We all have the best of intentions when it comes to healthy eating. Many times, those intentions translate into buying all the things we think will make the difference in our lives (acai berries, anyone?). Unfortunately, though, we buy foods that sound good or are trending but don’t really know what to do with them or we get busy and eat out only to see those foods we carefully picked out on trash day. According to the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), 40% of food Americans buy goes uneaten. Not only is it a huge number but a significantly larger number than people in other countries.
In fact, the average American wastes 10 times as much food as a person in Asia. All this wasted food is not only a huge loss of resources, 80% of America’s freshwater goes to grow food, but equates to a lot of money down the drain. A few simple steps can result in eating more healthfully, reducing waste, and saving money:
1. Make a Menu
I know the typical philosophy is to make a list and stick to it but, let me tell you, I have made many a list…only to wind up with a vegetable drawer full of garbage at the end of the week. A list alone just doesn’t work. What I have found to work much better is making an actual menu for the week and then building a list from that menu. When I’m going for extra points, I create this menu during a family meeting. I’ve found this to work better because you just plug in those nights when you have a late meeting at work or a baseball game going until 7:30pm and you know you will be picking dinner up on the way home. Plus, you have the opportunity to game plan how you can use the same ingredients for different meals and cut down on buying specialty items just for one meal (saffron, cilantro, and green onions, I’m looking at you). Plus, if you have kids, they can get all their complaining out on menu planning day and be moved on to the acceptance phase by the time the food is actually served.
2. Get Real
Maybe no one in your house likes kale, or cauliflower, or peas. That’s OK. Get over it. Buy foods the people in your home will actually eat. I have been known to go a week where the only vegetables served were cucumbers, carrots, and green beans. Guess what…we all lived and no one complained and my family actually ate the vegetables they liked. When you buy what you like, you buy what you will eat. I definitely advocate for trying new things but buy those items in small quantities until you’re sure you’ll actually eat what you purchase. It’s also fine to acknowledge you’re not a good prepper…many fruits and vegetables come pre-washed and cut so you can get straight to eating them; if you actually eat all of what you buy already prepared, you may actually save money versus buying whole foods you never touch.
3. Go with the flow
A great way to save money and reduce waste is to get fruits and veggies fresh in season. If you’re lucky enough to live near farmers markets, you can’t beat the variety and price of those items coming to you straight from the grower. This is also another great opportunity to get your little ones excited about different foods or, if you’re only cooking for one, to buy only the amount you truly need. For many people, the months between October and May don’t allow for many visits to farmers markets or a large offering of fresh foods. One great option is to shop for frozen fruits and vegetables; this way you can have not only enjoy fruits and vegetables all year round but you can use only the quantities you need for a given meal and save the rest for later.
4. Get Creative
Even the best laid plans don’t always work out. Sometimes you’re in the middle of making a recipe and realize you’re out of one ingredient. Don’t let that throw you or make you feel like the whole thing is a loss. Mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, and sour cream can often be used interchangeably. Need buttermilk but don’t have any? Regular milk and vinegar can be combined to do the trick. Don’t have enough butter? Try applesauce or vegetable oil instead. You’ll be amazed at the substitutions you can find online when you’re in a pinch. And, if all else fails, pack up what you’ve got for tomorrow night and do breakfast for dinner. Pancakes for dinner are always a hit.
5. Learn to love leftovers
I have never been a fan of leftovers but, as I’ve gotten older and life has become more hectic, I’ve learned to not only deal with but truly appreciate leftovers. The key is to get beyond simply re-heating and really make something enjoyable with the extra bits of a carefully crafted meal. At our house, Friday is pizza night. If you find a good pre-made dough at your favorite grocery store, you will be surprised at how good those loose veggies or leftover meats are with cheese and sauce…and it only takes a few minutes to put together. Soups, lasagna, quiche, and frittata are also great options for incorporating left over items. If you find yourself with a bunch of leftover sides, a quick solution is to swing by your local grocery store on your way home and pick up a rotisserie chicken to serve as your main dish.
Julia Todd earned her MBA from Brandman University. She spends her working days in Healthcare Administration, her weekends at the little league field, and free time reading or traveling.