Paycheck Chronicles

Waste Less Food With These Three Strategies

Food waste:  it's a serious problem.  Americans throw out about 130 billion pounds of food each year. This wastes not only money, but the water and fertilizer used to grow the food, and the energy used to prepare and transport the food.  Unfortunately, my family is part of the problem. What can we do to waste less food?

Learn About Package Dating

Apparently, those dates on the packages don't mean much.  I've always been pretty loose with the dates on non-perishables, but more careful with things like milks, yogurt, and juices.  Seems I've been wrong.  According to a 2013 study performed in partnership between the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council, package dating provides very little information about the quality or safety of food products.  I wish I had read this before I cleaned out my refrigerator earlier today.

Plan Your Menus

Overbuying leads directly to food waste, and menu planning can lessen your overbuying.  When you know exactly what you plan to eat for the week, you are less likely to purchase items without a purpose.  This saves money up front, which is always good, and you may waste less food overall.

This is a big help for me.  Just today, I was eyeing parsnips and leeks at the commissary. Because our weekly menu was already planned, I knew that there was no logical meal for either parsnips or leeks, and I was able to refrain from adding them to the cart.

When menu planning, it is tempting to create an elaborate menu and include lots of new items. This can be a problem when time-constraints prevent you from making the meals that you've planned, or you fall back on favorites without using up all the exotic things you've purchased. No matter how tasty and healthy spaghetti squash is, it's just waste if you never get around to cooking it because you're uncomfortable with the recipe or worried that you won't like it or you don't have time to try something new. Try to limit yourself to one or two new recipes or products for each shopping trip.

Speaking of shopping trips...

Re-evaluate Your Shopping Patterns

In America, it is popular to do larger shopping trips, less frequently. It's considered smart and frugal to shop just once every week or two. This isn't always true. Large shopping trips more frequently result in over-buying and give you fewer opportunities to adjust your food purchases to your actual consumption.

Once again, I have a lot of experience with this phenomenon. Our last two duty stations, I was on base almost every day, and knew that I would be grocery shopping every few days. Even if I had a menu planned far ahead, I didn't purchase large quantities of anything. Our pantry always had enough food to feed us if life got busy for a couple of days, but not significantly more. It was easy to buy smaller quantities of perishables because I would be near the store the next day.

Now, we're living a little distance from the commissary, and it's not on my regular route. Grocery shopping is a half-day project, and I buy more so that we don't run out of things between trips. Because we are six people, eating a varied amount from day to day, and we only go to the commissary every week to 10 days, buying more means that some stuff ends up being excess. Not a week goes by that I don't throw out at least one banana, apple, or orange. Same with cucumbers, carrots, celery, and tomatoes. It's sad and wasteful.

So, consider whether you want to change your shopping habits. If you can cut down on waste, shopping at closer, civilian stores may be a solution. Higher prices may still end up being cheaper overall if you buy less. Scrutinize your warehouse store purchases to be sure that you're not throwing away more because the portion sizes are so big.

There's no single solution to the food waste problem, but small steps can make a big difference.  Not only will you save money, but you will also help your community and your planet.  It's definitely worth the effort to waste less food.

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