Food ranks among the average American’s top five monthly expenditures. The battle for your wallet is often quietly fought at the dinner table, where the desire for convenience and comfort sometimes conflict between nutrition and cost.
According to the USDA, U.S. consumers spent an average of 11.3 percent of their disposable personal income on food in 2022. While 30 to 40% of all food produced in the U.S. is wasted, which ends up costing approximately $161 billion every year.
By making goals for your kitchen and making some small changes such as taking inventory, and using food creatively, you can have a major impact on your food budget.
How to Reduce Food Costs
Reducing food costs and waste starts with tracking and monitoring the food coming into your home. Some families order food in bulk, but then do not have a system in place to use up that food. Then those items linger in the freezer or pantry and it may be difficult to use all of that food before it spoils.
Consistency is key here when it comes to saving money on food by cooking from our own kitchens rather than eating out regularly.
We purchase food in order to feed our families, and one of the reasons we choose to do that is an effort to save money. So, we need to use up that food rather than let it go to waste, which would end up costing more money in the long run.
To reduce food waste, here are some steps you can take:
Calculate Your Food Costs
Calculating food costs in your home can be a time-consuming task, but staying on budget with your finances could help you save time, money, and food in the long run.
Be Consistent When Taking Inventory
When a grocery order arrives, you should always inspect the contents to ensure that you are not accepting food (and therefore, paying for it) that is past its prime or damaged and unusable.
Checking inventory regularly can give you an idea of how and at what rate your food is being used or wasted. For example, if you notice that you have an item that is going unused and spoiling, change your grocery order to a lesser amount to reduce food waste. Conversely, if you’re running out of mozzarella cheese before your dinner service even starts, you need to increase your grocery order.
Work with Your Food Suppliers
Once you have an idea of how much food your family uses at a given time, you can work with others to lower your food costs. If possible, shop around and see what competing food suppliers are willing to offer you. My friend’s Dad would make deals with the produce sellers at the flea market where they both sold items,
When purchasing food, there is also the option to cut out the middleman and go straight to the source which includes local farms and farmers markets. We often see homemade signs selling eggs in people's yards. Buying food locally ensures that you’re getting the freshest products possible while also supporting your local economy.
Manage The Food You Purchase
When it comes to food, the harder you’re willing to work, the more you can save. Below are some ideas on how to save money, while also making good tasting food.
Offer a limited menu. By limiting your menu, you can cut the number of ingredients you need in your kitchen. This will definitely help reduce food costs and food waste.
Take extra time to do the prep work yourself. For example, buying a chicken that is already deboned, skinned, and portioned is going to be more expensive than just buying whole chickens.
Keep track of food prices and how they can affect your shopping list. For example, a drought in California would affect the avocado harvest, so it probably wouldn’t be the best time to introduce avocados in your menus.
Use Portion Control
Controlling food portions is an excellent way to reduce food costs. If your family is unable to finish a dish consistently, the portion is too big. Use food scales, measuring cups and spoons to serve the proper amount of food to your family. Serving smaller portions will help lower your food costs.
Use the First In, First Out Method
The first in, first out method is pretty straightforward: use the first ingredients that you put into your pantries and refrigerators first. This forces you to use the oldest food first and ensures you’re always stocked with fresh ingredients. It also helps prevent food from expiring without being used.
Tips on How to Reduce Food Waste
Here are a few ideas for using leftovers wisely and reducing food waste.
Save vegetable scraps like onion skins, carrot peels, and mushroom stalks for making homemade vegetable stock.
Don't throw away any stale bread. You can use it to make things like croutons, breadcrumbs, and bread pudding.
Shred up roasted chicken and turkey the following day and use the meat in a soup or stew.
Food waste can have a big impact on your food budget. But by shopping the sales, looking for markdowns, buying locally, serving reasonable portion sizes, and using your ingredients creatively, you can reduce food costs in your frugal kitchen.