According to a recent report by the National Resources Defense Council, the average American throws away about a pound of food a day – 33 pounds a month, 400 pounds a year. Add it all up? Over the course of one year, we toss 34 million tons of food . Thirty-four million tons!
Setting aside serious questions about waste and hunger, be honest: How many times have you let meat go bad? Or forgotten about a fridge drawer full of vegetables? Or just overestimated your family’s ability to eat a vat of chili? It happens. Researchers say the 33 pounds we toss each month is worth about $40 per person, which means if you have a family of four, your household is effectively setting fire to $160 a month.
When it comes to food consumption, we reach for what we see -organize your fridge to make what you have obvious and accessible. Try these strategies to make sure you use what you buy:
Plan your meals for the week. Map out four or six dinners, assuming you take a night or two off from kitchen duty (plan breakfasts and lunches too if you like, but dinners are a must). At the grocery store, shop by meal. Knowing what you’ll do with every item you buy helps you avoid impulse purchases – a guava, kale on sale – likely to go bad. E.g. Monday: fajita night (one pound chicken breasts, three green peppers, one yellow onion, two tomatoes, one avocado, corn tortillas); Tuesday: omelet night (eggs, spinach, one block feta cheese, one package cherry tomatoes).
Containerize ingredients by day. Some people recommend organizing your fridge like-with-like – dairy with dairy, meat with meat, veggies with veggies. Usually, I’d agree, but when it comes to reducing wasted food, I suggest corralling food into labeled bins by day-of-the-week: Fajita ingredients in Monday’s bin; Omelet fixings in Tuesday’s, etc. Coming home from a long day with dinner fixings already gathered for you and ready to whip up is like having a sous chef in your fridge- here you go ma’am…don’t think, just cook.
Organize the rest by how you eat it. While you’re buying containers to separate dinner ingredients, pick up a few extra – and label as follows: snacks, leftovers, lunch items. This reduces the chance of things getting lost and it’s fun to watch food supplies dwindle over the week. Look for clear fridge bins designed specifically to tolerate the cold.
Inventory Your Produce. Take a tip from the restaurant industry and list the produce you invested in (for your health and happiness) on a white board affixed to the door of your fridge. As you use things up, erase them. This visual aid gives you an instant sense of what’s in your icebox, and connects you to the food you are and aren’t eating.
Be careful in the condiment aisle. How many mustards, salad dressings and cooking sauces do you really need? Condiments are wallet busters – tiny volumes cost big bucks, and because these items are often purchased on impulse (“oooh, black bean sauce!”), you rarely get your money’s worth before it goes bad. Avoid purchasing any condiment unless it’s on your shopping list.
Four hundred pounds is roughly the weight of a small bear. And forty dollars a month per person, for a family of four over a year, is $1,920 – enough to purchase a few plane tickets, a new computer, or cover six months of an average car payment. Bottom-line: Food is too expensive not to eat. Be sure to use what you buy.