Eat Well, Spend Less: Food Resolutions Edition (Wasting Less In The Kitchen)

This month in the Eat Well, Spend Less series, we’re looking at our food goals for 2012, and my big goal is to waste less – not just in the kitchen, but in everything!  You can read more about my thoughts and plan in my 5 Simple Ways To Save More By Wasting Less on Springs Bargains.

The kitchen is definitely one of the areas I – and I would guess many of you – tend to waste a lot.  From leftovers that got moldy to just flat out laziness in using all edible parts of the food I purchase, there are a ton of ways that I regularly waste food (and therefore, money) in the kitchen.

With rising grocery costs and less and less time to shop around for the best deals on groceries, I can’t ignore my bad habits in the kitchen anymore.  Here’s what I’m doing in the kitchen to waste less in 2012:

Get rid of the food that I will never use.

I wrote about this in 5 Ways Getting Rid Of Stuff Will Save You Money.  I had a few items in my cupboards that were giving me a guilt trip every time I looked at them.  I thought about the money I’d spent on those rice paper wrappers that I now knew, after they spent three years in my cabinet, I would never use.

It seems dramatic, but those stupid rice paper wrappers were hampering my creativity in the kitchen, so I got rid of them and I feel so much better when I open my cabinets now!  I’m so much more inspired to make the most out of what I have once I got rid of the items that I knew, realistically, I was never going to use.  I’m seriously wasting less because I threw a few items away.

Only purchase food I have a specific plan for.

When I walk into an ethnic market, I get so inspired to cook new foods that I throw things in my cart that I really don’t have a clue how to cook.  Or, I’ll see an ingredient that I’ve recently seen in a recipe and think “oh, I should buy that so I can try that recipe!”

Yeah.  And then it goes home with me and sits in my pantry forever because it was an impulse purchase that I really had no plan for how to use it.

I’m making it a goal to only purchase foods – especially unfamiliar foods – that I have a specific purpose for.

Source: via Pamela on Pinterest

Use what’s in the pantry first.

I haven’t done as much pantry stockpiling lately as I used to – we just haven’t had that many great deals on items that we use and I haven’t had as much time to clip coupons to get the great deals.  Still, there are plenty of things in my pantry that need to be used before I spend money on more food – things that, if they sit much longer, will be inching past their expiration dates and on the verge of being wasted.

Only freeze tested recipes.

We recently finished up a batch of macaroni and cheese that I had haphazardly thrown together in a fit of “freezer cooking would save me so much time” frenzy a few months ago.  It was not the best experience, and though we didn’t actually waste any of the macaroni and cheese, I was awfully tempted to as it was less than stellar.

This year, my goal is to try a bit of freezer cooking, but only with tried-and-true recipes so that nothing goes straight from the freezer to the trash.

Source: via Alana on Pinterest

Prepare fresh foods first.

If supper is in even a minor rush, or I’ve had a bad day, or I’m just four-kids-and-pregnant tired and I have a choice of serving frozen peas or tearing lettuce for a Caesar salad, what do you think wins out?  The frozen peas do every time.  Problem is, a couple of nights in a row of making decisions like that and the lettuce is now rotting in the refrigerator.

I’m making it a point to prepare fresh foods first and saving the less-perishable items for later in the grocery shopping week.

Victory: this past week, I started to pull out a freezer-to-crockpot meal I’d prepared when I realized I had some Italian sausage in the refrigerator.   I chose to cook the about-to-spoil Italian sausage rather than use a freezer meal.  Yay, me!

Source: via Anne on Pinterest

Freeze foods before their freshness becomes questionable.

I’d rather not be reminded of how much shredded cheese or tomato sauce I’ve let go moldy in the refrigerator.  (Those are my vices, what are the things you tend to let go moldy?)

I’m now trying to freeze or otherwise do something with ingredients rather than just stick them in the refrigerator until they become a science experiment.  Friday night, I didn’t use all the mozzarella cheese on the pizza, so I put froze the excess.

