Five Tips for Reducing Food Waste and Using Leftovers

The Fruit Stand, by Snyders Frans (16th c)

My office gets a copy of the Wall Street Journal every morning, and I hardly ever never read it.  Yesterday, though, I noticed an article about using leftovers and reducing food waste, titled “Leftovers:  Tasty or Trash?”  Finally, a finance article I want to read!  It was a really great article and touched on a key aspect of food budgeting, which is simply to stop wasting your money by throwing good food away.  According to the article, food is the “second-biggest component of the solid waste stream after paper and paperboard” – yikes!   I was also struck by the fact that we need to be reminded to use all of our food.  It’s not an earth-shattering idea by any means, but one that we know in theory but often don’t put into practice.

I spent some time thinking about the most basic food-saving tips, ones that I wish I always put into practice, too.  I realized that if I stuck by all of these, I would have a lot less food waste and a lot more money!  Well, maybe not a lot more, but a little more for sure!

1.  Buy only what you need.*

If you buy a large quantity of something and then only use part of it, you’re wasting a bunch of money.  It’s bad for your wallet and our landfills.  Rather than going to the grocery store and trying to guess at how much of something you have, take a few minutes to assess your grocery situation before you go to the store. According to the article, almost all of us grocery shoppers underestimate the amount of a particular item we have,(Do I have enough eggs for breakfast tomorrow?  I think I have four… no, maybe three?  Oh crap, I had eight!), leading to unnecessary buying and wasting.

*Unless you can successfully stockpile.

That said, I’m not against stockpiling at all.  The article was slightly against stockpiling in the sense that buying huge quantities of food and then letting half go to waste is, well, a huge waste.  Of course that’s true.  My finest stockpiling moment happened last year, when I was getting boxes of Nut-Thins for twenty-five cents each. Every time I bought four boxes, another coupon popped out of the machine making the next four boxes twenty five cents each as well.  I bought four boxes every single day for two weeks.  The only reason I stopped was because Justin finally said DON’T YOU THINK WE HAVE ENOUGH NUT-THINS ALREADY?  They lasted us for months, and it was amazing.

2.  Label perishable foods.

It’s easy to tell if fruits and veggies are past their prime – they get squishy, brown, or moldy – but for me, at least, it’s harder to tell if meat or dairy products are still good.  I often buy things like dairy-based boxed soups, and each box is big enough to be part of two meals so I put the unused half in the fridge.  I almost always forget when I bought the darn thing – was it a week ago, or two weeks? – and I throw the other half out.  It’s a huge waste!  I feel like a budgeting failure when that happens.

3.  If you’re not going to eat it in time, freeze it!

If you think you’re not going to have time to eat everything you’ve bought or prepared, stick it in the freezer!  I freeze meat, veggies, bread and beans all the time.  I know other people freeze milk, cheese and eggs, but I haven’t tried that yet.

4.  Make a big batch of soup, stew or chili.

I know how to make exactly two kinds of soup:  black bean and “everything.”  (I can also make chili – yee haw!)  In fact, when I made Everything Soup last night, Justin sniffed the air and asked, “What kind of soup is this?”  “Chicken, rice, zucchini, cabbage, carrot…” I said.  “Ahh,” he replied.  “The usual.”  A big batch of soup is perfect for using up odds and ends of veggies, meats and grains that you might otherwise toss in the trash.  (Or better – the compost!)  Other good meal ideas for leftovers include fried rice, stir-fry, omelettes with veggies, and bean/taco/veggie and rice bowls.

5.  Make a meal plan – even a general one.

I’ve never been one to make a detailed meal plan, but I usually have a vague idea of what I want to make for two or three days in a row, including lunches.  It’s always changing depending on what I actually use up on a certain day, but I usually have a pretty good grasp of what is in my fridge.  The worst problem for me in that area is hidden items – I put half a zucchini in the crisper drawer “for later” and then forget it’s in there.

Besides contributing less to our nation’s overstuffed landfills, using up the food you buy can save you a significant amount of money.  The WSJ article concludes that “the average U.S. family of four spends from $500 to $2,000 a year on food they never eat.”  If you’re a family of two, that means you could potentially save $250 to $1,000 a year – woo hoo!   Imagine you spend $100 a week on groceries, but waste $5 of that – that’s a savings of $260 a year!


Unrelated, but a funny thing happened at work:

Setting: Phone call between Angela and Man Presumed to Be Dave

Man:  Hello?

Angela:  Hi, is this Dave?

Man:  Dave who?

Angela:  Dave Johnson?

Man:  Uhh, no.

Angela:  Um…

Man:  You must have the wrong number.  Bye!

Thoughts:  a) his last name wasn’t really Johnson, I just changed it for publication on the Internetzzz, and b) if your name IS Dave, why would you say DAVE WHO?

2 Comments on “Five Tips for Reducing Food Waste and Using Leftovers”

  1. Kate Martinez says:

    LOL, Dave who???

    • Angela Nilles says:

      I talked to Actual Dave and he said I must have dialed the wrong number, too. He didn’t seem to think the story was that funny though… 😉

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