I was blown away by figures from a recent government study that indicated Americans waste a staggering 27% of their groceries. That’s good food, straight into landfills.
While there are plenty of reasons this is shocking, considering the state of hunger in this counry and abroad, the fact of the matter is that it’s avoidable. And in this tough economy, frankly, we can’t afford to throw that kind of food away. So here are a few suggestions that have worked in our house to cut back on the food waste.
Buy only what you need in bulk. Bulk buying saves money, but not if it doesn’t get eaten. What makes sense to buy in bulk varies from family to family. It depends on your freezer capacity, your family’s eating habits and storage available in your home. Dry goods and paper products are always good to have on hand, but meats, vegetables and other perishables require forward-thinking. For example, in my family I know that broccoli and spinach will likely be eaten before it goes bad, but not carrots. Learn what you love, and eat what you buy.
Plan ahead. I plan two weeks of meals for every time I go grocery shopping. There are flexible ingredients, things I always have on hand like pasta, rice and potatoes (which can all make meals with very few tweaks); then there are other components I can incorporate for a little fun. This might include something like smoked salmon, a special kind of cheese or even a splurge on exotic herbs and spices. Good tasting meals and ingredients are more likely to be eaten, at least in our house anyway!
When you get home, make your meats manageable. This means cutting meat, like the $1.89/lb pork tenderloin I purchased last week, and making it meal sized. Do it when you get home; do not wait. A huge, frozen chunk of meat is going to thaw unevenly, increasing the chance of spoilage, and there’s no way you’ll ever use it all at one go. The reason certain cuts are cheaper is because they require more work (whole chickens, whole fish, whole tenderloins). But it’s worth the savings!
Be realistic. In lean times people often turn to their kitchens, hoping for miracle cuisine. But many parents work, and even if you have ingredients they won’t make dinners of themselves. Let them sit around too long, and you’ll end up tossing them when they spoil. Even though I’m a stay at home mom, I purposely buy a few easy meals at Costco. These are pre-made lasagna, pizza, pastas, vegetables and meats that require only two steps: peel off the plastic and stick it in the oven. Though they’re more expensive ounce for ounce, they’re great in a pinch. And there’s no price on peace of mind.
Don’t be afraid of leftovers. I have met people who have an unhealthy aversion of leftovers. And, sure, if you leave your leftover pork chops in the back of the refrigerator for a month they’re not going to be good. So put some masking tape on your tupperware with the date you made the food, and be sure to eat it within a few days. If it’s something like chili or spaghetti sauce consider freezing it. Those meals will be welcome in a few weeks!
Be a budget badass. Go with cash, baby. I have a weekly budget and before I head to the store I know exactly what I should buy and how much it’s going to cost. Chances are if I don’t have money left over after I purchase the items I need, what’s left over is fluff. If you keep track of what you have at home and don’t over-purchase at the grocery store, you’ll strike a balance. In other words: buy more ingredients and less crap.
How about you? What are some steps you’ve taken to avoid wasting food in your household?