open fridge
Cooking Economically, Frugality, Homemaking, Saving Money

Zero Food Waste Challenge {1}

our fridge, post-cleanout

Several years ago, when we were on a very tight budget, I started looking into all the different ways I could possibly think of to get our grocery bill down as low as I possibly could. I clipped coupons, only shopped the sales, made basically 99% of our meals, and cooked and baked as much from scratch as I possibly had time for. During that time, I also read a blog post talking about food waste, which is something I honestly hadn’t really thought about that much. Sure, there were a couple really stomach-twisting moments when I had to throw away large amounts of something (I still remember one time when I had to throw out nearly an entire package of chicken that had cost me something like $10-11 and how awful I felt), but for the most part, I just had accepted food waste as a part of life and moved on.

However, once it was pointed out to me that food waste was literally the equivalent of throwing dollar bills in the trash, I started looking at it a lot differently. In fact, I even started keeping a log of everything we threw away for awhile to keep myself more accountable, which drastically cut down on the waste we produced during that time period just because I was more aware of it.

Related Post: How We Cut Our Food Waste in Half

While in many ways, I’m overall better at not wasting food as much just because I’m more aware of it now, I also can see that I’ve slipped into bad habits. This is partly because we can give so much of our food waste to our chickens (which helps cut down what we need to spend on chicken feed), and it’s also partly because I’ve been so busy this year with the flower farm that I haven’t devoted as much time to menu planning, cooking, and watching food waste, all of which has meant that we’ve been spending a LOT more on our groceries every month.

Add to that rising food prices and the fact that we’ve been aggressively building up our food storage, and our grocery bill has started to feel a little out of control, at least for us — we used to spend around $500 a month on food and household items (including diapers for the baby and makeup for me), but lately it’s been more like $850.

That’s a big difference.

Now that our short- and long-term food storage is basically almost complete, I am focusing on getting our grocery bill back to the $500 range again (I did allow myself $550 for this month, as there were just a few more food storage items we needed to stock up on). We have several financial goals we’re working on right now in addition to the overarching goal of paying off our house and having Matt retire from traditional employment by the age of 50, so we’ve got to really be watching our spending in all categories to try and stay on track.

Saving $350 a month should definitely help to get us there.

One of the first things I want to focus on? Reducing our food waste drastically.

Like I said, because we have chickens that we feed most of our kids’ table leftovers and other things (like vegetable peels) to, I know that our food waste isn’t nearly as bad as it has been in times past or as bad as it could be. (Of course, if we DIDN’T have chickens, it would be dreadful…even though we start them off with very small portions, our kids still struggle with wasting food.) But I also know that we’ve been extremely lazy about it in the last year or so too, and I want that to change.

As a fun experiment, I want to try and do a zero food waste challenge over the next little while and see what we can come up with. I also want to make myself record anything we DO throw away (if there is anything), just to keep myself accountable and to notice patterns of things that are being wasted most often.

Since today was fridge clean-out day, I decided to start out and share what we had to chuck this afternoon. I’ll consider this my “baseline” food waste, since I obviously hadn’t been consciously focusing on minimizing it over the past several months. I also am including my best guesstimates as to what each amount of food waste cost, just so I could see how many dollar bills I essentially just threw in the trash, which should help to provide sufficient motivation to change πŸ™‚

***Just a note, I do a more thorough cleaning out of our fridge every 3 months or so, which means that some of this food waste is obviously going back a bit. This is literally just a snapshot into what food I threw away today. Also, I calculated the costs based on brand and quantity where I could, and for anything that I’d made at home with various ingredients, I just used a very rough guess.***

Current Food Waste

  • about 16 oz of plain yogurt ($2.50)
  • about 24 ounces of sour cream ($2.21)
  • 1/2 can’s worth of green beans ($0.28)
  • 1/2 of a 7-oz package of pepperoni ($2.09)
  • about 2 fluid ounces of Powerade ($0.06)
  • one slice turkey lunchmeat ($0.34)
  • 1/4 can refried beans ($0.38)
  • two green onions ($0.15)
  • 1/2 large deli container of homemade cookie dough ($1.75)
  • 2 sausage links ($0.36)
  • 2 cups cooked white rice ($0.20)
  • small amount (1-2 tablespoons) of homemade dressing ($0.15)
  • 5 celery stalks ($0.59)

Total: $11.06

Now, $11.06 isn’t nearly as bad as it could be, but I also know for a fact that in the last week I threw away two avocados, one small orange, two potatoes, a third of a bagged salad, and an ounce or so of grated cheese that had all gone bad. So let’s calculate those into our total:

  • 2 large avocados ($2.39)
  • one small orange ($0.39)
  • two potatoes ($0.35)
  • 1/3 of a bagged salad mix ($0.78)
  • 1 oz grated cheese ($0.17)

New Grand Total for Week: $15.14

Now, if you multiple that weekly total by 4.5 to get a general monthly total, that’s $68.14 each month that we’re throwing in the trash. Multiply that by 12, and that means we’re throwing away around $800 a year due to wasted food. If we’re able to get our grocery budget back down to around $500 every month, that means that we wasted over a month and a half’s worth of grocery money just on food that ended up in the trash.

AND THINK HOW MUCH MORE IT WOULD BE IF WE DIDN’T HAVE THE CHICKENS!!!

The Plan

My plan isn’t anything crazy or involved; it basically just consists of the following:

1. Tracking anything and everything that IS thrown away (if anything is) over the next few weeks

The act of merely writing things down and tracking them makes my growth in an area accelerate, which is something I’ve known to be true for a very long time. Just knowing that I have to write it down will 1) make me think twice about whether or not I really need to throw something away, and 2) make me do a general sweep of what we have in the fridge and in the produce basket much more often so that I’m not letting stuff go bad to begin with.

2. Being more mindful about eating lunch

Confession: Lunch is a meal I very often skip, unless you count a couple crackers and maybe a string cheese as lunch. This is a habit I’ve tried to kick in the past, but with no real sticking power. I don’t know if this will be the key to finally making myself eat that meal in the middle of the day, but if I can make myself take the time, it would be one of the absolute most effective ways to cut down on food waste since it would give me a daily chance to check in and see if there was any food that needed to be used up ASAP (that I wouldn’t have to worry about the kids liking, too).

3. Taking the time to at least plan out SOME meals

I know that meal planning — when I’m fully on board with it — is incredibly beneficial in just about every way (time management, finances, stress, food waste), but I also know that it’s something I’m very fickle about. If I could even plan out just one or two meals a week based on food we needed to use up, that alone would make a big dent in the amount of food that was allowed to go bad.

4. Report back

I’m not going to make a definite plan for how often to post on this, but I do plan to report back at least once (ideally two or three times) over the next few months.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the supply chain issues and rising food prices, and with all that, I’ve been feeling a more pressing need to better manage our finances and our grocery budget. It’s been so long since I’ve done a grocery budget that was truly just $500 that I’m not even sure I “can” anymore, you know what I mean? So if I’m able to shave $50 a month of food waste off, then the plan to stay in that $500 range seems a lot more doable.

So there’s my simple plan for trying to figure it all out a little better over the next couple months. If you have any suggestions for me, I would love to hear them in the comments!