Every week you clean out the refrigerator, and every week you may find some food to throw away—broccoli you didn’t get to eat before it went bad, leftovers from last Tuesday night’s dinner, lettuce that can no longer be revived…
If you are throwing away food on a weekly basis, you are not alone.
According to The New York Times, Americans throw away 27% of their available food. This includes waste from people’s homes, restaurants and grocery stores. Timothy Jones of the University of Arizona, who studies food waste, estimates that the average family of four wastes $600 in food each year. (TLC)
The Financial Cost of Food Waste
Despite this waste, many people complain that they simply don’t have the money to set aside to fund their children’s college education fund or to pay down debt or to save for their own retirement.
How powerful can this extra $600 a year be?
Let’s say you have $10,000 in credit card debt at 12% interest, and you pay $200 a month. If you continue to pay a fixed rate of $200 a month until the card is paid off, you will pay for 5 years and 9 months, and you will pay $3,734.33 in interest. If you take the extra $600 you are now wasting on food and apply it to your debt every year instead, you will pay off the card in 4 years and 3 months, and you will pay $2,669.36 in interest.
Beyond the environmental and moral costs, food waste has a real, tangible financial cost too. Throwing away broccoli that has gone bad is actually throwing away money that you could be using for a better purpose.
How to Limit Food Waste
There are a variety of strategies you can utilize to avoid food waste.
Consider the following:
- Shop only once a week or once every two weeks. Don’t rush to the store to buy an ingredient if you don’t have it. Instead, find a substitution at home. Don’t have green peppers? Substitute red peppers instead. Yes, the taste may be a bit different, but you are using up what you have on hand.
- Buy a combination of fresh and frozen produce. Produce is wasted most often. People have good intentions to eat all of the fruits and vegetables they buy, but they get busy and can’t cook or they forget about the veggies. Instead, buy half fresh produce to eat immediately, and half frozen produce. Then, if you have a busy week and can’t use all of the produce, half of it is in the freezer, where it can be stored indefinitely.
- Shop from the pantry first. Before making your weekly menu plan, shop from home first. Do you have an abundance of carrots that need to be eaten up soon? Make sure to choose several meals for the week that will use up those carrots first. Also, if an ingredient is on your grocery list, first make sure that you don’t already have it at home. I have two brand new bottles of olive oil on my pantry shelf because I forgot to check what I already have on hand.
- Use the Internet to find recipes. There are plenty of sites that can help you find good recipes with the ingredients you have on hand. Food.com is a great place to start as is lovefoodhatewaste.com. I recently had 3 pounds of potatoes to use up quickly. I went to food.com and found three great recipes, one of them being Potato Chili. I never thought that would have been a hit at my house, but all three of my kids happily ate it, and we didn’t waste the potatoes.
- Find creative ways to repurpose leftovers. If your family is not fond of leftovers, try to find creative ways to repurpose the food. If you had leftover green beans, why not consider making a chicken pot pie with the green beans inside? Often my kids grow tired of leftovers, but they will eat repurposed leftovers with no complaint.
- Set a grocery spending limit. If you normally spend $600 on groceries per month and find that you are wasting food, trim the grocery budget to $500 the next month. If you have less money, you may not waste as much simply because you weren’t able to buy as many groceries.
Food Waste Hurts
Food waste uses our natural resources and can cause methane emissions once in the landfill. In addition, money that is currently being spent on food waste could be put to much better personal use.
To reduce your food waste, try some or all of the tips above.
You may just find some extra room in your budget and a little less trash in the garbage.