Every catalog I receive with kids toys has a kitchen set and little plastic or cardboard "food." Kids love playing with this stuff because it helps them model their world, to experience grocery shopping and cooking - things they see their parents and other adults doing all the time. So here is my (borrowed) super duper idea: Instead of compacting and recycling your empty food containers clean and reuse them for your kids to play with!
Empty cereal box? Make sure there are no crumbs in the bottom, close and tape it shut. I wouldn't suggest the cans unless you use a safety can opener that breaks the seal to there are no sharp edges - though I find it hard to get the lid back on. They could use the plastic strawberry containers and put blocks in to represent the fruit. Give them some pots and pans and wooden spoons to "cook" with. You could also give them an old shirt or jacket that would have been in the rag bag to use as a chef coat!
You don't need a fancy kitchen set for them to use imaginative play, a table, chair, even the couch can become the stove or table. My son even turns his puzzle holder into a restaurant counter where he asks what we would like for breakfast then turns around and makes it - representing the food with his puzzle pieces and blocks.
Kids don't need fancy toys to explore their world. All they need are some household items and their imagination!
What creative ways do your kids reuse items that otherwise would have been destine for the trash?