According to research, the average family throws away as much as $100 worth of food every month. As well as being incredibly wasteful, this is also money that most of us can’t afford to lose. Here are some tips for minimising your food wastage so that you’re not literally throwing money in the bin.
Meal planning. If you can get yourself into the habit of planning your meals in advance, you’ll waste a lot less food. Draw up a meal schedule that covers anything from one week to one month and work out which ingredients you’ll need to put the meals together. Be sure to have a look in the fridge, freezer and cupboards so that you’re not buying things that you’ve already got. The golden rule of meal planning is to buy only what you need so that you can be sure that you’re not buying more than you’re likely to eat. If you doubt your ability to stick rigidly to your list, try paying in cash and only heading out with enough money to cover your planned spends. That way, you should avoid the temptation to add more to your haul as you won’t be able to pay for it.
Control portions. A lot of food wastage comes from cooking too. This isn’t a big problem if excess food from one meal is recycled as meals or snacks in the following days, but you need to rethink your portion control if it’s just going straight in the bin. If freezing leftovers and eating them another day isn’t an option for you, experiment with producing smaller portions when cooking until you strike the right balance and aren’t wasting food.
Get creative with leftovers. Rather than throwing leftovers straight in the bin, think about how you can incorporate them into a meal. Build a store cupboard and stockpile food items that you can help you. Things like rice, pasta and couscous are great for this and can be added to vegetables, meat, fish, beans etc. to use them up. If you find that you get bored of eating leftovers two or more days in a row, change up how you get rid of them to limit the probability that you’ll bin them through lack of interest. For example, if you’ve got leftover chicken that was originally part of a meal, add it to a salad to use up what’s left or use it in sandwiches.
Freeze what you can. Many food items have short best before dates, which often leads to them being thrown away if you don’t eat them before they ‘expire’. You can extend the life of your food by freezing it and thawing bits out as and when you need them. Not everything lends itself to being frozen so be sure to check whether the packaging states that it’s okay to pop in the freezer.
Rotate your fridge contents. Bring food items with short expiry dates to the front of the fridge so that they don’t get forgotten. If they’re right in front of you every time you open the fridge, it should encourage you to use them up.
Be careful with bulk buying. You can save a good chunk of money by buying things in bulk but only when it’s a sensible decision. Resist the temptation to bulk buy if you suspect that you won’t get through everything before it expires as it will be a waste of money otherwise.
Always take a list. Don’t rely on memory alone when you’re stocking up in the supermarket. Chances are, you’ll find that you buy things that you’ve already got at home and forget some of the things that you actually needed.
So, how much money are you throwing away? What are you going to do to reduce this amount?
I know that I have been too wasteful in the past. My wife and I are starting to be more aware of this. Just this week we made homemade pizza with the extra sauce from our spaghetti (which had green peppers and mushrooms in it). We also plan out our meals for the week every Saturday morning.
@20’s finances. Good to hear. We meal plan too and we find it saves us a lot of food wastage. Remember, we all have room for some improvements so don’t get down on yourself. I am glad to hear you are working on being less wasteful.
It’s always good to buy in bulk, especially sodas since I tend to drink a lot at work and buying 1.50 for a can at work is not good for my walllet 😀
@Aaron. Glad to hear you are thinking ahead. Bulk does work as long as you use the stuff. I know some people who buy items in bulk and never use them. Doing a needs assessment of what you actually use regularly is a great way to prevent waste.
Your points are right on target, and even though we have a big family, we don’t buy everything in bulk. I’ve found that for paper products, cleaners, snacks, and meats we buy in bulk. For fresh fruit and vegetables though, I will buy them from a farmers market or grocery store, because they go bad quickly. I have to get better at remembering my list, cause I usually lose it before I get to the store. Have you tried any of the grocery apps available on cell phones? Just heard about them, so I was curious.
@Monica. I have tried a couple of the apps but I find Remember the Milk to be the best. We use it for all of our to do lists including groceries. I definitely recommend it.
I am glad to hear you are taking advantage of farmers markets. They are a great way to support the local economy, be green, and eat healthy.
To keep milk from souring, add just a pinch of salt and shake it up and keep in refrigerator. It will stay sweet a lot longer.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because it seems we are throwing out more and more food lately. I’m trying to keep better track of what is in the fridge and remind everyone to eat those things that will be expiring soon.
It is such a shame to open up the trash bin and throw out good food when there are others out there struggling to find their next meal.
@Saving Mentor. Glad to hear you are at least conscious of the issue. That is the first step- acknowledgement. Remember, food is compostable so buy yourself some compostable garbage bags or a composter and start throwing your food scraps in there. At least that way, soil is generated.
We have started to maintain a list beside the freezer. Whenever we add or subtract from the freezer contents we update the list. I find this helps us plan meals, shopping and importantly not lose food to freezer burn.
@SPF. We keep a freezer inventory too. In fact it was one of the first topics I wrote about on this site. It works really well not just for waste prevention but also meal planning.
Great tips on how to save food. We don’t buy in bulk, but we should…
@Money Reasons. You should try it. Remember though to only buy in bulk the things you use. Otherwise you just waste your money on things going bad.
Wow $100 a month? As you said, that’s a lot of food being wasted on average. I think we do pretty well with not wasting food, mainly because I just force myself to eat leftovers until they’re gone. Milk is another matter though, it seems to spoil very quickly for some reason.
@Jackie. Glad to hear you are are eating your leftovers. Regarding the milk issue, try buying a smaller jug. That way you have less to drink before the expiry date.
When you are planning the meals try to use some of the older staples or foods that may go bad.
@Krantcents. I agree. For the last while we have been going through our cupboards and using up some stuff that has been sitting for a while. It has been great because we have gotten to try some different recipes. We also try to incorporate produce in every meal so that it gets eaten up readily.
