Don't throw away your food budget

Cutting Food Waste

by Gary Foreman

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Waste Not, Want Not

Estimates vary widely, but most say that between 20 and 30% of the food produced never gets from the farm to your stomach. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture study puts food waste at 27%. That's food that could be going to nourish your family, but instead bloats your grocery budget and ends up in a landfill.

You can reduce food waste by making a few simple changes. Read on to discover how easy it is to reduce your grocery bill by 10% or more!

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Plan Your Meals

We've all heard that menu planning helps to reduce grocery bills. What we heard was true. But many of us don't like to make a weekly meal plan. It takes time and thought to decide what you'll serve for dinner all week. We've all thought that a meal plan makes it hard to be spontaneous.

But a meal plan does a number of other things. Things that help keep you from wasting food and your money.

It allows you to use what's in your freezer. Let's face it, when you're in the grocery store you'll never remember what you have in the freezer. So you'll buy more. Even if you don't need it. How often have you tossed freezer burned items that have been passed over because you bought more and decided to use the latest purchase?

A meal plan allows you to use the leftovers in your fridge. Often leftovers can be incorporated into another meal if you have a plan to use them. A meal plan allows you to put those leftovers to good use.

A meal plan can allow you to use food from your garden. If you're a gardener you probably have some fresh fruits and veggies ready for the kitchen table. But if you don't meal plan you'll probably see more of them go to waste. Better to know when and how much you'll need. Then you can pass along extras to your friends and neighbors.

A meal plan allows you to avoid impulse buys at the grocery store. Sure that melon looks good. And the desserts smell delicious! But how often have you found that overripe melon in the back of your fridge and tossed it in the trash? That won't happen if you know when you'll serve the fruits, veggies and other items you buy.

Related: Extreme Meal Planning

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Proper Food Storage

How you package and store your groceries will make a big difference in how long they stay edible. A few minutes spent after you return from the grocery store will help lengthen the life of your food.

Start with the fresh fruits and vegetables. Different items require different methods. Celery will last longer if it's wrapped in aluminum foil. Bananas last longer if kept in the refrigerator.

Consider using 'green bags' and use the proper setting for your vegetable keeper. Learn specific methods in our article on "Storing Fruits & Veggies."

Freezer burn is the enemy of all frozen foods. Nothing worse than finding a package that's been ruined with freezer burn. While nothing will stop freezer burn forever, proper packaging can delay it for quite awhile. You'll find a number of ideas on "Using a Freezer Effectively" and "Avoiding Freezer Burn".

Make sure your store of grocery goodies turns over. Every house has some items that you never want to run out of and keep on the shelf at all time. And if you have six cans of baked beans it's easiest just to grab the one in front. Keep doing that and eventually you'll find an out of date can stuck in the back and end up throwing it out. Begin using the FIFO (first in, first out) method of storage. If you take from the front, put newer stock in the back. Use up the oldest package first.

Keep an inventory. Unless you have a photographic memory you'll forget what you have in your freezer and pantry. A simple inventory list makes it easy to scan and know what's available for your next recipe or meal. You'll avoid buying unnecessary items and will use things before they go bad.

Related: How to Prevent Freezer Burn

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It's a word that some families hate. But if planned and used properly, leftovers can make your life easier.

Most families cook more than they need for a meal. It's not uncommon to have 10% or more of the food you prepared become leftovers. Proper use can reduce your grocery bill and even save you time and effort.

The freezer and microwave are a leftovers best friend. The freezer allows you to keep leftovers for future use. Some families put single serving portions of leftovers in the freezer. Some even take a little of everything that was served in tonight's meal on a paper plate and freeze it as an entire meal for one.

The microwave allows many to take leftovers to work for lunch. Or you can heat up one of those prepared dinners you froze last week.

Related: Meal Planning Around Leftovers

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Cook to Avoid Waste

How you cook can reduce waste, too. Know your family's eating habits to determine proper recipe sizes. Adjust recipes so that they leave very few leftovers or enough for another full reheated meal.

Keep leftovers in mind when you decide which recipe to make today. You may have had corn as a side dish last night. Today that leftover corn could be an ingredient in your casserole.

Size your recipes so that you make enough for leftovers to take to work for lunch. Avoiding fast food lunches will save you money and improve your health.

Look for recipes that will use items that have been in your pantry or freezer for a long time. Better to try a new recipe than to let those items go to waste.

Can you cut your grocery bill by 20%? That depends on how much food you waste. But even if you only save 5% isn't it worthwhile? After all, any boomer knows that Mom would be proud if you were to join the clean plate club!

Debt Book

Related Articles:
Save Money on Groceries Before You Leave Home
Using Leftover Veggies
How Baby Boomers Can Reduce Food Waste

Reviewed October 2017

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Debt Book