Reducing food waste: Good for the planet and your budget

Reducing food waste: Good for the planet and your budget
By Shari Steinbach, MS, RDN, president, Shari Steinbach & Associates LLC

Food waste.

It’s something we might only think about when cleaning up from dinner or maybe we don’t think about it at all. The awful truth is America leads the world in food waste.

According to the USDA, 30 to 40 percent of food is wasted every year in the United States, and the estimated cost of food thrown out by the average American family annually is around $1,500.

Wasted food also means a waste of natural resources, water, and energy.

Most people don’t realize how much food they throw away every day – from uneaten leftovers to spoiled produce. Much of our food waste is due to improper storage and misreading labels.

Here are budget-friendly actions you can take to reduce food waste, save money and enjoy delicious, nutritious meals:

At Home

  • Shop in your kitchen. Look in your refrigerator and cupboards first to avoid buying food you already have. Make a list each week of what needs to be used up.
  • Create your meal plan. Now that you know what’s on hand, make a meal plan for the week and write down the ingredients you need to buy. Note the quantity of items needed (i.e., four tomatoes, two onions) and the coupons you have available for use.


  • Choose a supermarket close to your home. Make shopping as easy as possible and get to know your grocery store aisles and shelves.
  • Compare prices as you shop. Store-brand products are often more affordable, and the quality is just the same as national brands.
  • Use club cards and online coupons if available. You may get special savings alerts and discounts.
  • Save receipts. When you get home, compare what you spent to what you budgeted. Adjust your meal planning and budgeting, if needed.
  • Don’t overbuy fresh produce. Even if it’s on sale, you won’t be saving money if you have to throw away fresh fruits and veggies because they go bad. Also, remember that frozen and canned fruits and vegetables have lots of good nutrients and they generally last a long time without spoiling. Plus, they’re great to have on hand when you’re low on funds or don’t feel like heading to the store.

Cooking and Storage

  • Use proper storage. Find out how to store fruits and vegetables so they stay fresh longer inside or outside your refrigerator.
  • Know your dates. Learn the difference between “Sell-By,” “Use-By,” “Best-By,” and expiration dates. Download the “Is My Food Safe?” or “Foodkeeper” app.
  • Use your freezer frequently.
  • Freeze food such as bread, sliced fruit, or meat that you know you won’t be able to eat in time. Prepare and cook perishable items, then freeze them for use throughout the month. For example, bake and freeze chicken breasts or fry and freeze taco meat.
  • Make casseroles, soups and other seasonal produce recipes when the ingredients are at their freshest, then    freeze them. Label your containers with dates, and check for spoilage or freezer burn before using.
  • Freeze surplus fruits and vegetables – especially abundant seasonal produce. Use before tossing.
  • Fruits and veggies past their prime? They may still be fine for cooking. Think soups, casseroles, stir-fry, sauces, baked goods, pancakes, or smoothies.
  • If safe and healthy, use the edible parts of food that you normally do not eat. For example, stale bread can be used to make croutons, beet tops can be sautéed for a delicious side dish, and vegetable scraps can be made into stock.
  • Embrace leftovers.
  • Leftover chicken can be mixed with chicken broth, mixed veggies and pasta for an easy soup. Leftover chili can top tortilla chips or a baked potato for quick and easy dinners as well.
  • Save money on lunches out by taking leftovers to work.
  • Casseroles, stir-fry, frittatas, soups, and smoothies are great ways to use leftovers, too.
  • After a too-big meal in a restaurant, take the leftovers home and keep them to use in your next meal.

Kitchen staples to have on hand for quick, healthy meals

  • Canned tuna and chicken – add to casseroles, salads, or make a sandwich/wrap
  • Eggs – affordable and complete protein for easy, versatile meals
  • Peanut butter – for snacks, sandwiches, or smoothies
  • Nuts and seeds – make your own trail mix with dried fruit or cereal
  • Dried fruit – use as a snack or cereal topper
  • Milk – nutrient-rich beverage for drinking and cooking
  • Cheese – Add to eggs, casseroles, chili, or tacos, or eat as a snack with fruit
  • Yogurt – healthy breakfast with fruit and cereal or as a snack
  • Frozen fruits and veggies – quick side dishes that have a long shelf life
  • Lean beef, poultry and fish – freeze what you don’t use within a few days
  • Potatoes – top with veggies, cheese, or meat for a quick, healthy dinner
  • Canned beans – nutrient-rich addition to tacos, soups, burritos, nachos and more
  • Canned tomatoes and pasta sauce – use in chili, soups, salads, tacos or pasta dishes
  • Canned vegetables – for side dishes, soups and casseroles
  • Canned fruit – quick and healthy snack or dessert
  • Instant brown rice – use in soups, side dishes, and stir-fry meals
  • Pasta – can make simple, affordable meals with sauce and veggies
  • Cereal (hot and cold) – quick breakfast or snack
  • Whole grain bread and crackers
  • Favorite herbs and spices for cooking





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