I live at home with my mom. We carpool to work and share a lot of the household responsibilities. LA is expensive and when you’re trying to pay off debt and prepare for grad school, you gotta do whatcha gotta do. Over the last couple months, we’ve both been trying to save more and spend less, not just with money, but with food, too.
After working a half day at work, I’m heading to LAX to catch a flight up to Sacramento for the International Food Blogger’s Conference (IFBC). I’ll be learning about our local California Farm-to-Table Movement and how Sac-town is such a big player thanks to all our farmers and their amazing produce. The big theme of IFBC this year is how we, the people who write and talk about food constantly (#sorrynotsorry), can help spread benefits of the Farm-to-Table Movement even further.
One of the biggest issues we are talking about (and one I have been working to change in my own life) is the issue of food waste. Our country wastes roughly 40% of our food. There is a big “need” for perfect produce, and most “ugly” produce is rarely repurposed in an effective way. The inaccuracy and misinformation around expiration, sell by, and use by dates and regulations about what food can and cannot be donated toward different aid programs also contributes to a huge amount of waste. There are so many factors that make up how and why food is wasted and I think that we, as a culture, really need to do something about this together.
Paying attention to what comes and goes in our house has led me to a realize that five simple things can help me save money and cut down on my food waste. Obviously, I needed to share them.
Meal planning is important. I’ve talked about this before, and even have a meal planning printable to help us out. Regardless of how much I talk about it, meal planning is still intimidating. Don’t get me wrong, planning is my favorite thing. My planner is my life, but trying to figure out what I’m going to eat every few days is weird. How am I supposed to know what I’m going to want to eat four days from now?
That’s where mid-week meal planning comes in. You’ve got 7 days every week to eat, you don’t have to plan them all out from the start. Group them in chunks of 2, 3, or 4 days and work your way through the week. Maybe your office had a catered lunch or you had a really hard Wednesday and need pizza and happy hour with your friends! I don’t know what’s going to happen and neither do you. Leave a little room for flexibility, but stick to your plan as best as you can.
Shop In Season
In-season produce is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALLLLLLLLWAYS better. It tastes better because it grows during its preferred conditions and arrives in such abundance. I joke that I go on a stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, cherries, etc.) bender every summer because I cannot get enough. Same goes for sweet, ripe summer watermelon and corn in the summer, citrus in the fall, a million types of squash and root vegetables in the winter and basically every single spring vegetable ever.
Fruits and vegetables get cheaper when there is more to go around. Buy the good stuff! If it’s in season, you’ll get better food for less money. Easy peasy, right? The Harvest app that I’ve talked about before is also super helpful in picking out the best of the best produce your store has to offer. Knowing how to pick great produce is half the battle.
Shop More, Buy Less
This idea sounds crazy, I know. It doesn’t seem like shopping more will save you money and reduce your food waste but I promise, it works. When you shop more often, you don’t have to buy as much at one time. This means you’re not going to have carrots chillin’ in your produce bins in the refrigerator for 6 months.
Only buying what you need for a few days will help you stay on the meal plan you created and it will mean that less food is being wasted in the process. Plan your meals, make a grocery list and stick to it. Don’t feel pressured to make all the food for the week in a single day; you can do this more than once a week! I do it twice: on the weekend and usually Wednesday or Thursday, depending on what’s going on that week.
Leftovers are important. Not only are they absolutely delicious, but they help you out the next day at work! Food52 has this hashtag called #notsaddesklunch that promotes taking an amazing lunch to work every day instead of random things thrown in a bag. For a lot of those recipes and ideas, a lot of people (myself included) are using leftovers. Grilled chicken on a grain salad with a bunch of leftover grilled veggies and hummus sounds way better than that same chicken with a plain salad, right?
There’s a time and a place for every type of food, but when your magnificent dinner from last night becomes an even better open faced sandwich at lunch the next day, work becomes WAY more bearable. As you’re meal planning, be sure you’re making enough food for dinner AND lunch the next day. It will save you so. much. money. When I fall off my own money-saving wagon and buy lunch it’s almost always because we didn’t cook dinner the night before.
Organize your fridge and pantry
You need to know what you have before you can do anything else. It’s so easy to just toss everything in a drawer in the fridge after a long day. By organizing these spaces in your kitchen, it’ll make the action of cooking more efficient and you’ll know when you’re running low on ingredients.
I’ve found out the hard way one too many times that I didn’t have enough rice or pasta for a dish when I’m 75% of the way through cooking. I really believe that cooking should be fun, and freaking yourself out is never fun.
I’ve also started writing the dates on things in the refrigerator. Eggs, butter, milk, and meat all get the purchase date written on them before being put in their places. This helps me know if I should be adding them to my meal plan so I use them before they age out. Eggs usually keep longer than you think, and milk (dairy based or not) may or may not last as long as you think. I do the same thing for containers of broth and other things that need to be refrigerated after being opened.
Overall, how much you waste is incredibly important. The more food to go around, the better off we all are. Start keeping track of what you waste and try to figure out why it happens. Start small to make big changes and let me know how you’re doing!