At the intersection of money and food lies a land of opportunity. It’s a place where small changes and attention to detail can have a big impact on your health, your wallet, and the sense that you’re doing things right.
Food waste creeps up and quietly hits your budget by reducing the efficiency of your food dollars. It’s irrelevant whether those were spent on eating out or at the grocery store–they can be equally flushed down the drain by spoilage.
A good, life-cycle approach to food budgeting ensures that the hard work you put into sourcing your food extends to keeping it fresh in your home.
To be effective and easy to implement, a plan of action for getting rid of food waste has to focus on the ideas that will give you the most mileage for your effort. These are the 5 areas where I had the most impact in my own life:
1. Refrigerator storage. Keeping food in the refrigerator keeps it fresh, but we know that everything a shelf life, even in the cold. There are a few simple strategies for the fridge that can help:
- Keep your fridge about 50-75% stocked, at maximum, so that you can easily see everything at a glance.
- Place the freshest items in the back, and rotate everything in danger of spoiling to the front.
- Wrap everything in see-through packaging. No aluminum foil allowed!
2. Meal planning. Planning dinners in goes a long way to making sure you don’t buy unnecessary ingredients. It’s also important if you plan to go out a lot during the week, when your fridge might go unopened for days at a time, with the food clock inside slowly ticking.
3. Buy smart. Choices you make at the grocery store can have a direct impact on how well your food holds up to storage. Here are some suggestions:
- Some ingredients can store well in the cold for many weeks, like potatoes and onions. Buy them in bulk quantities to save money.
- Buy perishable ingredients, especially proteins, fragile veggies and herbs a few times a week with your planned meal in mind.
4. Move leftovers. Once they’re in the fridge, leftovers seem to stick to the shelf and are avoided like the plague. Schedule frequent leftover nights to incorporate them into new dishes or set up a food sharing program with your friends and family to get the leftovers out of your house.
5. Freeze. In the world of food preservation, nothing works as well as a freezer, especially a stand-alone one. It is a useful and underused tool, and offers many benefits. Some of them include:
- Preserving foods for months that would normally last for only a few days.
- Stabilizing the nutritional value of purchased foods.
- Enabling you to buy your favorite foods in bulk.
- Providing a large storage cache of meals for those busy nights when you can’t make it to the store.
- Allowing you to store pre-prepared or leftover foods for later use.
Following these five strategies should go a very long way to making sure that you throw out next to nothing on your next refrigerator clean-up.