Stop Throwing Away Money – a Plea from Your Leftovers

Last week, I talked about how to save Food Money by busting out the old crock pot. This week, I want to talk about a challenge we face in my family associated with the crock pot meal plan I just got done recommending – how to keep your Food Money low by using leftovers to their fullest potential.

Being much like finance blogs, leftovers aren’t usually super attractive. Nobody wants to eat that five day old, half portion of tuna melt you made after that great workout back on Monday. If you crave that sort of thing, you can stop reading now, okay? I mean it, that’s gross.

Listen, I like tuna melts, and I’m absolutely all for leftovers. They’re just not as appealing as a fresh tuna melt. But, a leftover tuna melt costs the same as a fresh one, and that’s important to remember! The average American tosses 40% of their entire food supply right down the drain, into the garbage, or shoveled off their plate to the overly-expensive dog (another story altogether). 40%! That means if you spent $700 per month on food and made a change to have zero food waste, you could save $280 per month, or $3,360 per year. Learn these best practices for food and leftovers so you can pocket that money instead of putting it in a landfill.

Shop With a Meal in Mind

Small Shopping CartMy family typically plans out a meal plan for dinners two weeks in advance. We’ll make a grocery list and the buy non-perishable groceries every two weeks, and perishable items like eggs, milk, bread, fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis as needed. Writing down a list of items helps to avoid buying that $40 roast that caught your eye, or that fillet of salmon that was “on sale”. (Of course it was on sale, else how would they sell it?) Shopping by the meal means that you won’t be buying ingredients for half a meal, which makes it much less likely that you’ll have food going bad.

Be Disciplined or Cook Single Meals

The secret solution to avoiding leftover food waste is to be disciplined enough not to cook another meal until the last one has been eaten, even though your family members may not want to eat stir fry three nights in a row. In our house, this is the single biggest difference in the food waste we create. The longer the food sits in the fridge, our desire to eat it drops exponentially. If you struggle with this, check out how to learn discipline.

If you can’t handle the discipline of finishing one meal before moving on to another, try only cooking what you need for one night for your family. A simple concept, but gauging how much is right for your appetite on any given night can be a challenge, to say the least. Learning what portions are right for your families’ needs may take some trial and error, but will be well worth the cost savings once you’ve nailed it down.

Refrigerate Immediately After Serving

The less time your food spends in the danger zone (room temperature), the longer it will last! I don’t know how many times after dinner my wife and I have forgotten to put away dinner, only to come into the kitchen in the morning to find that it smelled like a zombie horde tromped through while we slept. Those are hard-earned dollars and cents being thrown out in the garbage, all because I didn’t take two seconds to put the leftovers in some plastic containers and toss them in the fridge! Let your leftovers live to see another meal; store them once you’ve served them.

Make sure your food is sealed as well as it can from outside air. Keeping the food chilled and air tight is one of the best things you can do to prolong the life of your leftovers. I use these GladWare containers for leftovers. For freezing, check out these high quality, great value food containers.

Fresh Red AppleA Rotten Apple on a Tree

Refresh Your Leftovers to Keep them Exciting!

There’s more than one way to serve chicken (or whatever leftover you’ve got). Lay it over rice, put it in a tortilla or add some new spices to change the flavor, add texture and dimension and turn your bland, cold leftover into an exotic, appetizing entree! If you don’t want the same meal for dinner twice in a row, eat it for lunch or breakfast instead! Get creative – there are tons of ways to make your leftovers exciting.

Eat Food Before It Goes Bad

This also applies to non-leftovers and might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important enough to point out the obvious. If your food is going bad before you have the opportunity to eat it, you’re probably buying too much! But please, don’t engorge yourself and become a glutton just to prevent food waste. If plans change after you purchase your food, freeze it or give it to someone who can use it. There’s no sense in letting it rot just to throw it out.

Do you know how long food lasts before you need to toss it out? Check out this handy infographic for the shelf life of many household food items.

Composting, A Great Last Resort

Compost PileIf you’ve done everything in your power and your food has still gone bad, that’s okay! If you’ve got a garden, add it to your compost pile! (Or create a compost pile if you don’t have one already.) Composting is a great way to use food that otherwise would’ve ended up in a landfill or incinerator.

What’s Left Over

Hopefully nothing! If you’ve followed these steps, you should be well on your way to reducing your food waste and increasing your savings. Understanding how much food waste Americans create may help motivate you to do something good for the planet and your wallet. It’s not all about the money, after all.

If you’ve got a great tip I’ve missed on ways to save on food waste, share it in the comments. Thanks!

– Sam

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