It is astounding just how efficient the United States has become at feeding its own citizens. In 1900, the American agricultural industry was responsible for 44 percent of domestic employment; today, that has fallen to about 2 percent. This increase in agricultural productivity has benefitted us with vast quantities of cheap food, so much so that we now face a new problem — a widespread willingness to waste food.
Food waste comes in many forms and is linked to issues spanning environmental, humanitarian, and social grounds. For the everyday household, however, food waste is about money. According to the USDA, between 30 and 40 percent of the U.S. food supply ends up being wasted. This is sobering when considering that, according to Feeding America, some 42 million Americans live in households with “a lack of access or availability to enough food to lead a healthy life.”
Ultimately, food waste may cost your family hundreds of dollars a year or more. Fortunately, there are a few ways to help you cut down on food waste and potentially save a significant amount of money.
Be realistic about what you will eat
Because they provide a discount per unit, bulk purchases are often regarded as one of the best ways to save money. However, bulk purchases frequently contribute to food waste because they offer the consumer far more food than they plan on using. It is important to be realistic when shopping; try to avoid buying things just because it was a “good deal.” Always shop with a grocery list that contains only what you need.
Challenge expiration dates
Although food comes with a “use by” or “sell by” date, take those guidelines with a grain of salt. Food expiration dates are typically estimates by the manufacturer of when they can guarantee the highest level of freshness, not the day the food suddenly goes bad. While some foods can spoil quickly, check online to see if your past-date food really needs to be thrown out immediately. (If you are uncertain, however, it may be safest to just throw it away.)
When you do need to throw food out, make a note so that you might change your purchasing habits in the future.
Plan meals in advance
Planning meals several days in advance can be inconvenient, but it makes shopping extremely easy. Coordinating your cooking helps you plan the best ways to use up ingredients from other meals (particularly vegetables) and can help you ensure variety in your diet. Having a meal plan will also encourage you to use leftovers strategically and cut down on the need to buy fast food.
Grow at home
It is amazing how far a little gardening can go. Growing your own food not only saves money but also guarantees freshness and encourages you to eat all the vegetables you grow. Similarly, growing herbs can be particularly effective and convenient because herb plants are small and provide just what you need for the meal you are currently cooking. If you have a garden, you can also begin composting and put your other food waste to work.
Use restaurants tactically
Restaurants can be a great asset for people trying to save money and reduce waste. This may seem counterintuitive, but buying ingredients for certain foods can be extremely inefficient, especially when cooking elaborate meals for just one or two people. Dining out can prevent you from buying an array of one-time ingredients that will either be thrown out or flood your refrigerator with unhealthy leftovers. Restaurants serve people in bulk; sometimes, it is cheaper to have them do the work for you.