I was reading an article yesterday morning about food waste in American households. It mostly covered the topic of “sell by” dates and explained how they aren’t necessarily indicative of spoilage, but the article also commented on over-purchasing habits. All together, this contributes to about $2,200 per family in annual food waste.
Since I’m a family of one and not four, I don’t exactly make up the American average. But by this same logic, I could possibly be wasting about $550 a year or $45 a month in unused groceries. It may not seem like a lot, but if you add that up over the years it starts to become measurable. In just 10 years I could have the down payment on a car instead of money literally chucked into the garbage. So if the idea of wasting food didn’t get to me morally – after all, there are so many people who go without – then it certainly affects me financially.
In light of all this, I started to think about my consumption. I’ve been making some small efforts lately to reduce my waste where I can – shopping at used book stores and consignment shops, renting DVDs from the library, shortening my showers, etc. – and this just felt like a natural next step. The good news is I’m already following the article’s top tips and I even have a few of my own to share.
Some people take meal planning to an extreme and actually prep meals once a week to just reheat for days (and I sometimes do this if I know I’ll be very busy), but I think even just planning out a list of what you’re going to make can help you target your purchases. (Just don’t forget to plan for leftovers!) After all, how do you know what to buy unless you know what you’re making? Because I live a little distance from the grocery store, I’ve been trying to minimize my trips and that means I spend every Sunday morning creating a plan for myself. I decide on Sundays what I’m going to make for Sunday dinner through Friday lunch and specifically leave out weekend nights as days I will either eat out with friends or pull something from storage in the freezer. This is so simple to do and the number one way to cut back on waste.
I’d like to think that I can eat my way through the whole produce section, but I really can’t. So I limit the variety of fruits and vegetables that I purchase to make sure that I can get through them all before the end of the week. I might think I’ll snack on blueberries every night, but at $2.99 for a half pint I had better be sure. And if I do happen to run through all my produce, then of course I can make a second trip. But to be honest, I rarely do. The fact of the matter is, I know what I can consume in a week and so do you.
Put Your Health First
Its a common misconception that eating healthy has to be expensive, but the expense really only comes into play for me if I don’t stick to making the healthy meals with the items I’ve bought. If you actually use the produce, it isn’t wasted and you’ll spend less money on last minute meals or take out. In season produce is always the best place to start since it will provide the best flavor and will be least expensive. You should also stick to the proper plate proportions of 50% fruits/vegetables, 25% proteins, and 25% whole grains/starches. Since proteins are usually the most expensive anyway you’ll be able to stretch your budget further than you think when you add more veggies. You’ll also be able to use up your produce before it goes bad since generally speaking you’ll be eating a lot more of it.
Bake Your Leftovers
Straight up, baking is one of the least expensive hobbies. If you do it regularly and you keep staples like flour, butter, sugar, and rising agents on hand like I do, then you’ll find it simple enough to make an entire batch of muffins or banana bread for just the cost of the fruit you put into it. A one pound bag of flour has thus far made about six dozen blueberry muffins and I’m not even half finished with it yet. Suffice it to say that the cost of the component parts is way less expensive than buying them ready made at the store everyday. And as a bonus, its also a great way to use produce that’s on the softer side. Mushy fruits go great in baked goods because they’re sweeter and meant to be cooked down anyway (think pies, tarts, breads). You can even use fruits to flavor frosting or sorbets!
Let me know down in the comments if you have any other tips for reducing food waste or waste in general.