I am no math genius and in fact, like a lot of creative types, never even enjoyed the subject. I even took extra science courses in college to get out of taking math. I think the simple calculator is just about the most important invention since the internal combustion engine.
But we need math. Not just to balance a checkbook but to figure out Frugal Food strategy. I am often asked, how do I figure out how much I am wasting/spending on food? The answer is simple: a little math.
For the next month, just keep all your grocery receipts. Every time you throw food away, snap a photo of it on your Smart phone. At the end of a month, tally it what you threw out or wasted using your receipts as a guideline as to how much you spent. You will have to eyeball a few things, half a bag of green beans that went bad, leftover meatloaf that nobody ate, etc., but eyeballing will be good enough. In fact, it will be a real eye opener.
The average American home reportedly wastes more than $600 a year in food. That’s a LOT. Most people I know waste far more because they don’t factor in the leftovers from (unnecessary) eating out and the products just sitting in their pantry and fridge that they have not used up or thrown out.
Below are a few tips for reducing food waste:
- Buy less. In fact, buy WAY LESS. Especially produce. That’s something nearly everyone I know ends up throwing out. Buy half of what you normally buy or opt for smaller amounts. Again, buy half of what you normally buy.
- Plan and shop for just three (dinner) meals a week. That’s doable, right? You don’t have to map out every morsel but three dinners a week is generally something most people can manage. Don’t worry about leftovers just yet, just plan and shop for three dinners a week. You don’t have to eat leftovers for dinner the other four nights, in fact, any leftovers are likely better used for lunches.
- Put yourself on a condiment diet. Confession time: I ADORE condiments. Love them. The more abstract, rare, funky, exotic, and yes expensive, the better. But I don’t use them up. I am on a restricted condiment diet as a result. Sigh. I can quit any time I want.
- Booze is expensive. I personally love a good glass of red wine but studies show that we all shouldn’t be drinking that much anyway. Limit your alcohol intake and don’t buy more.
- Make it, don’t buy it. There are a LOT of items most people buy for convenience which obviously cost more than making them yourself. Meatballs, cakes, brownies, salad dressings, cookies, salads…I mean, let’s ponder this: why are you buying salads that statistics say you will toss most of when making them takes minutes? And while you are at it, precut, prepared, convenience packages of produce are all very costly. Just don’t. Buy what you need and make produce prep part of your food shopping experience (spoiler alert: blog coming on that topic next). You don’t have to master the art of making homemade crackers (though I love baking them myself) but many things you routinely buy for convenience takes mere minutes to make from scratch.
- Herbs are a huge flavor booster to most food. They are also really expensive. Even if you keep just a couple of pots of herbs on a sunny window sill, opt for that rather than buying pricy slivers of basil, rosemary, etc. I am blessed to have a modest herb garden in my backyard so I never buy herbs, I pick them.
- Throttle back on the meat. Meat is the most wasteful, uneconomical way to eat on the planet. It takes the most resources and is the most costly form of food, generally speaking. Confession time: I live with a die hard carnivore. He MUST have his meat. I have convinced him to hit what he now calls, ‘the all-rotten section’ of the meat department, the area where everything is on sale or reduced in price. This is why we have a freezer. I also have taught him to buy the cheapest, toughest cuts of meat. That is why we have a slow cooker and a pressure cooker.
- Don’t plan a meal based on getting leftovers and turning them into something amazing because you won’t. There are a million books out there that show you how to cook meals and make something of the leftovers and if you were already doing this, you wouldn’t be reading this blog. I have a different suggestion: cook only what you will eat. You are still going to end up with leftovers more often than not but start cooking less than you think you will eat, not more. Americans throw away an obscene amount of leftovers. Everything you throw away is the same as tossing money out the window.
- Shop in season only right after. Example, I use evaporated canned milk to make this sentimental ground beef dish called SOS (sh-t on a shingle). My partner loves it, what can I say. It is his quintessential childhood comfort food and just does not taste the same without using evaporated milk. Come the holidays, every grocery store I frequent had piles upon piles of evaporated milk because it is often used in holiday baking recipes. Oh joy. I bought a couple of extra cans thinking I was getting a bargain but the minute the holidays were over and done with, the cost of evaporated milk plummeted. This is akin to buying Christmas wrapping paper the day after Christmas. Just recently, I was in my favorite discount grocery store and actually spied a 12 pound frozen turkey for just $5 and this is five months after Thanksgiving. It took up a chunk of space in the freezer for a few weeks before I could thaw and roast it but it was a bargain all the same. Think days or even weeks after for snapping up seasonal, holiday food bargains. I bought a couple of slabs of corned beef well after Easter because they were half the price of what I would have paid just weeks earlier.
- The tip above being the case, also keep in mind that some items, usually those with a short shelf life, really do cost significantly less during a holiday season. Eggs are very cheap right before Easter and then go back to regular price after the Easter bunny has done his thing for the year. Same goes for other items so it pays to compare and know what you will easily use up and what you won’t. I know I can always use extra eggs with all the baking I do so buying another dozen or three on the cheap is never going to be a problem for me or my budget.