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Did you throw $6.23 in the garbage can today? Food waste can be a huge expense for your family!

5 Ways to Cut Down on Food Waste


5 Ways to Cut Down on Food Waste

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s food and agriculture program, the average American family of four throws away the equivalent of $2,275 annually in food. That’s $189.58 each month, or $6.23 each day!

Keeping food out of the garbage will help with your food budget. In this post, I share five things my family does to help cut down on food waste. In all honesty, we do still have more waste than we’d like, and if we don’t pay attention to things, it can get excessive! Hopefully not to the tune of $6.23 per day excessive, though.


1. Meal Plan

When I meal plan, I take inventory of what’s in our fridge and what needs to be used up first. Perishables, like produce, eggs, and dairy, are added to the inventory first. Lately, we’ve been having a hard time consuming the milk we are getting from our goats, so ways to use up milk have been a focus on our menu. Soon, I suspect that we’ll go back to barely having enough milk each week since that seems to be the way it goes.

After the perishables are accounted for, I check the freezer and the pantry. With my method of meal planning, we always “shop at home” first. You can read more about my meal planning process here, or find my weekly and monthly meal plans here.

While I do find meal planning to be important, it’s also important to remain flexible. Sometimes I’ll need to alter my menu to use up something that I missed during the meal planning process. Things have a way of magically appearing around here!

Reviewing the meal plan for the next day the evening before, plus taking a quick look at your perishables, usually helps with catching these kinds of things. If you notice that a few of your apples are starting to get too soft, change your meal plan to use those up. (This Clafouti is a great way to use up those apples.)


2. Organization

All the meal planning in the world won’t get us to the best use of our food dollars if we don’t stay organized with the food we prepare.

I can rarely predict the exact amount of food my family will consume at each meal. Something needs to be done with the food left over.

That is where organization comes in.

What works for me is labeling items as they go in the fridge and putting items in specific locations. I am an “out of sight, out of mind” type person. If food is not written on my meal plan but is lurking in my fridge, it had better be where I can see it or it will become a science experiment.

In the past, I’ve tried keeping a list on the fridge of things that need to be used up. While I love that concept, the execution didn’t work very well for me. While writing this, Then I decided to just write the leftovers on my menu plan! I refer to my plan at least one time per day, so it makes perfect sense to add things there, in plain sight, that need to be used up.



Our main consumption of leftovers occurs as lunches. Our little boy and I are usually home at lunchtime, so it is easy to reheat the dish for lunch. I think it is important to point out, that I do a lot of planned overs or Stretchy Meals. Leftovers are a completely different animal than planned overs. (Learn more about planned overs here.) Leftovers are the actual leftover part of a meal. Those two bowls of chili that didn’t get eaten, or that serving of casserole, those are leftovers in our house.

Going along with organization is having a plan for things. If you find a great deal on Swiss chard at the farmers market and buy up a case of it, it’s no longer a great deal if you only use two bunches and the rest of it rots. Before buying that case, have a plan for using it or preserving it.

I often find bananas for 25 cents per pound. These are the over-ripe brown bananas (you probably see them in your store often). When these arrive home, they are immediately peeled and put in the freezer, with a few of the lesser ripe ones kept out for eating. Frozen bananas are perfect for muffins, banana bread, or smoothies.

5 Ways to Cut Down on Food Waste

3. TV Dinners

Ah…the yummy aroma of a tin foil surrounded, meal-like substance baking away in the oven.

We do sometimes have TV dinners here. But NOT the kind you’re thinking of and that I just described. We don’t buy those boxed meals. Instead, we have our own version. This is a tip I learned from The Complete Tightwad Gazette several years ago.

When leftovers are not going to be used up right away, they are packaged up for the freezer. When enough leftovers have accumulated (or when nothing else was planned for dinner), the containers are thawed out and dinner is our own homemade TV dinner smorgasbord extravaganza. Since we no longer have a microwave, heating up the dishes does take a little time but is not at all difficult.

I like these glass dishes that are freezer safe and oven safe (you wouldn’t want to take them straight from the freezer to a hot oven, those results could be “shattering”). The glass containers are also super easy to label. I just write on the glass with a sharpie. It stays on well in the freezer, then easily washes off.

