How to reduce food waste... and lower your grocery bill, too!

How many times have you gone to get something out of the veggie drawer and found half a celery wilting away at the bottom of it? Or you've gone into the fridge to get some milk, only to find that it's gone bad, and you have to pour it down the sink. As a repeat offender in food wastage, I feel your pain. I hate wasting food as much as anyone, but what really gets me is that I'm not only wasting food, I'm wasting money. MY money. Money I had to work for and could have spent on something else!

Estimates of how much food waste is generated varies from country to country, but EPA figures showed that, in 2007,12.7% of the US waste stream (before recycling) consisted of food scraps. That meant that (just in the US) 31 million tons of food was thrown away into landfills and incinerators. In the UK, they estimate that a third of all food bought ends up going to waste. Reducing food waste not only means a potential saving to the consumer, but also better public sanitation by eliminating potential pest (and other) problems and a decrease in production of greenhouse gases from the decomposing food as well as from transporting all that food around.

The good news is that, with a little bit of planning, you can stop wasting your money by throwing your food in the garbage.

The US throws away 31 million tons of food a year! (Photo courtesy of treehugger.com)
The US throws away 31 million tons of food a year! (Photo courtesy of treehugger.com)

Planning and organization

The first area that you need to work on when trying to reduce food waste is getting organized.

  • Decide which recipes you want to cook for the week. Check out my hub on how to cook quick and healthy meals if you're stuck for ideas on how to get organized.
  • Be smart about your recipe choice. Choose recipes to use up ingredients that you know you will have too much of. For example, if your favourite recipe calls for half a broccoli, pick another recipe that uses up the other half if you know you'll have to buy a whole one.
  • If you have an active family, be sure to check who will be in for dinner which nights of the week.
  • Check what you have in your fridge, freezer and pantry. Make a note of the things that you've had for a while - those will need to be eaten ASAP if you want to avoid throwing them out! Stilltasty.com is a great website where you can find out how long you can keep common foods in the fridge/freezer.
  • Make a list of what you need to buy at the grocery store. Make sure to include exact quantities so you don't accidentally buy too much.

How good are you at preventing food waste?

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Shop smarter

Making some simple changes to how you shop will help you to reduce your food waste and may save you money on your grocery bill, too.

  • Only buy what's on your list.
  • Don't go shopping when hungry.
  • Buy exactly what you need - this may mean buying smaller portions of things. For example, if you only need 100 ml of yogurt, don't buy a huge container of it. Even if it's cheaper by unit volume, this may be a false economy if you don't use most of it.
  • Avoid pre-packaged and washed vegetables. These generally don't last as long as whole ones. For example, a head of lettuce will last longer than a bag of lettuce leaves.
  • Check 'use before' and 'sell before' dates. Buy the longest lasting item you can find.

Careful and creative cooking

While planning and shopping smarter will help you to waste less of your food, what you do with it once it's in the kitchen will make a difference, too.

  • Measure out exact portions when cooking. If you don't know how big a portion size is, look on the package or look it up on the Internet. For example, I always weigh out my pasta - a portion size is around 60-70g of dried pasta.
  • Use up your leftovers. A whole chicken, for example, can last for four meals - first, roast it and have it with some yummy veggies, second take the white meat off the bones and use it in sandwiches, third - use up the leftover dark meat in a chicken pot pie or stir fry it, and finally - boil up the bones to make a lovely soup - just add some veggies and rice/pasta
  • Make double the quantity of your recipe and freeze half. This will save you money and hassle, plus for smaller families this may make it easier to use up all your fresh ingredients.
  • Be creative with your recipes. If you have some leftover ingredients in the fridge, then adapt a recipe to include them or look up a new recipe specifically to use them up. Many Internet recipe sites allow you to search for recipes that include multiple ingredients - my favourite is BBC Good Food¬†Magazine's website.