My goal is to immediately put things in the freezer if I won’t be using them in the next day or two, rather than waste time by putting it in the refrigerator for a few days, realizing a week later that I’m not going to use it, and then have to spend five minutes considering if it’s still fresh enough to freeze or if it should just go in the trash.

Have I made progress on my food resolutions?

I’m excited to say that, yes, I really do think I’ve made some progress towards changing my bad habit of waste in the kitchen this month!    Yes, we’re only into January so I’d hardly say I’ve “accomplished” my goal, but I have made some significant progress towards more wisely using the food we already have in the house and grocery shopping a bit more judiciously.

With Baby #5 due in February, I really did not have a lot of energy for the first couple of weeks of 2012, and cooking when I’m tired and pregnant is such a struggle for me.  However, that also means that I’ve been too tired to go to the grocery store much so I was able to make some progress in the area of using up what we already had in our pantry!

I’m really thankful that I’ve had some energy for the past week or so and have been able to focus more on my goal of using fresh foods first and cleaning out the pantry before buying new groceries.

With grocery prices rising, I’m really not even sure that I expect to see a decrease in what we spend on groceries each week by focusing on wasting less – maintaining the same level of spending would be great with me! However, I did recently read that Whole Living says that “the average household creates about 1.28 pounds of daily waste, equal to 14 percent of the family’s food purchases.” So, if I could cut out waste in the kitchen, it probably would make a measurable difference!

And, even if I don’t see a huge difference in the grocery budget, I think I’m going to be totally happy with the personal satisfaction of wasting last in the kitchen.  Throwing perfectly good (or, er, used to be perfectly food) food in the trash is not a way to put myself in cheerful spirits, and I’ve already noticed that I’m happier cooking when I’m wasting less in the kitchen.

What are your food goals for 2012?  Are any of you focusing on wasting less?


  1. Brittany W says:

    Here’s something I’ve done! Look at everything you currently have and sit down and write out everything you could make with what you already have. Even if it’s something as simple as a PB&J, write it down, then put it on your refrigerator or pantry door. Far too many times I’d get into the “there’s nothing here to eat” mentality when my pantry and freezer were almost overflowing. So instead of opening up the pantry and staring blankly at what seems like nothing (crackers, a jar of peanut butter, a bag of rice, etc) I’d look at my “menu” I’d made and then say “hey, I think I want that!”

    • Brittany W says:

      That trick above also really helps when you have things hidden behind something else or buried in the freezer, because just glancing inside you don’t realize it’s there. I have a chest freezer out in my garage and I am constantly forgetting I have things in it.

      • That very thing is why I’m hesistant about making more extensive use of my deep freezer – it’s so hard to remember what’s in there! I need to think about doing a freezer inventory or something.

        • I’ve seen some people make a blank freezer inventory sheet with categories like “Meat” or “Veggies” or “Meals”, but too then you could put under each heading a few blank lines as well as a few pre-filled lines with things you know you will frequently keep on hand such as (for me) shredded chicken, ground beef, chicken breasts, mixed veggies, corn, peas, chicken broth, Etc. Then you print it out, laminate it, and stick it to the freezer in question. Get a fine point dry erase marker and fill in the details of your inventory. Then you can erase it as you use it.

          I’m so going to make one as soon as we get a deep freeze.

        • I recently stumbled on a great idea to keep track of what’s in the fridge or freezer and what needs to be purchased. Instead of a maintaining a list, get a page of thin magnet that can be cut out. Use the pictures from the grocery ads, or magazines or recipes or whatever and attach them to the magnet sheet. Cut them out and have a designated “in the freezer”, “used it” and “buy it” spot up high on the freezer itself, so that as you put things in, or pull them out you can adjust by simply moving the appropriate magnet. I can’t wait to use this in my 2 fridge/freezers, and my 2 deep freezers! For me, it seems so much simpler than a list!

  2. Great, great goals here Carrie!! I so agree about the fresh salad vs. frozen peas. ;) (But have you tried roasted veggies like broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, etc.? They’re *almost* as easy as frozen!)

