Every bit of unused produce, leftover dinner, and expired canned food equates to dollars lost from your pocket. Over the course of a year, this can add up to a loss of $2,275 for a family of four, according to a recent report from the National Resources Defense Council. For the average family, this total represents about one quarter of all food and beverage expenses. By adopting the following 10 techniques, both in your shopping and eating habits you will squander less food -- and money.
Avoid impulse buys. Maybe something looks especially good or the price is drastically reduced. No matter what your rationale is, unless you had a plan for the item before entering the store, don't buy it. Sure, an extra product or two doesn't seem like a huge deal, but if it ends up going to waste, it wasn't a good deal at all. Go to the grocery store on a full-stomach to avoid the spur-of-the-moment purchases that look so tempting.
If you live alone, don't buy the big bag of apples. Instead, purchase loose produce to get the exact amount you know you'll consume before it spoils. Ditto for a recipe that only calls for, say, three potatoes; ignore the big 3-pound bag unless you have another plan, already in place, to use them. Don't get sucked into thinking a bigger bag is a better deal; you are paying more for the overall product, so anything unused is a waste regardless of the unit price.
Don't buy the "Manager's Special" or other deeply discounted items without checking the use-by date. Put the item in your cart only if you're sure you'll consume the foodstuff before it expires. Be especially wary with deli salads, bakery items, and meats that last only a few days, or at most, a couple of weeks. If the expiration date is quickly nearing and the plan is to freeze the item, do so immediately.
Put items that will expire first in the front of the fridge and pantry. For example, line up yogurts with the newest containers in the back and the oldest in the front. Grab from the head of the line so that you work your way through chronologically. Even though products in your pantry often last far longer, you still run the risk of squandering food and money by forgetting to take note of expiration dates. Organize canned items and dried goods using this same method.
If a recipe says it feeds eight and you are a family of four, either halve the recipe or immediately freeze some. This money-saving tip particularly applies if your family includes small kids who may not eat the equivalent of a full portion and no one is wild about eating leftovers a second night. Before you start to cook, consider how much everyone at the dinner table will eat. Should the kids split a chicken breast? Maybe your partner eats a full portion, but you only eat half. Count the number of portions instead of people.
One option for leftovers, foods that are on sale, or items that expire quickly is to freeze them. Certain fruits and vegetables can survive in the freezer for up to several months -- with the proper preparation. Casseroles, meats, and even milk are also freeze-worthy. Foods still have a shelf life in the freezer, though, so this isn't a foolproof method of eliminating waste. Label and date everything you freeze so you know when to use and when to toss.
Disguising leftovers is a tricky technique that brings new life to an old meal, while adding money savings to the mix. Leftover shredded chicken from a sandwich also works in a pot of chili or an enchilada casserole. Cut-up vegetables from yesterday's salad go well in soup or omelets. The key is to reuse the ingredients quickly before they go bad.
When it comes to food, stocking up on good deals can be risky. Do you really need six bottles of barbecue sauce or mayo? (Remember, check the expiration date.) If there is any doubt, just say no. It's more cost effective to pay a bit extra for one unit that will be used than to shell out for multiples that will end up going to waste. Of course, donating the additional items to a food pantry before they expire is a solution for foods that may not make it into your meals by the deadline.
Children are notorious for not finishing their dinner, and then claiming an hour later that they're hungry. Instead of throwing out what they didn't eat at mealtime, put a lid on it and store it in the refrigerator. This is an easy way to reheat the plate and waste less food.
One take-out order may be more than one person wants or needs to eat in a single sitting. But take-out often tastes less delicious the second day and, in many homes, winds up in the garbage pail. If you know for sure that you'll consume the leftover portion for lunch or dinner the next day, then stow it away. Otherwise, split an order with your dining partner and skip the leftovers altogether.