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Tips from the EPA on Preventing Food Waste


Trim Your Grocery Budget by Up to 14%

Plan your meals, avoid spoilage and purchase perishables with restraint

Many frugal sites emphasize how to buy food for less to save money off your grocery bill. But a 2003 study found that Americans throw out over 14% of the food that they buy, not even including plate scrapings!

So by planning your meals in advance, not having any food spoil and not wasting any food, you may be able to shave almost 14% off your food budget.

Listed below are some tips to help avoid spoilage, use leftovers and plans your meals down to the last chicken nugget.

1. Plan your meals in advance and make a grocery shopping list from your plan. Inventory your food supplies each week. Make a note of what you ran out of, what no one ate and what went to waste. Keep fine tuning your meal plans and grocery list accordingly until you are buying just enough food so you don't run out of things and also don't waste food.

2. Only buy in bulk for nonperishables, food you can freeze, or food your family will realistically eat before it gets too old.

2. Beware of food warehouses like Costco. Remember to shop with a list and use self control. The warehouse prices are usually great, but you are really only saving money if you actually can consume all of the food you eat. Our neighbors stopped going to Costco, because they said they never left there without spending $200 in "bargains" they didn't know they needed.

The seductive nature of Costco was even immortalized in a Seinfeld episode. Jerry's neighbor, Kramer, a single guy, joins Costco and buys enough cans of bulk Beefaroni to fill his car trunk. Clearly it would take months, if not years, for one person to eat up all of that Beefaroni, but since the price was so low Kramer could not resist the purchase. It was pretty funny because I think we've all been there -- going to a warehouse store and not being able to resist all of the bargains, even on purchases we didn't plan to make.

3. If you are not a whiz at meal planning, it may be better to go grocery shopping every few days. It is much easier to visualize and plan what you are going to eat over three days than it is to plan for the next week or month. Plus, fresh food is more nutrient dense. The longer food sites in your refrigerator, the more vitamins and minerals it loses over time. Shopping frequently, if you have the time, gives you more chances to buy fresh produce.

4. Invest in a freezer to save leftovers, to stock up on food for emergencies, to have extra food for unexpected guests or for times when you don't have time to shop for fresh food.

I know a lot of people recommend buying in bulk and then freezing food like meat for later use on a regular basis. For us freezer food is okay in a pinch, but I think my family is better off not eating mostly frozen, thawed and reheated food for the majority of our meals.

5. Avoid food spoilage:

  • When you are grocery shopping, buy the perishables last and keep them together in your cart so they stay cold. Ask the baggers to pack cold foods together.

  • If you are buying any hot foods from the deli, keep these separate in your shopping cart from the cold foods.

6. Inventory your refrigerator each day and make plans to use up leftovers as soon as possible.

7. Keep a permanent marker and tape handy near the refrigerator and mark the date stored on leftovers. Periodically do a thorough scan of the refrigerator and throw out anything old. Make a note of what you didn't use up and use that data to reduce the amount of food you buy on your next trip. Glass containers are a good idea because they let you see easily what is in the fridge without having to do a lot of searching around.

8. Make soup with leftovers. Many nights after dinner I make soup in a crock pot. Soup is nutritious, a good choice of food to lose weight and also a great way to use up leftovers. Because you are retaining the cooking water when making crock pot soup and keeping a lid on the pot, it is a good way of not losing any vitamins and minerals through steam or discarded cooking water.

I either make my own broth or use an organic, ready-made, generic brand stock from our local grocery store. I cook the soup in the morning and then leave it on low in the crock pot all day for a healthy lunch and snacks.

9. Steam fresh vegetables for dinner and save the cooking water. Steaming is a good way to preserve vitamins and minerals. Save the water used to make the steam as a nutritious broth to make soup and also for some extra vitamins and minerals when you make rice. If you don't have time or interest to make soup stock, cook the water and use it for watering plants.


Frugality includes all other virtues. ~ Cicero

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