fruit and vegetables in boxes

Save money with less food waste at home

Ensuring we have minimal food waste in our home and thereby saving money is a big priority for me. We are a family of six, including two (nearly three) teenagers with adult appetites, living off one full time salary. The bottom line is we can’t afford to be throwing tonnes of leftovers or rotten food into the bin.

Also, because I grew up in South Africa, where there is devastating poverty and food deprivation, I feel we have a moral and ethical obligation not to waste food.

Food waste is also a huge problem for the environment. Now that I’m a mum it’s become increasingly important for me to make choices that help protect and nurture our world, knowing that there will hopefully be generations after me who would love to live on a planet that’s been preserved in all its glorious beauty.

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Here are some of the ways I try to save money by making wise shopping and cooking choices, therefore ensuring we don’t waste too much.

Meal planning means less food waste

Create a meal plan, which is essentially just list of the dinners for the week ahead. Try and match recipes i.e., if you are serving a roast chicken on one night, perhaps you could use leftovers for another meal later in the week. Curries, stir fries, soups, pasta bakes and stews are all great dishes for using up leftovers.

Avoid using recipes that require hundreds of new ingredients unless you plan to match similar recipes that use these ingredients within their use-by dates.

Once you have your meal plan for the dinners you can then fill in all the extras for your lunches and breakfasts etc. and compile a shopping list.

Some of the meal plans on my blog which you can download include:

family picnic in the park outside chateau Fontainbleau
Saving means we can travel!

Shopping to Save Money

Buy only what you know you definitely need, not what you think you might need.

Use a shopping list

This sounds obvious but I can’t emphasise enough how much it helps! A little confession here, I’m actually very bad at this, I do write lists but I usually lose them. I pretty much know by now what we need each week but if I don’t write everything down, I get home and realise I’ve left a few items behind on the shelves – which is a huge waste of time and fuel having to return for!

Shop strategically

It’s easy to get side tracked in a super market, either by your kids or by the cleverly positioned fresh bread, chocolate and pretty flowers on the way to the milk and vegetables. A list will help you keep focused, even better would be to shop at a time when you don’t have to bring the children or to do an order online.

Stick to the plan

Avoid buying unnecessary items as much as possible. Ask yourself do we need all these treats? Baking homemade cookies and cakes is often healthier and more cost effective as basic store cupboard ingredients like flour, sugar and butter are relatively inexpensive.

Don’t be tempted to buy fresh produce on bulk buy special offers just because they are cheaper if you don’t realistically think you’ll eat them all. There’s no use in buying six bunches of bananas if you won’t eat them all before they have gone off just because they were 3 for 1 in the special offers aisle. (Unless you’re planning to bake banana bread of course!)

baked loaf
home made sweet loaf

Shop seasonally

Buying seasonal produce helps to reduce waste. Approximately 12% of total food waste occurs during the transport and distribution of non-seasonal food. Buying seasonal food is good for the environment as it reduces the carbon footprint of transporting the food, it’s good for us because it tastes better and it’s good for the economy as it supports local businesses. To find out what’s in season when in Ireland, you can download this handy PDF kindly provided by the stop food waste Ireland website.

Kid’s packed lunches

Here’s a huge industry where companies are making a fortune off our desires to please our children. Kids are prime targets for marketers but don’t be fooled, not all these products are the healthiest choice and they are certainly always more expensive. Food for children is usually packaged in cute looking individual packs which appeal to them, and when they see their friends with them, they insist on having the same. These packages are not only increasing the amount of packaging waste in our homes but also are sometimes less than nutritionally ideal eg individual sticks of processed cheese (rather, cut good hard cheese into tiny cubes and place in a reusable tub). Or concentrated fruit strips (a fresh piece of fruit is far preferable).

Instead of buying little kiddie yoghurts which are per kilo much more expensive, buy bigger tubs of yoghurt and put into smaller reusable pots.

Other culprits include mini raisin boxes, individual packs of popcorn or crackers and almost anything with ‘mini’ in the title!

Cooking to ensure you don’t waste

One of the biggest areas of waste in cooking is when we’re not sure of the quantities that need to be cooked. Rice and pasta are two of the trickiest to get right. Weighing or using measuring cups and pasta wands for gauging the amount you need per person helps ensure you’re not over or under catering. The Stop Food Waste website is a brilliant resource and you will find more information on measuring food here.

