Did you know that 40% of America’s food isn’t actually eaten? While at the same time there are 50 million Americans going hungry? Look at those numbers! Then add to those some more terrifying statistics: we use 1/4 of the freshwater supply and about 300 MILLION barrels of oil to power the production of that food. Food which just gets thrown away because it is improperly stored or handled. Food which we discard because we don’t know what to do with it or forget that we purchased. And all of that food waste ends up in landfills, producing harmful levels of methane. Yuck.
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So what does food waste have to do with you? Let’s look at some quick numbers. The USDA sets a “low cost” weekly food budget at $191 – which means that $76.40 a week is, on average, simply converted into food waste. That’s $3972.80 a year! Insane. Nobody can afford to waste that much money, least of all a family on a low cost food budget! And if you’re trying to eat a healthy diet, it’s even more imperative that you can avoid food waste, since so much of what we spend our money on is perishable.
So what can you do to reduce or avoid food waste? Here’s how!
Original photo credit: Lisa Norwood
21 Ways to Reduce Food Waste & Save Money
- Organize your refrigerator. Know where your food is. If you store food haphazardly in the refrigerator, it’s easy to overlook that lettuce at the back, or not see the fruit hidden in the crisper drawer. Divide your fridge into zones so you can keep track of what is in it. I have mine split so that produce is on the top shelf, eggs / dairy is on the next, meat has its own shelf next, then water on the bottom. Longer lasting produce goes into the drawers beneath and I have a separate drawer for cold cuts and similar. Organize your fridge how it suits you best.
- Store foods that will go bad fastest at eye level, like berries or meat, not hidden away in drawers.
- Implement the “Eat First!” tray. The bottom of my fridge has a cheap plastic tray on it. Something like this with a lip on the edge is perfect. Anything that is leftover from meals or odd scraps goes onto it, along with anything that is going to expire soon and needs to be eaten. This helps me prioritize what I am going to cook first.
- Keep a freezer bag for vegetable scraps and peels: when mine is full, I turn it into stock. I do the same for bones: chicken, beef & seafood. All of those get made into stocks that I then freeze in 1 cup portions for soups, stews or sauces.
- Don’t over-purchase in the first place. This one was hard for me – since I live so far away from anywhere that I buy food, it’s very tempting to pick up “just one more” onion or sweet potato. Don’t buy more food than you can store!
- Use your freezer. I actually have a second chest freezer, both for stocking up on bulk meat as it’s cheaper that way and for storing homemade freezer meals in case we get snowed in during the winter months. If, say, chicken is on sale somewhere, it means I can afford to stock up and save money, without risking it going bad before we can eat it all!
- Cook in bulk: big batches of soups or chili are cheap and great ways to use up not so perfect produce before it goes bad. Use your slow cooker to cut down on the effort!
- Don’t throw anything away because there’s “just one left” or it’s “not enough for a meal”. You can repurpose almost anything! Leftover vegetables can go into eggs, soups can be made with that half a can of tomato sauce or thickened with that half cup of pumpkin puree. The liquid in the bottom of your slow cooker after making a roast? You can flavor vegetables with it or add it to soups or sauces. Pretty much ANYTHING can be saved and used up.
- Rotate your fridge. When you unpack after grocery shopping, pull any food in your refrigerator to the front of the shelves and place your newest purchases behind it. That way, you’re more likely to use things up in the order you purchased them, which means food stays in the fridge less time – and you don’t find bad produce days or weeks later.
- Keep fresh herbs in half pint jars with a little water in the bottom – they will wilt much less quickly!
- Keep a freezer list: as you add food to the freezer, write it down on a list along with the date. When you use something from the freezer, cross it off. Knowing what you have is half the battle and one little magnetic notepad can help you!
- Wipe down the inside of the fridge before you unpack groceries into it – this way, you’ll see everything that you have stored in there and are less likely to miss things. Plus, clean fridge!
- Don’t rely on use by dates. Most food really doesn’t have to be thrown away just because of the date on the package. If the food looks and smells fine, chances are, that date doesn’t mean much!
- You don’t have to buy everything fresh and, therefore, perishable! What are you going to use the food for? If it’s a smoothie, hot dessert or a soup, could you use frozen fruit or vegetables instead? The same goes for stir fries or slow cooking recipes, too.
- Don’t throw away citrus rinds! Add them to your tea, or zest them into dishes for a flavor boost. Use them in the refrigerator along with some baking soda for a chemical free deodorizer!
- Can you can, pickle or ferment it? All of these methods will extend the life of your produce for months at a time! Or make nice homemade gifts. If you don’t know how, you could learn – the Ball Complete Book Of Home Preserving is a great place to start!
- Can you compost it? Keep a compost bin with a lid like this one in your kitchen and transfer the contents to a composter when it’s full.
- Use wide mouthed mason jars to store leftover ingredients or meals. The clear glass means it is easy to see at a glance what you have in the fridge to use up, plus they are infinitely reuseable.
- If you still end up with over ripe fruit, freeze it for using in smoothies. Or puree it: serve it over pancakes or use it to marinate meat in or stir it into yogurt. You can even make healthy gummy candies like these! Slice bananas and freeze for “ice cream”, banana bread or as a binder for homemade (grain free) granola.
- Don’t go grocery shopping just because it’s grocery day! Challenge yourself to use up what you have. Do you really need to shop or can you make a meal with what is already at home?
- Set a grocery budget in advance and stick to it! It’s amazing how easy it is to add extra unnecessary purchases just because they appeal at the time. Using cash to pay for your purchases also makes your shopping more real than if you’re paying on a card – it helps to see the visual representation of your money, which makes you evaluate what you need vs what you want much better.
We do many of these things, including canning, freezing and composting. I also make a list and keep it on the refrigerator of the perishable food within, marking those that *must* be used within the next few days. Along with that, I keep a running 7-day menu using those foods. Menu planning goes a LONG way in keeping food waste to a minimum.
You see, menu planning is the one thing that I don’t do AT ALL. I’m totally a fly by the seat of my pants kind of person. Which is where my freezer comes in so handy: I’ll freeze proteins in single servings and then make sure that before I go to bed I have SOMETHING thawing for the next day. I should totally work on planning ahead more, I think you’re right that it would really help!
I already do a lot of these things because I can’t bear to waste food. I go through phases of meal planning. Even when I have a meal plan, I never choose what day goes where, rather more like a list of meals that week that I can choose from. There is still an element of spontaneity and I don’t beat myself up if I don’t stick strictly to the plan.
It only takes 1 generation to change people’s minds about food waste. Giving food respect goes a long way.
I so agree on the “respect” part – it’s hard for people to respect food when so much of what we see produced is more food-like. Food waste definitely became more real to me when it was difficult to buy (I travel an hour to town) and then imperative not to waste any because it was not only expensive, but hard to replace! I like your meal planning idea, I should try that out 🙂
These are great, very useable tips for reducing food waste. So many people don’t get enough to eat. It is such a shame to let good food go to waste. I found several great tips that I had not considered especially your “eat first” tray! Love it!
Yay, I’m glad! That tray has saved me on more than one occasion – so easy to lose track of that last lemon of random squash… and then find it a week later all icky! No more! 🙂
G’day! I am PASSIONATE about ways minimizing food wastage and glad I did not miss your post!
I spread the word via Twitter too!
Thank you so much, I appreciate it!:)
Great post! You did not miss a thing there. The U.S. spends more than $1 billion every year just to dispose of all its food waste. If we can manage to reduce it to 50% in the first place, we can save almost $1 billion (disposing cost + food cost). Additionally we will be doing a lot of good to the environment.