This post is part of the Real Food, for Real People, on a Real Budget. You can read more about the series here.
I’m going to convince you to eat garbage this week.
Yep, you read that correctly…garbage.
On average, Americans throw away $165 billion worth of food a year. $165 BILLION. With a B. That works out to about $2,200 per family per year.
I for one am not perfect (please contain your shock), and will occasionally toss something past its prime, but my grocery budget for the year is $3,900, so if I were follow the national average, that would be 44% of my annual budget.
So not ok!
The grocery budget is one of the easiest things to adjust when times get tough, and it has a huge potential for savings if you are willing to put in the work. Read on for five painless ways to stop throwing out so much dang food.
1) Meal plan
I know I said painless, and for some people, planning a meal makes their palms to sweat and their body to break out in hives. It really doesn’t have to be that complicated. I’ll write my next post about painless meal planning, but just know that it shouldn’t hold you hostage. I do our meal planning for the following week in about 10 minutes.
When I only grocery shop once per week, I get everything I need at one time, which means I plan on using up anything that could go bad that week. I am notorious for buying green onions, and only needing a few of them. Sidenote: I really wish you could buy green onions by the stalk, instead of the bunch. To prevent them from going bad on me, I share them with family, add them to my stock bag (more about this later in the post), or find a use for them later in the week.
Green onions are not expensive. Throwing them away will not break my budget, but simply putting them to work allows me to enjoy my investment, and keeps food trash out of the landfills.
Fruit is really big in my house. Jack’s middle name is Barry after my father-in-law, but it should have been Berry considering how much fruit that child eats. We have a total of 12 blueberry bushes (they’re smaller and not completely matured), but we’d need about two acres to keep my kid in blueberries for a month.
So yeah, we eat a lot of fruit.
Fruit doesn’t often have a chance to go bad in this house, but if I see something that is getting close to the “too ripe” tipping point, I put it on a plate lined with parchment paper, and pop it in the freezer for a few hours. Once frozen, they’re put in to a gallon freezer Ziploc to be used later for smoothies, or to flavor sparkling water. Frozen bananas get put in the freezer whole, with the peel on to be used later in banana bread or this yummy gluten, dairy, and sugar-free chocolate freezer pie.
Making meat on the bone like whole chicken, ribs, pork chops, steak, etc.? Don’t throw it in the trash when you are done with your meal…add it to your scrap bag to make a delicious and nourishing stock.
Veg scraps like carrot and celery tops can be composted, but why not make a veggie scrap bag? I keep all kinds of veg bits in Ziplocs in the freezer. Two bags make a killer vegetable stock. Or add your beef bits or chicken body picked free of meat (my friend Anne can no longer tolerate me using the word “carcass”) to the crockpot with some veg scraps, and hot damn, you’ve got yourself some chicken stock.
Every time I am in the check out aisle, and someone is buying a bottle from the spice aisle, I want to slap a bitch. Purchasing your spices in those little jars is crazy expensive and so unnecessary! I purchase spices in bulk from our grocery store’s bulk section. I could spend $6 on a jar of dill, or I could buy just enough to fill my existing jar for about $.37. So yeah….
That being said, if you do have some spices that are no longer super fresh, throw those bad boys in to your scrap bag. Do you buy or grow fresh herbs? I can never use the entire package of fresh herbs, so I rinse and chop and place them in an ice cube tray with a little water and freeze. Put them in a Ziploc, and you have “fresh” herbs to add in to any meals.
With a wee bit of proper planning, food waste doesn’t have to be a big thing in your house. If you were literally throwing away over two thousand one dollar bills, it might make you stop and realize that food waste is exactly that – throwing dollars (dollar dollar bills ya’ll) in the trash.