11 Tips to keep your fridge stocked without breaking the bank
Food waste is one of the No. 1 drains on your bank account (and the ecosystem). How much could you save?
According to Tristram Stuart, founder of Feedback, an environmental organization working to end food waste, a third of the world's entire food supply could be saved by reducing waste in developed countries (the biggest offenders), which is enough to feed 3 billion people.
To put that into personal perspective, if you spend $7,852 a year on groceries (the national average for food spending according to a 2012 Gallup poll), and you throw away a third of it, you've thrown away over $2,500 over the course of a year. You could buy two kids a really nice laptop for school with that kind of cash.
But if you know how to shop and store smarter, you can save money (and maybe even feed the world) without sacrificing.
1. Monitor what you throw away
Most people don't realize just how much they throw away. Keep a pad of paper somewhere in the kitchen, and write down everything you have to throw out, whether it was leftovers from a meal (and how many servings you threw out) or just stuff that spoiled before you ate it. You might need to adjust how much food you prepare or how much you buy.
2. Shop smart
I think we all get really excited watching those people on TV get $500 worth of groceries for $2 and some change, but that's a lot of work. You can do it by writing a smart shopping list that takes into account your weekly menu and bulk needs.
And remember to buy only what you need — realistically. If something you're cooking calls for only two potatoes, don't buy a whole bag. If you know you eat out twice a week, don't plan seven days' worth of meals.
3. Learn about storage
If you're regularly throwing away food, you may not be storing it right. Learn how to store fruits and vegetables properly to keep them from spoiling and how to organize your refrigerator to keep foods fresher longer. The way your mom used to do it might not be the best way.
4. Learn about freezing
Many food items can be frozen with little to no adverse affects. Learn what can be frozen and the proper way to freeze it to avoid freezer burn. Just make sure you date them and plan meals over the next couple of months that will let you use them up. This is an effective way to preserve foods you suddenly realize you won't be using because of that last-minute party invite or to take advantage of sales on items in too large a quantity to use up in time.
5. Learn about preserving
Many foods can be turned into pickled goodies, jams or jellies and more with a small investment in canning supplies and a little know-how. Other foods can be dried or dehydrated.
6. Invest in a vacuum sealer
Vacuum sealers remove all the air prior to storage and can make your food last as much as five times longer.
This fundamental of the restaurant industry can help you at home too. First in, first out means storing your newly purchased food in the back to encourage you to use up older food first.
8. Brown-bag it
If food is left over from last night's meal, take it for lunch the next day, or send it with the kids to school.
9. Is your refrigerator running?
No, this isn't a joke. Have your fridge tested by a pro. Popping a few hundred dollars to fix it could save you thousands over time. And make sure you keep up with maintenance, like replacing filters as needed. Also, make sure you know what those little levers on your drawers really do, and store the proper food at the proper humidity.
10. Be suspicious of expiration dates
Food manufacturers are naturally conservative about their sell-by and expiration dates. They don't want to get sued. But being past the date on the package doesn't automatically mean it's past its prime. Learn how to tell if the food is really expired.
11. Shop at home first
Designate one day a week to use up anything perishable before it expires. I like to do this the day I go shopping for the next week so I can pick up one or two extra things I need to make a meal, but you can also get creative and make a meal from only what you have.