Throwing food away is like throwing money in the garbage! Thankfully, there are some simple things that you can do to reduce your food waste and make a significant difference. Check out these hacks to get started!
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Did you know that the average American family of four throws out an average of $1,365 to $2,275 worth of food each year? That is crazy! I can think of a lot of things that I’d love to put an extra $1,000 towards, and I’m sure you can too!
I’m pretty sure that we don’t throw anywhere near $1,000 worth of food away in a year, but if I’m honest, I know that I could do better than what I currently am. In fact, just the other day I had to throw some money in the garbage.
Well, not actual money of course, but it might as well have been. It was money in the form of approximately 2/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, ½ cup peas, 1 cup cauliflower and 1 cup sour cream– all spoiled and all annoyingly wasted because of my negligence. Maybe you can relate?
So how can we keep food waste to a minimum? Here are 7 simple tips that should help keep me (and you) from throwing food away.
7 Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste
1. Shop strategically
This is common sense, but it is amazing how easy it is to not do! When shopping for perishable items, figure out how much you will use in a given week and buy accordingly.
Just because lettuce is on sale for an incredible price doesn’t mean you should buy 3 heads. Remember, if you are throwing food out, you aren’t saving a thing.
2. Keep an eye on leftovers
For me, leftovers aren’t usually much of a problem- it’s other food that I end up forgetting about. But that is largely because we typically finish up any leftovers at lunch the next day.
The key for me though is to eat them within a day or two, otherwise, it is just way too easy to totally forget about leftovers until they are past the point of no return.
Using clear containers to store leftovers also helps immensely! My favorite are these glass ones that come with lids. But if I have to use a container that is not see-through, I always try to at least label it so that I know what is in it.
To do this, I simply use a piece of masking tape and write on it with a Sharpie. What I like about this is that as I shuffle things around in the fridge, I am constantly reminded of just what exactly I have in there that needs to be used up.
3. Serve kids small portions
Kids can be such inconsistent eaters. One meal they eat like crazy, and the next you can hardly get them to eat a bite. One day they say that macaroni and cheese is their favorite thing ever, and the next day they have decided they no longer like it.
While I realize that kids are just going to be that way, I hate throwing out food because of their fickleness.
We’ve tried to solve the problem by simply serving them small amounts. Obviously, they can always have more if they want it! And I’d much rather dish out food several times than throw it in the garbage!
4. Know what you have
Being organized can save you money in so many areas, and food is no exception! When you come home from the store and put food away, place the new items behind the older ones. That way when you grab a can of soup or box of crackers, you’ll be using up the older food first.
Also, keeping your cupboards, fridge and freezer neatly arranged so that you can see what you have helps a lot! Place similar items together and put larger containers behind smaller ones.
If you can’t quickly see what you have, it’s way too easy to miss noticing things and have them go to waste!
Pro Tip: I’ve also found it helpful to keep a running list of things to use up. Then when I plan our menu, I look at my list and try to make recipes accordingly. Sometimes I’ll even tape a “to use” list on our freezer or inside a cupboard door to keep me aware of just what exactly is needing to get finished up.
5. Use your freezer
Speaking of leftovers, here’s another option. If you have leftovers or food that you don’t think you’re going to be able to use before it goes bad, put it in the freezer right away.
Don’t wait and assume you’ll do it later, because chances are, it will never happen.
Remember the mozzarella cheese and peas that I said I threw out? I had plans of putting both of them in the freezer before they spoiled but I always thought I’d do it “later”. Obviously, waiting wasn’t a good idea!
The freezer is also great for things like flour, crackers and bread too. And if you have fruit that you are worried about spoiling, freeze it and throw it into smoothies. In fact, there are at least 40 food that you can easily freeze to prolong their life!
RELATED: Free Freezer Cooking 101 Online Workshop
6. Be smart with produce
If you are like me, you find that produce is what you end up throwing out the most. I’ve discovered that fruits and veggies typically stay fresh longer if you leave them in their original state until you are ready to use them.
In other words, leave them on the stem, in the bunch and all in one piece. And if you notice a “bad egg” in the bunch, throw it out immediately. One molding or rotting piece can quickly cause more to spoil!
I also highly recommend investing in these breathable containers. They aren’t exactly cheap, but I feel like mine have paid for themselves many times over because they have allowed me to keep produce much, much longer than I could have otherwise.
I’ve especially noticed that berries, mushrooms and lettuce keep anywhere from several days to a week longer when I store them in this.
RELATED: How to make berries last longer
7. Start a soup bucket
Place an ice cream bucket (or whatever container you want to use) in your freezer and whenever you have leftovers such as meat, cheese, broth or veggies that would be appropriate for soup, simply dump them into the bucket. When the bucket gets full, make a soup from it, adding other ingredients as needed to make it tastier and more filling.
