Want to get 30% more food without paying 30% more at the grocery store? You don’t have to shop the sales, or clip coupons, or buy the store brand instead of your favorite name brand products. The simple start of the solution is to buy less and use more of the groceries you already buy. Seriously.
Most Americans spend a third or more of their grocery dollars on food they never actually eat. They don’t do that on purpose, of course. No one would intentionally buy extra fruit, vegetables, or meat just so they could throw them away. But that’s essentially what happens. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most Americans waste a solid 30% of the food they buy, not just once in a while but over and over again. Doing so not only takes a big bite out of your budget, but it’s also a big drain on the planet. Throwing food away squanders all the water, energy and natural resources used to grow it, farm it, fish it, package it, and get it to market. It wastes the landfill space where we toss it. And when food rots, it generates methane, a greenhouse gas that’s worse than carbon dioxide when it comes to causing climate change. The good news is, NOT wasting food is easy. You don’t need fancy new light bulbs, or a high-priced Tesla, or a bunch of solar collectors to make a difference. All you need to do is reduce, repurpose, and recycle the food you buy. Here’s how.
Reduce –To throw away less food, become a better buyer.
Start by planning meals before you go to the store so you can shop from a list of ingredients you actually intend to use. If you need recipe ideas, log into any one of literally thousands of websites – like thekitchn.com - that offer meal planning help. Keep a shopping list on your phone and note the items you need to buy before you start wheeling your cart around. That way, you’ll steer clear of random purchases and splurges that might just end up in the trash. Resist the “I’ll buy it because it’s on sale” mind set. Restrict bulk buying to canned and dried packaged foods rather than fresh produce. It might seem like a good idea to buy two large bags of pre-washed greens, but chances are you’ll only get through one of them before the other one turns all mushy on you. If you do buy fresh food in bulk, freeze what you don’t eat right away. Fruits and vegetables can be frozen after you par-cook them slightly; most meat and fish can simply be wrapped tightly and stowed in the freezer without any pre-cooking.
Repurpose –Make leftovers your best friend. Eating leftovers saves time, shopping and cooking. Plus, prepared food often tastes more delicious the day after it has been cooked and all the flavors have had a chance to deepen and blend. Repurpose Monday night’s dinner into Tuesday’s lunch.Store them in glass jars or reusable containers that are easy to take to work. Set aside one night a week to use up all the leftovers in the fridge. Roast vegetables for dinner, then puree the leftovers with vegetable or chicken broth for a delicious thick stew, or add tomatoes and make spaghetti sauce. If you don’t finish a can of salmon or tuna in one meal, sprinkle what’s left on top of the next day’s salad, toss into pasta or an omelet, or pat into a burger. Some cooks wash carrot tops, spinach stems, onion skins, and potato peels, then simmer in a pot of water with a little salt and pepper and herbs. Strain and you have broth. Most importantly, eat leftovers sooner rather than later. Keeping them in the front of the fridge makes them easy to see and grab without much effort.
Recycle –Turn your food scraps into “gardener’s gold.”
Composting food waste is the trick here, and it’s easier than you might think. Toss tea and coffee grounds directly into garden soil. For bulkier food scraps, create a compost pile or buy a rotating composting barrel; all you have to do is dump the scraps in and give the barrel a turn or two. Or, get an electric composter that sits in the kitchen or pantry like another appliance and transforms food waste into fertilizer in 24 hours. Of course, if you’re really gung ho, you can lay in a box full of red wiggler worms. They’ll happily chomp away at your eggshells, stale bread, and other unwanted grub until they convert it all into casings that make for a rich and crumbly soil additive. If you’re lucky enough to live in a city or town that offers curbside composting along with weekly pick-ups of your other recycling, sign up! For a small fee, groups like The Compost Crew will pick up your food waste and compost it for you. On the spectrum of the many ways you could save money, and do your part for this wonderful planet of ours, wasting less food may be the fastest, easiest, and smartest. And getting started couldn’t be easier — simply begin with a desire to be less wasteful. The rest, you might say, is all gravy.