January Money Diet Day #27: Reduce Food Waste



What if we could easily save hundreds of dollars from our food budgets each year, without making a single sacrifice or doing any additional work?

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, American families throw out between 14 and 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy, costing the average family between $1,365 and $2,275 each year.

Nothing makes me feel sicker than throwing away food we didn’t eat. Do you feel the same way?

On the positive side, preparing and using only what we need can be a wonderful way to stretch money and honor the earth’s resources.

How To Reduce Food Waste

What if 2015 was the year we all stopped wasting even one morsel? Let’s do this! Here are some strategies:

* Cook the right amount for your family. If you regularly throw away uneaten portions, recalculate your favorite recipes. Better to eat every bite and occasionally give Junior an apple if he’s still hungry after a meal, than constantly discard leftovers.

* Take leftovers to work the following day for lunch, and save money on meals out.

* Reinvent your leftovers in another meal (casserole, stir fry, soup) within a day or two.

* Freeze leftover meat, veggies, juices, milk, etc. for soups and stews. Do this within a day or two of cooking to preserve quality.

* Save and freeze the cooking water from vegetables, and use it as a flavor-enhancing base for soups and sauces. Spaghetti sauce freezes well, too.

* Be aware of small waste. Do you routinely throw away a third cup of coffee from the pot every day? Measure out exactly how much you need and experiment until you find the exact amount that eliminates waste.

* Save the carcass from a roast chicken or turkey and use it to make a batch of homemade stock.

* American restaurants are notorious for serving too-large portions. Don’t be shy about asking for a doggie bag at a restaurant. Or consider sharing a meal to eliminate food waste.

* If they’re too far gone, compost fruits and vegetables that are past their prime.

For additional inspiration, you might enjoy these tips from Zero Waste Home.

How About You?

Is yours a zero-waste home, or is this an area you want to work on? If you’ve adopted any strategies for using food wisely, will you share them with us?


The signature for Eliza Cross

Photo:  Liz West

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

January Money Diet Day #27: Reduce Food Waste

  • Great tips! I fight food waste by using all the leftovers and also freezing food for later use. I find it hard to cook just the amount of food that my family is going to eat. But I will continue to do my best to reduce the waste we produce!

  • Lisa Quenon

    I’m a little late finding the money diet, yet reading through the days…folks tend to throw out a LOT of veggies and veggie clippings. If I remove the skin of a cucumber or peel a carrot or cut off the ends, all of that goes into a small container in my refrigerator. At the end of a week or so, or when I have enough, I toss it all in a big pot of water and boil it with a little salt and cayenne. All remaining minerals will boil out of the veggies and into the liquid. I use this broth for cooking vegetables or other recipes as well as just mix it with bone broth and drink…healing and yummy!

  • Tricia

    I try to only prepare as much food as my husband and I will actually eat at each meal. It is a challenge as we eat completely separate diets. And he is not a big fan of leftovers. It is challenging, but over time I have figured out how to make us both meals to eat while minimizing the waste.

  • Catherine Godfrey

    My husband & I had such a problem with not wasting food. We don’t have children so it’s just the 2 of use, but I’d cook for a family of 5. O yeah my husband won’t eat leftovers sooooo waste. I’ve now gotten down to meals for 2 w/ no leftovers & I’m so greatful. Our trash has be decreased a great deal.

  • Sandi

    This is a problem area for me. I need to start the “stock bucket” in the freezer – and get the vegies, etc in there before they go bad.

    We’re trying to avoid eating out so much these days, but when we do I’ll ask for a container when they first bring the meal (if I haven’t brought one with me). It helps with portion control.

  • Lyn

    This has been an ongoing project for the past few years. Freezing is such a great strategy. Sometimes we will have a meal with multiple one-serving leftovers thawed all at once. While my kids get tired of soup or casseroles or having the same meal two nights in a row, they love having choice. When I bring out the variety, they are happy to eat the leftovers. Composting also alleviates any guilt about food going bad. Those few slices of mildewed bread or the soggy carrots in the back of the veggie drawer are fabulous decomposers.

  • Lynn Louise

    Growing up my Mom always used up the left overs. And I do the same. Although sometimes the bowl of mashed potatoes was left in the fridge a little to long and it gets tossed. I have been making soup every week since the cold weather has hit. I use up all the vegetables and left over meat from the week and just put it all in the crockpot. It’s wonderful. Very little work for several meals of hot soup. I always pack a lunch also to take to work. Its usually left overs from the night before. My husband also eats the left overs for his lunch. We have several freezers and I freeze everything. When I boil a whole chicken I freeze the stock. Same with leftover spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, bananas for banana bread, and pretty much anything that I am not going to use right away. In the summer we pick strawberries and blueberries and I freeze them. We freeze corn that is cut off the cob. Everything from the garden is either eaten or frozen or canned. I want to get more into canning but freezing the food is faster and the food tastes so fresh. We had our fresh corn for both Thanksgiving and Christmas and everyone raved how awesome it tasted. Just like eating it off the cob.

