15 Ways to Stop Wasting Money on Food

Americans waste billions of pounds of food a year; here’s how to stop.

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As anyone who’s ever cleaned up after a dinner party knows, Americans waste a lot of food. In addition to the fruit, vegetables, and other items that go bad in our own kitchens, farmers and grocery stores toss unused goods as well. According to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, it adds up to at least 160 billion pounds of wasted food each year. The problem is considered so serious that food industry groups have launched an initiative to reduce the amount of food that ends up in landfills while increasing the amount that goes to food banks.

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In his book, Bloom says Americans themselves can also do a lot to stop food waste, starting with a few adjustments to refrigerator organization. Bloom recommends keeping a “use it up” shelf for items that will soon go bad so you remember to eat them. Here are 15 more recommendations from Bloom on how to waste less money on food:

1. Buy less food overall. The European model of more frequent and even daily shopping trips can help reduce food waste compared with the more American-style mega-shopping sprees on the weekends. After all, when you’re shopping on Sunday for Friday’s meals, the chances of food spoiling in the interim is greater. Plus, shopping more frequently gives you flexibility to make use of unexpected leftovers, Bloom says.

2. Keep your fridge uncluttered. If you can’t see the hummus, you might forget to eat it. (That’s also where Bloom’s “use it up” shelf helps.) He also suggests putting new groceries in the back and pushing older items to the front.

3. Make French toast. The classic recipe uses slightly stale bread; bread pudding and bread crumbs serve the same purpose. Banana bread similarly makes use of old bananas. Bloom also suggests chicken pot pies, chicken salad, fried rice, and soups for getting the most out of leftovers and vegetables approaching their expiration dates. (The recipe finder tool on Allrecipes.com makes it easy to look up uses for extra food.) You can also use leftover chicken bones and vegetable scraps to make your own stock, which can then serve as a base for soups.

4. Ignore expiration dates. Well, maybe not completely, but because those dates tend to be conservative, Bloom recommends relying more on your own senses to determine whether or not food is still edible.

5. Decline the “extras” at restaurants. Once the bread basket hits your table, it can no longer be served to others, so speak up if you’d rather skip the carbo-loading before the main meal. Similarly, if you’re not going to eat the fries that come with your meal, let your server know.

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6. Bring home leftovers. Some restaurants are famous for large servings; don’t let the leftovers go to waste. Bringing your own container for them makes the choice more environmentally-friendly, too.

7. Use smaller plates at home. One of the families Bloom profiles in the book uses smaller plates to encourage taking smaller servings, which can then be refilled if necessary. That way, children (and adults) are less likely to take more than they will eat.

8. Cook more. Bloom found that people are less likely to waste food that they or a loved one made, which means home-cooked meals have a better chance of avoiding the garbage disposal.

9. Grow your own herbs. The small amount of basil or mint often called for in recipes can lead to big waste, since you often have to purchase a larger bunch. Instead, consider growing the herbs yourself in small indoor pots, or plan several herb-heavy recipes in one week. Bloom also suggests dicing and freezing herbs in ice cube trays with water for longer-term storage.

10. Shop for fruits and vegetables last. Most of us do the opposite, since produce sections are usually the first we enter, but Bloom recommends saving it for last to protect them from getting buried and bruised by heavier items, and also to keep them refrigerated as much as possible.

11. Eat before you shop. Shopping on an empty stomach tends to lead to impulse buys and unnecessary stocking up.

12. Limit bulk buys. As research from Harvard Business School has shown, stocking up on items can lead to overspending (and waste), especially if we don’t get the chance to use up all that cream cheese before it gets moldy.

13. Save and eat leftovers. Some items, such as chili and meatloaf, taste even better the next day.

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14. Use your freezer. Putting long-term leftovers in the freezer, along with other freezable items that you can’t use right away, can help reduce the amount that ends up in the trash. Using sealed bags will help prevent freezer burn.

15. Label items. Writing down the date and a description can help remind you to use them up. Bloom adds that including the monetary value of items can also provide an incentive to avoid waste.

Twitter: @alphaconsumer