How Wasting Food Steals Your Money: Use it Up

March 5-9 was Food Waste Prevention Week in California. Today, we talk about the value of using what we buy.

As we wrap up Food Waste Prevention Week today, we address the second half of the food waste problem for most Americans: Not using our food before it goes bad. Food waste steals you money at two points in the cycle: at the store when you buy more than you need and at home when you fail to use up what you’ve purchased.

We must use what we buy.

Too many of us shop on auto-pilot. Even if we go to the store with a grocery list, many of the items on that list don’t have jobs. How many times have you added bread, milk and eggs to your list just because? Maybe you’re always running out of those items – or maybe you just buy them out of habit.

Our solution to this problem is meal planning. Nothing goes on the list without an assignment. I don’t put beans and canned tomatoes on the list unless I already have meals in mind that will use up the quantity I plan to buy. I also don’t guess that I need 10 cans of tomatoes when the store is selling them at 10 for $10. I know that if I’m making chili once and pasta twice, I only need eight cans for the month.

Another method I have for making sure we use up what we buy is to go through the fridge each week and pull out all the produce. This ensures I know what I have on hand that needs to be used up. Here are my top three meal ideas for expiring produce:

  1. Veggie scramble – Chop up four cups of veggies (raw or cooked) and heat in pan until soft. Mix in a carton of egg whites or six whole eggs and scramble, seasoning as desired. This makes for a protein-packed breakfast and is delicious reheated in the morning with some salsa spooned over the top. My favorite veggie combo is mushrooms, onions, sweet red peppers, serrano peppers and kale, but I also use whatever leftover veggies I have over the week. That’s part of the fun.
  2. Veggie soup – My favorite way to clean out the fridge is to chop up all the veggies and throw them in a big pot with stock, salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf. If I have leftover cooked meat, I’ll add that in for some extra flavor. My daughters look forward to “fridge soup” on Sundays.
  3. Warm veggie salad – I cut everything up in similar size, toss with a bit of oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven at 450 for 25 minutes, flipping about halfway through. As soon as the veggies are fork-tender, I’ll put them in a bowl with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. I love to mix sweet potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots and garlic. It’s just as good served beside chicken or fish as it is topped with a fried egg for a quick dinner.

Try a spending freeze.

If you need some motivation to use what you buy, consider putting your family on a pantry challenge. Spend a week – or a month – eating entirely from the food you already have on hand. Inventory your fridge, freezer and pantry before the challenge begins and see how many days of meals you can arrange. Instead of running to the store for “just a few things,” explore substitutions like serving crackers instead of bread with soup or trying rice with pasta sauce instead of spaghetti. If you run out of bread and crackers, could you make biscuits from scratch? If you get the whole family involved, this can be a lot of fun and help you to discover a new favorite recipe like Wacky Cake (no eggs or dairy).

By the end of the challenge, you’ll have a bit more money in your pocket and more room in your fridge, freezer and pantry.

Is food waste a problem in your home? Is it because you over-buy or under-use – or a combination of both? If you could try just one idea here, what would it be? Maybe you already have food waste nailed in your home. Either way, I’d love to hear what works for you and what doesn’t. Leave me a comment here or send me an email. Let’s keep this conversation going beyond just a one-week stunt.

Tonya Kubo is co-director of the Clutter Free Academy Facebook group, founded by author/speaker Kathi Lipp and based on her best-selling book, Clutter Free. Tonya and her husband, Brian, are raising two spirited girls in the agricultural heart of California. By day, she cultivates community in digital spaces for a public university. At night, you can find her either cooking, cuddling or helping others to fight the demons of comparison, clutter and compulsion.

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