Mar 5, 2015

Waste Not...

I read an article a while back that says Americans waste approximately 40% of their total food each year. This happens at various points in the food supply chain, sometimes at the fault of the growers and suppliers, and sometimes in restaurants and cafeterias, but the main cause is American consumers wasting food in their own homes.

I am notorious for having a clean fridge. The thought of having an overstuffed fridge with food rotting in the back makes me sick to my stomach. Yes, I do throw food away if it's starting to get old {and I am very picky about the freshness of my food} but I barely ever have to do this, because I keep careful inventory of our household food and try not to overbuy.

This is our fridge on a Sunday afternoon, before I go grocery shopping on Monday morning.

So in light of the depressing article about wasting food, I thought I'd share a few of my tips on how I run our household without wasting food...

Buy produce carefully. Let's be honest, fresh produce doesn't last that long. If I'm buying berries, I know they will need to be eaten in the next 2-3 days. The greenest banana will probably be ripe within 4 days. Apples, carrots, and broccoli are awesome, because they can last a week or more in the fridge. But, overall, the shelf life of most fresh produce is very short. I try to ONLY buy what can be eaten by our family in one week. This usually looks like 4-5 bananas, 4-5 apples, 1-2 packages of berries, and 2-3 different vegetables for dinner side dishes. By Sunday, our fridge is nearly empty of any fresh produce and I restock again on Monday {I use canned or frozen fruits and veggies for Zianne or good ol' "pouches" when we are out of fresh produce.}

Freeze ripe fruit. Ideally, you will eat all your produce while it's fresh, but if you notice it's starting to get overripe, freeze it before it goes bad. I keep a bag of extra ripe fruit in the freezer. It's perfect for smoothies. I also try to buy the correct amount of bananas for each week, but if one or two happen to go uneaten, they get transferred to the freezer until I can turn them into banana muffins. 

*A note to banana eaters: Unless you have six boys at home, do NOT buy a giant bunch of bananas. The problem with buying a bunch is that they will all be ripe on the same day. Buy a couple from a bunch that is almost all yellow with a tiny bit of green, and then buy a few from a bunch that's very green, so you can eat them at different times throughout the week.

Leftover lunches. If you can tolerate leftovers, plan your lunches strategically. When we finish dinner, I immediately divide any leftovers into lunch size portions and put them into small tupperware containers in the fridge. Usually I have at least one container for Micah's lunch and often one for me as well. As I'm cleaning up dinner, lunch is already prepared for the next day. Any leftovers not consumed within 48 hours get tossed, but because they are packed and ready to go that rarely happens.

Clip coupons with caution. I think coupons are a great way to save money, but make sure you only cut coupons for items you know you will actually buy or use. It can be tempting to clip coupons for some new rice side dish or for a soup you tried once three years ago and liked, but unless you know these items will fit into your current meal rotation, you are wasting your money. If that soup or rice sits in your pantry for two years until it's expired and can't even go to the food bank, then it's not doing anyone any good.

Meal plan. There are million blog posts out there sharing the wisdom of meal planning. There is really no better way to save your money and your sanity than to plan your meals ahead of time and to shop from a list. But don't stress yourself out. When I get the weekly ad for my grocery store in the mail each week, I sit down for five minutes, jot down every item on sale that I might use {pork tenderloin, blueberries, organic butter, coffee} and then I recycle the ad immediately. A few days later, I plan my meals and add any other needed items to the list I already started. When pork tenderloin is on sale, I make our favorite tenderloin recipe. If chicken is on sale, I plan one to two meals based on that. I also only plan to cook about three dinners a week. Don't buy stuff to make dinner seven nights in a row if that's not actually going to happen. Between meals with friends, our community group, and crazy nights where we need something quick, I know I will actually only cook dinner 3-4 nights a week, so that's what I plan for.

