10 Ways to Reduce Food Waste and Save Real Money

Guest post by Antony Perring. 

Making the most of the money we spend on the food that nourishes ourselves and our families is becoming increasingly important. It’s easy to recognise that wasting food is wasting money. Every soggy carrot or black-skinned banana that ends up in the compost, or worse still in landfill is good money simply thrown away.

In Australia alone, according to the Department of Agriculture food waste costs the economy around $20 billion each year with around 7.3 million tonnes of food thrown away. That’s 300kg per person, or about 1 in every 5 bags of groceries.

Imagine throwing away 20 percent of your groceries before you unpack them and the good money you’d be throwing away with those groceries.

Changing our mindset around food and ways to maximise what we can get out of it is important.

Australia has become increasingly more affluent since the middle of the 20th Century, and we have had increasingly easier access to packaged, prepared and out-of-season foods. As a result as a society we’ve lost sight of what our grandparents and great grandparents might have faced with food scarcity and shortages in the past. We’ve also lost sight of some basic kitchen skills that helped our forebears save money and make the best of what they had.

This class is about looking at ways to reduce food waste in our homes.

By reducing waste we can save money and contribute to an improved environment for our family in the future.

1. Make a shopping list before you leave the house.

This might seem obvious, but it’s not always easy to remember what’s in the fridge or lurking in the pantry when you’re under the fluorescent lights in the supermarket.

When you’re making your list think about what you can honestly see your family eating in the next few days or over the next week or so.

Be ruthless while you’re shopping and resist the impulse purchases and bonus deals if you really can’t use the extras.

2. Clean out the fridge and pantry regularly.

Be honest, do you really know everything that’s in your fridge or pantry? Do you know how you’re going to use everything and do you have anode about if everything you’ve been hanging on to is even good to use or safe to use?

A well organised shelf can be easy to scan quickly while you’re putting your shopping list together. It’s easy to see where the gaps are when you know where everything should be. This way you’re less likely to end up with multiple jars or bottles of the same rarely used ingredient lurking in the back careering towards it’s use-by date.

Online shopping is great if you open the cupboards and fridge while you put your order together.

3. Knowing the difference between ‘Use By’ and ‘Best Before’ dates is important to stay healthy and save money.

According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (the government body that regulates food labelling and food safety)

foods that must be eaten before a certain time for health or safety reasons should be marked with a use by date. Foods should not be eaten after the use by date and can’t legally be sold after this date because they may pose a health or safety risk.

Most foods have a best before date. You can still eat foods for a while after the best before date as they should be safe but they may have lost some quality. Foods that have a best before date can legally be sold after that date provided the food is fit for human consumption.

The only food that can have a different date mark on it is bread, which can be labelled with a baked on or baked for date if its shelf life is less than seven days.

Check the labels on all the goodies in your fridge and pantry and don’t be afraid to crack open that thing the might be past it’s ‘Best Before’ date. Give it a good smell and a taste before using it.  Rotate older products to the front so they don’t get forgotten.

4. I like to make sure that most things on my shopping list can do their duty in more than one way, if possible.

This way I focus on basic ingredients that can be adapted across several recipes during the course of the week. Plans change and family dynamics change day to day and sometimes the most organised weekly food planning can all fall apart in an instant because someone was late home fro work, or it was just easier to grab a take away pizza on the way home from soccer practice. If you can multi task the ingredients in your veggie crisper, you’re on the way to saving real money.

Make twice as much as you need and freeze half for a mid-week scheduling surprise.  It takes pretty much the same time to make a double batch of pasta sauce as it does to make one meal. Having a frozen meal in reserve can make dinner planning a lot less of a headache when you’ve had a big day. Adding a couple of extra back up meals to your freezer at the start of the pay cycle may also ease the stress when you’re counting down the days to pay day at the end of the month.

5. Keep your basics well stocked so you can cook things when you want to.

And learn how to store them to make the most of them.

Things like potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic last for ages. Leafy greens and more tender vegetables will spoil more quickly – shop for them when you need them. Rice, noodles and pasta have a long shelf-life and can be quickly prepared to add some bulk to a meal.

6. Cook only what you need, unless you plan on using the leftovers for something specific.

It’s better to have the family asking if there’s any more, or reaching for a bread roll than throwing out wasted food. Keeping a back up pack of instant noodles in the pantry can help to fill any teenagers hollow legs after the dinner things are cleared away.

7. Make a smaller portion than you might normally do, whip up a salad and add some bread to the table.

Serving a meal family-style with everything in the middle of the table to share can be a way to avoid food waste. Everyone at the table takes only what they want, and any extras are in the serving dishes – much easier to pack up and save as leftovers.

8. Meat can be the most expensive component of a meal, and many health experts agree that we consume too much meat to maintain healthy lifestyles.

Global meat production is also a major contributor to global warming and water shortages.

Many families are enjoying regular vegetarian meals a few times a week or switching to more plant based diets. Consider some vegetarian or vegan meals every so often. Reducing the portion size of meat can also be an easy way to reduce the amount of money we spend on meat. Nutritionists and The Heart Foundation recommend a diet for adults that includes no more than 300g total lean meat (pork, beef, lamb or veal) a week. As a guide a small steak approximately the size of the palm of your hand can easily weigh upwards of 250g, and a large t-bone would average almost 600g. 

9. Save money and Buddy up.

Do your family, friends or neighbours eat the same sorts of things that you do? Get together and see where you might be able to make bulk buys together to split the costs.  Talk to the folks at the farmers market or your fruit and veg shop about a wholesale price for a whole box of tomatoes, or tray of apples or avocados and share the cost with your fresh food gang.

There are lots of retailers who do a weekly veg box. Get together with your mates to order a box and split the goodies. This is a great way to vary your diet and learn about some foods you might not be familiar with.

Your local butcher probably has a range of bulk buy packs you could split with your friends. Get together to buy a half or whole lamb or side of beef and have the butcher pack up boxes with a variety of cuts, sausages and mince to freeze.  The savings per kilo for a whole animal can be significant.

A friendly fruit and veg seller should be able to sell you a box with some fruit that is at different stages of ripeness – some ready to go right away, some a few days away and some that might be best next week – you can always ask if that’s possible.

That’s the way restaurants shop for produce – you can do it too if you’re at the supermarket.

Look for bananas that are right to go now, some a little greener and some greener still – you should be good for at least a week. Same goes for tomatoes and avocados – buy one that’s good to go now, and another that should be ready in a few days.

10. Can you grow your own?

Ever had to spend four or five bucks on some wilted mint, or make coriander for a recipe? If you have the space in your kitchen or balcony or backyard, plant some herbs – the ones you know you will use are best to begin with. Most herbs are pretty hardy and given a little bit of attention should do well in most gardens. Simply snip off what you need for each recipe, and never waste the money on sub-par herbs again. If you have the space and the time to spend in the garden, a few dollars spent on vegetable seeds can make a saving of real money in the long run.



Ant Perring is a writer, designer and business builder with a love of food, design and good living.

He has had a 30 year creative career across publishing, design, retail and hospitality, most recently establishing an award winning cafe and online food business – Irons and Craig – with his partner David in Yamba on the North Coast of New South Wales.

Ant has a passion for local produce, a keen eye for a bargain, and a love of teaching people that simple is often better.

Visit his website at www.ironsandcraig.com

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