Throwing food in the garbage is like throwing cash in the garbage! No matter how many sales you find or coupons you use, if you end up throwing out food, you’re not saving money! Reducing food waste can make a big difference when it comes to your grocery budget.
If you feel like you’re throwing food out week after week, you are not alone. According to the USDA, the average family of four throws out $1,484 in food each year! We throw away somewhere between 15-25% of the food we buy. Although food waste occurs throughout the food chain (farms, distributors, retailers, restaurants, etc), a lot of it happens because of us, the consumer. It’s also getting worse- the average person in the US throws away 50% more today when compared to 1970.
Let’s protect both our wallets and the environment by taking action. Here are some of my tips for decreasing food waste:
#1 - Work with What You Have
Hungry? Instead of ordering out, see what you have in the fridge. I’m sure there are some leftovers in there that would much rather be eaten than thrown away in a few days. No leftovers? Flex your culinary skills and whip up something from the things you have at home. It’ll be like an episode of Chopped right in your kitchen! For real though, use what you already have. It’s easy to look in the fridge and say “there’s nothing to eat” when there are plenty of things that can come together to make a meal in less than 30 minutes.
Before heading to the grocery store, look at what you already have. If you already have plenty of vegetables in the fridge, cross those green beans off the grocery list. If there are fresh bagels in the house, don’t buy a bunch of other breakfast options just yet.
#2- Have a Plan
Just buying things to fill up your grocery cart can get you in to big trouble. It’s great that you bought all that healthy spinach, but what are you going to do with it all?
Some people do best when they sit down at the beginning of the week and do some serious meal planning. Using a white board or calendar can be great to figure out what’s going to be for dinner every night this week, or even the whole month!
If you’re not ready to commit to meal planning, a loose agenda can still help immensely. Think about what you need for say, three dinners, for the week. Buy all of those ingredients and supplement with some everyday items that you know you’ll use before needing to throw them out. Maybe buy a few additional perishables, but first think about when you'll actually be able to eat them. If your upcoming week is full of pizza parties and dinner dates, you're probably not going to get to those bagged salads before they're brown soggy mush.
#3- Do it FIFO Style
First in first out, or FIFO, is a principal used in retail, food service and accounting. Use it in your kitchen too!
If you are not already familiar with this and rotate your can goods accordingly, you’ll have to start from the beginning. Pull out everything from your pantry and check all the expiration dates. Throw out everything that’s expired. When putting everything back, put them in chronological order so the first thing to expire is in front and the last to expire is in back. Now, when you’re grabbing something from the front of the pantry to use, it was the “first in” item. When rotating your items this way, you’ll let less food expire, creating less waste. Feel free to do this with your fridge and freezer as well!
#4- Make Fresh Produce a Priority
Fruits and vegetables make up over a quarter of the food consumers throw out. I get it. One day the bananas are green, and what seems like the next day, the bananas are all brown. You planned on steaming that fresh broccoli with dinner, but then plans changed and you went out to dinner.
Make your fresh produce a priority. Consider making some house rules if need be:
Do not use canned or frozen fruits and vegetables until all of the fresh stuff is gone
No take out when the fridge is full
Only 2 boxes of cereal (or other foods you end up throwing out somewhat regularly) are allowed to be opened at one time
#5- Think About Switching to Frozen
If rule #4 just isn’t working for you, it might be time to rethink the plan. If you are constantly throwing out moldy, mushy, overripe stuff – stop buying them! Or at least buy less. Frozen vegetables and canned fruit (packed in juice so there's less sugar) are fine options that last much longer. I love having multiple bags of different vegetables in the freezer. They last several months and we just take out what we need. I also always have unsweetened applesauce on hand for when I run out of fresh fruit. The fact that I have it as a second option keeps me from buying TOO much of the fresh stuff when I’m at the grocery store.
Get creative with those leftover odd and ends you have. Here are some ideas:
Chop up leftover vegetables and throw them in soups, stews, chilis, casseroles, scrambled eggs, or even macaroni and cheese
Use fruit that’s about to go bad in a smoothie
Freeze leftover vegetables for later use, just blanch them first
Make homemade stock with vegetable scraps
Make banana bread with brown bananas
Make homemade bread crumbs from stale bread
All stats and figures were taken from The State of America’s Wasted Food & Opportunities to Make a Difference, which can be found here: https://eatrightfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/The-State-of-Americas-Food-Waste-Report.pdf