4 Easy Ways to Waste Less Food and Save More Money

Here’s how I’m on track to save $600 a year. No meal prep required, I promise.

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

I cleaned out my fridge recently and found a ridiculous amount of stuff that needed to be thrown away. Here’s what I tossed into the trash, with my best guess for what it cost:

  • 2 organic pork cutlets $2.25
  • 1 organic chicken thigh $2.10
  • 1/2 can of black beans $.50
  • 1/2 bottle of almond creamer $2.25
  • 1/2 container of coconut milk yogurt $3.00
  • 1 container of leftover chicken fat $.50
  • 1 container of takeout veggies $1.00
  • Part of a burger and fries leftover from a restaurant $4.50
  • 1/2 bunch of cilantro $1.00
  • 1 bunch of kale $2.00
  • leftover homemade coleslaw $1.50

That’s $20.60 in the trash! Looking at that number, if I’m honest with myself I probably throw out $50 worth of food a month. That’s $600 a year I could save. Plus there’s the time I’ve spent shopping for these things only to shop again to replace them, and the time I spent cooking.

And apparently a lot of people waste even more food than I do. In a PBS interview, Elizabeth Balkan, food waste director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that an average American household of four wastes $1,500 worth of food a year.

Wasting food isn’t just expensive. Food waste is one of the top emitters of greenhouse gases. Wasting less food is one of the top things we can do to combat climate change.

Here’s what I’m doing differently now so I can hang onto that $600 and shrink my environmental footprint a little bit.

1. I’m taking a weekly inventory

Cleaning out my fridge made me realize that if I went through the fridge more often to see what was in there, things wouldn’t get overlooked in the back and spoil.

Now, on Mondays, I go through the fridge. A weekly inventory cuts way back on what could go bad — only a few things in there could be six or seven days old. Most of the food in there is fresher. Anything that’s still okay but is getting old I move to the front of the fridge so I remember to use it in the next day or two.

Why Mondays? Our trash gets picked up on Tuesdays, so anything that needs to get thrown away won’t be hanging around smelling bad for long.

2. I’m planning for the number of people I’m feeding

Our two kids are college age, so there could be two to four people here at any given time. I tend to overbuy when they are home, and then I’m left with too much food when they aren’t here.

My daughter is a vegetarian, and she’s the one who eats things like coconut milk yogurt and almond creamer. So those foods need to get used up if she’s not going to be home. Otherwise, they get pushed to the back of the fridge.

My son still has the appetite of a growing teenager, so I can count on him to eat a lot of leftovers. And he’ll bring food with him back to college. What he takes with him doesn’t cut down on my food budget, but at least it’s not getting wasted.

3. I’m posting a list of the veggies we have

People who eat a lot of fresh vegetables are among the worst offenders for wasting food. I like fresh produce, but I need a plan for eating it all. We get a share of veggies delivered from a nearby farm every two weeks throughout the summer, and we shop at farmers’ markets as well.

Now, I post the list of what we get in the farm share on the fridge so I can plan the veggies we’ll have with our meals. I make sure that we start with the ones that will spoil quickly and save the sturdier stuff for later.

4. I’m planning lunch around leftovers

We eat lunch at home pretty much every day, so if I can find a way to work leftovers into what we eat I’m a lot less likely to throw food away.

I don’t always like to just heat up a plate of the same meal a second time, so I’m figuring out other options. Leftover chicken can get chopped up and added to a salad for protein. Veggies and herbs can come together in a quick stirfry. And cheese can go on top of just about anything.

It’s not all bad news

On the plus side, when I cleaned out the fridge I moved some tortellini from the fridge to the freezer so it would last longer, and I used a pear that was on the edge of overripe in my breakfast the next day. So there was a small amount of food that didn’t get wasted when I cleaned out my fridge.

How much food do you throw away? Less than me, I hope. If not, maybe these tips will help you save some food, some effort, and some money.

I write stories that make our lives better. I learn something with everything I write, and I hope you do too. Get my newsletter: stephaniethurrott.com/medium

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