We all like to moan and complain about how there is not enough money in our budgets at the end of the month. Well, here is a simple step that could save a family of four $1,500 a year: Stop wasting food.
The USDA estimates that food waste amounts to around 2 million calories a year for a family of four, costing roughly $1,500, which is over $100 a month for the family, or $375 per person annually.
"Nobody wakes up in the morning wanting to waste food, but it happens in little bits and pieces," says Dana Gunders, senior scientist at the National Resources Defense Council and author of the new book "Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook." "We are so price-sensitive in the store, but when we get home and eventually throw out a quarter of the cheese we just bought, we don't realize that's another $1.50."
Reducing food waste takes planning and discipline. Gunders gives some tips below:
Shop deliberately, from a list, for just a couple of meals ahead of time. Otherwise your eyes will be bigger than your stomach, and much of what you buy will end up in the trash.
Use up leftovers by making catch-all dishes like soups, stir-frys, fried rice, frittatas and risottos.
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Stale bread? Make menus involving croutons, French toast, or bread pudding.
Learn to store food properly. For instance, lettuce usually lasts longer in the crisper, while apples, mushrooms and peppers need more aeration and do better outside those drawers.
Do not get freaked out by expiration dates, Gunders advises. These are just a manufacturer's best guess about peak freshness. Use your judgment; do not throw away food just because of a number on a carton.
For more pointers on maximizing food budgets, we talked to a few high-end chefs. In the restaurant world with its razor-thin margins, if you do not utilize every possible scrap of food in your kitchen, you are out of business.
Fish heads: Most consumers toss them, but Marjorie Meek-Bradley, executive chef of Washington, D.C.'s Ripple, and a contestant on "Top Chef," likes to debone the head and make lettuce wraps with the meat.
Carrot tops: Along with the leafy tops of other root vegetables, says Meek-Bradley, they make the foundation of an excellent pesto sauce.
Potato scraps: Don't get rid of them, say Bruce and Eric Bromberg of Blue Ribbon Restaurants. They are ideal for making potato pancakes.
Kale stems: The natural instinct is to toss them, but they make crispy, healthy, kale fries, say the Brombergs.
Citrus juice: If you have some left over, it makes an ideal kitchen cleaner, says John Johnson of Four Seasons New York. It is biodegradable, non-toxic, and degreases like nothing else.
Bones: I always use leftover chicken or turkey bones to make soup," says Troy Guard, chef of Denver-based TAG Restaurant Group.
Plant scraps: Tomato insides, carrot peels, day-old brown rice, mushroom stems? You have got yourself a tasty veggie burger, says Guard.
Protein trimmings: Obviously not every scrap of meat will make it onto a nicely plated steak, chicken breast or pork chop. But Guard says those extra trimmings can easily go into enchiladas, tacos, or on top of homemade pizzas.