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August 20, 2020 / Cathy Pedtke

How to Save on Your Groceries by Reducing Food Waste

woman in a mask shopping for fruit

Food waste has a big effect on the environment when it piles up in landfills, and uses valuable resources like water, fuel, and human labor to get there. Fresh, healthy food shouldn’t go to waste, and most of us waste so little every day that it doesn’t seem like a big deal. However, the USDA estimates that over $162 billion worth of food goes to waste every year. That’s over $1,800 per year for most families!

If you would like to save money on your groceries and reduce your impact on the environment, read on for tips on how to reduce your food waste at home.

Reduce Your Food Waste, Increase Your Savings

Zero waste is near impossible for most people, but there are strategies that can drastically reduce your food waste and save on your grocery bills. Remember, any food that ends up being wasted is also part of your grocery budget going in the trash.

If you are not convinced that you throw away food at home, try a simple waste audit in your kitchen: for at least a day or two (ideally a week), make a note of any time you throw away food. Better yet, snap a photo with your phone before throwing it in the trash. Although you may never throw away large amounts of food, a few leftovers and wilted greens can add up.

The top sources of food waste at home are:

Organizing your kitchen to reduce food waste is a great first step to reducing your waste and grocery bill. Read on for our tips on minimizing food waste, shopping smart, and meal planning to save you time and money.

1. Shopping Smart for Zero Waste

Reducing food waste and grocery costs starts before you even go to the grocery store. When you are planning your shopping list, make sure to take stock of what you already have, as accidentally buying duplicate ingredients can easily lead to waste. You can use PlateJoy’s easy shopping list tool to keep track of what you already have in your pantry, and plan your list accordingly to save time and money at the store.

Once you’re at the store, stick to the list: grocery store displays and sales can be tempting, but these spur-of-the-moment purchases often lead to larger grocery bills and more waste at home. Having a concise shopping list and sticking to it ensures that you only buy what you need for the week ahead.

Also, be wary of bulk pricing or “family sized” packages: while buying in bulk can be cost effective, you will only save money if you use it all.

2. Meal Planning and Batch Cooking

Three containers of colorful food

Use a meal planner to reduce your food waste and save big on groceries. Planning ahead saves you time while shopping, and helps you avoid whim purchases at the store. You can also plan your meals around what day you shop: ingredients like seafood, fresh greens, and delicate items should be eaten within a couple of days, while heartier ingredients like grains and potatoes can be used later in the week.

Using a meal planning service can also help you use up extra ingredients. Search for recipes with specific ingredients on the PlateJoy app or on the internet– this can be a great way to try a new recipe as well! Plan for one or two “flexible” meals a week to use up extra ingredients in your fridge and leave room for unexpected meals out.

Incorporating batch meals will reduce your overall waste and cost by using whole ingredients and providing meals for later. Batch cooking ensures you have the right portions and can prepack the extra, and many batch meals can be frozen for up to three months, so you won’t get bored eating the same meal twice in one week. Try this Portuguese chorizo & chickpea stew that is easy to make in bulk, freeze, and reheat later.

3. Learn How to Substitute Ingredients

Assortment of beets, potatoes and cucumbers

Substituting ingredients allows you to reduce the cost of many recipes, as you can use up ingredients you already have instead of buying additional ingredients. Substitutions also make recipes more enjoyable if there are certain foods your family doesn’t like. Here are some common substitutions for expensive or high-waste ingredients:

There are also recipes that utilize whatever ingredients you have on hand, like this farmer’s market quesadilla. Incorporate whatever vegetables and cheese you have in your fridge, and it will still turn out delicious.

4. Try New Foods in Small Amounts

Small wooden spoons filled with nuts and seeds

Reducing your food waste to save money does not mean you can’t try new recipes. Variety is important for nutrition and enjoyment, and most people would rather eat something different every day. If there is a new ingredient you want to try, but aren’t sure if you or your family will like it, buy a small amount first. Find a store that sells ingredients in bulk and purchase just what you need for one recipe.

For produce, look for it sold by the pound or individually before buying a larger package. Here’s a little secret: many grocery stores are happy to let you sample an item that is cut to order or sold in bulk, like cheeses, deli items, and other bulk or prepared ingredients. Just ask a store member nicely! A small taste-test will help you decide if it's a food you truly want to purchase.

When you try a new recipe, make a smaller portion first or serve it as a side dish. This is a great way to introduce new foods to small children and picky eaters, too. If you end up with leftovers from a meal you weren’t thrilled about, try sprucing them up with a different sauce or reinventing them altogether. When packing up leftovers, keep components of the meal separate. Here are our favorite ways to use meal components:

5. Preserve and Freeze Leftover Ingredients

Jars of preserved fruits

Raise your hand if the following sounds familiar: you just couldn’t resist that super-sized bag of apples that was on sale, and now you have 15 apples that are about to go soft. Now what? Whether dealing with leftovers or excess ingredients, many foods can be frozen for up to three months and defrosted for later use.

Extra produce should be washed and pre-cut, then spread on a tray to be frozen before putting them in a container. Freezing them on a tray helps to prevent them sticking together. You can also freeze vegetable combinations together for ready-made stir fry and soup mixes.

If you're freezing meals, package them in single portions for easy defrosting. Moist or saucy dishes like soups, stews, curries, and casseroles freeze well; but avoid freezing salads, eggs, cooked potatoes or plain pasta, as these items don’t retain their flavor or texture when frozen.

If you want to get a little creative, there are plenty of other ways to preserve leftover ingredients. Fridge pickles (also called quick pickles) are an easy way to keep vegetables for several months in the refrigerator. Overripe and bruised fruits make excellent jams. You can also dry or dehydrate foods to make your own jerky, fruit leather, and vegetable chips.

The Takeaway

Reducing your food waste at home can make a huge difference to your grocery bill. Careful meal planning and a little creativity in the kitchen can dramatically reduce the food you throw away, while saving money on groceries by using everything you buy. Not only do these tips help your wallet, but you can also feel good about reducing your impact on the environment, too.

Cathy Pedtke
Recipe Coordinator @ PlateJoy

Cathy is PlateJoy's Recipe Coordinator and chef-in-residence. She is passionate about food justice and culinary education and believes everyone should have access to healthy, fresh food. She has a Master's degree in Gastronomy from Boston University, where she focused on food policy. When she isn't testing new recipes at home, she enjoys gardening, running marathons, and volunteering with local food recovery organizations.

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