How to Waste Less Food and Money

Do you ever find you're throwing away uneaten or rotten food every week? You're not alone; the government estimates food waste adds up to over $900 per household each year.

Not only is it bad for the environment and wasteful, especially considering that many people around the world go hungry, but it's a hit on your wallet, as well. Summer can be an especially difficult time to avoid wasting food, as it's a season of abundant fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as generous CSA, or community supported agriculture, shares. Do yourself and the ecosystem a favor and employ a few of these easy tips to waste less food:

Plan ahead.

One hour of planning at the beginning of the week can save you time, energy and money in the long run. If you think of it as the same amount of time you watch a TV show, it's easier to realize how little time it takes to plan meals.

Start by taking an inventory of your kitchen. Knowing exactly what you already have can help you avoid buying the same thing twice, which for perishables will almost certainly result in wasting food.

Then, plan your meals for the week. Create a grocery list of items that you will need, as well as any staple groceries that you know you eat each week. You can even plan for a "leftovers" night at the end of the week where dinner is created with whatever is still in the fridge and pantry.

Depending on your schedule, you may want to consider a few smaller trips to the store each week instead of bigger, less frequent shops. This lessens the chance that you will buy too much and end up wasting it.

Check your storage.

Make sure you understand where to store food. Certain fruits and vegetables need to be refrigerated, and others do better in a cool pantry or at room temperature. Print out a list and put it on your fridge for quick reference.

As for inside the fridge, make sure to keep your vegetables and fruit separate, since they will spoil when stored together. Bring older food and leftovers to the front of the fridge instead of hiding them in the back where they won't get eaten in time. If you can easily see food, then you're less likely to forget about it and end up wasting it.

For pantry items like cereal, crackers or cookies, try taking products out of boxes as soon as you buy them and store them in airtight containers instead. This will prolong shelf life and keep them from getting stale too soon.

Understand expiration dates.

Sometimes, it's obvious when food needs to be thrown away, whether that comes in the form of mold or a sour smell. But other times, food may seem fine yet the expiration date has already passed. So how do you know if it's safe to eat?

"Use by" and "Best by" dates are recommended by the manufacturer, but you can also trust your own smell test. If your food is past this date slightly but still seems fine in smell and appearance, then it probably is. If you still have doubts, you can look up the specific item in a database online. There are many resources available.

"Sell by" applies to perishable items, such as meat, poultry, seafood and milk. The date is used by stores to know how long they should have a product on the shelves. If you buy the product before the sell-by date expires, then you can still store it at home beyond that date. Again, consult an outside reference to see recommendations for storage times.

When in doubt, freeze it.

If you find yourself with too many fruits or vegetables that may spoil soon, freeze them. You can do countless things with them later on: Turn them into a stock or soup, create delicious smoothies, bake a quick bread or muffins (and freeze again for later) or chop them up for cooking in an omelet or frittata.

I hope these suggestions can help you eat and enjoy much more delicious and nutritious food while minimizing the amount that gets tossed in the trash.

Jon Lal is the founder and CEO of coupons and cash back website, which saves shoppers an average of $27 per order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 4,000 stores.

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