reduce food waste

Helpful Hints to Reduce Food Waste

Food waste is a growing problem. Estimates are that American families throw out $1,000-$3,000 of food every year. There are things you can do to reduce your food waste. Here are some tips to waste less and save money on food.

  • Buy less. I know, duh. The problem is stores they are designed to get us to buy more. There are some tips to help you buy less. Don’t go to the store when you are hungry, which does work. Make a list. That also helps. Perhaps shop with cash! I know- so many people do not carry cash, but at least set a budget. If you don’t buy too much, you will automatically toss out less. If there is a special sale, only buy it if you can use it, store it, or keep it for later use. If you see a great price on chicken- and your family eats a lot of chicken- get it. Just don’t get more than you have room for in the freezer.
  • Avoid stocking up on highly perishable foods. There is only so much you can do with leaf lettuce. I have a friend who said she stopped buying bags of potatoes because they go bad before she can use them. In the old days, we had root cellars for storing things like potatoes, onions, cabbages etc. Most people don’t have root cellars anymore, so buy what you can use before your food goes bad.
  • Inventory your pantry at least once a year. Same for the freezer. Pull everything out and see what you have. Check expiration dates. Keep in mind that expiration dates on canned goods don’t mean a lot. Properly stored, canned foods are good a long time after the dates. You can at least move older stuff to the front. Maybe pull out some things and keep them handy, so you will use them.
  • Use as much of what you buy as possible. Potato peels, broccoli stems, carrot tops, pickle juice can all be used in creative ways. My mom used to save garlic and onion skins. She would put them in the red mesh bags that the onions came in. My dad kept the bag hanging in the garage. When he grilled, he would sprinkle some of the garlic and onion skins on the hot coals. They imparted a lovely flavor on the food he was grilling.
  • Be a seasonal shopper. When produce is in season it costs less, but foods like turkey and ham tend to cost less during the fall and winter holidays.
  • Grow a garden. Even a few herbs in a pot on a sunny windowsill can save you money. If you have room for a vegetable garden, even better. Be creative. You can plant lettuces in between flowers for an attractive and edible landscape. Depending on what you grow a vegetable garden can produce $4-5 per square foot over a season.
  • Preserve it. I know, you never canned and are afraid, but you can freeze and dehydrate produce when you have too much. Sauce can be frozen instead. Canning info is available from your local extension office or from the USDA. When you have fresh herbs, freeze what you can’t use and have them on hand whenever you like.
  • Convenience comes at a price. I am not suggesting you grind your own wheat for bread, but try to use fewer convenience foods when you can. Bake bread once in a while or buy regular carrots and peel them rather than using the more expensive baby carrots. Buy a head of romaine or other lettuce and wash it yourself. It costs much less than bagged salads.
  • Buy off-brands. Store brands item such as canned or frozen vegetables and fruits cost less and you will never know the difference. Same for items like flour, oatmeal, sugar, saltines, oil, jelly, olives, mustard and many more. If you just must have a certain brand of peanut butter, that’s fine, but at least try other brands once in a while.
  • Shop at discount stores. You may have to bag your own at stores like Aldi and Sav-a Lot but you will save money. That goes for Marc’s and Big Lots, too. They have smaller selections, so you might not find everything you need, but the savings can really add up.
  •  Make a list. Impulse shopping and shopping hungry can add a lot of extras to your bill. Some people also find it helpful to use cash. If you only bring a certain amount with you, you are limited from going over budget.
  • Avoid frequent trips to the store. Stopping in can lead to impulse buying or overbuying. You’ll also save money on gas and time.
  • Be open to those unexpected bargains. Keeping in mind that it is no bargain if you can’t use it you can sometimes really save money on in-store specials.
  • Use the leftovers. Get creative with what’s in the fridge. Soups, stews and omelets can be a great way to use up bits of this and that. I often toss leftovers into a dinner salad. If you choose to freeze leftovers be sure to label and date them so it won’t turn into mystery food, shuffled around the freezer for a couple of years and then tossed.
  •  Make your own convenience foods. When I had a big garden I would often drop off bags of peppers at Mom’s. She would make a batch of stuffed peppers and mashed potatoes and freeze her own frozen dinners for later use.  I make my own chicken nuggets, cook and freeze them in smaller packages for later use. Not expensive and a lot better than anything you can buy.
  • Soup it up.  Soups can be a great way to make food go farther, and be good for you, too.  I sometimes think of the year as having 2 seasons-soup and salad. When it is cold I nearly always have a pot of soup going. In warmer weather I make many variations on salads.
  • Look in the cupboards.  Try making soups, stews, skillet dinners and salads using at least a few items from the cupboard. This can save a trip to the store and keeps stored foods from getting pitched eventually. 
  • Drink tap water: Bottled water costs a lot more than tap water and isn’t better for you. Try keeping a pitcher on ice in the fridge during the summer. I have had kids in cooking camps get confused when I tell them to get water from the sink.
  • Lose the soda: I know they taste good, but your family budget can get sipped up quickly. Try making lemonade, iced tea or even just water with a bit of lemon juice in it.
  • Mix it up: Use mix brownies or cake mix for family desserts rather than that stop at the bakery. It will save you a lot and makes the house smell good, too.