12 Tips to Stop Wasting Money on Food

Many of us might as well be grinding up dollar bills in our garbage disposals or tossing change in the trash, considering all the money we waste by not eating all the food we buy.

Food waste translates into an estimated $1,350 to $2,275 in annual losses for a family of four, says the National Resources Defense Council.

Wasting food isn’t just about wasting money; it’s bad for the environment as a significant amount of food ends up in landfills.

I am as guilty as the next person on this front.

I recently opened a container of food from the back of my fridge, and nearly dropped the dish when a forest of green mold practically jumped out at me. (Letting food rot is not just wasteful, it’s gross.)

But I care about my pocketbook and the planet, so I am determined to change my ways. So I’ve queried bloggers for their best tips, and came up with 12 strategies.

1. Save your receipts. Karen Cordaway uses what she calls her “Receipt Reference Technique” to save money and waste less food.

She posts her grocery receipts on the fridge then puts a check mark next to items when they are consumed.

Not only does it serve as a reminder of what’s available, the receipts serve as a grocery list for the next trip. “People don’t realize how much food they throw away,” she says.

2. Don’t obsess over expiration dates. “Best before dates are not ultimatums!’ say the producers of the documentary Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story.

“They only indicate peak freshness, so food is perfectly safe to eat even after they pass.” Doug Nordman at The-Military-Guide.com says he used to go to sea on Navy submarines for 90-day patrols with no resupply.

“Over 20 years later, I still routinely eat food that many people would consider past its expiration date,” he says. “It certainly minimizes food waste in our house, and it doesn’t make me sick.”

3. Plan ahead. When you know what’s for dinner you’re less likely to make impulsive food purchases and wind up with something that gets relegated to the back of the fridge.

Kelly Whalen takes meal-planning to a whole new level by creating meal plans for an entire year. She says it saves her family $6,000 a year.

You can get her free one-year meal planner on her website, The Centsible Life.

4. Prep ahead. When you’re hungry, a disorganized fridge full of stuff makes it tempting to order pizza or takeout. But if you instead see the already-prepared (say cooked chicken and chopped vegetables) ingredients for a dish you can assemble quickly, you’re more likely to use what you have. One of the ways Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, blogger at MakingSenseofCents.com, cut her food budget roughly in half was by prepping ingredients in batches, four or five at a time. She says it makes it much easier to avoid eating out.

5. Cook ahead. Lauren Greutman suggests giving a monthlong freezer cooking plan a try. “Assembling 20 freezer meals in one day is a great way to keep waste at a minimum,” she says. “Cooking like this gives you healthy meals and you can save on the ingredients because you’re buying them in bulk.” For example, on her website iamthatlady.com, she offers a 21-meal cooking plan for $150 (the meal plan itself costs $2.97 — you spend $150 on food, and each meal serves 4-6) with ingredients purchased at food discounter Aldi’s.

6. Challenge yourself. A periodic freezer/pantry challenge will force you to get creative and use items in your home that may otherwise go to waste. Lena Gott, who blogs at WhatMommyDoes.com, says her family saves $40 a month this way. If you aren’t sure what to make, type the ingredients you have plus the word “recipe” into your search engine and see what comes up.

7. Turn your fridge upside down suggests Rachelle Strauss of MyZeroWaste.com. (Her family got their total waste down to one bin a year.) “If you find yourself pulling slimy bags of salad or mushy cucumbers from the back of the salad drawers, why not store delicate salads on the top shelf and keep the drawer for things that don’t go off quickly, like jars of mayonnaise or curry sauces?” she asks. And while you’re at it, straighten up your fridge. Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (And What We Can Do About It) and blogger at WastedFood.com, says he’s most likely to waste food when his fridge is cluttered. “Keeping it relatively sparse helps, as does storing food in clear containers.”

8. Stretch your veggies. Try Fenugreen FreshPaper to extend the life of produce. Just throw a sheet in your produce drawer. It smells great, and I swear it really works. If you garden or shop at farmer’s markets, try heat shocking, a method that involves a quick heat bath that supposedly can extend the life of all kinds of fresh produce, from lettuce to grapes. (Apparently it works great for farm-fresh produce but not for fruits or veggies you buy in the grocery store.) Others swear by ExtraLife Produce Preserver disks or Debby Meyer Green Bags.

