it’s definitely something I can immediately change, we go through so many paper napkins. (I know this is all about dining out but I so rarely dine out I’m going to use these for home!)

    1. Thanks! I figure if I go to the trouble of bringing it into the restaurant with me, maybe I won’t devour my whole dinner and take some home for later.

  4. Great guide, I have been caught put so many times trying to take leftovers home. A spare container or two in the car would make it so much better 😃

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