36 Tips to Waste Less Food and Save More Money

I have a confession to make. I throw away perfectly good food on a regular basis, in spite of being raised by a mom who used up all the food because waste was not an option.

It doesn’t make me feel any better to know that I am not alone in my food management problem. The U.S. squanders about 30% of the food available to eat, and most of it is tossed at home.

March is National Nutrition Month, and I am pleased to see that this year’s theme, Go Further with Food, is as much about minimizing food waste as it is about maximizing good nutrition.  Trashing edible food drives up prices and makes it less affordable to those with reduced financial resources, who miss out on nutrients. Even if you have enough cash, tossing food is throwing money away. On average, a family of four wastes up to $2,200.00-worth of food every year.

Food waste is also bad for the environment.

If food waste was a country, it would be the planet’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, right behind China and the United States. Food is the single largest component of trash in landfills, where it produces methane, a global-warming gas. Throwing food away also squanders the resources that went into producing, processing, packaging, and transporting it. For example, 25% of all freshwater in the U.S. is used to produce food that we never eat.

Zero-waste snacking tips

How to minimize food waste

Managing food wisely takes time and creativity. The amount of food tossed in my household is directly related to my level of motivation to manage it, which includes planning meals, shopping, and using up leftovers. The busier I get, the more food I throw away.

We can’t save and eat all the food that’s slated for the trash heap, but I think it’s safe to say that there’s room for improvement.  I asked my dietitian colleagues for their best food-saving tips, and I divided their advice, and my own suggestions, into three levels of difficulty. Let’s face it: managing food is hard, so pick the tips that best fit your lifestyle.

Simple tips to save food and money

  • “Before going to the grocery store, look in the fridge and cabinets to see what you have, and what needs to be used up first. If there is something that I know I won’t eat before it goes bad, into the freezer it goes (either cooked or not, depending on the food). Then I use what’s in the freezer when I’m planning my meals.” – Kaleigh McMordie


  • “You don’t need a complicated recipe to make a meal, snack or side dish. Take a look at what you have, and be confident. Most leftovers combine nicely for a soup, casserole or stir-fry.”- Pat Baird

  • Choose smaller plates and glasses.  Dietitians have been touting this advice for decades, but it’s not usually framed around food waste.  A smaller plate helps encourage proper portions and reduces overeating.  Overeating is technically a form of food waste, because we are consuming more food than our bodies need. This form of food waste can lead to chronic diseases, too. – Chris Vogliano



  • Place foods that spoil quickly within sight so that you eat them first. Wash fresh produce like lettuce and berries just before eating to keep it from spoiling. Store fruits and veggies in separate crisper drawers.

  • “Use fresh produce in smoothies. I keep bulk Greek yogurt in the fridge and make smoothies as a grab & go breakfast.” – Mary Emerson


  • Freeze fresh ripe fruit that’s about to go bad, such as berries, peaches (pit and slice first), and sliced bananas for smoothies, smoothie bowls, and delicious frozen fruit desserts, like  Chocolate Peanut Butter “Ice Cream.”


  • Purchase plain frozen fruits and vegetables. That way, you will use only what you need at the time and minimize waste.


  • Embrace imperfection. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables with odd shapes, sizes, or colors. They taste the same, but so-­called ugly fruits and vegetables often get tossed by grocery stores because they don’t sell. Slightly bruised produce is OK to eat if you cut away the damaged area, but avoid produce with any cuts.


  • Set your refrigerator between 35 ̊F and 40 ̊F, and your freezer at 0 ̊F or below, to keep food fresher for longer. Stuffing the refrigerator and freezer reduces cooling efficiency and speeds up food spoilage.

  • After grocery shopping, get perishables into the fridge or freezer ASAP. If you’re making stops before heading home from the super­ market, bring a cooler bag with you in the car for dairy, meat, and produce.


  • Avoid resealing fresh fruits and vegetables in airtight plastic storage bags or containers because they trap moisture that promotes faster decay. Purchase perforated plastic bags for produce or make your own by poking tiny holes in resealable plastic bags.


  • “Write the date a food was opened when you open a container of shelf stable food like broth or canned beans to avoid having to guess whether it’s still good or not when you can’t remember how long it’s been in the fridge.” – Courtney Stinson


  • “Consider a meal delivery service. I found food waste challenging when we went from a family of three to a family of two. Using the Hello Fresh for a few meals a week is helpful. We get just the right amount of ingredients and the meals-for-two are actually dinner-for-two and lunch-for-one. I buy frozen protein (mostly fish and chicken) and take out only enough for what we will eat, add a microwavable frozen veggie pack and the brown rice bowls they sell at Costco. I would have to say that cooking for two is a challenge because many recipes aren’t easily cut in half. I recognize that buying a lot at a cheaper per unit price isn’t cheaper if it goes bad, so I am okay with buying smaller quantities of food at a higher per unit price.” – Shelley Real

See what happened when Dana Angelo White challenged herself to reduce her family’s food waste

Next-level tips to save food and money

  • Plan meals and snacks for at least five days of the week and shop for the ingredients. Meal planning helps to save money and food waste, and prepping meals on the weekend saves time Monday through Friday.