The food group that gets thrown away the most is salad vegetables. If you have bought these then plan to eat them within the first few days of your grocery shop and reserve the other vegetables for later in the week. Frozen vegetables are best eaten towards the end of the week if you have used all the fresh produce already.

When dishing up, serve smaller portions than you think people will eat and reserve some in the pot for those who may want seconds. If you’re not sure how much to dish for each family member you could pop onto the Healthy Ireland Food plans website.

sweet potato, smoked pancetta and butter bean soup
My homemade Sweet potato, pancetta and butterbean soup (recipe on the blog)

Store Food Safely

Meat that you are not going to cook before the use by date can be popped into the freezer on the day you buy it and defrosted up to 24 hours in the fridge before you need to cook it.

When storing food in the fridge, make sure it is covered to prevent it from drying out or from becoming contaminated.

A brilliant alternative to using plastic wrap or foil to cover food is reusable bees wax wraps. I have  repeatedly used ours for over a year and they are still working perfectly. There are so many different brands available online now, you can buy your own here. (Note this is an affiliate link, if you choose to make a purchase I earn a tiny commission at no extra cost to you.)

Raw meat products should always be stored on the lowest shelf of the fridge. This is to prevent foods from possibly becoming contaminated by raw meat juices dripping onto them.

If you buy more than you will use before it goes off, put it in the freezer on the day you buy it so that you don’t forget.

For tips on how to store all the range of foods, visit this A-Z of food storage page on the Stop Food Waste Website.

When it comes to understanding the dates on food, this may help:

  • SELL BY is for the shop’s own use so you can ignore this one.
  • BEST BEFORE is to do with the flavor or quality of the food and it can still be consumed after this date. If it tastes and looks ok, it probably is.
  • USE BY is the deadline that the food should be eaten by. However, advisably use a bit of common sense, the food is not going to suddenly go off on the stroke of midnight!
medley of veg, family meal plan,Liberty on the Lighter Side

Leftovers

Using leftovers creatively may be a challenge but as I mentioned above, curries, stir fries, soups, pasta bakes and stews are all ideal dishes for this. Alternatively, have a leftovers buffet evening in your home and turn the week’s supply of dinner ends into a fun event – bonus no cooking that night!

Any raw fruit or veg can be composted rather than thrown into the bin. Placing meat in a compost bin should be avoided as it can attract rats.

Less Waste when Eating Out

Breaking News! You don’t need to eat everything on your plate!

I was raised to eat everything on my plate, which has both its pros and cons. The plus side is I’m not fussy about food, I’m an easy guest, I enjoy trying new foods, and there is little waste so there’s nothing left to throw away. On the other hand, if the portions on my plate are too big, I have a nagging sense of guilt if it’s not all eaten up. This has bad consequences for my waistline and leaves me on the plus side!

It took me a while to realise that it’s better to leave food on my plate in a restaurant than to stuff myself and leave feeling so uncomfortable that I wished I hadn’t eaten out in the first place! The simple solution to this is to order smaller portion sizes or starter portions. Alternatively I ask to bring home what I can’t eat. There’s no shame in asking for the leftovers, it would otherwise end up in the bin so you’re doing your bit to prevent landfill. I know I would enjoy the rest even more the following day than trying to stuff it into an already full stomach.

Homemade takeaways

Challenge Your Takeaway Habits!

Takeaways are an enormous source of waste, not only the amount of money that is spent on them by individuals but also as an industry. If you are in the weekly habit of buying a takeaway, it may shock you to work out that your monthly expenditure on takeaways could be the same as or even more than a week’s worth of groceries for your family.

Ironically after all the money we spend buying them, takeaways are some of the easiest and cheapest meals to make at home! We all love a good pizza, burger, fish and chips, Chinese stir fry or Indian curry in our house and these are all so easy to make! Because we seldom go out for a takeaway I bought a brilliant book called Homemade Takeaways by Rob Allison filled with recipes to help make our favorites at home, you can order your own copy here.

Or you can read my takeaway meal plan here:

What will you do with your savings?

One of the huge reasons why we need to save on our grocery bills is because we have family back in South Africa that we try and visit every two years. We love to travel as a family and have also explored parts of Europe and the USA. You can read about some of these adventures elsewhere on my blog.

What are your reasons for trying to save and reduce food waste? Do you have any other tips? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

family group photo with lighthouse above
Us at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

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