How I saved $200 a month on groceries – and reduced my food waste
I don’t like to admit this online for the whole world to see, but I’m guilty of throwing out and wasting a lot of food. And I do mean A LOT of food.
Last night, for example, I had to toss a glass of warm milk that my daughter neglected to drink, plus a container of leftover tater tot casserole I found when cleaning the fridge and a half-full bag of mushy sugar snap peas.
Like many of us, I can’t stand throwing away uneaten food. I know how much work farmers dedicate to raising our food. For every glass of milk my daughter drinks, there’s an Iowa farmer who had to get up at 3 a.m. to milk and feed their dairy cows.
Plus, food waste isn’t only a loss of money, time and resources. It also impacts the environment.
About one-third of all food in the United States goes uneaten, often ending up in landfills or in sewer systems, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Food is the single largest category of material placed in landfills. When food decomposes in a landfill, it releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Municipal landfills are the third largest source of human-related methane emissions in the U.S, the EPA says.
Granted, we can’t prevent all food waste in our homes. Sometimes, our family’s nutrition needs outweigh our desire to minimize food waste.
Maybe you find it difficult, for example, to eat a whole watermelon before it goes bad when there’s only one or two people in your household. Or maybe a family member has a health issue that makes meal preparation difficult or eating uncomfortable.
My young daughter is a picky eater, who asks for peanut butter sandwiches one day but refuses to eat them the next, so I often end up tossing out most of what’s on her plate.
However, if you are able, taking steps to reduce food waste at home can save you money and benefit the environment.
How I save $50 a week on food
This spring, I made a few simple changes to my own grocery buying habits, using advice from friends and from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Now I’m saving $50 a week – or $200 a month – on groceries, according to the budgeting app I use on my phone.
Here are the steps that work for my family to help us save money and reduce food waste:
- Shop the pantry and freezer first. I tend to buy the same food items at the grocery store each week, without checking to see what we already have in our kitchen. That’s how we end up with five bags of sweet potato fries in the freezer or three jars of salsa in the pantry. Now before I shop for groceries, I look in the freezer and cupboards to make sure I buy only what I need. Just this simple step has saved me so much money!
- Make a weekly meal plan. Yes, I know it’s a pain to add another chore to the to-do list, but meal planning can save money and cut down on food waste at home.
Instead of a detailed meal plan, I keep a running list of about five or so of our favorite meals, so we always have the ingredients we need on hand. On my weekly rotation: tacos/burritos, salads, stir-fry, pizza, burgers, hot dogs, breakfast for dinner, spaghetti/pasta, and pork chops. Sides are whatever vegetable I can cook in the microwave or roast in a big batch on the weekend.
- Shop online. This option isn’t available to everyone, but I encourage you to get comfortable with online grocery shopping to save time and money. Online shopping helps me avoid impulse splurges at the store. And if the online grocery cart adds up to more than I want to pay for the week, I can remove unnecessary items from my cart (which is awkward to do when you’re shopping in-store and standing in line at the check-out).
For more tips on how to meal plan, cut your food costs and reduce food waste at home, please check out the following resources:
- Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Spend Smart. Eat Smart.
- Environmental Protection Agency’s food waste resources.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture’s safe food storage tips.
Iowa farmers are also listening to their customers’ needs. Farmers remain committed to continuous improvement to ensure the safety, nutrition and sustainability of the foods they grow for all of us.
To learn more about how farmers work to ensure meat quality, food safety and animal well-being, visit the “Real Farmers. Real Food. Real Meat” website.