9. Forget leftovers. “Banish the word ‘leftovers’ from your vocabulary and replace it with the word ‘ingredients’,” suggests Strauss. “Half a tin of tuna and a tablespoon of sweetcorn don’t need to be thrown away — cook up some pasta add your tuna and sweetcorn with some mayonnaise and you’ve got a free lunch,” she says.

10. Make your own frozen dinners. If you do have leftovers after a meal, instead of freezing them by ingredients (meat in one container, veggies in another), put them all one plate and freeze the whole thing. “You’ve created a single-serve TV dinner,” says Gary Foreman, founder of the Dollar Stretcher.

11. Stop shopping (so often). Michelle Jackson, founder of the Shop My Closet project limits her grocery shopping to once a week to save money. “I found that going to grocery store was similar to going to Target,” she says. “I always found something delicious to buy when I went to the grocery store.”

12. Be boring. Try eating the same thing every day: oatmeal for breakfast and chicken salad for lunch, suggests Gott. “A simpler meal plan that allows you buy in bulk could keep you from jumping from one type of food to the next, and make sure you don’t let something go to waste,” she says. Erin Lowry combines meal planning with this approach. She’ll cook in bulk on the weekend and then eat the same thing several times during the week. “Lucky I’m no foodie!” she writes on her blog, BrokeMillennial.com.

Personally I hope my efforts to throw away less food translate into extra money I can use to pay off debt and boost my savings. When you can tighten your budget to put more money towards getting debt-free and improving your credit, your work pays dividends over the course of a lifetime.

How about you? What will you do with the money you save when you stop wasting food? And how will you accomplish that? Share your ideas in the comments below.

This article by Gerri Detweiler was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Reducing Calories Without Losing the Flavor

Love Olive Garden? There’s a way you can save both money and calories without losing flavor.

I add a degree of healthiness by replacing the sausage with chicken without changing the flavor of the dish.

The secret is to make up for the spiciness lost by removing the sausage.

First, here’s a link to the ‘original’ copycat recipe I use as a foundation.

Now, you will see what changes I make when preparing the dish. My changes to the recipe (and other input) are in red.

Servings: 4-6
Units: US | Metric

  • 1 lb boneless chicken breast
  • 2 large russet baking potatoes, unpeeled, cut into cubes about 1 inch thick
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups kale, chopped
  • 2 (8 ounce) cans chicken broth, or equivalent (I find it more economical to buy the bigger cartons.)
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1-2 tablespoons of red pepper flakes (depends on your spice level preference)
  • Salt (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Chop or slice uncooked chicken into small pieces.
  2. Sauté chicken in skillet until fully cooked.
  3. Add chicken, chicken broth and water to pot and stir.
  4. Place onions, potatoes, and garlic in the pot.
  5. Cook on medium heat until potatoes are done.
  6. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
  7. Simmer for another 10 minutes.
  8. Turn to low heat.
  9. Add kale and half and half.
  10. Heat through and serve.

Most of these changes (chicken instead of sausage, half and half instead of heavy cream, etc.) can be applied to almost any dish containing a different type of meat.

In this dish, the red pepper replaces the spiciness lost by removing the sausage.

Even though this dish still retains the use of black pepper, I am a huge fan of using red pepper to spice up almost any dish.

Instead of an obvious pepper flavor, it simply enhances the ‘heat’ level and the flavor of the other spices.

Easy Gourmet Meals

Most of us love dishes that are simple to make. We are tired from work or other activities and are very hungry. Fast food may be the most convenient option in these situations, but of course, they are not the healthiest. So we try to make something simple and tasty at home. However, we often run out of ideas and get tired of the same dishes over and over again.

Below are some tips to create gourmet meals that are quite simple:

Homemade Style Chicken Soup

Ingredients

  • Chicken Noodle Soup (1 standard size can for 2 people or 1 family size can for 4 people)
  • Celery, chopped (approximately 1 stalk per person)
  • Carrots, chopped or shredded
  • Red Pepper
  • Parsley, optional

Instructions

  1. Take any can of chicken noodle or similar chicken based soup. Or take a packet of instant soup (like the Lipton kind) and add water as directed. If you use instant soup, you’ll need some precooked chicken – the kind you find already cut up for you.
  2. Add chopped celery and carrots as desired. As a shortcut, you can find shredded carrots in the store. Add red pepper flakes to taste.
  3. Cook until carrots and celery are nice and tender.
  4. Add parsley if desired.

