Growing up, I spent quite a bit of time in the grocery store, but it wasn’t because my parents liked to take me food shopping. Actually, my Dad works in grocery stores all day, every day. He’s a food merchandiser/sales rep. On those random days off from school and on weekends, I’d end up going to work with him. It wasn’t a bad gig. Usually, I’d help him shelve items or I’d wander the aisles with a book or magazine in hand. But on those “take your daughter to work” days, I’d pick up some tidbits of unexpected knowledge that would serve me well when I started grocery shopping for myself. In fact, there are a lot of things we can learn from grocery stores when it comes to cutting back on our grocery bills, particularly in regards to reducing waste.
According to the 2006 study, Food Loss and the American Household, we tend to throw away 14 percent of the food we purchase – a staggering average of 470 pounds of food each year. For a family of four that’s nearly $600 thrown in the trash annually. Ouch.
Here are some things you can do to cut back on food waste (and your grocery bills) by taking a page out of your local grocer’s book:
- Freshness Comes First
A little known fact about bread: you know those plastic thingies they put on the end of the loaves in lieu of a twist tie? Well, those little plastic things can tell you when the bread was baked based on what color it is. Every company has its own color coding system, but a general rule of thumb is baked on a Monday = blue tab, Tuesday = green tab, Thursday = red tab, Friday = white tab, and Saturday = yellow tab. Usually, colors are listed in alphabetical order in relation to the day baked. If you notice that all of the tabs are white, take a closer look. Some plastic tabs have baked dates printed on them. It’s amazing what you learn by talking to a grocery store manager.
While we’re on the subject of freshness, check the dates on every item before you buy it. It’s pretty common sense but you wouldn’t believe how much wasted food you’ll go through in a year (or even a month) because of forgetting about the expiration dates. For foods like meats and produce, use some of these helpful hints to choose the freshest ingredients possible:
- How to Choose Fresh Meat
- The Produce Worker’s Guide to Choosing Fruits and Vegetables
- 5 Ways to Keep Food Fresh
A lot of my Dad’s job had to do with stock rotation. Move the older stuff to the front and put the newer stuff in the back. Just like a grocery store, you should be rotating the stock in your pantry and refrigerator. Newer food should go to the back and older food should come to the front. That way, you end up using up the ingredients you need before they expire. There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a recipe only to find out that those tomatoes you were planning on using are way past their prime.
Often, we end up going out and buying more of something because we didn’t know we had it. This is how we end up with 16 cans of green beans and only 1 can of peaches. Make things easier on yourself and cut back on those unnecessary purchases (and wasted food) by putting your food out on display or at least making it easier to see. Think about grocery aisles: everything is neat, organized, and visible. Simplify your pantry by organizing it in a system (e.g. canned foods on this shelf, cereal on this shelf, etc.) and avoid overfilling. An overstuffed pantry or refrigerator usually means something will get left behind – and discovered in a sticky, smelly, or not-so-pleasant way weeks later.
If you’re an obsessive list maker, this is a frugal tip you’ll absolutely love. Make an inventory of your pantry and refrigerator and as you use items, update your inventory so you know exactly what and how much you have. When grocery shopping day comes, you’ll have a much better idea of what you really need. Plus, having an updated inventory makes menu planning easier during the week.
We’re all offenders when it comes to storing food incorrectly. We forget to put things away. We leave the milk out too long. We put our fruits and veggies out as centerpieces instead of putting them where they’re supposed to be. Temperature, air, light, moisture, smells, and critters are to blame for food spoilage. Some of these things can’t be avoided, but more often than not, we can take the right steps to delay spoilage from the start. Less wasted food means less wasted money, so start out by practicing smarter food storage. Here are some great resources that can help you hone your storage skills:
- Kitchen Tricks to Keep Food Fresh
- How to Keep Fruits and Veggies Fresh
- How to Store Pantry Food for Maximum Shelf Life
It can be unusual thinking of your kitchen as a grocery store, but in a way, they really do have quite a bit in common. Save for people like my Dad coming in to stock the shelves every day.