I started doing this several years ago after hearing about it from a speaker at my local mom’s group. I’ll be honest, at first, I was a bit skeptical. It just sounded so odd and I wasn’t sure the soup could even end up being good.
But I figured I should give it a try before I knocked it… and it did sound like a great way to use up leftovers! To my surprise, we absolutely loved the first soup that I made from my Soup Bucket. In fact, my husband wondered if I could recreate it somehow!
I’ll be totally honest though, not all Soup Bucket soups have turned out to be quite as delicious as that first batch, although they have all been very edible. And actually, I’m okay with that!
Because one of the things that I like about the whole Soup Bucket thing is the fact that it also feels like it is a way that my family can be reminded of how blessed and privileged we are.
We typically eat quite well on our $225/mo. grocery budget and not everyone is that fortunate. For us to occasionally eat something more simple and maybe a bit less rich and delicious, while at the same time reducing waste, feels like a simple way that we can keep perspective of our blessings.
And hopefully, it will also remind us to continue to care for those around us that are less fortunate.
Pro Tip: If you don’t like the soup bucket idea, you can also try these creative ideas for re-purposing food!
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Yes, using masking tape and labeling and dating leftovers is SOO useful! Before I started doing that, I would throw out so much food because I wasn’t sure if it was bad or not. I figured, better to waste some money than inadvertently give my family food poisoning. Dating my leftovers takes the uncertainty out of the equation and I don’t have to choose between throwing away money and risking all of us living at the toilet for the next few days!
I know, right? I didn’t do until about 2 years ago and it’s seriously been so helpful. Only problem is fresh veggies. Just found a fossilized carrot hiding in the produce drawer this morning. Clearly I need to work on improving that! Ha!
Great idea about the soup bucket! I was a tad skeptical at first read, but as I type I’m coming around to the idea 😉 I’ve been planning all of our meals a month at a time, and shopping for fruits/veggies weekly. It definitely helps only having a few occasions to spend money. So much more stays in my wallet! Thanks for the post – great info! 🙂
I know a lot of people are skeptical about the soup bucket thing. I admit, it does sound a bit crazy. But I mostly just put leftover meat, veggies and broth/tomato sauce in it, so I basically ends up being like a stew of sorts. Yes, I can believe that shopping once a month is a money saver! I think if I didn’t coupon that I’d probably try to do something like that too.
Great post! I have to admit that I am not very good with not wasting food, it is usually the fresh produce that ends up in the bin! I have been telling myself for ages that I need to reduce the waste and this post has given me a good kick up the backside to do so, I will definitely be implementing some of your tips.
Well, I’m glad that I was able to help provide the proverbial “kick in the backside”. 🙂 Sometimes we just kind of need that to get us motivated, don’t we? Fresh produce is one of those things that can be so difficult! Especially if you only really “need” a small amount but your only option is to buy a larger quantity. I’m still learning how to keep from wasting it, but I’m slowly getting better at it. Yay for baby steps!
Excellent ideas here! I was just talking to a friend of mine about all of the food our family is wasting, and I didn’t know what to do about it. You just so happened to be my neighbor over at Women with Intention 🙂 Praising God for this post! I feel like it is answered prayer 🙂 Thank you!
So glad it could be helpful, Tia! I love when I hear that God is using this blog of mine to help someone. 🙂 You may also enjoy reading my post on 8 Foods You are Throwing Out that You can Actually Use too. Blessings as you try to decrease the amount of food that you waste….it’s not an easy thing to control, I know!
Oh the foods (money) I’ve thrown away over the years. All because it sat in the pantry for a few years past expiration or never got used up ,properly wrapped/sealed or put away in freezer. I have recently returned to basics in the kitchen. I now make all my own seasoning blends – taco, chili, Italian, etc. Salad dressings, BBQ sauce, soups, rolls, bread. I buy dry beans rather than canned. Freeze fresh herbs like parsley, dill, cilantro or items like Heavy Cream in ice cube trays when frozen transfer to freezer bags and label. Ice cube trays typically hold 2 Tablespoons per compartment. Mash and freeze aging bananas and avocados. Store cereals, rice, oatmeal etc. In glass jars or large plastic containers to preserve freshness and keep uninvited pests out. Inventory and rotate foods once a month. Not sure about a new recipe or sounds like it will make to much? Cut the recipe in half or quarter.
Excellent tips, Kim! Thanks for sharing them. And I agree that the more I make from scratch, the less waste I typically have too.
Also if you have enough cream u can make homemade butter
Homemade butter! Yummers!
We do the same with leftovers. Most of the time there isn’t much, so lunch the next day is perfect. I’ve recently started avoiding ingredients that I know I won’t use for more than one recipe. It’s easier to find a substitute than find a way to use something up sometimes.
Yes, you are so right Keri! Subbing ingredients or getting creative with recipes is another great way to avoid waste (and save money). Thanks for sharing that!