Food waste happens to the best of us. It’s easy to forget about leftovers at the back of the fridge, causing them to spoil before you can eat them. Throwing out one head of lettuce or package of meat every now and then isn’t a big deal. But if you waste multiple food items each week, the cost can really add up.
In fact, the average family of four ends up throwing away $1,500 of food every year. That’s like tossing $125 a month in the trash, which could’ve been invested or spent on a nice vacation. If you want to improve your finances and save money, here are some tips on how to limit food waste.
You’re more likely to waste food if you don’t have a plan for how you’re going to use it. Buying a random assortment of ingredients at the supermarket makes it harder to put together meals and utilize everything you’ve purchased.
That’s why it’s a good idea to pick out the recipes you want to make before you go to the store. If you follow your shopping list, you won’t overbuy and end up with too much food.
Buy Frozen Produce Instead of Fresh
One of my favorite ways to reduce food waste is buying frozen produce instead of fresh. In my experience, fresh fruits and veggies go bad really quickly. It can be hard to use up a whole bag of spinach or carrots before it rots. And grocery stores don’t always sell small packages of veggies, which can make it hard to buy only what you need.
I prefer frozen veggies and fruits because they last for months. It’s easy to defrost the exact amount of produce I need for a recipe and leave the rest in the freezer, which helps eliminate food waste.
I’ve found that there isn’t much of a taste difference when you substitute frozen veggies for fresh in recipes like soups and stir fries. So I don’t feel like I’m missing out by using frozen produce.
Preserve Excess Food
If there’s some fresh produce or meat in your fridge that’s on the verge of spoiling, you can preserve it to keep it from going to waste. Putting food in the freezer can extend its shelf life for up to a year.
You can freeze cooked leftovers, meat, dairy, and most produce without hurting their taste or texture. The only things that don’t freeze well are water-rich veggies like cucumber and lettuce.
Another way to preserve extra food is to can it. Fruits, veggies, and meats can be packed into Ball jars and processed in a pressure canner, which makes them shelf stable. They’ll stay fresh in the pantry for up to a year, giving you more time to use them up.
However, it’s important to use safe canning techniques and recipes from approved sources like The National Center for Home Food Preservation. There’s a chance that your food could develop harmful bacteria if you don’t can it properly, so be careful.
You can also experiment with fermentation to help reduce waste. Pickling veggies that are about to go off can extend their shelf life and enhance their flavor. Don’t just pickle cucumbers—get creative and try it out with other veggies and fruits like cauliflower, eggplant, green beans, peaches, and apples.
Don’t Rely on Expiration Dates
I used to be a stickler about expiration dates and toss food the second it passed them. But many foods like dairy and produce usually last a few days past the best by date. Instead of throwing away recently expired food, use your senses to determine if it’s still good or not. According to the USDA, food that still smells, looks, and tastes fine should be safe to eat if it just passed the best by date.
Store Food Properly
My final tip is to learn how to store the food you buy properly. Research tips and tricks for keeping each item you buy fresh. For example, some fruits and veggies like apples and tomatoes produce a gas called ethylene that can cause other produce to go bad faster. By storing ethylene-producing fruits and veggies in a separate crisper, you can reduce food spoilage and save money.
How do you reduce food waste in your home? Share your tips in the comments section below!
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Vicky Monroe is a freelance personal finance and lifestyle writer. When she’s not busy writing about her favorite money saving hacks or tinkering with her budget spreadsheets, she likes to travel, garden, and cook healthy vegetarian meals.