Editor’s Note: This article is the second in our 12-part series, “The Frugal Family: Changes you and your family can make today to save money.” Our goal is not only to give you tips you can use everyday to stretch your hard-earned dollars, but also to give you some real-world advice on how to navigate challenging economic times. For previous articles, go to www.parentingnh.com.
Save money on food by shopping and storing smarter
By Wendy Thomas
It was an article in the New York Times about how much edible food we, as Americans, throw out that got me thinking. The article said Americans waste an astounding amount of food — an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption — according to a government study.
It happens at the supermarket, in restaurants and cafeterias, and in our very own kitchens, and this wastage works out to about a pound of food every day for every American.
“It’s not much better in the food industry,” said Claudine Johnson Eaddy, Owner / Chef of Autumn's Custom Catering in Richmond, Va.
Because of the strict health department rules, many edible items get tossed, she said. After catering a function, you can't reuse or take the food out with you, so often if it’s not eaten, it goes in the trash.
“A lot of food ends up this way and often it saddens me. Not only because of the expense, but also because it is such a waste. It happens in restaurants, too, and you can't donate food without additional licenses and agreements. Plus you run the risk of lawsuits if someone gets sick because they didn't handle or refrigerate something you donated correctly.”
“It’s sad,” Eaddy said, “but is a true reality of the food service industry, as well as in many American homes.”
Not only does all this good nutritious trash equal a lot of wasted food, but it also represents a lot of money that’s being thrown away in the trash. Add that to the fact that the rotting food that ends up in landfills produces methane, a major source of greenhouse gases, and I knew my family had to make some changes.
For one month in our house we ate our meals looking into the face of a large shiny silver food scale sitting right in the middle of our table. For those 30 days, every edible scrap of food that we didn’t eat (pizza crusts, errant green beans, meatloaf hidden in napkins, as well as leftovers that had gone bad) was weighed on the scale.
Even being aware of what we were doing, we ended up throwing out more than 20 pounds of good edible food. To me that was a crime. Not only were we wasting a valuable resource, but I was also wasting too much of my valuable food budget on stuff that was simply not needed.
As a result, we made some changes in how we buy and store our foods. I no longer buy all the produce for the week on one day, and I now use glass see-through containers to store leftovers so that I can tell what they are.
I am not alone in realizing how senseless it is to throw away good food. Melinda Mallari, owner of Precision Market Services in Ohio, said in an e-mail that in her household she buys organic, grows food (herbs, salad, tomatoes), composts and, yet still regretfully, throws out food that could have been eaten.
She is doing it less of it though, because she has recently made some changes to her food buying and storage habits. Some of her tips include: 1. Keep all perishables visible in the fridge. There is nothing worse than buying something you already have because you didn't see it buried under something else 2. Use better storage containers to keep perishables fresher longer (and visible). Airtight containers cost more, but save more in the long run. Learn how to store and date perishables. 3. Buy from local producers as much as possible (farmers markets, neighbors, etc). You have a better idea of how fresh the produce is because it's usually been picked within days — if not hours — before your purchase and therefore lasts longer (plus it's more nutritious). 4. Make up a week's worth of menus and buy only what you need for those meals. 5. If you see food is going bad and can't eat it immediately, see if someone else wants it. Try to share with others. As for trying to cut down on wasted food being left on plates (especially with kids or guests) Mallari suggests letting people serve their own plates. They'll take more of what they know they like and maybe just a polite serving of something else, so less gets tossed out.
Also serve yourself half a portion at a time. You can always go back for seconds and even thirds. If you serve yourself too much, it just gets tossed.
Wendy Thomas lives in Merrimack with her husband and six children, ages 9-17, and has been published in various regional magazines and newspapers. She writes a weekly column, Simple Thrift, for The Telegraph.