How to Save Money on Groceries by Reducing Food Waste

Most articles on maximizing your food dollars focus on buying food in bulk, buying food at warehouses, stocking up at sales and related tips. The theme is to always buy as much food as possible for the least amount of money. These tips do work, especially if you have a large family. However, one often overlooked aspect of saving money on food is to buy just the amount your family needs and avoid any waste.

A study from a researcher at the University of Arizona concluded that American households dump $43 billion worth of food a year. This is approximately 14 percent of the food brought into the home, not including plate scrapings.

This amounted to $590 worth of meat, fruits, vegetables and grain products being discarded per household annually. Over a ten year period, that amounts $5,900! If that money had been invested each year instead of being wasted on uneaten food, the ten year amount of potential dollar savings would have been even greater.

If you think you could use an extra $5,900 ten years from now, here are some tips to get you started on preventing food waste. For more information, visit the Always Frugal web site for additional ideas on how to save money on food by preventing waste.

1. Always go to the store with a list and plan your meals carefully. Note that in general, the longer of a period you have to buy for, the more difficult it becomes to accurately estimate how much food your family will eat.

2. If you want to save time on grocery shopping, then going just once a week is a good idea. If you want to save money on food waste and you haven’t got your meal planning skills down to a science, try just shopping for a day or two in advance. As you get better at meal planning, you will be able to plan and buy foods more efficiently for longer periods.

2. Have periodic nights designated as “leftover nights”. Keep some staples on hand like pasta, spaghetti sauce, frozen ground beef and frozen broccoli in case you end up not having enough leftovers to make a complete meal.

3. Check the refrigerator each day, and eat or freeze anything that is nearing the end of its safe storage period.

4. Rotate your canned and boxed goods frequently so that the products in the back don’t get forgotten about before they get too old to eat.

5. Periodically use up all of the food in your freezer. Then restock it with food from warehouse and discount food stores.

6. Don’t just plan your shopping list, but plan when you are going to have time to make the food you are buying as well. Be realistic about how much time you really have in your schedule for cooking. One of the problems found in the University of Arizona study was that people would have good intentions at the grocery store and buy fresh produce, but then would not have time to prepare it. As a result, they wound up eating convenience foods instead and throwing out the produce, thus paying for a lot of food that went to waste.

7. If you also find yourself throwing out a lot of fresh foods due to a lack of preparation time, it may be better to be more realistic about your schedule when planning meals. Buy frozen produce and meats instead of fresh, and then if you don’t have time to cook, the frozen foods will not readily spoil. You can also try buying fruits and vegetables with longer storage lives. Produce items that generally have a storage life of a week or more (when stored under optimal conditions) include apples, oranges, lemons limes, onions, winter squash, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and turnips.

©2006 Always Frugal, All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with Permission.

About Mary Ann

Mary Ann Kelley has been creating meal plans online for over 15 years, first as part of TheHomeSchoolMom's cooking resources for busy moms and later on Menus4Moms, which has been highlighted by "Diner's Journal," The New York Times' Blog on Dining Out, and PBS Parents' "Kitchen Explorer."

Mary Ann loves cooking and she loves planning/organizing, so meal planning is a natural intersection of the two. She believes her mission for the meal plans is being fulfilled when visitors let her know that she has helped them save time and money by teaching them to plan ahead and become more efficient in the kitchen.

When Mary Ann is not cooking, she enjoys reading, researching genealogy, and traveling.

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