This week I am challenging myself with something I struggle with: using up all of the food in my fridge. Think about what items are in your fridge right now. I bet you can’t even name all of them off the top of your head. In kitchens across America, food is being wasted every single day. The random jar of olives that haven’t been opened in months. The 3 cans of beans in your pantry that you’ve had since last July. It’s okay to save up some staples to have on hand for a rainy day, but what you have stored in your pantry or spoiling in your fridge is wasted money. Since I’m feeling inspired in the new year to put a stop to wasteful habits, I decided it’s time to clean out the pantry and fridge and focus on using all of the groceries I buy.
Here are my tips on how to stop wasting food and groceries and save money in the process.
How to Stop Waisting Food And Save Money
PLAN MEALS AHEAD
This cannot be stressed enough. If you go into each week without a plan, it’s almost guaranteed that you will overspend on dinners out and last-minute meals. There are a couple of ways to make this easier. Several grocery store chains have their own app, and you can make lists right from your phone. These lists can also give you an approximate total so you can see how much you’re spending and easily adjust the ingredients for your meals. If you’re more into the traditional pen and paper route as well, that’s ok! Check out these adorable grocery list notebooks. They will help you keep track of your recipes and your ingredients.
Another way to plan out your meals is by doing a meal-delivery kit service. You get to pick your meals ahead of time and on the day of the week of your choosing, a large box will come with only the ingredients needed to make each meal. That means no grocery shopping, no food waste, and a meal plan all in one order!
TAKE A TRIP TO THE PANTRY
Before you start making your next grocery list, take a trip to your pantry and see what you have. After taking stock of what recipe starters you have in there (that haven’t expired of course!), then start making your list. It’s safe to bet that there are a ton of options you already have in your pantry to base a meal or two around before even having to spend a penny. Here are a few commonly underused pantry items to inspire you:
- leftover dry goods – you can easily use any grain as a recipe starter. Leftover quinoa? Try this delicious spinach and quinoa stuffed tomatoes recipe. Simple with minimal added ingredients.
- canned goods – a can of chickpeas can go a long way. It can even replace a protein if you use it correctly! Try these chickpea tacos for veggie style take on the Tuesday night classic. This recipe is made with a few other ingredients you might have hanging out in your fridge, like soy sauce and various spices. If you have some more of those dried goods in the pantry as well, you can skip the tortilla and serve this over rice!
- canned soup – there are a ton of ways to make that old can of soup in your pantry more exciting. Add in any leftover veggies you have like spinach or zucchini, or add in some grains to make it a thicker soup and much more filling. To top it off, you can use stale bread to make croutons or add a scoop of sour cream for some flavor.
If you’re having trouble being creative, don’t worry! There’s an app for that (and a website). Head over to supercook.com or download the app to type in what ingredients you currently have. The site will give you a recipe that matches your ingredients.
SKIP STARBUCKS AND USE UP YOUR COFFEE BEANS
You know you have coffee beans in your pantry. Use them. Read up on how I’m ditching my Starbucks habit and why you should too. It’s a real game-changer and it will help you use up those extra coffee beans in the pantry. This step is pretty simple, so I’ll just leave it at that. 🙂
BUDGET YOUR EATING
If you don’t already have a monthly budget, this is a great way to start one. Tracking how much you’re spending on your eating will help you prevent overspending on your entire monthly budget. Starting a budget is as easy as opening up an Excel spreadsheet and grabbing some old receipts and bank statements. You can also use helpful apps such as Mint, Every Dollar, or Goodbudget.
Take a look at how much you typically spend on groceries a month to be realistic about what your grocery budget should be. Then grab those receipts and start checking off items that could be considered unnecessary. This will help you land on a number that will allow you to get enough groceries for the month without overspending. Each week when you go to build your grocery list, try to stick to this number. There are a ton of budget-friendly dinners out there that everyone in your family will love. Plus, you can consider any money you don’t use towards your budgeted grocery list as fun money. For example, if you plan on spending $100 a week on groceries for 2 people, and you end up only needing to spend $91 one week after creating your grocery list, go ahead and pocket that $9 for a rainy day.
ONLY EAT WHAT YOU’VE PURCHASED
It’s also important to take a look at your bank statements to see how much money you’re spending on going out to eat. We recently looked at our credit card statement and were quite shocked at how many times we were eating out when we recently purchased groceries. If it’s more than once or twice a month (or in our case…week!) and you’re trying to cut back on spending, this is the first thing to cut out. There’s no sense in spending a ton of money on groceries if you’re not going to eat them. And it’s much more rewarding to know that you’re sticking to your plan of budgeting for groceries.
We started this Sunday challenging ourselves to not spend money on outside food besides picking up groceries. We stocked up on fresh items from Safeway and Costco for the week and turned it into a game. I remember being hungry for lunch while waiting in the long checkout line at Costco and thinking “lets just order lunch here”. But I quickly snapped back, I can’t fail this challenge on the first day! Instead I opened a bag of grain-free granola and had a handful to tide me over until we could get home and make lunch with our groceries. Next thing I know it’s been a week and I haven’t had the urge to spend money on food out at all!
After you make it one week, try to go two weeks only eating food in which you’ve purchased from your budgeted groceries. I can guarantee that it’s not as hard as you might think! And, you’ll be amazed at how much money you save while still being just as happy as if you went out to dinner every night.
