Do you waste food? Probably. We all do to some extent. But do you waste $1,500 of food per year? According to The Atlantic “…every year, about 40 percent of all food in the U.S. goes uneaten; a typical four-person household discards roughly $1,500 worth” (May 2014). That is staggering! This is not money wasted on stuff you’d at least get to enjoy–like cable, restaurants, or dog costumes. Nay, gentle reader, this is money literally thrown down the garbage chute! I was shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you.
Mr. Frugalwoods and I manage to keep our monthly grocery bill under $335 for the two of us (last month we spent exactly $333.89). A huge factor is that we eat primarily vegetarian and often vegan. No matter how you slice it, what we eat–rice, beans, lentils, quinoa, homemade hummus, fruits and veggies–is cheaper than meat and dairy. However, another key tenet of our savings is that we don’t waste any of the food we buy. Since setting our goal to accelerate towards financial independence and a rural homestead by 2017 (when we’ll be 33), Mr. FW and I have slashed food waste like a ninja. If a ninja was in charge of not wasting food, that would pretty much be what we do. In the past month, we’ve thrown out a few grapes. That’s it. Everything else is eaten. Here’s how:
The Frugalwoods Foolproof Guide to Never Wasting Food
How to buy the food:
1) Do not overbuy.
The point of origin for food waste is the grocery store (or market, or produce stand, or bodega). Especially if you shop while hungry, without a list, and in the evening after a glass of wine (not that I’ve ever done this…). Thus, the first step is to not buy too much food. This is seems really obvious, but, Mr. FW and I were 100% guilty of what I like to call “optimistic purchasing.” Especially in the produce aisle. While it felt really noble to buy 10 pounds of raw kale, were we really going to eat kale 15 ways all week? Heck no, people! That kale went in the freaking trash! Now, I’m the frugal weirdo separating banana bunches to get the exact number we need for the week. I literally do not buy a single extra banana.
2) Grocery shop with a list.
A close relative of not overbuying, shopping with a list (by which I mean actually adhering to your list, not just carrying it around with you), is a must. If it’s not on the list, I don’t need it. How do I know? Because I do #3:
3) Create your grocery list in your kitchen.
Don’t be making lists on the run or while you’re at work (not that I would ever do that…). Stand in your kitchen and physically open cabinets, peer in the fridge, and poke in the pantry. Do not snack while making your list (again, who would do that?)
4) Meal plan.
Yeah, yeah, I know everyone says to do this. Know why? Because it works. Mr. Frugalwoods and I know what we’re going to eat for every single meal all week long before we ever step foot in the grocery store. A doubly wise idea for us given our mistaken for through-hikers in a grocery store incident.
5) Ignore coupons and sales.
Unless they’re for things you explicitly need. Again, that 10 pounds of kale is not a good deal if you’re only going to eat half a pound and toss the rest.
Ok, now that we have the food in our house, let’s explore how to eat it:
6) Eat the same meals on repeat.
Buying in bulk is absolutely the cheapest option, but since there are only two of us eating (Frugal Hound and her kibble are an entirely different story), we have to repeat meals in order to use up everything we buy. Every Sunday, Mr. Frugalwoods cooks a gigantic batch of rice and beans with mushrooms for us to take for our work lunches all week. This is a triple frugal score: it’s dirt cheap (circa .20 cents per serving), it uses bulk ingredients, and since it’s made in advance, we’re guaranteed to take our lunches to work every day.
7) Eat leftovers until they’re gone. Or freeze them.
Ya’ll, this is non-negotiable. Since we’ve already purchased the food and Mr. FW has gone to the trouble to cook it, we eat every meal until it’s all gone. If you’d rather freeze part of a large batch, go for it. My mom is a big fan of the freezer method and it works well for her and my dad. Mr. FW and I prefer to eat the food in the moment because we’ve already paid for it and it doesn’t make sense to us to save it for the future, especially when there’s the possibility it won’t survive life in the freezer.
8) Prioritize produce.
Newsflash: it goes bad fast. Real fast. When in doubt, eat it.
9) Eschew traditional meal conventions.
Mr. FW and I have eaten some pretty random combinations of vittles in the name of not wasting food. We’ve had meals of apples, grapes, peanut butter, and avocado because those were the things going downhill on the ol’ freshness scale. We know what to eat when because we:
10) Conduct food freshness scans throughout the week.
Don’t be caught off guard by stinking salad or mouldering mangos. I scan the fridge every day to make sure we’re eating food in the order it needs to be eaten. When we spot a foodstuff on the verge of death, it becomes part of our next meal, no questions asked.
11) Food does not expire.
Ok, it does expire eventually, but for the most part, you can get away with eating things long after their expiration dates. Those dates are extraordinarily conservative. We instead employ the sniff test. If something sniffs fine, we take a small bite. If it tastes fine, we eat it! I also pay close attention to expiration dates when purchasing–later dates can often be found on inventory on the back of the shelf. Yes, I do in fact paw through all of the spinach bags to find the latest expiration date. Basically I’m a menace in the produce aisle.
12) Embrace glue food!
Our resident chef, aka Mr. Frugalwoods, is a huge proponent of what he calls “glue food.” Glue food involves a base ingredient such as rice, quinoa, or pasta plus anything perishable chopped up with garlic, shallots, and hot sauce. When in doubt, add hot sauce. Good times.
Once we hit 5-6 days post grocery store, it’s time for a glue foods dinner! This ensures that every last scrap of food is eaten and, it results in some really tasty, if a bit unusual, combinations. For fruits, our morning oatmeal (which is .10 cents a serving) is the ultimate catch-all. Fruit that’s going soft tastes divine when mixed into oatmeal!
Final Food Thoughts
In addition to the obvious financial savings, not wasting food is a significant boon to the environment. The energy that goes into producing, transporting, and storing our food is substantial. The Atlantic breaks it down for us:
It’s not just our wallets that are hurting, though: between the energy that’s used growing and transporting crops and the methane gas released by rotting food in landfills, food waste is responsible for emitting the equivalent of 3.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. If food waste were a country, it’d be the third-largest greenhouse-gas emitter on the planet, after China and the U.S.
Dang! Once Mr. FW and I got into the routine of not wasting food, it became second nature. We’ve put our lives on frugal autopilot and avoiding food waste is a crucial element.