If if I meal plan I tend to waste food. Usually by day 3 I’m tired of whatever I cooked. Maybe I need to cook less food or become a better cook lol
@YFS. Interesting. It is usually the opposite. Try cooking recipes that are your favourites and freeze the left overs after each meal. That way you build up a variety of what you have to eat.
I don’t waste a lot of food, but I really need to plan out meals more.
@Barb. Glad to hear you don’t waste a lot. As far as meal planning goes, just start small. Pick your favourite quick dishes and cook them in big batches and then freeze the left overs. It’s a great way to have quick dinners and lunches ready to go.
Sometimes we have a “must go” buffet with all the items from the fridge that, wait for it . . . must go. It’s amazing how a family can finish off quite a bit that way.
@Maggie. That is such a cool and creative idea. I will definitely need to remember that one when I have a family. We tend to use up or freeze stuff like that now but this is another neat idea to try. Thanks.
We don’t have a big freezer. We used to waste a lot of food by buying bulk, but now we have sort of figured out what we need in bulk and what is better to buy just for the day. We are not perfect yet (those farmers market strawberries get spoiled in a day!) but much better than 2 yrs ago.
@Suba. Glad to hear you have made some positive changes. The fact that you realized a couple years ago you had a problem is a huge milestone in itself. So many people don’t think twice about what they waste which is a real problem. Regarding your strawberries, try washing and individually freezing them on a tray. Then bag them for later use in smoothies or baking. It works great.
I think it’s key to know yourself and your eating/cooking habits – and be realistic!
@Eemusings. I agree. We all eat different foods so knowing how we can not waste stuff individually is key. I also agree that we need to be realistic. Don’t buy a 2kg bag of spinach if you know you wont’ eat that in a week.
Excellent tips Miss T. I’m trying to teach my daughter not to waste food and need to do it more myself.
@Tushar. Glad to hear you are setting a good example for your daughter. Kids need to develop these habits early on in life in order to have them stick.
One tip that really helps us is to remove the “psychological” barrier to making sure food gets eaten. Sometimes that means moving food from the back to the front so it is in easy reach. Also, prepping fruit and veggies in such a way that you are more likely to eat them (e.g. removing grapes from the stem so you can just open the fridge and grab a handful).
@60K. Great tips. We do something similar in that we always have food ready to eat so if we are tired things don’t go to waste and we don’t eat crap. I like your idea about moving things to the front of the fridge. I must admit, the odd item in my crispers has gone bad before I got to it.
I’d have to say that wasting food is one of the most annoying things ever, and this is a great list of tips. When All these fail, I toss them into the compost bin. Kind of expensive compost, but better than the garbage.
@SLB. Agreed. Composting is still better than generating garbage and helps give back to mother nature. We do that when we have had to too. We are trying to do it less though. Remember, by cooking something you can preserve it much longer. For example, if you have tomatoes that are going to be done, through them in a pot and make some tomato sauce and freeze it. Saves them from being thrown out.
This is a terrific list. I think about a few of your suggestions from time to time. Perhaps I need to print this out like how we should list our food items! There are times when I think of my kitchen as a business. Moving items to the front, checking inventory, and not overstocking helps the bottom line!
@Buck. Thinking of your kitchen like a business is a great idea. You will be much more concerned about the bottom line and wastage which is a good thing. Great suggestion.
Dear Miss T,
Your submission has been included in the Money Go Round Carnival November 2011:
As agreed when submitting can you please link back to the Carnival to give everyone more exposure.
Thanks so much for the inclusion. I really appreciate it.
good tips! I keep a list of food items taped to my pantry door. I mark the list when I run out of the item. This way I never buy something I already have!
Great idea. We have done somthing similar with a freezer inventory list. We would track what went in and out of the freezer. It works great for saving money but it’s also helpful for meal planning.
Love these tips. We used to be awful about wasting food, but are getting better. We used to throw away a lot more before we started meal-planning. Portion control is a great idea, because I never eat as much as my husband but I always put equal amounts on our plates. I don’t know why I do that.
Oy! Meal-planning–the one thing my freedom-loving Sagittarian-Ascendant side of me does NOT like to do for some reason. I buy fruits n veggies with good intentions but somehow I forget them. I like the concept of meal-planning…but there’s part of me that feels like it’s this big ol’ momentous thing–especially when it comes to balancing my limited budget as well as thinking green AND healthy. Added to this is the fact I work in foodservice and on “workplace weekends” (Fri, Sat and Sun when we’re most busy) I am usually pretty beat. So then all I wanna do is either just work on other creative stuff–jewelry, my guitar practice. ANYthing but cooking ahead. So, anyone got tips for someone like me–who needs an extra supportive nudge?
You sound like a lot of people I know so don’t beat yourself up. Many people find it hard to keep up with the daily tasks these days.
There are meal planning services you can pay for online. They are quite reasonable, like $50 a year. They put together a meal plan, your grocery list, and keep you organized. All you have to do is go shopping and then cook. They are pretty neat. You should look into them.
Hehe–is that $50 USD, or in Canadian or Aussie dollars?
I think I’m going to give it a harder try first before shelling out my hard-earned dough…especially since I live with my folks and I need to move the heck out for the sake of just getting stuff done without being interrupted AND for the sake of having my own cabinets filled with MY choice of food products! (My folks are mostly non-organic meat-eaters and I prefer eating mostly just pescatarian/vegetarian as well as organic.)
You should. We should always try to be resourceful before giving out our hard earned cash. I hope you have some success with this.
Stay true to your eating choices too. Don’t give in for the sake of convenience. It isn’t worth it.