Don't Throw Your Money Away

Would you like to help the planet and save an easy $590 this year? It's not a gimmick. Many families can save an easy $590 without even having to give up their lattes from Starbucks, turn down the heat, or ride their bikes to work. All it takes is a little better menu planning.

According to research from the University of Arizona, the average American family throws out nearly $600 in food annually, often due to good intentions but poor follow through. Research shows that most food shopping is done on the weekends, when shoppers are fresh and well rested. With good intentions to eat healthy, they buy an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables with plans to make healthy foods, perhaps a fresh fruit salad and green salad with dinner each week night. Then Monday comes and brutal reality strikes. The enthusiastic, health conscious shoppers from the weekend come home from work tired, hungry and cranky, order carry out pizzas with garlic fries and the family soda special, and forget about the tasty fresh produce sitting forlornly in the crisper. Or maybe they don't forget about the produce. They may even feel guilty about it. But they order the pizza, soda and garlic fries just the same. By the end of the week, the fruits and vegetables, wilted and spoiled, are tossed in the trash. Then the weekend comes, and the tired, fast food aficionados are once again transformed into the enthusiastic, health conscious, well intentioned grocery shoppers, and the vicious cycle repeats.

Tips to Avoid Wasting Food Each Week

If the above description matches what goes on in your household, how can you stop this cycle of produce and budget abuse and save a cool $590 this year from your food budget? Try the tips below.

1. Buy canned, frozen or dried fruits and vegetables instead of fresh. Sure fresh produce tastes great and is highly nutritious, but be a realist. If your family is throwing out perishable food regularly, then cut back on how much fresh food you buy each week. Buy fruits and vegetables that will keep until you really have the time to prepare and eat them. Frozen mangos and frozen strawberries placed in a blender with some apple juice makes a tasty, healthy smoothie.

2. Grocery shop several times a week and just buy enough fresh food for a few days at a time. In my family we have found that it is less complex to plan 2 - 3 days out than it is to plan for a whole week. Plus shopping more often makes it easier to know what is in the fridge and be able to use up leftovers before they spoil.

3. Get a crock pot and make your meals in the morning before you go to work or get tired out from doing housework and taking care of the kids. With crock pots you can start baked potatoes, baked apples, baked winter squash and a wide variety of soups and casseroles with fresh vegetables in the morning and come home later in the day to a house filled with great aromas and a healthy meal waiting for you and your family.

4. Plan your meals in advance and only buy what you need to make those meals. For easy week day meal ideas, I like to buy cookbooks with dishes you can make with 3 - 5 ingredients. I've learned to avoid cookbooks that have "simple", "fast" or "easy" in the titles. What is simple, fast and easy for someone who loves to cook and whose only job is to write cookbooks for a living often means meals you can make in under an hour or two. I'm more into what can I make that is healthy in 15 minutes or less. Simple is a relative term often abused by cookbook authors, but three ingredients is three ingredients.

5. Buy fruits and vegetables with long shelf lives to keep on hand for those times when you find you do have the time and energy to prepare and cook fresh produce. These include apples, potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage and winter squash. Diced onions and root vegetables, tossed with a little olive oil and roasted in the oven, makes a great side dish in about 10 minutes of prep and 25 minutes of baking time. Sliced carrots, onions and cabbage stir fried in a wok with a little sesame oil is another simple and healthy side for a quick week night meal.

A Little Planning Can Turn Into Big Savings

If you can reduce waste and save $600 from your food bill each year, in twenty five years you will have saved $15,000 (or more if you invest your savings each year and let the interest compound).

Copyright 2008 Always Frugal.

S. L. Simmons is a thrifty mom of two. Visit her web site for articles on budgeting, a free budget worksheet and more ways to save money on groceries.

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