By Cassidy Hobbs Hall
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
Johnston County Cooperative Extension
What if I told you that I would give you $1,500 a year from now if you just did two things? If this entices you, I have good news. By planning ahead and reducing food waste, you can save about $1,500 per year. Estimates regarding food waste vary, but on average, about 31% of food is wasted on the retail and consumer level which translates to 133 billion pounds or $161 billion! Food wasted is money wasted.
Planning ahead makes saving money happen! Financial management gurus recommend eating at home more often as a means to saving money, but I like to take this a step further. In order to plan to eat at home, you have to have a menu and ingredients at home. You can make it happen by planning weekly meals and shopping lists in advance.
To do so, start by listing the days of the week. Personally, I like to plan Sunday through Saturday. Each Sunday, I look at my week and fill in any prior commitments that will result in too little time to prepare food. These are nights I don’t have to prepare anything at all or I plan to use “planned overs.”
Planned overs are ingredients I have prepped in advance and might include veggies I have already chopped or meat I have already cooked. This makes dinner easy, quick, and leaves nearly no cleanup. After these nights are on the menu calendar, I take a look at my grocery store’s circular or store app. This reveals what is on sale and gives me a starting point for ideas. I recommend starting by taking a look at the produce on sale.
Produce is a very low-cost, good-for-you way to stretch meals. Produce that is in-season will be cheapest and tastes better than buying foods that aren’t in-season in North Carolina. If you feel trapped in seasons without much available, check out the frozen vegetables. If I know what produce items I want to use in my meals, the meal planning almost does itself!
When planning, consider foods you can use in other meals. This helps you have a plan for the leftover half of an onion or single cucumber and helps you use up the remaining spinach before it wilts and goes into the trash. If you have items leftover at the end of the week, plan to use those up first when planning the following week’s menu, and never be afraid to add extra produce into your meals or snacks to go ahead and use it up. Lastly, don’t forget to add your staple items such as milk, bread, eggs, and other items you use regularly or are out of. Once you’ve planned, you are ready to shop.
When shopping, be sure to check the unit price. This is typically in the left-hand corner of the shelf price tag. This lets you know how much you are paying per ounce, gallon, etc. I also recommend choosing store brand, even when selecting frozen foods and canned foods. These items are normally the same food as the name brand, just under a different label.
While shopping, stick to your list. This means avoiding aisles that do not contain items on your list. Don’t tell yourself, “oh, I just need to make sure there is nothing I missed.” That is the whole purpose of the list. If it isn’t on the list, you don’t need it. Venturing down those extra aisles leads to adding items to your cart that you don’t need, increasing your grocery total. Finally, do not shop while hungry! Your empty stomach will add items to your cart that aren’t good for your waistline or your wallet.
Once you are home, go ahead and wash, cut, and store your fresh produce to make meal preparation easier and faster during the week. Once you’ve cooked and eaten dinner each night, be sure to package up the leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. The average lunch costs $8 per day. If you eat lunch out five days per week, that is $40 a week you are spending on top of food at home going bad. Taking lunch to work will save you over $2,000 a year, and don’t forget that reducing your food waste will save a family of four about $1,500.
I guess you could say reading this article (and practicing what I’ve preached) could save you $3,500 by this time next year- and that’s a nice vacation, home renovation fund, or investment! To get started, check out this free tool to help you plan next week’s meals.
Cassidy has been a Family & Consumer Sciences Agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension since 2017. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health and is working to complete her Master’s of Science in Nutrition.
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