I also use quart jars in the freezer for things like soup or broth. This can be risky if you fill the container too full and it expands. I haven’t broken any jars, but I’ve read of others who have. Once again, I label the jar with a sharpie. Once thawed, the soup heats beautifully on the stovetop.

Remember, not everything freezes well. I don’t freeze things with potatoes in them since they never thaw well for me (they turn to mush).

Somewhat related to the TV dinner idea is something else learned from The Complete Tightwad Gazette: The soup pot.

I keep a container in the freezer with little bits of leftover meats and vegetables — you know, when you have 2 tablespoons of leftover sautéed spinach or 1/4 cup of glazed carrots or a small slice of roast. These items are all put in the soup pot. Once the pot is full, add some of your homemade broth and you’ll have your own version of Stone Soup minus the stone.

When you first start with your soup pot, you may wish to keep your flavors similar. We don’t mind mixing in Sloppy Joe Beef with Sweet and Sour Chicken, but you might. Of course, you could rinse your meat before putting it in the pot if you wish. Also, your soup pot wouldn’t necessarily have to become soup. You could use that wonderful combination of meat and veggies to make a casserole. Keep in mind, you won’t have a recipe for creating your soup or casserole out of your soup pot, which is why tip #4 is so important.


4. Formula Cooking

I love recipes. I love reading cookbooks and looking at food blogs. That said, I rarely follow a recipe as it is written. I look at recipes as being a guide more than something written in stone.

With that thought in mind, many of the dishes we enjoy do not come from a recipe but rather a formula. Once again, this is a concept I learned from The Complete Tightwad Gazette. (I’m beginning to think I should have titled this post “Ode to The Complete Tightwad Gazette”.)

Formula cooking works so well for us that I’ve shared some of my formulas in my eBook Design a Dish. One of our favorite formula items is muffins, since they’re so incredibly versatile and a great way to use up small amounts of surplus items.

I really believe that, by learning some basic formulas, you can drastically help reduce your food bill and cut down on waste.

Here are some cooking formulas to get you started:



5. Make Something Out Of Nothing

We’ve already somewhat discussed making something out of nothing with our Stone Soup from above. Let’s take it a little further.

How about making food out of things we would normally throw away? You may already do this to some degree if you save the ends of your onions for your broth (you do save the ends of your onions to throw in your broth pot, right?)

But there are many more things that can be salvaged.

In addition to our onion ends, we also keep any bones to use in future broth pots. If we roast a chicken and the bones are not immediately turned into broth, they are put in the freezer to use later. If instead of a whole roasted chicken we have something with chicken pieces, those bones are also saved for broth. Same with steaks or chops containing bones.

By putting bones in labeled freezer bags, I rarely run out of bones for broth. I understand this might be a little more than some people wish to do, but it works for us and is, in essence, free food.

Another idea to make something out of nothing includes saving your potato peels and turning them into Potato Skins by tossing them in a combination of olive oil and/or coconut oil and seasonings. Add some shredded cheese and sour cream if you wish for a restaurant-style dish.

Or you could use your potato peels for a potassium-rich broth. I’ve never made it, but I have a friend who is a Naturopath and I watched her make it once.

I often save already juiced lemon halves in the freezer to put in the cavity of a roasting chicken as opposed to using a new lemon. I also freeze the papers around butter to use to grease my cookie sheets or baking dishes.

These little things can really add up. Thinking about how something can be used instead of tossed in the garbage can make a substantial difference in your food bill.

Even with these diligent attempts at reducing food waste, there are still going to be some things that can’t be salvaged. Instead of tossing those in the garbage, consider composting, vermicomposting, or having a few chickens to help with your food scraps. Our chickens benefit from our real food diet. What they can’t have (onions, coffee grounds) gets composted.

Keeping food out of the garbage can and will help you reduce your food waste and lower your food bill. I hope these ideas have helped you to think about the ways you can reduce your food waste.


More Resources to Help You Reduce Food Waste


What are your favorite tips to cut down on food waste? Share in the comments.

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