Empty your fridge and pantry before you leave town. Before you go on vacation, make it a point to clear all your shelves. Anytime we take a trip, I back off on grocery shopping for a couple of weeks before we leave. I will buy essentials such as milk, fresh fruits and veggies, and a few snacks for lunch, but other than that, I try to use things we already have. I'll keep a running list of dinner inventory and try to use the chicken I forgot about in the freezer, make soup one last time before it's 100 degrees in Arizona, and use up side items like rice and potatoes that are lingering in the pantry. If you travel even once or twice a year, use these events to clear out your food inventory and start fresh when you return.

Keep a couple of quick dinners on hand. Since I only plan to cook dinner 3-4 times a week, I always keep 1-2 "easy meals" in the freezer for nights we find ourselves at home with nothing to eat. Some of our favorite quick dinners are CPK frozen pizzas or Trader Joe's Orange Chicken. But don't go overboard. You don't need your freezer packed full with ten quick fix dinners that you aren't going to use for months. Keep a couple on hand and restock as they get used. 

Send care packages abroad. One of my best friends lives in Africa, where she has no access to many of the convenience foods we have in America. Once or twice a year, I go through our pantry to see if I have any fun treats to send her. One of her favorite things to receive is packets of dry ranch seasoning, because that's something they don't have in her city and it has multiple uses. One winter, I had a bunch of leftover powder chai tea latte mix that I didn't get around to using since our winters here are like sixty degrees and last for two weeks. She loves chai tea lattes, so I included the packets in a package for her. If you have friends that live outside of the States, ask them if there are any ingredients or non-perishable food items they miss. There is a good chance some of them are sitting in your American pantry. Send them to a friend who will appreciate them more than you do.


  1. Beth @ The Goad Abode3/5/15, 12:24 PM

    Great tips! We don't typically have a very full fridge. We do eat a lot of produce and rarely waste it. I also completely agree with meal planning and keeping some quick frozen dinner items stocked :) and I love the idea of sending items abroad.

  2. Nicole M. Hutchison3/6/15, 4:59 PM

    Confession: my fridge *WAS* a disaster until this post and I cleaned it (top to bottom) today. Once I pulled everything out, thoroughly cleaned each drawer and shelf, and went through all the stuff, I managed to consolidate or toss most of it. I'm definitely guilty of wasting food and I really want to remedy this, for my sanity and our finances! It felt great though, thank you for the challenge and conviction to waste not! I love your French-door fridge. I wish I had one, but we found an incredible deal on the side-by-side we have now. Also, I'm desperately trying to incorporate meal planning into my life. As much as I love to cook and be in the kitchen, this is one thing that is really challenging to me. Thanks for sharing that pork tenderloin recipe too, that's one of my favorite cuts of meat.

  3. jessi bridges3/7/15, 12:02 AM

    YES YES YES YES YES. But you already know how I feel about this. These are perfect. One last one that we've been doing starting last month is composting! Oh, and feeding scraps to the chickens ;) I have thrown away pretty much nothing in the last 2 months. And before that it was already pretty minimal. There is no reason to waste it.

    Also, we do that exact thing with bananas. I'll also buy pears, peaches, plums like that too. Some ripe, some not so we can eat them over the course of at least a week.

  4. Christy3/9/15, 12:37 PM

    Great tips! I can't imagine not meal planning and shopping from a list! I would lose my mind in the grocery store, for one thing!! haha! And we do cook almost every night, but we try to incorporate at least 1 leftover night and sometimes we will do a double batch of something and freeze it for later so we can have a night off from cooking in the future. Prime example, tomorrow night we're having enchiladas which I made three weeks ago and are in the freezer. :)

  5. Jordy Liz3/9/15, 1:44 PM

    Yes, meal planning helps save a bunch! We cook around 6 times a week and always have lunches handy for the next day. We do the same thing - split them up into tupperware right away. Makes it so much easier to actually take them for lunch.

    Also, I am blown away at how many bananas you go through - we go through 3 POUNDS a week and are usually out before the next week's grocery trip! Good thing they're cheap. :)

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