Composting

A final way to stop throwing your food in the garbage is to compost it. You can compost most vegetable and fruit waste, but make sure not to compost meat, bones, fish, fats, or dairy. Composting will allow you to recycle your organic waste back into your soil. Plus, if you use the compost in your vegetable garden then you'll be generating more food! Some cities/counties even collect organic waste - a great option if you don't want want to compost it yourself. Vermicomposting is another good option for those with limited space. Compost 101 has lots of handy tips on how and what to compost, as does the Sierra Club.

Some other ways to save money on food bills

  1. Use sales and coupons (but only buy food you will eat)
  2. Make your own lunch
  3. Buy produce in season
  4. Avoid vending machines
  5. Buy generic brands

The last word

Many people often fall into the trap of buying too much food, or cooking too much food, and then not eating it. Changing your mindset to consciously trying not to throw your food (and money) in the trash is the first step in the right direction. With a little bit of planning and care, you can easily minimize your food waste, potentially reducing your food bills at the same time.

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Comments 11 comments

Jacob the french profile image

Jacob the french 6 years ago from Grenoble, France

Great hub, focusing on how to not waste anything (money and food). Too many people just buy to throw away a couple of days later. I agree with what you just wrote here, even though I don't think we should measure everything, or plan recipes before going shopping. We should just be more careful (responsible).

I like this hub, thank you.


chirls profile image

chirls 6 years ago from Indiana (for now) Author

Jacob, I see your point - measuring everything could be a bit extreme, and often you can come up with the best recipe ideas when inspired at the grocery store. You definitely got the message I was trying to convey. Thanks for reading and commenting. :)


akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

I had to come over and check out your hubs when you posted on mine! These are fantastic points - I think by and large, we as Americans waste more than any other country in the world and how sad is that? I routinely check drawers and foods to make sure I'm using them properly and by the expiration dates. I make it a point to cook up things I'm afraid are going to go bad and either freeze or use in a recipe. It is amazing how much you can cut down on the waste - and your bills! Great hub!


Jai Warren profile image

Jai Warren 6 years ago from Dallas, Deep Ellum, Texas

If more people would follow your guidelines, we definitely would save money and waste less. I absolutely hate wasting food, that's why I go to the grocery store almost daily. Ever notice people at the store with a shopping cart that's just overflowing with stuff? You just know a lot of that will go to waste. Unfortunately, we're a consuming nation and it's a hard habit to break. Very good Hub chirls! Ciao. :)


chirls profile image

chirls 6 years ago from Indiana (for now) Author

akirchner - I was surprised when the EPA figure for food waste in the US was only 12.7% because I thought it would be more like 30%. Either way, it's way too much! Thanks for stopping by.

Jai - I know what you mean about people with overflowing shopping carts - it's great if they have fresh healthy food in there, but not so good when a third of it will go to waste. Shopping more often is a great tip, thanks for sharing!


Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 6 years ago from Northam Western Australia

Brilliant and well thought out hub. Yes we all waste too much. I have been trying to cut this out by making my vegetable shopping only once a fortnight and make do that way the last few days I use frozen vegetables rather than waste it. Most leftovers vegetables can be used up in a stew if still okay. Rather than waste.


chirls profile image

chirls 6 years ago from Indiana (for now) Author

Eileen, thanks for reading and commenting! I tend to do the same thing as you - I get my ingredients for a few meals and then at the end of the week just use up leftover and frozen vegetables. I can't bring myself to make much stew in the summer, but in the winter it's great!


PrettyPanther profile image

PrettyPanther 6 years ago from Oregon

We are working on this in our household and have made great improvements. Thanks for the article; it contained some tips I hadn't thought of or had forgotten!


chirls profile image

chirls 6 years ago from Indiana (for now) Author

I'm glad you found some of the tips useful. I'm working on it at my place, too! It's easy to get lazy when it comes to food waste, but really it doesn't take that much effort to waste less. :)


RunAbstract profile image

RunAbstract 6 years ago from USA

Good advise anyone can impliment! Thanks!


chirls profile image

chirls 6 years ago from Indiana (for now) Author

Thanks for stopping by, RunAbstract. Glad you liked my tips!

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