Wasted food is wasted money. Tossing wilted greens and expired dairy is a way of life for most Americans—studies show between 25 and 40% of all food brought into American homes ends up being thrown away. Luckily, it's easy to bring that big number down. It's a combination of limiting what comes into your kitchen and then using what's there.
1. Plan Your Meals
Be realistic. How many dinners will you really cook at home? How much food does everyone at the table eat? Plan as many meals as you can, considering what's already in the kitchen and making use of any ingredients that need to be used up sooner rather than later.
2. Make & Follow a Shopping List
With your plan in hand, make a shopping list of what you'll need. A bit of time put in now will save a lot of food waste later. Again: don't forget to check what's in the kitchen already and make a plan to use it up.
3. Consider More Frequent Shopping
It's easy to overbuy when you're shopping for longer periods of time. Consider increasing how often you go to the store so you can buy less and decrease the need to "stock up" each time.
4. Check the Dates
Look at expiration and "use by" dates at the store and choose items with a longer shelf life.
5. Take Advantage of Bulk Bins
While buying in bulk can save money if it's stuff you actually use, that's not what we're talking about here. Find stores that offer non-perishable items likes flours, nuts, and spices in bulk bins that allow you to buy exactly what you need. This is particularly useful when preparing new recipes that call for an ingredient you're not sure you'll use again.
6. Store Food Properly
Once you get your planned and bought items you're certain you'll actually eat, be sure to store things properly. Remember: the fridge door is the warmest part, so it's best for condiments and non-dairy beverages that don't spoil easily.
7. Keep the Fridge Organized
A fridge that's too full disrupts airflow and effectiveness—yet another reason to try smaller but more frequent shopping trips. A disorganized fridge also makes it difficult to see what you have and is more likely to lead to duplicate purchases or uneaten food.
8. Practice First-In, First-Out (FIFO)
If anyone knows about keeping a lid on food costs, it's restaurants. Follow their example by using older items first. An organized fridge makes this possible: put new purchases behind the food that needs to be eaten first.
9. Make Use of As Much of Each Item as Possible
This applies mostly to produce items. Know that beet greens can be cooked just like chard. Citrus peel can be tucked into a jar of sugar to scent it. Broccoli stems can be peeled to make them delicious tender. Vegetable peels can be frozen and used to make stock.
10. Cook Realistically
It's one thing to purposefully make extra food to freeze and enjoy later, it's quite another to consistently cook up a full pound of pasta when your family only eats 3/4 of a pound. Think about what you throw away after different meals and adjust your cooking accordingly.
11. Don't Overserve
Better to go for seconds than to throw away uneaten food on a plate.
12. Eat Leftovers
Sure, some people claim to hate them, but throwing away perfectly good, already cooked food is a serious waste of resources and time. Try heating things up in new ways: melt some cheese on top, chop it up and fry up with some rice, use leftovers to fill homemade burritos or pile them on some brown rice for a delicious grain bowl.
13. Don't Be a Slave to Sell-By Dates
Properly handled and stored food can be perfectly good to eat well past the sell-by date stamped on it. If things look good and smell good and taste good, they're probably good. You don't need a date to tell you milk is sour nor that cheese is moldy, throw those items, but eat the still-good ones.
14. Harness the Power of Your Freezer
Learn what you can freeze and freeze foods before they go bad to buy yourself more time to enjoy them. See How to Freeze Fruit and How to Freeze Vegetables to get started. Freezing extra pesto or tomato sauce makes for a super-easy dinner in the future, and individual portions of casseroles or soups make great take-to-work lunches.
15. Track What You Throw Away
This will help you make better, less-wasteful shopping lists going forward (and back to step 1 above).
There is always going to be a certain amount of food waste, put yours to work and learn about composting!