Whether you’ve hidden unwanted lima beans in your mom’s potted plants or scraped month-old forgotten leftovers into the trash, we all know that pang of guilt when we allow perfectly good food to go to waste.
Not to mention the money we waste!
Here are 17 tips to stop wasting food and save on groceries!
Before you shop:
1. Check The Krazy Coupon Lady app for coupons on items you know you’ll eat.
Stock up on your essential non-perishables only when they’re on sale, and make sure you print coupons to get your costs down even more.
2. Use Mealime to do your weekly meal planning.
I’m a huge fan of app-ifying repetitive tasks like meal planning. I use Mealime, which offers tons of customization options, but remains easy to use.
My fave feature? “Cooking Mode,” which prevents your phone screen from locking so you can follow recipes and also lets you hover and swipe, so you don’t have to touch your phone to scroll!
There are lots of meal-planning apps out there, but if none of them really do it for you, I highly recommend a good ol’ pen and paper meal calendar.
3. Incorporate leftover-friendly meals like burritos, omelets, and stir fry.
Some recipes are particularly adaptable for leftover perishables. You can easily add extra meats and veggies to burritos, casseroles, empanadas, omelets, stir-fry, soups, pot pies, and pizzas.
When you eat:
4. Use smaller plates and cut back on over serving.
Don’t over serve your friends and family at meals!
Using smaller plates has been surprisingly effective for me. I tell my kids they can always have seconds, and you’d be shocked at how often they don’t ask for seconds because they’re full.
Now I err on the side of under-serving meals. You’ll be much happier if someone reaches for seconds as opposed to slinking off to the trash with half a plate of food. Use leftovers for lunches the next day.
5. Think of expiration dates as “quality guidelines,” not safety recommendations.
Does your stomach turn at the thought of eating a yogurt two days past its expiration date? Don’t fall into the trap!
Expiration dates are manufacturers’ estimates for how long food is likely to remain at optimum quality if unopened. They have nothing to do with the USDA or safety.
And if I were a food manufacturer trying to sell more products with lower quality complaints, I’d probably make those expiration dates super tight!
Your senses can be much more useful in determining a food’s edibility. Smell for off-putting odors, and look for mold or decay.
6. Make dried fruit snacks and smoothies before your fruit goes bad.
Fruit at or just past its peak of ripeness is perfect for drying in the oven!
I usually soak the fruit for about 10 minutes in water with some lemon juice, then slice it, lay it on a baking sheet between two sheets of parchment paper, and pop it in the oven at 150°.
You may need to vary the temperature depending on the fruit and thickness of the slice. Drying takes anywhere from 4-12 hours, and you should feel a nice fruit-snack texture. Tough, but pliable!
Smoothies are another great way to use softening fruits.
My basic recipe is equal parts yogurt, juice, and base fruit like peaches or pineapple. Then I add any additional fruits or veggies. Be careful not to overwhelm the base and make the smoothie too thick.
When you store:
7. Use an ozone generator to eliminate smells and prolong produce life.
Typically marketed as refrigerator deodorizers, an ozone generator oxygenates and sanitizes the air, fighting mold and bacteria and prolonging the life of your produce. Expect to spend $15-$50, then be amazed at how much longer your food stays fresh.
I have noticed that my produce can dry out if the generator is left on for a long time, but it’s way better than mold!
8. Trim herb stems and place in a glass of water before storing.
Herbs are notorious for turning after just a couple of days. Placing them in a little glass of water works wonders for extending their freshness!
9. Preserve fruits and veggies by canning, pickling, and freezing.
Canning and pickling can be a little daunting at first, but I’ve grown to love it! It’s especially helpful if you have a garden or buy produce in bulk.
For a quick jam project, try making freezer jam! It is much faster and simpler than making canned jam.
Frozen fruits and veggies also make great smoothie ingredients.
10. Vacuum seal your bulk buys.
A vacuum sealer will cost you about $30-$80 plus refills, so this is really only a must if you freeze in bulk.
I’m really impressed with the freshness/lack of freezer burn when I use mine, particularly with meats!
11. Stock your fridge from the back, forward.
Follow the “first in, first out” rule and make sure you’re not neglecting older purchases.
When you put your groceries away, always put the new buys behind the old buys in your fridge.
12. Keep an “eat soon” tray in the fridge so other family members know what to eat first.
Anything that’s in danger of being tossed in a few days should get placed in a designated container or area in the fridge so everyone can prioritize not wasting those items!
13. Store dry foods in airtight containers so they don’t get stale.
Cereals, crackers, pastas, chips, and cookies all come in packaging that’s not exactly ideal for freshness once opened. Transfer anything that might get stale into a clear, airtight container.
When you discard:
14. Keep track of anything you don’t use.
I mean anything! Keep yourself accountable for the food you throw away, so you can figure out what your family eats less of, or more slowly.
It’s also helpful to assign a dollar value to any unused foods when possible.
15. Donate food to your local homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
Call free food facilities in your area and find out what kinds of food they need. Many need perishables in addition to dry and canned foods.
16. Look into livestock-feeding programs that take food scraps.
It might sound a little weird, but this is a critical part of reducing our planet’s food waste. It takes a lot of resources to grow all that food to feed animals for meat, dairy, and eggs.
Check here for guidelines on donating food scraps to farmers.
17. Compost anything else.
While it’s important to prioritize not discarding food over anything else, composting is still far preferable to putting food in a landfill!