Confessions of a Reformed Food Waster

food wasters anonymous
I have spent the last seven years blogging about saving money on household expenses. I’ve covered meal planning, coupon shopping, stockpiling and just about everything in between. So I thought I had all my bases covered. But there was one gaping hole in my budget I was ignoring: food waste.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, forty percent of all food in this country goes to waste – over $165 billion worth.  Some of the waste comes from farming and retail end of things, but 40-50% of it happens in the home.  Doing the math, that means around twenty percent of the food we buy for our family goes in the trash.  TWENTY percent.  Here’s the kicker.  That’s MORE than the average shopper saves using coupons!

So it seems I may have overlooked the biggest culprit to my grocery woes.  But that’s about to change.

In a family of seven (with five boys) the grocery bill can be. BIG. So this past month I have decided to amp up my planning efforts. As an experiment, I have attempted to plan every single meal and snack, so I didn’t buy one single thing that went to waste. It has been marvelously refreshing to find a new and challenging way to cut our expenses.

Before beginning the challenge, I started by tracking our food waste.  I placed a clipboard next to the garbage, and asked my family to write down what they threw away, in hopes that I could see some patterns and make some changes.  I did.  As you might expect, nearly all the waste was from too-big portion sizes.  I also saw that leftovers were not being eaten as much as I thought they were.  I used this information (including the particulars about which foods were being eaten/trashed) to alter the recipes I use, and the quantities I buy, and proceeded with the experiment.

For the first two weeks, the majority of our snack food was fruits and veggies found on sale at Costco or Aldi’s. I did this in hopes that I might change their cravings from salty or sweet snacks, to fruits and veggies. My kids are pretty good sports, and they’re use to my food experiments, so they went along with me. But they did miss the occasional crunchy/salty treat. Honestly, so did I. So this week we’re doing 80% veggies and 20% salty snack plan. This time we are doing s’mores, popcorn and peanut butter crackers in addition to our fruits and veggies.  Update to follow.

For now, I’m call this trial a success. While I did endure some grumbling from my kid who is a “grazer”, overall I was able to accomplish my goals. No food waste, and healthier eating. I will be continuing this type of extreme food planning, with a few modifications as I learn what works. The trick for us was to work in a couple big treats each week so the kids had something to motivate them to stay on track.

Being a mom for 20+ years, I’ve tried just about every meal planning method in the book…I even wrote one of my own! But for now, since we are living in a very small space, with a focus on stretching our dollars as far as we can, this is what is working for us:

A 3-Week Dinner Plan & Shopping Trip
At the end of the day, I enjoy having a stress-free yet delicious meal with my family, so I adhere to the routine in my book: planning, shopping and prepping for several weeks all in one evening. You can head over HERE to read about some of the prepping I did last time, including making marinade, dividing meat into meal-size portions, making mixes and homemade sausage, etc.

A Weekly Breakfast, Lunch & Snack Plan
This helps us avoid the temptation of having excessive amounts of snacks around all the time, and keeps our breakfast and lunch foods fresh.

I can’t over-emphasize how much savings you can realize with a thorough meal planning system.  Being deliberate, and focused about our spending is how we were able to use our very middle-class income to fund our one-year RV adventure.  We stay out of the stores, aside from our one-day-per-week spending day, and sock the rest away.

Later today, I’ll share our meal plan for the upcoming week, then next week I’ll share a breakdown of what this did to our grocery budget.  For now, I am excited to report that it looks like we will be saving an average of $30/week with my “No Waste Planning Method”.  In the interest of full disclosure, some of this savings is being realized because we are simply buying fewer snacks as a result of the planning.  But I am happy to know we are now a (nearly) waste free family.  I will continue to work out the kinks of this plan and let you know how it goes!

How about you?  How do you reduce food waste in your home?

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  1. I need to learn how to reduce food waste in my home. I’ve started by not buying more snacks until we finish the ones we have, but it’s hard when there’s a great sale!