Food Savvy Saves Dough; Simple Tips to Reduce Waste

Americans waste an estimated 14 percent to 40 percent of the food produced for consumption. It happens in fields, stores and your kitchen. That's bad for the environment, and it can be very bad for your wallet.

Farmers toss imperfect heads of lettuce, grocers chuck bruised tomatoes and, by best estimates, consumers waste about 25 percent of the food they buy -- throwing out browned bananas, outdated cheese and unused leftovers.

This has all sorts of environmental, social and ethical ramifications. But if you look just at the financial impact on the consumer, that is the equivalent of a family of four tossing $1,500 to $4,000 in the garbage each year.

Here are a few tips on how to make better use of food and money:

Plan ahead: Buy just what you need. You'll waste less right away.

Try planning meals for a week or shop for a few key meals at a time so you can fix them depending on your preference of the day.

Tidy up: If you can't see it, you probably won't use it.

In many households, big, overcrowded refrigerators are major culprits in food waste, said Jonathan Bloom, author of "American Wasteland."

Chill out: If you keep food cool, it will keep longer.

You keep milk in the fridge, and you know vegetables stay fresh longer in the crisper. But the freezer? It's not just for ice cream. Try putting bread, meat or even half-eaten leftovers in there to significantly extend their shelf-life.

Eat it: If you made enough food for multiple meals, eat your leftovers or freeze them until later.

And don't let the use-by, sell-by and eat-by dates set your schedule, experts say. Those are largely designed for quality, not safety of the food.

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