    Having a plan/menu really helps me make sure I’m using things at the peak of freshness (or freezing them promptly)! :)

  3. I’ve totally frozen meals that I didn’t like the first time and then ended up throwing them after I warmed them up to eat them later–wondering why I wasted the freezer space. Good tip on freezing those great meals…not the not-so-great ones! :)

  4. We were watching an episode of Big Love last night and in one scene, the three wives are throwing away outdated food from their deep freeze. It reaffirmed (for me) why I don’t do more freezer COOKING (whole meals). I just prefer “fresh.” That being said, I have done really well using fresh veggies that I have frozen over the summer. They go into crockpot meals and they are delicious. I don’t homeschool. I have two at school and two still at home. What I have found is that when the older two come home from school is the craziest part of the day, so if I do the crockpot thing in the morning OR food prep in the morning when I have more energy and feel less harried, meals go better at the end of the day. That means, if we are having salad, I may cut up the components of the salad in the morning, rather than wait until the kids come home. This has worked really well for me. Because, it is true for most parents who cook that if you are tired and/or feeling crazy, the meals suffer more at the end of the day.

  5. We eat salad everyday and I still don’t like the prep! I try to wash everything and store in produce bags the day I purchase so that it is easier to get it done at meal time. It helps greens of any kind to keep better if they are stored with a paper towel to absorb moisture. I even put a paper towel into the bag of baby spinach after I open it and it keeps so much longer. I have started making salad in individual bowls so that I have no going brown salad in the back of the fridge. I pile the greens in the bowls and then take a pair of kitchen shears that are washed in the dishwasher after every use and cut up the greens in each bowl. It is so much easier that way. Then I add other items to the top of each bowl. Some like a plain bowl of lettuce and I will put anything we have on my salad. I find this to work better and be easier for me.

    • Lana,

      your salad components will actually last longer if you don’t wash them before you put them in the fridge. I don’t use plastic baggies at all so I store all fresh fruit/veggies in my Tupperware FridgeSmarts (I can keep strawberries for 2-4 wks, I love it). If you don’t have little ones in the house who eat straight from the fridge then it is ok not to wash them first.

      I prep everything the day I get it; tear the lettuce, chop the peppers, etc. then I wash what I need and spin it dry in my Salad Spinner before serving. It saves a little prep time and I seldon throw away any fruits/veggies now.

  6. Emily @ Random Recycling says:

    My big goal for this year is menu planning. I am committed to posting it on Mondays now and it’s already helping me reduce my grocery spending.

    One hint I’ve heard for chest freezer is to write the inventory on it with a dry erase pen, easy to update quantity or items.

  7. Super plan! Those goals are totally doable! Thanks for sharing!

  8. So I’m not the only one who does these things?! Love the tips & all the comments!!

    • I mean picking the frozen peas over lettuce in a time crunch & ending up with rotting lettuce, guilt trips over staring at ingredients that I know I’ll never use, etc. – not the great ideas. :)

  9. Were down to the empty nest and I found it to hard to cook for just 2. Still cook my old quantities then freeze second meal or single meals. Handy for meals when were not in the mood for the same thing or when projects/schedules have us too busy to cook fresh. I keep a inventory of my freezer as we buy all our meat in bulk ,pasture raised from a local farmer. I vacuum seal alot and clearly mark everything, zone my freezer which has 4 basket on slides. I meal plan and use alot of seasonal cooking for bulk buy items. I may have 40# of sweet potatos or a similiar purchase to use and prepare for later. I rely on tried and true recipes and try several new recipes each month to prevent boredom. We always have a list, shop about twice a month as were lucky to have milk and eggs from a friend. I have been grinding our wheat and making all our bread for about a year after realising my husband was reacting to cracker, bread and such ; likely a preservative and was wheezing each time he ate. We scratch cook everything. It has been an adventure over the past 2 years but were feeling so much better! Our food cost over a year as a whole is down, monthly budgets not practice when I might purchase 300.00 in beef when my farmer has a 1.00 a pound off for bulk purchase minimium.

  10. I am all the way with you on this one, I just did a blog post last night about all the things I love to freeze.