Potato Wedges

Ingredients

  • Oil (preferably vegetable or olive)
  • Potatoes (approximately 1 medium potato per person)
  • Adobo or your favorite seasoning

Instructions

  1. Grease baking sheet with oil or cooking spray. If using oil, be careful to use just enough to thinly coat the bottom of the pan.
  2. Cut potatoes into wedges approximately ¼ inch thick.
  3. Lay potato wedges in a single layer (try not to put them on top of each other).
  4. Sprinkle with Adobo or your favorite seasoning.
  5. Bake until crispy and tender. If cut thin like described above, 20 minutes should be reasonable. You may want to check the tenders at least halfway through cooking time.

Sauteed Asian Style Chicken

Ingredients

  • Peanut Oil
  • Chicken Breast or Tenders (1/4 -1/3 pound per person)
  • Soy Sauce
  • Teriyaki Sauce (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oil in wok or similar style skillet.
  2. While oil is heating, cut chicken into pieces.
  3. Carefully toss cut up chicken into skillet. (Be careful, as peanut oil can get extremely hot.)
  4. Immediately add enough soy sauce to coat all the chicken. You may add more during cooking as desired.
  5. Cook chicken until thoroughly cooked. If adding teriyaki sauce, add now, and then heat a few extra minutes until piping hot.

Expanding Your Baby and Toddler’s Palette with Dips

One of our favorite things to do with our toddler is introduce new foods and flavors. Sometimes, though, little ones can be hesitant to try something different. However now can be the best time for toddlers to expand their palettes.

The bright colors of vegetables and fruits can entice some of the pickiest eaters to at least have a bite or two. If your toddler loves to dip his foods, preparing some hummus, avocado, or even eggplant dip can be the way to get them to enjoy eating well.

Easy Hummus

toddler hummus dip
Think beyond chickpeas with hummus

You can use this hummus recipe with vegetables, tortilla chips, or pita wedges. You can also adjust and add the recipes to introduce more flavors.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups canned chickepeas
  • 1/3 cup tahini sauce
  • 1/2 clove of minced garlic (you can add more if your toddler really enjoys garlic)
  • lemon juice
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin

Preparation

  • Rinse and drain chickpeas thoroughly
  • Put the chickpeas, tahini, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and cumin in a food professor
  • Process it until it’s smooth (you can add more lemon juice and olive oil to you preference)

You can store the hummus for about a week in an airtight container.

Easy Eggplant Dip

Ingredients

  • 1 eggplant
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp tahini
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt

 Preparation

  • Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Prick the eggplant several times with a fork. Bake until soft, about 45 minutes.
  • Allow the eggplant to cool, and scoop out the flesh, discarding the skin.
  • In a blender or food processor, combine the eggplant and the remaining ingredients and process until smooth.

Thoughts on Feeding Picky Eaters

What dips have you made that have been a hit with your picky eater?

Photo Credit:  yummyporky

Tips on Food and Wine Pairings

It’s no secret that drinking the right wine while dining enhances the flavor of the dish itself. The trick is to find the type of wine which will complement the dominant elements of a given meal. Basic guidelines by Food and Wine Pairing state that there are determinants to take into consideration before uncorking a bottle of wine.

The dish should first be classified as lean or fatty, mild or flavorful, or acidic or rich. Once established, select a wine which will balance the flavors of the meal. For instance, Indian food with strong flavors may be matched with a sweet and spicy wine.

Wine Folly also gave a few factors to consider for ideal food and wine pairing. One tip is not to pair bitter food with wines which have high tannin content. So before selecting a high tannin M&S wine from the cellar, make sure that the dishes to be served are either fatty or salty.

If wine is to be paired with desserts, the wine should be sweeter, otherwise it will only leave a bitter taste. To avoid drinking flabby-tasting wine, it should have higher acidity than the dish.

According to Wine Mag, the six basic elements to food and wine pairing are acid, salt, texture, fat, sweetness, and bitterness. Acid adds freshness both to the wine and dish. An acidic dish should go with an acidic wine—a tangy salad is perfect with herbal flavored wines. For fried and salty meals, opt for sparkling wines.

Textures of the wine should match that of the food—if the food is light, the wine should be too. Fatty prime steaks will mix well with cabernet-based wines. Desserts which are based on dark chocolate may be paired with sweet red wine. Remember that bitter-tasting food combined with a bitter wine (which usually comes about when unripe grapes are fermented), the unpleasant tastes combine, so it’s best if they aren’t paired.

Photo Credit: wickenden