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.

Eating Seasonally and Shoulder Season

local squash seasonal eats

Eating seasonally has benefits. For some eaters rotating their meals based on what’s fresh locally is having some built in diversity. It can make meals more exciting as they wait for their favorite produce to be harvested. Others find that it saves them money as prices tend to be cheaper when the produce is in season.

I found this nugget on Jaime Oliver‘s site:

local squash seasonal eats

Produce is at its peak nutritional value when it is fresh and ripe, so the fresh fruit and vegetables you pick up from a farmers market which are freshly harvested are great for you in terms of maximum health and nutritional benefits. Fruits and vegetables that have travelled long distance to be sold are picked before ripeness, and although the produce might gain color and softness on its journey to the supermarket, its nutritional value decreases – once harvested, a vegetable is as nutritious as it is going to get, and nutritional value decreases every day past harvest.

Seasonal food is not only good for your health but there is an environmental aspect too – although we can now buy foods grown virtually anywhere in the world, these options are not the most sustainable. By buying local you can help decrease the environmental damage of shipping foods thousands of miles, and you and your family can enjoy the health benefits of eating fresh, unprocessed fruit and vegetables.

With all of its benefits, though, eating seasonally can also pose challenges.

Eating Seasonal Year Round

Shoulder season is a phrase associated with travelling and slow/off seasons, but it applies to seasonal eating as well.  In some areas of the world, food is available pretty much year round albeit with different crops being harvested at different times. However there are many times when things slow down (or in some areas, stop growing). What can you do?

Can you eat seasonally and still have food year round?

Learn to Prepare and Store Your Food

For many the answer is yes. Even if it’s a bit of work, learning how to properly store your food can pay dividends. You can enjoy fresh food year round when you prepare your produce and meats as you get them fresh. For some that means portioning and freezing or it could be canning.

Wojo and I have written about storing your food a couple times, specifically Effective Ways to Stop Wasting Food and How To Freeze Your Berries. While neither one of us or experts or chefs, we both appreciate savoring a good thing, so we try our best not to waste food.

Thoughts on Eating Seasonally

How about you? If you eat seasonally, how do you smooth out the small dry spells? For those who eat seasonally as much as possible, what are some of your biggest challenges?

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon

What Are We Going to Order from Our NC CSAs?

weekly CSA delivery

This week will see not one, but two deliveries. The Produce Box is starting its season and our membership with Carolina Grown has been processed. We’re going to get all of our vegetables ans fruits from The Produce Box and order meats (and a couple of other items) from Carolina Grown.weekly CSA delivery

The Produce Box Order

It appears that we’re starting off the new season with a bang. Plenty of choices this week, making the process a bit hard. Watching our food budget and looking at possible meal items, we decided this week to go ahead and order the garden box ($17). It has plenty of items while the portions are designed for a 1-2 person household. This week’s box include:

  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Cucumbers
  • Vidalia onions
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Spinach
We’re starting small to make sure no food goes to waste. We also added a loaf of Cinnamon bread to our order. We loved it last year – it was great breakfast with some peanut butter spread over it.

Carolina Grown Order

This is a new program for us, so we went ahead and ordered a variety of stuff to see what the quality will be like. Here’s our ekectic order:

  • Strawberry cheesecake ice cream (pint)
  • Three cheese and roasted garlic ravioli
  • Chipotle ginger marinated trout fillets
  • Pork Chorizo Sausage
  • Bacon
  • Whole chicken
The orders won’t come in until later this week, so I’m going to finalize the meal plans by Wednesday. I’ll probably use the chicken for next Monday/Tuesday’s meals as those are our busiest evenings. I can’t wait to have breakfast this weekend to try out the bacon!
I’m predicting that the ice cream will be gone in 2 days, 3 days top.

Thoughts on Buying Local

How many of you signed up for a CSA program this year? Which one and why? If your season already started, what have you ordered?

 Photo Credit

What’s in Season in North Carolina?

watermelons in season north carolina

By relying more on our CSA options for our groceries, we now are adapting to eating more seasonally as the produce is coming from local farms, ranches, and  producers. Buying in season is also wonderful because you can find some great deals when the supply is higher – strawberries were on sale at every grocery store last spring. We managed to freeze them and use them later in the year.

One benefit of a global economy is availability of foods year round. However it comes at a price – shipping food further and further away takes a toll on your wallet and it can take a toll on your wallet. Just increasing our meals to more seasonal schedule can have a positive impact.

Eating Seasonally in North Carolina

I’ve included a chart from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture  and Consumer Services on what’s in season for the state along with a  list of some of the seasonal produce so you can copy and paste for your own reference. Click here for the printable version.

North Carolina seasonal produce

What’s in Season for March?

March isn’t too shabby. Sweet potatoes, peanuts, leafy greens, and strawberries are in season.

What’s in Season for April?

April is the start of the season for The Produce Box. In season foods – sweet potatoes, strawberries, greens(Romaine, kale, spinach, green or red leaf), radishes, garlic, green house tomatoes and cucumbers, spring onions, cabbage, peanuts, and herbs.

What’s in Season for May?

Most of the above produce are still in season as well as garden peas, sweet onions, new potatoes, broccoli, cut herbs, summer squash, field tomatoes, blueberries, beets, and snow peas.

What’s in Season for June, July, and August?

Last year we had our boxes filled to the top with goodies. Plenty of foods are in season in North Carolina, including: watermelons in season north carolina

  • Green and Butter beans
  • Blueberries
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupes
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Leafy Greens
  • Eggplant
  • Peaches
  • Sweet and White potatoes
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelons

What’s in Season for September and October?

Fall comes in and there are plenty of options still. North Carolina has some great produce in season, like:

  • Apples
  • Green Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Pumpkins
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Broccoli
I love living in North Carolina- the weather is very conducive to growing a variety of produce.

Thoughts on Local Foods

I’d like to hear from you and your area’s seasonal produce. What’s in season in your state or part of the world?

Photo Credit

Another Community Supported Agriculture Option in NC

With spring coming we’re looking forward to another season with The Produce Box. We found it to be a great buy for us – not only saving money, but improving our family’s menu with fresh local produce. We paid the annual enrollment fee ($18) and we’re already thinking of how we’re going to plan our meals around the weekly deliveries.

This weekend we were chatting with friends and they were speaking about a program that they’ve signed up for, Carolina Grown, that offers a similar service with produce, meat, dairy, and more.

These programs offers something slightly different than the typical CSA. They are wonderful ways to get fresh food in a sustainable manner. It’s even delivered right to your door, making it incredibly convenient.

There are several benefits to this model:

  • No upfront fees: Families don’t have to pay for the whole season upfront (though Carolina grown does offer that option). Enrollment fees for the year cover containers for deliveries and are less than $20.
  • Affordable food: Having already used the Produce Box, I’ve seen the value of buy the weekly deliveries; we got plenty of food for our money. This season The Produce Box offers a smaller box for feeding 1-2 people, which is a better fit for us.
  • No long term commitments: You can skip your weekly deliveries, which is handy when you’re on vacation or perhaps still working through last deliveries.

Programs like these can be incredibly powerful, not only for the families signing up for the program, but also for farmers and businesses in the area.

Carolina Grown has a point system that they use for orders. You pay weekly, monthly, or yearly and spend them as you see fit. The Produce Box is a bit more straight forward with weekly payments.

Thoughts on Community Supported Agriculture

I’m happy to see more options in our area for local food and we’re looking at Carolina Grown for picking up meats and local specialty items. How about you- what options are in your area?

Source: Community Support Agriculture (CSAs) in North Carolina
Photo Credit