5 Ways to Stop Wasting Food and Save Money

5 Ways to Stop Wasting Food and Save Money

According to the National Resources Defense Council, 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten, and ends up rotting away in landfills across the country. While much of this is food waste is due to poor farming and grocery story practices, consumer waste is still a major issue.

It's something we all struggle with. Think back to the last time you cleaned out your fridge, what did you have to throw out? Moldy lunch meat forgotten in the back? Sour milk with unknown chunks floating freely on the surface? Restaurant leftovers from that family dinner last week? Not only is this monthly toss-out gross, it's also bad for your budget. Think of how much you spent on the things you're now being forced to chuck, and that pile of moldy food starts to look like a mountain of molding money.

So how do you avoid spending your hard-earned money on stuff that's destined to end up at the bottom of a dumpster? Here are our five best tips for saving food AND money on your next grocery store trip:

Plan ahead.


Meal planning changed my LIFE, y'all! Every Sunday I sit down and map out the meals I want to make for the week, then write up a grocery list based on these meals. Before I started doing this, I'd go to the grocery store without a plan, and end up wandering aimlessly for hours before buying tons of random, tasty things that rarely fit together into a single dish. I'd get home and realize that I couldn't make anything edible out of smoked salmon, pudding cups and green olives, and inevitably half of my purchases would sit in my fridge untouched until I tossed them out.

With a meal plan, however, I know exactly what I need to buy to make a week's worth of meals, and I make sure to double check my pantry before I go shopping, to make sure I don't buy something I already have.

Eat your leftovers.


Photo via Flickr/Kathleen Franklin

I love having as much variety in my diet from day to day as possible, but sometimes I have to put aside my cravings and *gasp* eat the same thing two days in a row. I know, it's tragic, but if you make too much of something and put it in the fridge for later, you're wasting both food and money if you let it sit there forever. Packing your leftovers and taking them to work for lunch is a great way to use them up and stop wasting money on extravagant lunches out. If you need a good bento box or Tupperware set, Brad's Deals posts deals on food storage solutions pretty regularly. Check out this current deal from Tanga, a 10-piece multi-purpose bowl and lid set for just $10:


Lately I've been getting really good at making my leftovers into a totally new meal, and if you need inspiration in this area, definitely check out our recent blog post on everything you can make with a leftover rotisserie chicken!

3. Don't kid yourself.


Of course everyone wants to eat healthier, but if you hate the taste of kale, there is no reason to buy it – nope, not even if it's on sale. If you buy a bunch of things you don't like just because they're good for you, chances are they're going to go to waste. This goes even for the yummy stuff, too. If you live alone, you probably don't need to buy a whole baguette, because you're not going to be able to eat the whole thing before it gets too hard to chew. Be honest with yourself about how much food you actually eat in a week, and what kinds of things you actually like to cook! There are lots of tasty ways to include more fruits and veggies in your diet, but buying five pounds of green beans for a two-person household is probably not going to serve you well, no matter how cheap they are.

4. Ignore the "Best By" labels (to a point).

expiration date

Photo via Flickr/David Goehring

To quote the USDA: "Except for 'use-by' dates, product dates don't always pertain to home storage and use after purchase. 'Use-by' dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates. Even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality if handled properly."

Of course, things like meat, dairy, fruits and veggies are perishable, but grocery stores have been known to fudge the use-by dates on even these items, pushing them forward just enough that you'll feel the need to throw out perfectly good food and come back to the store to buy more. Instead of taking the label on your food as law, use these charts from the USDA instead:

Refrigerator Storage of Fresh or Uncooked Products

Product Storage Times After Purchase
Poultry 1 - 2 days
Beef, Veal, Pork and Lamb 3 - 5 days
Ground Meat and Ground Poultry 1 - 2 days
Fresh Variety Meats (Liver, Tongue, Brain, Kidneys, Heart, Chitterlings) 1 - 2 days
Cured Ham, Cook-Before-Eating 5 - 7 days
Sausage from Pork, Beef or Turkey, Uncooked 1 - 2 days
Eggs 3 - 5 weeks

Refrigerator Storage of Processed Products Sealed at Plant

Processed Product Unopened, After Purchase After Opening
Cooked Poultry 3 - 4 days 3 - 4 days
Cooked Sausage 3 - 4 days 3 - 4 days
Sausage, Hard/Dry, shelf-stable 6 weeks/pantry 3 weeks
Corned Beef, uncooked, in pouch with pickling juices 5 - 7 days 3 - 4 days
Vacuum-packed Dinners, Commercial Brand with USDA seal 2 weeks 3 - 4 days
Bacon 2 weeks 7 days
Hot dogs 2 weeks 1 week
Luncheon meat 2 weeks 3 - 5 days
Ham, fully cooked 7 days slices, 3 days; whole, 7 days
Ham, canned, labeled "keep refrigerated" 9 months 3 - 4 days
Ham, canned, shelf stable 2 years/pantry 3 - 5 days
Canned Meat and Poultry, shelf stable 2 - 5 years/pantry 3 - 4 days

Keep in mind these are guidelines – if something smells off or has visible mold on it, toss it. You don't want to risk a nasty case of food poisoning.

5. Donate what you don't need.

food bank

Photo via the US Department of Agriculture

One in seven Americans lives in a food insecure household. These families often rely on local food banks to provide them with healthy meals and groceries, and food banks rely on donations to keep them running. If you have extra, non-perishable food lying around at the end of every month, a good way to keep that food from going to waste is to donate it to a local food resource center. Every food bank, pantry or soup kitchen has different individual needs, so make sure to call or check online to see what items they're most in need of before you donate. In general, though, these are the kinds of foods that shelters nationwide appreciate:

  • Canned chicken, tuna and salmon
  • 100 percent juice boxes
  • Low sodium canned veggies
  • Canned fruits (with no sugar added)
  • Olive and Canola oils
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Canned soup
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Holiday foods (e.g. cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy, etc)
  • Baby formula
  • Milk
  • Condiments
  • Peanut butter
  • Cereal
  • Unsalted nuts

To find a place near you that's accepting donations, check out Feeding America, AmpleHarvest.org or Food Rescue.

Bonus Tip: Use a cash back credit card when you shop.

If you're not using one of these top credit cards for grocery shopping to pay at the supermarket, then you're leaving cash on the table. Just be sure to pay off the balance every month to avoid interest fees that wipe out the savings.

Got any more frugal ways to stop household food waste? Let us know your favorite tricks in the comments!