One of the biggest obstacles to success with money is waste—of any kind. One of the largest problem areas in many people’s budgets is buying food. Do the two intersect in your life like they do in ours?
Let’s assume you’ve trimmed going out to a minimum and for the purposes of this post, we’re dealing only with grocery shopping and spending, and more importantly—what happens after you come home.
The reality is that most people focus on the first component—getting the best deal possible on their food, which might even mean buying in bulk. But they rarely focus on the second component—making the most of what they take home, and making sure that it’s used to its full potential and doesn’t spoil.
What Used to Happen
Things in our household weren’t always peachy. We would go shopping with the best intentions, get the best deals possible and spend a fair amount of money. The fridge would be stocked with delicious morsels, ready to be cooked and eaten.
We would produce delicious dishes, maybe for a few nights. Leftovers would start to pile up. Things would start going bad. We would ignore them, and eat the freshest food instead. Things would get worse still—spoilage would start to spread.
The lettuce bag would start leaking. The onions would grow mold. The peaches would disintegrate into mush. We would eat fast food because “there was nothing good in the fridge.” Every few weeks, maybe more, we would hold a “dumping party”—cleaning out the fridge to make room for new food and feeling good that the place was fresh and clean.
Does this sound like your refrigerator?
10 Ways We Reduced Food Waste
While we’re still far from perfect, things have come a long way from the days when we were dumping out the fridge every two weeks. Here are 10 critical rules we follow to make it work:
- Make meal plans. At the very least, understanding how many times you’ll be cooking in a week helps to judge the volume of your grocery trip. On the more advanced end, knowing exactly what you’ll prepare helps you get only the ingredients you’ll need. We are on the lower end, and you’ll see some of the other things we do instead below.
- Rotate food in the fridge. We nearly always cook with the oldest food in the fridge! The fresh stuff looks delicious, but consistently using it means something’s rotting in the back.
- Use leftovers actively. Leftovers are no good if you keep cooking new things every night. Find a way to use them for lunch the next day, or try spacing out “leftover nights” every 3-4 days to wipe the fridge clean.
- Buy versatile ingredients. A chef’s best friend is an ingredient that could go in almost any dish—things like onions, peppers, tomatoes, etc. Less effective are things that are very recipe-specific or those you haven’t worked with much before.
- Buy long-lasting ingredients. Some things can last for months in the refrigerator (apples, for example, and sometimes onions). On the other hand, mushrooms could last as little as 3 days. We gravitate toward things that will give us flexibility in time.
- Buy smaller amounts more frequently. Rather than filling the fridge in one trip, we like to shop twice a week to keep things fresh, while adjusting how much we buy based on our meal plan and what’s in the fridge.
- Use the freezer regularly. For meats, breads, and vegetables, our freezer is our best friend. We do buy fresh whenever possible, but when a good deal comes along and we need to stock up—freezing is a better option than eating chicken all week.
- Don’t go out 3 nights in a row. While the days of going out to eat at restaurants regularly are gone, we still like to eat with family a lot. When the fridge goes unopened for two or three days, things could start to get hairy, so we make sure we plan ahead.
- Wrap in clear packaging. Sure, you know what’s in that foil wrapper today, but when you’re trying to quickly scan the fridge, will you remember then? We’ve found that things in foil get missed and go bad regularly.
- Share excess with friends and family. Rather than letting excess food go to waste, cook the food that will eventually go bad and share the results with family and friends. Ask them to do the same for you!
Do you have a different strategy for avoiding food waste? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Photo by stevendepolo