Food waste just seems to be one of the most intractable problems of the Frugal Experience. So, I’ve thought a lot about this issue, mostly because of the money angle. And, not to mention, the I-Love-To-Save-Money angle. Now I will share with you some of these thoughts.
A great way to save money on groceries is to bulk buy. However, bulk buying can also open the door to bulk throwing away. If “cheap” bulk bargains spoil before they can be used, then they will just end up as not-so-cheap trash.
A better approach is to figure out what groceries are actually loved, wanted, and used. For instance, if you hate bananas, it’s best to pass up that .25/lb bargain. Yep, that’s a great deal, and bananas are a nutritional powerhouse, but if you won’t eat them, they won’t do you or your wallet any good.
Now you may think that this bit of advice is so obvious that I shouldn’t even mention it. But I should mention it because sometimes the Frugal Zeal takes hold so strongly that it is hard to pass up an exceptionally good deal, even when you know perfectly well that it’s an item you don’t even like.
Another thing about shopping: it’s better to just buy a few things at a time that you know for sure you will use up, even if it means visiting the grocery store more frequently. Myself, I shop about two times a month, but if food waste was a big problem for me I think I’d go every 3-5 days and just buy exactly what I would need for that time period. It is much better to use things up and so run out of things (making a trip to the store necessary) then to throw things out (making a trip to the poorhouse necessary).
Oh, and don’t be afraid of those powdered foods. Dry milk in the pantry is a versatile staple. You can make exactly the amount of liquid milk you need, so you don’t have to risk throwing any out. Plus, dry milk can be used in baking, too.
This is the real danger zone. This is where groceries can be neglected, forgotten, and thrown out as a result. What to do?
Meal Planning: Ok, I will admit that I don’t really do this. I usually think up something for dinner somewhat early in the day, so I can put my slow-cooker or solar oven into action. But coming up with a weekly menu is a great strategy for using up leftovers and to make the most of grocery store trips.
Freezing: In my house this is a biggie, as far as making the most of my grocery dollar. Since I’m lazy and only go shopping about twice a month, my freezer helps me keep food nice and edible until I’m ready to use it. It helps out with bulk-buying, too. I can go ahead and buy 20 .55/lb chickens because I know they will keep in my big freezer. Freezing is also a great way to deal with leftovers that won’t get eaten within a day or two.
Cooking, then Freezing: Sometimes I do this. I’ll take some meat out of the freezer, defrost it, then not use it. Duh! Well, I don’t want to re-freeze the raw meat. I’m not sure why this would be bad, but for some reason I just believe it would be. I sure don’t want to throw it out, though. So I cook it up, then freeze the cooked meat. This is actually pretty convenient, too.
Smoothies, Casseroles, and Pot Pies: Even with my best efforts, sometimes I miscalculate with fresh fruit and vegetable purchases. Sometimes I don’t use them or freeze them when they are at their peak. If this happens I probably will use sort-of-soft-but-still-edible fruits (and even some vegetables) in a delicious and healthy “green” smoothy. In fact, I’m enjoying one right now while I write this. It has an apple in it that has seen better days.
Casseroles and pot pies are also great for using up borderline veggies and other leftovers. I do this quite a bit. A casserole is really easy in the slow cooker. Or, I will whip up some cornbread batter, pour half in the bottom of a casserole dish, pour all sorts of leftovers in the middle and then pour the other half of the cornbread on top. Put it in a 350 oven until the cornbread is thoroughly cooked, and there you have a delicious (er, usually), economical, and easy “pot pie”.
Knowledge is Power
By this I mean a couple of different things. One thing that helps me a lotto avoid throwing out food is the fact that I own tons and tons of cookbooks. So I can usually find some recipe to accommodate whatever I may happen to have in my fridge.
Also, keeping track of what is on hand in the fridge, freezer, and pantry is a great way to get a handle on food waste. If you remember what you have the chances are greater you will use it up instead of throwing it out.
But just remember, don’t take any crazy chances. When in doubt, throw it out. Food poisoning stinks, believe me! (I have gotten food poisoning twice from eating out, but never at home. Knock on wood). With a little practice it’s not too difficult to figure out which food items can still be put to use. And for a possible annual savings of $3120 (or more!), it is so worth it.