These days, it seems the prices of everyday needs keep going up and up. Food is especially high on that list. Throwing away food is equivalent to just plain throwing money in the garbage. With the ever-challenging task of preparing meals on a budget, it should be a priority to figure out ways to avoid waste and therefore save money. Afterall, everyone needs to eat. You don’t have to break the bank to prepare your meals though. There are ways, with a little strategic planning, to save money by avoiding waste. This may take a little effort on your part. At the end of the week or month, however, you will see a difference in the amount you spend versus the amount you waste. Here are 9 ways to achieve saving money by not wasting food.
1) Take Your Leftovers Home
If you enjoy dining out, even if just on occasion, make sure to ask for a “to go” container for your leftovers. Many restaurants have portions too large to eat at one sitting. This is especially true if you dine out buffet style or order the full course with appetizers. It’s always tempting to over-fill your plate, or order too much, especially if you are particularly famished. Rather than dump the rest, take a container home with you. This will not only avoid wasting that great food you paid for, but will offer an option for lunch or dinner the next day, thereby saving you the expense of another meal. Alternatively, you can put the leftovers in a freezer container and save it for a rainy day. Either way, you’ve just created another meal that didn’t really cost anything if you were going to toss it in the first place.
2) Keep Track of Stock
If you’re the type of person who’s prone to freezing leftovers, that’s a great start. The problem is, most people forget what they’ve stored away in the freezer. Then you go grocery shopping and buy more frozen goods, only to find there’s no room for them when you get home. This leads to throwing out frozen leftovers to make room for new items. To avoid wasting your frozen leftovers, place a label on the container. Write what the meal is and the date you froze it. Then make a list of what you have prepared in frozen meals and place it on the outside of your refrigerator. Generally, frozen meals can last at least 6 months. That is, unless they become freezer burned. So, be sure to use containers and food wraps that are designed to be freezer safe.
3) Meal Plan Before Shopping
Here’s where strategic planning comes in. If you think about your meals in their entirety, you can avoid buying unnecessary items. First make a list of recipes you’d like to cook for the week (if you shop on a weekly basis). Then take in look in your pantry and fridge and see what you have in stock that you can use in those recipes. From there, make a list of the ingredients you will need to buy. You can also check the weekly sales circular and build your recipes from on what’s on sale for even more savings. With a little creative planning, you’ll see a big difference in your total expense when you check out at the register. This will avoid confusion and over-spending when you’re shopping on the aisles, which are full of temptation for those without a plan.
4) Add as You Go
If you’ve done your proper planning and head to the supermarket armed with a list and an agenda for your meals, you’ll still want to keep track of spending. It’s easy enough with the calculator on your smart phone (or even a regular old-fashioned calculator). Keep to the list you created and check things off as you go. As you place each item in the cart, add the price to your running total. This holds true even if you see something on sale you hadn’t planned on purchasing. Sometimes a sale item is too good to pass up. This is especially true if it’s something you generally keep in stock or know you will definitely use in the future. Sometimes, stocking up on non-perishables at a sale price will offer savings in the long run. Just make sure to keep track and don’t go overboard!
5) Plan 2 Meals in One
When you’re planning a meal that you know will have leftovers, try to think ahead. If you have an idea ahead of time what you can repurpose those leftovers in, you’ll make two meals for nearly the price of one. For example, if you make a tray of oven-baked chicken, there are many ways to re-use the leftovers. Granted, many people like cold leftover chicken, but making a whole meal rather than a grab and go snack will save you money. For example, you could take the leftover chicken and de-bone it. Add your leftover veggies with some pasta and sauce. So, for the price of some sauce and a package of noodles, you just created another whole meal. This is just one small example. The point is, keep in mind when you’re planning a meal, what other meal you can roll the leftovers into.
6) Keep Track of Leftovers
It’s easy enough to place leftovers in neat little containers and store them in the fridge. The problem is, forgetting to use them! A general rule is 5 days to either eat it or freeze it. If you go beyond that, you’ll most likely end up throwing it out. This is especially true if you don’t know what day you stored it. The “when in doubt, throw it out” rule can be avoided by making sure to keep track of what you’ve put in those refrigerator containers. You can also get food storage containers that are freezer safe. If you mark the date on the container, and find you’re not going to use it within 5 days, you can simply put it in the freezer and add it to your prepared freezer meals list. This will avoid throwing out food, and therefore wasting the money you spent on it.
7) Buy Fresh Items More Frequently
It’s easy to buy everything at once when you venture to your local grocery store. The problem is, fresh items such as meat, fish, dairy and produce, have a limited shelf life. So, among your meal planning should be buying your fresh items closer to when you’re actually going to use them. This will avoid the stress of having to cook everything in a short time due to potential spoilage. Stocking up on non-perishables, especially when they’re on sale, will help avoid having to do extra large shopping trips. You could even split the type of shopping you do between pantry items and fresh items. That way, once you have your pantry items, you can plan your meals and head to the store to buy just the fresh items. This will also help to avoid over-spending, since you’re heading there with a plan and definite purpose.
8) Re-purpose Items
Sometimes, you can’t seem to avoid food spoilage. It’s hard to think of what to do with something fresh, if you hadn’t included it in a meal plan. It may have been an impulse buy, such as buying a whole bushel of tomatoes or apples while passing by the local farm stand. Not to worry. Will a little ingenuity, you can re-purpose and save them for a rainy day. For example, you could roast the tomatoes in the oven with a little olive oil and Italian spices. Then fill containers for freezer storage. Then, down the road, when you decide to make pasta or home-made pizza, simply defrost one of those containers to complete your sauce. Apples are another example. You can cook them with a little cinnamon and make apple sauce. Then place it in some canning jars which will seal tight enough to store them in your pantry.
9) Use Opened Items First
It’s easy enough to open a fresh bottle of salad dressing when you already have opened ones in the fridge. To save money and avoid waste, it’s best to use what you have open first. Try to keep track of what you’ve already opened and incorporate those ingredients into your meal plans. You can also stretch items, such as salad dressing, by adding a little freshness to it. For example, if you have a bottle of thick creamy dressing, instead of wasting what’s stuck in the bottle, add a couple of drops of milk and shake it up. You’ll find you can stretch some items and get the most for your money out of them, simply by thinking in terms of using everything to the last drop. This will avoid having to re-purchase these items more frequently and therefore save money on your grocery bill.