  • “Reorganize your fridge. Crisper drawers actually have a purpose! Reconsidering how you organize your fridge can keep your food fresh longer by reducing spoilage.  This will save you money while fighting food waste.  Check out this fridge storage infographic for more information.– Chris Vogliano


  • “I cook vegetables within a day or two of purchase and refrigerate them in airtight container if I know I will not be eating them that day. This allows me to get to them before they have a chance to wilt in the fridge.” – Barbara Baron


  • Know what the dates mean. You may pitch food because you want to eat only the freshest and safest items, but throwing away perfectly good items contributes mightily to food waste. Some of the dates on food packages are more about quality than anything. “Sell by” dates are used for fresh, perishable foods, such as meats and dairy products. It’s the last possible day the store can sell the product, and it’s a date you should take seriously for safety’s sake. However, if the date passes while you have the product at home, the food should still be safe if handled properly. The “Use By” and “Best If Used By” dates have more wiggle room, as they refer to perceived food quality, not food safety. For example, the “best if used by” is the last date recommended for the customer’s use of a product at its peak quality. To see how long food is still good past these dates, visit


  • “Have a family fix it yourself leftovers night. We do this when we’re too lazy or tired to assemble a whole meal. We try to eat all the leftover food and what that is close to expiring. Nobody eats the same thing, but we can still usually each find a pretty balanced meal.” – Courtney Stinson

  • “I use extra vegetables and grains to make pasta dishes and rice bowls.” – Rebecca Clyde


  • “When I’m feeling ambitious, I portion out foods like fruit, veggies, beans, and grains into see-through containers, typically in ½-cup or 1-cup portions. That way, instead of the blueberries getting accidentally pushed to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten, someone can easily grab a portion to throw on top of cereal, or easily grab grains, beans, and greens for a broth.” -Wendy Kaplan


  • “Build a layered vegetable salad in order of the food’s ability to withstand moisture, and it’ll keep in your refrigerator longer. Starting at the bottom of the bowl, use sturdy vegetables like peppers and carrots. Then use vegetables that can withstand some moisture, like mushrooms and beans. Follow with a layer of whole grains. Finish with a top layer of herbs and lettuce. Add dressing on individual plates, right before serving.” – Tamar Rothenberg

Here’s how to makeover your leftovers

Cook more to curb food waste

  • “I keep a bag of vegetable scraps in my freezer to make stock. When I get enough, I toss the vegetables in with bones and cook overnight.” –Wendy Jo Peterson

  • “I’m loving the new food trend of eating root-to-stem! For example, if you’re a fan of broccoli, there’s no need to throw out the leaves and the stem. You can sauté the leaves, which tastes similar to kale, and turn the stem into broccoli rice in the food processor.”  – Jessica Spiro 


  • Use ice cube trays to preserve leftover wine, remaining tomato paste, milk, yogurt, and 100% fruit or vegetable juice, and use in recipes later.

Check out Jessica Elyse’s ways to reduce food waste.

  • “ While it doesn’t completely eliminate food waste, you can use up parts of veggies you wouldn’t normally eat, or veggies that have lost their texture (ex: softened carrots) by making your own vegetable broth. You can be extra eco-friendly by composting the veggie scraps after you’ve gotten flavor and nutrients out of them.” – Kelly Jones



  • Make food fresh again. Perk up wilted kale, Swiss chard, spinach, and other greens by placing them in ice water for 30 minutes. Cook and eat or freeze. To freshen up nuts, toast them on a baking sheet in a 350 ̊F oven for 10 minutes.

  • “I make an Egg Bake with my leftover food–nearly anything can be mixed with eggs, some onions and a little cheese (even cottage cheese–one of my favorites).” – Kitty Broihier


  • “Don’t throw away the liquid from the can of beans! This “aquafaba” makes an excellent vegan egg alternative for baked goods (it makes the fudgiest box brownies ever) and can be used to make vegan mayo. Here’s one example of how to use it in these sweet potato fritters with aquafaba aioli!” -Chrissy Carroll


  • “Search for recipes based on what you need to use up. I had a half can of pumpkin and a half can of coconut milk so I googled “pumpkin coconut milk muffins.” You are bound to find something to try! Also, when I realize I made too much of something, I’ll find a friend or neighbor to share it with. -Kacie Barnes

Cooking Down: Minimize Waste and Make Easy Real Food


  • “Dry fruits and vegetables in the oven or a dehydrator. Purée veggies and tomatoes for marinara sauce. Make soup. Make croutons with extra bread.” -Aimee Sarchet


  • “I evaluate the fridge before going to the store each Sunday and make a combination meal that can include several leftovers, like a frittata featuring leftover veggies and cheese; a grain salad for lunches with leftover cooked whole grains, salad greens, leftover veggies and meat; or a soup. I also always freeze leftover canned goods.”‪ – Jessica Ivey

A year of less food waste by Moms Kitchen Handbook

  • “I have several ideas in this (free) PowerPoint and accompanying handout. The photo of “Clean the Fridge Chopped Salad” is one of my favorites, because, you just take bite-size odds and ends of whatever is in your fridge and would go well with each other (veggies, nuts, cheese, fruit, meat, etc.); mix them together and add your favorite salad dressing! -Alice Henneman

    Judy Barbe’s Roasted Cauliflower Fettucini 

Kara Lydon Evancho has compiled 25 delicious, creative recipes to use up leftovers. 

When it’s OK to throw food away

You shouldn’t eat every food in the name of frugality. Never freeze, cook, or eat any food that smells funny to you. For safety’s sake, toss the following:

  • Odd­-smelling food
  • Food left out for more than two hours, or one hour if the air temperature is 90 ̊F or above
  • If the power has been out for at least four hours and you haven’t opened the refrigerator
  • or freezer; sooner if you have (raw animal foods, dairy, and leftovers should all be tossed)
  • If cans have rusted or they’re leaking, deeply dented, or bulging
  • Moldy food (except for cheese; you can cut that part away)

What are your favorite ways to curb food waste?










    • ewardrd says:

      Thank you. I appreciate it! As you know, it takes a long time to write a post, and it means a lot when someone notices. It’s a good think I have so many friends who contributed such excellent tips. Do you have anything to add?

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