Cooking Economically, Frugality, Zero Food Waste Challenge

Zero Food Waste Challenge {Final Report}

I started this Zero Food Waste Challenge on a whim on October 14th, so about two months ago. Since then, I’ve done several weekly reports on our food waste to report what we threw away and how much that food waste cost.

I’m pleased to report that for the last week and a half of November and the first part of December, we managed to actually achieve ZERO food waste! We’ve had a tiny bit since then, but all in all, our numbers are DRASTICALLY lower.

I might resurrect this challenge in the future when I need another good kick of motivation to watch our food waste more closely, but I’m hoping that being so careful about it these past couple months will effectively reset my habits for the next long while. I can tell you one thing — I was definitely much more mindful while at the grocery store on the 1st of this month and made sure I had a plan for everything perishable that I was putting in my cart!

The Final Numbers

If I had continued on my trend from week 1 (when I first started counting my food waste), we would have wasted over $750 worth of food in a year. Now, week 1 was especially high because it included food that had been sitting in our fridge for months, but I also remember how much produce I was throwing away on a regular basis before this, so the figure probably really wasn’t that much higher than a typical weekly average.

Below, I’ve included my estimated cost of the food we threw away each week, and I’ve also linked each week to its corresponding blog post (if there is one) if you’re interested in seeing exactly what went into those numbers.

You’ll notice that we did have some food waste this week, but considering we were coming off of two weeks without any, I feel pretty darn good about myself!

Total Food Waste: $41.22

If you divide that up by week, the average weekly total came out to $4.58, and the average monthly total came out to $20.61. Of course, the first week was without me trying to cut down on it at all, so if we just count weeks 2 through 9 when I was making much more of an effort, the weekly total is just $3.26, with the monthly total being $13.04. If I continued the trend for the full year, that would mean we would only have around $156 in food waste for the year, which I think we can all agree is a far cry better than $780, especially when you consider that my goal is to spend around $500-$550 a month on food! By being more mindful of our food waste, I’ve essentially “gained” an entire month’s grocery budget back.

The Final Grocery Budget

One of my big goals in November was to stick to a $500 grocery and household essentials budget for the month. If you followed along with the series, you might remember that since I front-load my grocery spending each month, I only had $12 to make stretch for the last 3 weeks of November.

I’ll be honest — it wasn’t easy there at the end!

Full disclosure: I *did* go over by $5, but not because I had to — I really, really wanted some Diet Dr. Pepper for the last few days of the month, so I ended up picking some up out of the eating out budget that we hadn’t quite used up. So really, it was basically a successful month sticking strictly to the budget(s) I’d set for myself, even if I *technically* went over in the “grocery” category.

Once I was at the end of the month, I could clearly see the mistake I’d made at the beginning — because I didn’t refrigerate the apples from the get-go and allowed some to go to waste, it meant that we were basically out of fresh produce for the last week. With the $12, I picked up two gallons of milk ($3 each), a sack of potatoes ($1.98), a small container of sour cream ($1.49), and 3 apples (which made up the remainder). The potatoes and sour cream were for the mashed potatoes we were in charge of bringing for Thanksgiving, and we split up each apple among the 3 kids on different days and then supplemented with canned fruit and applesauce for other meals and snacks.

I now know that we CAN make it on a $500 budget, and I also now know that I have to be a lot more mindful of how much produce I buy and when I buy it if I want to be eating some fruits and vegetables fresh throughout the month.

Lessons Learned

The biggest changes I’ve implemented since this challenge are 1) doing regular fridge sweeps, and 2) doing much more careful calculations with the fresh produce.

I’d gotten in the habit before doing this challenge of coming up with what I wanted to make for lunch or dinner without really looking in the fridge beforehand. Basically, I was just thinking off the top of my head of what I knew we had the ingredients to make and what I was willing to make (which meant I was usually going for quicker options). Because I was almost never really checking the fridge with meals in mind, we were letting quite a few things go to waste over time.

Getting into the habit of checking the fridge on a daily basis before meals has made a HUGE difference in cutting down on food waste. That habit alone has probably reduced our food waste by two-thirds.

The other keys to getting our food waste to zero (or as close to it as possible) has been for me to start consistently eating lunch again since it was a meal I often skipped before (because it was an easy way for me to eat up leftovers), and for me to consciously plan and measure out our produce for the month rather than just buying whatever looked good on my big stock-up trip at the beginning of the month, which usually led to me frantically trying to use up a million things before they all spoiled at the same time 10 days later. I now actually do some rough calculations in my head of the number of fruits divided by the number of people in our family in order to see about how long a produce haul will last, considering that each of us eats around 2-4 pieces of fresh fruit a day.

Vegetables are easier to manage because I buy most of our vegetables frozen or canned, and usually the only fresh vegetables I’ll regularly get are carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and potatoes, which all last a really long time. Occasionally I’ll pick up some salad greens and cucumbers or a couple bell peppers, but I usually only buy those when I have a very specific meal that they’re going to go along with.

Going Forward

So where does this leave us?

Well, I’m hoping that these habits that I’ve acquired over the past two-ish months will stick. I’m hoping that even if I can just do the regular fridge sweep and actually think about our produce in a logical way, I’ll keep up the good thing I’ve got going.

I did raise our grocery budget to $600 for December, mostly just to accommodate the plans I had for special holiday dinners and parties and treats. In January, I plan to go back down to $500 and keep it there for the time being, unless food prices skyrocket even more than they already have.

I think I’ll still continue with my regular habit of frontloading my grocery shopping for the month, but in order to cut down on food waste, I need to cut down on the amount of produce I buy at the beginning of the month. I might just buy enough for two weeks and then plan to do one more produce stock-up in the middle of the month, or I am also considering starting up my Misfits Market box again. I did it all last winter to help keep me out of the store — and I loved it! — but then I stopped getting it because I found we were wasting too much of the produce once I got too busy with flower farming. However, as I have a bit more time in the winter, I might start it up again, just because I do find that it helps me to stay out of the stores, which then helps me to save money in general. I also like that you can now choose exactly what you want in your box, rather than just having to pick from a narrow selection of options, which would also help less of it go to waste.

(Note: If you’re interested in learning more about Misfits Market, I wrote up a lot more about it in my post on how to afford to build up your food storage. If you’re interested in trying them out, you can get $10 off your first order by going through my affiliate link HERE.)

I would love to hear any comments or questions you have, and I especially would love to hear what you thought of this series! I’m busy planning out my blogging editorial calendar for next year, and I would love to know what kinds of posts interest you, especially in this homemaking/frugality/cooking category!

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