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Could you afford to literally throw away over $2,000 each year? If you’re like most families, the shocking answer is YES – because that’s exactly what you’re doing. No, you’re not tossing cash in the trash, but your food waste is costing you at least that much – if not more!
A study from the Natural Resources Defense Council revealed the unthinkable – American households throw away $165 billion in food waste every year, which equates to $2,200 per family. Yes, that’s $183 per month! And according to the report, this figure has increased by 4 times over the rates from the 1960s.
13 Ways to Cut Your Food Waste and Save Money
If these statistics make you feel sad, shocked, or even angry, then you’re ready to take back control of your food budget and stop wasting money on food each and every month. The following tips will help you control food waste and stop throwing away your hard-earned money each month.
1. Expiration dates are a guideline, not a hard-fast rule.
Thanks to well-meaning friends and fear-mongering family members, most people think expiration dates are rigid rules which were put into place to prevent food poisoning. Not so fast! The truth is that most expiration dates have little to do with food safety.
Most products today are labeled with one of two different types of dates – “best by” and “sell by.” Best by dates indicate quality, maximum freshness, and peak flavor, while sell by dates exist to help retailers ensure that they are only selling fresh stock. In any event, these dates actually tell you very little about the safety of food products, as most products should remain safe to eat for several days after these dates have passed.
The best rule of thumb is to use your best judgment when evaluating food freshness and safety. If it looks bad, smells bad, or otherwise worries you, be cautious and toss it – just don’t let dates scare you into unnecessary food waste.
2. Freeze Foods Before They Go Bad
We’ve all been there – you have a bad day at work and pick-up pizza rather than whipping up chicken alfredo, but you don’t want to waste perfectly good chicken. Most food waste can be prevented by freezing unused foods, especially meats and vegetables, before they have gone bad.
When you freeze items, use a permanent marker to label the item with the date you froze it so you can be sure you use it within the recommended window. Also include the date by which you should use the food (see the guidelines from FoodSafety.gov).
3. Check your refrigerator temperature
Another way to reduce food waste and stop throwing away money is to prolong the usefulness of the food that you buy and use it all. The problem is that once you buy food you begin a race against the clock, and your food starts to develop bacteria.
You can keep your food fresh for longer by making sure that your refrigerator is set at no higher than 40 degrees – most refrigerator manufacturers and food scientists recommend 35-38 degrees. If you maintain the right temperatures your food will stay fresh longer.
4. Don’t Stuff Your Pantry and Refrigerator
Buying in bulk and taking advantage of sales is a great way to save money, but going overboard can lead to costly food waste.
When you overload your pantry, it is difficult to see what food you have in stock and use it before it goes bad; the same can be said for your refrigerator. And to make matters worse, refrigerated foods will not remain fresh if your refrigerator is jam-packed, as it needs adequate space to properly run cooling cycles.
5. Make a List and Stick to It!
I am constantly amazed at the number of people I see grocery shopping without a list. I love lists so much that I have had to hold myself back from making lists of lists – true story – but a shopping list is a must for all shopping trips.
When you shop without a list, you are more likely to buy extra food you don’t need, which leads directly to future food waste. Stores know this, and they prey on our tendencies to give in to impulse and buy items on end-caps and special displays. Stick to your list and you’ll avoid wasting money.
6. Use left over ingredients in future meals
Left over night was one of my biggest fears as a kid, but today it is one of my favorites. I enjoy the challenge of using whatever we have on hand to make an interesting meal.
For example, suppose you had left over cooked carrots, a can of crushed tomatoes, two grilled chicken breasts, brown rice, and green onions. You could add in Moroccan spices and make something delicious like this:
7. Make vegetable stock
If you have left over vegetables that will otherwise go to waste, you can easily reuse them to make vegetable stock. Here is a simple recipe to pin for later.
