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How Much Money Are You Throwing Away?

posted Sep 18, 2015, 7:17 AM by Julia Quam

It’s no secret that we waste a lot of food, but you may be surprised to know how much: American consumers throw away about 25% of the food and beverages we buy according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Food waste causes serious environmental problems, but it can also hurt your budget. A typical family of four spends between $1300-2300 per year on food and beverages that end up in the trash.

If you’re struggling to eat well while sticking to a budget, you probably want to look closely at how much food you’re wasting. Here are our top ideas to cut down on how much food you throw away:

Plan ahead.

  • Start your meal plan with a list of ingredients that you already have on hand, especially those that may go bad soon. Be sure to plan meals that will use them up. Technology can also help you keep track of what’s in your fridge and pantry.
  • Plan to use ingredients in more than one dish. If one recipe calls for a tablespoon of cilantro, but you have to buy a whole bunch, plan another meal that uses cilantro.
  • Buy only what you can use. Earlier this month, we wrote about why buying in bulk may not save you money if you end up throwing food away. If your schedule is unpredictable, several small shopping trips per week may help you avoid overbuying.
  • Plan a clean out the fridge/pantry day. See what interesting meals you can come up with using only what you have on hand. Maybe you’ll even invent a new favorite!

Store food properly.

  • Get a refrigerator thermometer and make sure your fridge temperature is at or below 40 degrees so that perishable foods stay fresh longer. 
  • Learn how to store produce properly. Don’t just throw everything in the fridge. This handout provides excellent advice for how to store different types of fruits and vegetables to maximize flavor and freshness. We suggest printing it out and sticking it on your fridge. 
  • Keep frozen and canned fruits and vegetables in your freezer/pantry. Frozen or canned produce can be a healthy option (we’ll discuss why in a blog post later this month) and is a real life saver for busy families or people with unpredictable schedules.

Make it easy to use fresh food.

  • Front-load food preparation by peeling vegetables, cutting fruit, and roasting vegetables on the weekend. It’s less tempting to ditch your meal plan and order takeout when you have most of the preparation done already.  
  • Make fresh food easy to see so you won’t forget about it. Store fresh food on the top shelf in clear containers so you are reminded to eat it before it goes bad.

Expand what you’ll eat.

  • Rethink what’s edible. We often throw away vegetable parts that are edible, tasty, and nutritious. Find out what to do with odd balls like beet greens or broccoli stems here.
  • Stop throwing food out based only on its date. Eating food after its “use by” date isn’t necessarily unsafe because dates on food packages are usually about quality, not safety. This article explains what these dates really mean and how long it’s safe to store different foods.    
  • Eat leftovers. Pack them for lunch or repurpose them into another meal. For example, leftover brown rice from Tuesday’s dinner can be used to make our Edamame and Brown Rice Salad on Wednesday. If you only have a small amount of something left, pack it as a snack or combine several small portions of leftovers to make one meal.

Have a back-up plan for fresh food that’s about to spoil.

  • Repurpose fresh foods into items that will last longer. You can make homemade chips out of older pita bread or tortillas. Stale bread makes great croutons, French toast, or panzanella (bread salad). Use our easy formula to turn vegetables that are about to go bad into a delicious soup.
  • Use your freezer. Freeze portions of leftovers or sauces for later (our Spinach Black Bean Enchiladas work perfectly for this). Many fruits and vegetables can also be frozen. For example, peel and freeze overripe bananas for smoothies. Check out this handy guide to how to properly freeze fresh food. 
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