  • Lisa

    Leftovers are the best lunches! Of course, it helps to have a microwave or stove handy to reheat them. Since our son works four nights a week and misses dinner, most leftovers go on a plate for him to heat up the next night. We also will do a hodge podge lunch on the weekends. If there are too many leftovers, we may even do it for dinner. That way our fridge is usually empty by the time I go shopping. Leftover meat is great in salads or fajitas, so I will put even one leftover piece in the freezer. Now, reading some of your suggestions, I see I still have a way to go making soup stock, which would be so nice since I hate the salt content of canned broth and bouillon cubes.

  • Going to the farmers’ market is like going to a candy store: I want everything. What I am working on is not bringing home more than we can eat in a week. Over time, I have become better at estimating how much to get. But, there’s a bit of pressure during the week as I begin to assess whether I was successful in buying the perfect amount. When I open the fridge, I most likely exclaim “Oh my, there are so many vegetables that we need to eat!” or “Oh my, there might not be enough for the week!” It’s a work in progress … like life.

  • Cindy

    This is a big challenge for me. I always have good intentions of freezing food, but I often don’t follow through before the food has gone bad. I’m resolving to not only freezer my leftovers more regularly but to freeze all the other things you mentioned – cooking water from vegetables, using the stock bucket idea, etc. I cringe when I waste food (at least I put the veggies in the compost bin), but I still do it more than I would like.

    • One tactic I use for freezing leftovers is to not wait until they become “left over”. I generally cook far more than I need with the intention of freezing at least half of it, so it gets portioned out and frozen as soon as it has cooled. If you’re cooking for a family you could take the leftovers straight from the table to the freezer and skip the “aging in the fridge” step.

  • I never understand people who have trouble using up leftovers. I consider them to be manna from the heavens!

    My trouble comes from produce that doesn’t get eaten in time. With fruit I generally toss overripe bananas in the freezer to use in banana bread, and soft apples make a great compote. Veggies are a bit more challenging, but if they’re not too far gone you can use them in soups.

    I also keep a “stock bucket” in the freezer – it’s basically just a one gallon plastic yogurt tub where I collect bones, onion heels, chicken necks & gizzards, and other scraps of veggies & meat for making stock. I also freeze juice from stuff like olives & canned mushrooms, liquid from rinsing out cans of tomatoes or spaghetti sauce, as well as liquid from cooking veggies or deglazing a roasting pan. When I have enough saved up I brown the veggie & meat scraps, defrost all of the liquids & then simmer it all for a few hours to make stock. Most times I just strain out the pieces, pick any edible meat from the bones & return it to the stock with some veggies & pasta and voila – garbage soup!

    Getting my cats to stop wasting food… now that’s a completely different story! 🙂

  • SanDandy

    Once a week we have refrigerator lunch. Any leftover in the fridge gets pulled out and heated for lunch. Sometimes it is kind of a Hodge Podge lunch but we are not throwing food out.
    I try to only buy what we will eat for the week in fruits and vegetables to cut down on waste.
    I want to try freezing the vegetable stock water to use in soups and stews.

  • Meghan Chaffee

    food wasting use to be a area that was not thought of. After my husband lost his job a priority on using and reusing everything became a must. As I mentioned yesterday reusing leftovers into a different meal. Hubby does not care for leftovers but I have found if I use them even 3 days apart he either does not realize it or does not mind. Gardening and canning in large and small jars allows meto use what is needed according to how many extras we have at our home during meal time. Meal planning for a week at a time has also saved us a rather substantial amount of money. Investing in a food saver is a plus. Have a great day!

  • Georgina Bowie

    This is something I’ve been working on for years, especially as I’ve finally got myself eating healthy size portions. Unfortunately this hasn’t yet worked it’s way into the prep side and I still cook too much.
    I’ve been incorporating the left-overs into my lunches and Friday is now left-over Friday (actually quite useful as I tend to be really busy on a Friday evening). I’ve also been keeping an eye on things I have left overs for on a regular basis and now consciously buy less when I’m out in the shops. The aim is to basically have nothing in the fridge come Saturday morning.
    I might try the doggie bag idea next time I’m out. It’s not really a thing here in the UK, but I’ll give it a go and carry a container with me just in case they don’t have one :-).

  • Jennifer S.

    I’m that awful mom who doesn’t let her kids leave food on their plate. I have been known to let them toss rice or other fillers but we have a rule about meat: “A life was taken so that you can live. ” Of course, we can live without taking any lives at all to eat but it has made us more aware and respectful of life and waste.

  • Gina

    Perfect timing. I was just looking at all the fruits and veggies in my fridge and trying to decide what to do to eat them up this week. Not wasting food is really important to me, yet still I do it way too often.

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