Food Companion: Elon senior creates app to help reduce food waste

Inspired by her experience studying in Australia, Destiny Frett ‘20 launched Food Companion to the Apple app store in August.

When Destiny Frett ‘20 was studying in Australia during the fall of 2018, an issue at the Our Big Kitchen, a community kitchen serving disadvantaged residents where she was interning, piqued her interest.

Each day, the drivers for Our Big Kitchen would ask how many meals were left to deliver to community members in need, and employees would accidentally provide the wrong number. To resolve this miscommunication, Frett, who is majoring in computer science and minoring in data science, created an app to keep track of the number of meals sent out for delivery.

Frett’s experience preparing and tracking meals for Our Big Kitchen sparked the idea for Food Companion.

Even after returning to the U.S., she kept thinking about the app creation process she used to help out the soup kitchen in Australia, and started to create another app that everyone could use. Inspired by an interest in food sustainability, she created Food Companion, an app to help reduce household food waste by keeping track of food that users already have in their homes and using that information to generate recipes.

Food Companion launched on Aug. 19 with a few key components. The app keeps track of the meals and food items the user already has in the kitchen, logs expiration dates, generates recipes based on the food the user already has, and keeps a centralized grocery list.

Users enter the food item they have into the “pantry,” “fridge” and “freezer” section. They can then enter the amount of food, a unit of measurement, an optional description and the expiration date. When the item is about to expire, the item turns blue and when it is expired, it turns red.

A screenshot of Fretts Food Companion app, which is now available in the Apple app store.

The same can be done for meals. Users enter their meal into the fridge or freezer section, input the number of servings, the date they made the meal and an optional description. Meals in the fridge expire after seven days and meals in the freezer expire after 30 days.

Not sure what to make? The app generates recipes using the list of food items the user already has. They can search for recipes with any food item and the app will do a Google search from which the user can choose several recipes.

Users can also make a grocery list of foods they might buy regularly that stays on the app.

“You have everything in one place and when you’re grocery shopping you can simply just click on items in your grocery list, edit the quantity, the unit of measurement, add in a little description if you want and then immediately add it to your pantry and that’s stored in your pantry for until whenever,” Frett says.

Part of the inspiration for creating Food Companion comes from growing up in St. Thomas, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, where she was constantly surrounded by fresh food. She learned a lot about food from her own family owning a restaurant and from going to agricultural fairs where local residents advocated for and showed off different parts of agricultural life, Frett says.

During high school, Frett participated in Future Farmers of America, a program that provides students the opportunity to farm local produce, and at Elon, she volunteered for Sustainable Agriculture as part of an alternative spring break program.

One of the biggest motivations to create the app was not just a love of food and agriculture, but the broader problem of food waste around the country, Frett said.

“The production of food within America contributes so much to pollution in addition to transporting the food to these major retail locations,” Frett says. “Knowing that I was wasting food and it already contributed so much to the environment’s detriment was just like, OK, how can I help to reduce this?”

In addition, Frett was also aware of her own food waste.

“I will sometimes buy food that I already have at home and that’s such a waste of money and food, or say something spoils, I really hate when that happens because I could’ve used it for something else,” she says.

So far, the reception to Food Companion has been positive, Frett says. The app was downloaded more than 300 times within the first three weeks of its launch and people have even asked her about the possibility of making it available in the Android app store.