On the hunt for some cold cash? Look no farther than your refrigerator. And your kitchen cabinets.
According to the National Resources Defense Council(NRDC), the average American family wastes $150 a month—that’s $1,800 a year—on food waste. Could you use an extra $1,800? Let Billshark show you how to find that money.
Saving on food requires a little time and effort, investments that can pay off handsomely on on your grocery bill.
Worse than the question, “What’s for dinner?” is the frequent complaint, “There’s nothing to eat in this house.” The latter is usually not literally true, but both can often lead to a quick order from the local pizzeria or, worse, an unplanned (and unbudgeted) trip to a restaurant.
Proper planning can forestall both dilemmas, in addition to saving you a nice amount of money over the long run, as well as helping you eat healthier.
Start with a menu. If you’re easily bored, make it for 30 days, so that you will be able to enjoy a variety of dishes over the course of a month. This is where you can let your imagination go. Or, if you still can’t think of what you might like to eat, check out one of the thousands of recipe websites for ideas. If 30 days is too much, start with a weekly meal plan, and be sure to include leftovers. These can be used for lunch the next day, or—with a slight tweak—for dinner a couple nights later. For example, if you roast a chicken on Sunday, you could have chicken salad for lunch on Monday, andchicken pot pie on Tuesday.
Once you have a menu in hand, take it a step further and list the ingredients needed for each meal. This will prevent you from overbuying. And stick to your list, unless you find a great sale and know you can incorporate the item into your menu.
A good deal of food waste occurs due to improper storage. The NRDC recommends placing produce in sealed packaging and refrigerating it, except for bananas, potatoes, onions, and tomatoes, all of which should be stored just below room temperature.
Be sure to store non-perishable foods in cool, dry places, meaning away from direct sunlight and not in a cabinet above your stove.
In the refrigerator—which should be kept at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit—store highly perishable foods like meat, fish, and poultry in the coldest part of the fridge, which is usually on the bottom shelves. Remember, heat rises.
One good way to save money in the kitchen is by not throwing out perfectly good food. Many people take the expiration dates on food as gospel, when the fact is, there’s no real logic behind most of them. The NRDC says to treat these dates as suggestions, not commands.
According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), “Manufacturers provide dating to help consumers and retailers decide when food is of best quality. Except for infant formula, dates [on various food items] are not an indicator of the product’s safety and are not required by Federal law.”
In addition, various manufacturers use different wording, further confusing the issue. “Best by,” “sell by,” and “use by” are usually when manufacturers have determined that products will be of best flavor or quality, the FSIS says, and are not related to whether or not the product is safe to consume.
So how to tell when something is still safe to eat? Again, except for infant formula, the FSIS says “If the date passes during home storage, a product should still be safe and wholesome if [it has been] handled properly. Spoiled foods will develop an ‘off’ odor, flavor or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria.” If cans are dented, bulging, or misshapen, throw them out, regardless of the sell-by date. This can indicate that bacteria has penetrated the can, causing the contents to swell.
Shop in your kitchen. When “there’s nothing to eat in this house,” check your cabinets and refrigerator for ingredients you have on hand, then go online to look for recipe ideas that incorporate these items. You might be able to create a new meal out of bits and pieces that becomes a future family favorite.
For one week, keep a list of what you throw out. Then you’ll know what to buy less of or to not buy at all in the future.
Food waste is not deliberate for most of us. It’s just a by-product of habit and our busy lives. But with a little forethought, we can end up saving hundreds or even thousands of dollars every year.
And speaking of that, look to Billshark to save you that kind of cash when we review your bills for hidden savings.