How to Save On Food & Avoid Food Waste: 10 Ways
Between 14-25% of the food we bring home from the grocery store ends up in the trash. So how do you make sure the food you purchase doesn't go to waste?
First In, First Out (FIFO). Sort through your fridge and pantry for items that are about to expire and place those in front of the refrigerator so that you remember to eat them, including leftovers. Make this practice a habit to keep things in order.
Check for Leftovers. Before preparing something new, check the refrigerator for leftovers. You'd be amazed at what can be scrounged up for a snack. If I keep up the FIFO rule, it’s quicker to find something to eat.
Before Shopping, Take Inventory. If you don't know what you have already, you are liable to buy duplicates or pick up items you don't need because you've got something else that will work at home already. And while you check for duplicates, do the next step at the same time.
Check for Substitutions. Need onions? Maybe the green onions you have will do fine in place of the white onions; a bell pepper could be substituted for a tomato in salad for color; zucchini instead of cucumber; black beans for lentils; marinated artichoke instead of pickles. Doing this helps prevent food waste, you can use up what you have on hand and you can to save yourself a trip to the store.
Grouping In The Grocery List. When making your grocery list, write them into four groups. Using just four categories keeps things simple and making a list saves on time and avoids impulse buys. Take a sheet of paper, fold it in half vertically and horizontally so you end up with four sections. Section 1 starts at the top right and goes counter clock-wise.
-Section 1: List fresh, green foods whether they are fruits or vegetables, like avocado, green grapes, salad greens, scallions and green apples.
-Section 2: is for all fresh produce that are not green, like potatoes, mangoes, tomatoes, eggplant. I also call it the Red Section to make it simple.
-Section 3: is for everything outside of fruits, vegetables, frozen foods and cold foods; it’s for dry foods or non-perishables like seed crackers, sprouted bread, brown rice pasta, olive oil ; and shampoo, lotion, cranberries.
-Section 4: is for cold and frozen foods like almond creamer, frozen string beans and frozen blueberries. I shop for these last so they have less thawing time.
6. Don’t Shop While Hungry. If you have to go the market, have a snack first. If you don’t have one on hand and you’re already on the way to the store, get something to eat first, then shop for the rest. Whole Foods has a juice bar that also makes smoothies. Another option is to head straight for the protein bars and get a Lara Bar. They have one of the shortest ingredient lists of any brand.
7. Go The Same Store Locations. If I go to the same location, I know the store layout. When I go to a different location for Whole Foods, Sprouts or Trader Joe’s, I get a little lost, I end up exploring more and that means buying things that aren't on the list. If I stick to the outer perimeter of any market, I make better choices. All of the staple, whole foods are there; processed, packaged and impulse buys are found down the aisles and at checkout.
7. Don’t Always Buy In Bulk. Shopping at wholesalers like Costco can provide a lot of great savings – but only for certain items. There are things you shouldn’t buy in bulk because it could lead to spoiling and waste, especially if you don’t have a lot of mouths to feed. Reconsider buying foods in bulk that you might not use up fast like brown rice, nuts and seeds, spices and olive oil. The oil in nuts can go bad. If it smells old or tastes funky, you’ve had it for too long. The same goes for oils like olive oil, safflower oil and sesame oil.
Years ago, I baked zucchini bread with some safflower oil. It was funky tasting and smelling. I realized later that my safflower oil was old. Because I didn’t smell it, I wasted time and energy making something that went in the trash. I won’t make that mistake again—baking something takes 1 - 2.5 hours start to clean up. Nowadays, I can go through a bottle of olive oil in less than a week, even though I’m cooking just for two. We make all of our salad dressings from scratch and we have a large salad for dinner most nights of the week, so it makes sense for me to buy more at a time.
Do buy items in bulk if you go through them quickly, especially if they are non-perishable and you have the space for them like baking soda, sea salt, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, epsom salt, toilet paper.
8. Buy The Right Amount Or Freeze It. For fruits and vegetables, take just enough to last you until the next market run. Since berries go bad quickly, buy them in smaller amounts.
When buying perishables like avocados and fruits, choose a mix between ripe and unripened ones. That way, you aren't stuck with a bunch of avocados that all need to be eaten in the same day (unless you are making guacamole). Freeze fruit if they are about to go bad and use them later for smoothies or thaw them out in your oatmeal (this is a handy truck to cool down the oatmeal batch before storing it in the refrigerator). And frozen grapes are delicious.
Be realistic with how much you cook at home. Don’t forget about the dinners out with friends, upcoming parties or if you tend to grab lunch while running errands; those can to be spontaneous. You can always turn to the frozen options if you run out of fresh foods.
9. Group While Bagging. When bagging your own groceries, group similar items together. When you get home, unpacking will be easier. Frozen foods go in the freezer; dried fruits and nuts go in the same drawer; oils and vinegars go live with the spices; and non-refrigerated produce like garlic and potatoes go on the countertop.
10. Cook, Pack, Eat. Right after cooking a batch for the week and before you sit down to eat, divide up some portions for later. This prevents you from overeating and going back to extra food sitting out. Do you ever notice that you can eat more just because there is food sitting out? Eat the leftovers a couple days later and you won’t get bored.