MEAL PREP TO AVOID SPOILED FOOD
Meal prepping is a great way to cross off two things on your list: sticking to a budget and sticking to your diet. By preparing your food in advance, you already know how much money you’ll be spending on your groceries. In addition to planning ahead, you’ll minimize the risk of your food going bad before you have the chance to cook it! This is an all-around win for busy moms and people everywhere who are looking to simplify when it comes to cooking. You can meal prep everything from breakfast to lunch, to dinners, and even snacks! I suggest meal prepping for 3-4 days at a time so that you can keep your food fresh and to avoid freezing anything.
AVOID LARGE SHOPPING TRIPS
Realistically speaking, taking a stroll down to the market every day doesn’t fit into everyone’s schedule. Most families shop once a week, with some doing one mega shopping trip a month. As long as we’re speaking realistically, salad cannot sit in the fridge for a month without wilting. So many people end up throwing out food before they’ve even gotten the chance to make it. If you can, try taking many small trips throughout the week or the month to avoid having produce sitting in your fridge.
This brings up another great food saving and money-saving tactic which is to know how much of each ingredient you need. If you only need 3 potatoes for your side dish, don’t buy a whole bag. And, if you take fewer trips, you should already be buying smaller portions of food. This is definitely going to help you cut down on food waste and spoiled produce.
STOCK UP ON DRIED GOODS
Buying in bulk is not always good – but it’s not always bad, either. You should never buy something just because it’s on sale and it’s a good deal. With that being said, one type of food you can always buy in bulk is dry goods. Dried goods never go bad and you can add them to any dish. Rice, quinoa, pasta, you name it. As long as you’re eating these foods often enough, stocking up will help you avoid overspending on your weekly grocery trip.
MAKE A GAME OUT OF IT
One way to make this experiment fun is to make a game out of it. Once a month, take to the pantry and see who can make the most delicious snack with the random items in there. This will teach your kiddos how to be creative, which ingredients go well together, and you’ll get to eat up some of those forgotten foods. You can immortalize the winning recipes by making a cookbook that you and your family can go to for future inspiration.
Another way I like to make a game out of not wasting food is trying to work the last bit of a dish or food item into something else. We were hosting some guests this week and purchased some snacks and dips to easily put out while hosting. I ended up with two spoonfuls left of jalapeño artichoke dip remaining in the container. Instead of tossing it out or letting it sit in the fridge abandoned, I worked it into a Sunday chilaquiles dish where it acted as the queso! It gave a unique spin on the brunch dish and revived the last bit of the dip that would have otherwise been wasted.
ADAPT YOUR RECIPES
It’s true that there are certain ingredients required for certain recipes. I mean, what’s a grilled cheese sandwich without the cheese? But when trying to get creative on how to save money on groceries, look at the cost-benefit of your ingredients. If you plan to make two grilled cheese sandwiches, why buy an entire loaf of bread? It’s only going to sit around and get moldy. You can always get creative with your sandwiches if you find yourself buying a ton of veggies instead and still have a hankering for some deli delights. Make a tea sandwich with sliced cucumber bookended around cheese and tomato to avoid using bread at all. If your recipe calls for chipotle seasoning but you know you have unused chili powder at home, skip the purchase and adapt your recipe. Use what you have –I promise, it won’t compromise the flavor of your cooking!
PLAN RECIPES AROUND THE SAME INGREDIENTS
On the flip side of the above tip, you can always purchase a ton of one item to use as ingredients in a few different dishes. It’s easiest to do this with proteins available in family size packagings like chicken or pork tenderloin. If you purchase a family pack of 3 pork tenderloins, you can schedule two nights of tenderloin dishes and cook the third in a crockpot for some pulled pork tacos. Things like onions, Brussell sprouts, or even bacon are great items you can add to meals without doubling your purchase. Simply use half the onion in your dish and save the other half for another, or use a few strips of bacon as a topping for a salad and have some leftover for breakfast on Sunday morning. It would be amazing to have a different protein every night, but the price of that would be astronomical.
PRICE THE FOOD YOU THROW AWAY
If you’re having trouble grasping how much money you’re wasting on groceries, try pricing out the food you throw away. This isn’t to say you should keep food that’s going bad. But it will incentivize you to prevent that from happening. A few bad apples could cost you $2. Add that to the half-eaten head of lettuce, the 7 carrots that you didn’t use, some uneaten yogurt, and you could be looking at over $15 in the trash. Add that up over a month and that’s a lot of wasted money.
SHOP ON THE RIGHT DAY OF THE WEEK AND AT THE RIGHT TIME
I’ve always heard it’s not wise to shop while you’re hungry but never paid attention to it. As it turns out, there really is a right time to shop. Definitely make sure you’ve eaten, or you’ll want to stray off your list for a few extra treats. It’s also important to shop at off times in the supermarket if you do venture out to one. Avoid busy shopping times; you won’t wait in long checkout or deli counter lines or navigate with a cart through a busy aisle. You’ll be much more focused and more employees will be available to help you if you need it. According to cheatsheet.com, you can sometimes score some 50% off deals on produce or meats being discarded after close if you shop at the end of the night.
USE YOUR COUPONS AND BUY STORE BRANDS
Here’s a little secret: the store brand food usually tastes the same as the name brand food! It’s true. There are definitely some items that you should splurge on or stick to when it comes to dietary restrictions. Jelly is jelly no matter who makes it. Store brand prices are much cheaper and get the job done just fine. Also, check your coupons! You don’t have to go to the extreme coupon route of buying something just because it’s on sale. Every store offers great deals that you can take advantage of if you simply pay attention to the resources you have.
Ready to save money and stop wasting food and groceries? Me too. Do you have any tips on how to stop waisting food? Let me know in a comment below!