8. Plan and Serve Smaller Portions
When my wife and I first were married, I used to get in trouble for taking large servings that left us with not quite enough left overs for a second meal. She started plating my dinners for me, and I never complained because it was nice to be treated so well!
If you routinely find yourself tossing small portions at the end of a meal, dividing up portions and setting aside food is an easy way to cut food waste.
9. Take left overs for lunch
If you do find yourself with left overs that aren’t quite big enough for another dinner, use them as lunches instead. They will taste better than fast food and save you money.
10. Keep perishable foods in sight
Last month I found a wilted and mushy apple behind a bottle of olive oil on our lazy susan. It must have rolled out of the bag when I put the apples away.
One of the easiest ways to cut food waste is to keep perishables where you can see them. This will also help you to make healthier snack choices.
11. Wash fruits and vegetables right away
While it is good to have perishables conveniently in sight, this won’t help you prevent food waste unless they are prepped and ready to eat. If you wash produce soon after returning from the store, your family will have no excuses about not eating their fruits and vegetables.
12. Plan better meals
At the end of the day, no tips will help you eliminate food waste if you’re not planning smart meals. If you’re willing to sit down, read recipes, and form a meal plan, chances are good that you will be successful.
The truth is that not everyone is good at meal planning. Some people just don’t have time to plan well. If that is you, there’s no shame in admitting it.
I recommend $5 Meal Plan for those who struggle to make a plan and follow it. Here’s how it works:
Each Friday at 11 AM ET, you’ll receive a meal plan in your e-mail inbox. The meal plan includes a shopping list and a detailed menu complete with the following:
- Five dinner entrees with sides – Each week they include one freezer friendly, one slow cooker, and one 20-minute meal.
- One lunch and one breakfast, plus,
- A random goodie each week – sometimes dessert, sometimes a beverage, and sometimes it’ll be a snack (sometimes more than one!)
- Gluten-free options (upon request)
When you sign-up you’ll receive access to a private Facebook group to share recipes and tips with other subscribers as a FREE bonus.
If you’re skeptical, try it for FREE for 14 days and see for yourself.
13. Organize, Organize, Organize!
Be honest: which picture does your refrigerator look like? If you don’t take regular, consistent steps to organize your food and rotate items, you’re setting yourself up for unnecessary and costly food waste. If you make a plan to regularly clean out both your pantry and refrigerator and rotate stock based on dates, you will save yourself time and money.
Stop Wasting Food and Money Today!
You would never intentionally toss $2,200 in the trash, but that is exactly what you’re doing if you close your browser now and fail to act on what you’ve just read. The above tips are easily to implement, and they offer fail-proof solutions to help you cut food waste and save money at the same time. Pick a few and get started today!
What tips and tricks help you avoid food waste and save money?
Mrs. Picky Pincher saysMarch 24, 2017 at 8:15 AM
I think it’s great to buy food in bulk, but remember to make a plan with the food you do buy. For example, I always buy nuts in bulk and freeze them. We make a salad about once a week, which I always top with the nuts. This means we have tasty salads and no nuts go to waste. 🙂
Hero saysMarch 24, 2017 at 8:18 AM
I never was a salad person – I enjoyed them but never made a habit of eating them regularly – until I started adding more fun foods like nuts, meat, and fruit to the mix. I had never heard of freezing nuts, but that’s a great idea, Mrs. Picky Pincher.
Mrs. Groovy saysMarch 29, 2017 at 9:39 AM
I think organizing is important. Come to think of it, it’s time to take inventory of our pantry and rotate items to make sure I use up foods that are about to expire. But you’re right about expiration dates. They’re only guidelines. I’m most careful with grains because they can get buggy. I’ll use rice or couscous that’s a few months older past the sell by date but I’d rather toss out anything older than that. With dairy it’s easier since you can do the sniff test.
Hero saysMarch 31, 2017 at 9:08 AM
You’re totally right, Mrs. Groovy – grains can be tough to figure out.