Do you throw away leftovers or unused vegetables every week? Food represents your hard-earned dollars! Prevent food waste with these 4 simple suggestions.
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“If you regularly throw food away, your grocery budget is too big.”
Years ago, a real food mentor told me that, and it stuck. When you are trying to save money and eat healthy, reducing food waste is powerful. It makes a tight grocery budget go further, it’s better for the environment, and quite often it forces you to eat healthier.
Food represents our hard-earned dollars. If throwing away leftovers or moldy veggies is a normal part of our week, we might as well blend a $10 bill in the garbage disposal. At least this way we cut the work it takes to buy the food, bring it home, put it away, and move it around in the fridge a few weeks before it goes bad.
If you don’t want to throw away your hard-earned dollars, here are 4 ways we prevent food waste in our kitchen.
Plan for Leftovers
Every week, we plan leftovers into our meals. This means that I only cook 2-3 meals from scratch every week. The rest of the time, we purposefully plan to eat leftovers.
Eating leftovers doesn’t have to mean you nuke a hodge-podge plate of food. Instead, I have a few budget-friendly meals in my back pocket that specifically use our most common leftovers.
Budget-Friendly Meals That Use Leftovers:
- Burritos (uses beans, chicken, beef, cooked veggies)
- Vegetable soup (uses broth, rice, potatoes, pasta, veggies) or Hamburger soup
- Nachos (beans, chicken, beef, and top it with salad fixings)
- Budget-Friendly Salad (chicken, beef, assorted fresh veggies, leftover roasted vegetables, bits of cheese, stale bread made into croutons)
Sometimes the only obstacle to reducing food waste is convenience. We would rather use the pre-cut, pre-portioned food in our kitchen than chop a whole cauliflower or de-stem the kale (a job I particularly dislike).
Generally speaking, healthy food and cheaper food requires a little more work. But cauliflower won’t do our body any good unless we actually eat it.
When my family has a pile of leftovers, vegetables, fruit – anything edible that is headed to the Compost Pile in the Sky – we prioritize a quick meal-prep session. It looks different every time depending on what needs to be eaten.
Honestly, I am not together enough to do this all the time. It’s cute (albeit a little annoying) to say that we make meal prep a part of our weekly routine. But that’s not the truth. We make it a priority, and we never ever regret a meal prep session.
Last week, we had a pile of veggies dying a slow death in the crisper drawers, in bags in the fridge, and on the kitchen counter. After picking up our weekly CSA, the veggie problem doubled.
This is where meal prep helps us save money and eat healthy. We took an hour or two to chop and prep the veggies. When we were done, we had a huge collection of simple vegetable options for the rest of the week. Sessions like this teach my kids important skills, prevent food and money waste, and make mealtimes easier and healthier for the next two weeks.
(I don’t think all the household cooking should fall to one person. Instead, as my kids grow older, I start working myself out of a job. Go here to learn about our favorite kids’ cooking class. It makes cooking more fun and less of a chore for the kids!)
Food We Prepped & How We Used it
- Sliced carrot sticks (roasted, snacking, pickled)
- Zoodles (zucchini noodles)
- Shredded zucchini (zucchini bread, baked oatmeal)
- Cilantro (tacos, nachos)
- Shredded cabbage (soups, breakfast saute, freezer)
- Chopped onion (soups, breakfast saute, freezer)
- De-stemmed and chopped kale (breakfast saute, smoothies)
- Peeled and chopped beets (cooked in the Instant Pot, served on salads, pickled with honey)
- Chopped green onions (nachos, tacos)
- Chopped cauliflower (roasted)
- Sliced green pepper (salads, breakfast saute, freezer)
- Veggie scraps (broth bag)
Using the freezer to prevent food waste saved our family many thousands of dollars over the years.
Learning how to freeze different kinds of food is as simple as an internet search, but here are a few tutorials and a cheat sheet:
Some Freezing Tutorials:
More Foods You Can Freeze:
- Eggs – crack them into a plastic container, mix them, and freeze. Thaw and use for baking
- Avocados – peel, slice, and flash freeze. Use in smoothies
- Milk – thaw and use for baking
- Shredded cheese – thaws beautifully. Use it the same way as shredded cheese
- Butter – same
- Granola – same
- Bread/Rolls, etc. (and quick breads) – wrap tightly in plastic wrap or foil, then in a freezer bag. Thaw completely before using
- Cookie dough – wrap tightly in plastic wrap or foil, then in a freezer bag. Thaw completely before using. Alternatively, shape into 1-inch balls and flash freeze
- Shredded cabbage – not ideal to freeze it, but you can blanch it, then pack into a freezer bag and freeze it flat to avoid Massive Cabbage Clump
- Pancakes – stack in a freezer bag or plastic container between layers of parchment or wax paper to prevent sticking. Thaw in the toaster for quick breakfasts
- Cooked chicken – see link
- Browned ground beef – see link
- Broth – see link
- Vegetable Scraps (to use for broth later) – see link
- Bell peppers – slice, then flash freeze or simply pack into a freezer bag and freeze it flat to avoid Massive Pepper Clump
Sometimes reducing food waste helps us discover our favorite recipes. I have made so many weird things in order to avoid throwing away good food.
Here are some fun recipes to try the next time you need to use up that last little something.
Recipes that Prevent Food Waste:
- Healthier Banana Bread (bananas)
- Sweet Potato Bread (sweet potatoes, pumpkin, buttternut squash)
- Leftover Oatmeal Cakes (oatmeal)
- Potato Peel Soup (potato peels)
- 5-Minute Grain-free Peanut Butter Banana Muffins (bananas)
- Simple Slow Cooker Marinara Sauce (tomatoes, herbs, misc. veggies)
Food waste happens. I get it. Even when we had $25/week for food, we still wasted some of it – mostly on my failed recipe experiments.
Wasted food is also a painfully First World Problem. I used to live in the Third World, and everything I threw away racked me with guilt. Millions of people would love to have our food waste problem.
However, instead of succumbing to guilt every time we clean out the fridge, let’s take small steps towards preventing waste in the first place.
First, decide if your grocery budget is too big. Are you throwing away food because you don’t feel the value of those dollars going down the drain?
Then decide which of these 4 steps will help you the most. Maybe the best choice for you is the easiest (you decide which of these steps is the easiest for you to implement). Or maybe the best choice for you is the one that reduces the most food waste in your house.
When you are trying to save money and eat healthy, reducing food waste is powerful. It makes a tight grocery budget go further, it’s better for the environment, and quite often it helps you eat healthier. Which of these steps will do that for you today?
What You Can Do Now:
Which of these 4 steps will help you reduce the most food waste?
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Thank you for the post. I started getting the large container of salad greens every week. If I can’t go through them all I quickly saute them with whatever seasonings I have and freeze it. Then use them like you would frozen spinach. You can use it in pasta, enchiladas, soups and the other night I sauteed them and put them over homemade oven potatoes. Homemade oven fries are another way to use up all the veggies and bits of meat and cheese. It is amazing what great loaded fries you can make out of leftovers.
Oh I love that idea!! Oven fries – brilliant!
Waste makes me CRAYCRAY. No waste, just eat it! Eat it somehow, someway, so it doesnt get tossed. Freezing food past its prime is not worth it. Eat It!