Use It or Lose It!

By , SparkPeople Blogger
With a title like "Use It or Lose It," I could be discussing anything from fitness, brain power, or your health spending account.  Rest easy, I talking about food and your pantry.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics the average American spends more than $6,000 on food each year.  Do you know how much food the average American throws in the garbage due to spoilage? We waste 27% of food fit for consumption! That's a lot!
My goal for 2012 is to make small changes in my pantry and ingredients that I buy so that I pitch less food this year.  After taking an inventory of my pantry, refrigerator and freezer, my creative cooking juices started flowing.   I've come up with these "livable and lovable" tips to help you use up your food. 
  • Why purchase an expensive chili sauce when you probably have all the ingredients in house to make your own? All it takes is garlic, red pepper flakes, ginger, and a few other staples. How often do you buy a knob of fresh ginger only to let it go bad in the fridge. This is a great way to use some of it! The best part is that you can add additional ingredients like sesame oil, bell peppers, or yogurt to make it your own recipe.   Check out for my basic recipe here.
  • Just like the book you read as a child, make some stone soup tonight for dinner.  Hold the stones, please.  Start with a chicken or vegetable stock and make a game of it by trying to see how many small partially used bags of frozen vegetables you have in the freezer and make it into a quick and easy soup.  Need a little more flavor?  Try adding the rind of a small piece of Parmesan that you may have in your refrigerator. (Always keep the rind from Parmesan and other hard cheeses. Store them in the freezer and use them to flavor sauces, soups, and stews. Discard before serving.)
  • Need bread crumbs?  Don't waste your money by buying the box brand, make your own--you can even use the heels of bread that no one seems to want to eat.  Place one or two slices of bread on your countertop and allow to dry out for a couple of hours or place in a 200 degree oven for 10 minutes.  Pulse in a food processor until they are the size you are looking for in your recipe.  Made too much?  Bag up the leftovers and place in the freezer.  You can use them to thicken soups or stews.
  • Use up your oils before they go rancid.  Don't buy prepared salad dressings.  Make your own by whisking a ratio of three parts oil into one part vinegar.  Spice it up by adding Dijon mustard, all-fruit jam, or herbs from the garden.
  • Make a bag of odds and ends topping for oatmeal or snacks.  Combine any partially used bags of dried fruits or nuts.

How much food would you estimate that you waste in your household each week? (What percentage?) What is your best tip for cutting down on food waste?
Want healthy recipes from me and fellow SparkPeople members? Be sure to subscribe to SparkPeople's Recipe of the Day email. Click here to sign up!
Did you know SparkRecipes is now on Facebook? Click here to "Like" us!
Want to learn to cook like me? Pick up "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight" today!

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


EVIE4NOW 8/12/2019
I freeze most things. I might have a few veggies or fruit not eaten and not freezable. Report
We seldom throw out food. Veggies that are getting old are sliced & frozen like bell peppers or dried like mushrooms. I make a lot of soups & stews. Hardly ever buy tomato paste; tom sauce works just as well & is more versatile. I plan our meals at home. Big salads a couple times a week so we use lots of mixed produce & left over meat, fish or chicken. Since cutting back the calories we just don't buy as much. One wk it's English muffins & the next it might be rye bread (freeze half) or corn tortillas. Leftover tortillas make killer enchilada casseroles that freeze well. When I buy flour tortillas I get the spinach ones for wraps. If I want a bagel I go get the pumpernickel one I want & enjoy over 2 days. A fruit medley can be dessert or breakfast w/ coconut yogurt or hard boiled egg. Report
Much less in the summer because I have a garden and pick what I need! Report
One thing which contributes to the waste of food is the artificial, unsubstantiated expiration dates manufactures put on their products. There is no standard for the dates used and no FDA requirement from them to be used. The use of the dates is a merchandising ploy to get you to purchase something and not anything with any researched o proven value. Report
I don't throw away a lot, but we do throw away veggies and fruit sometimes. I always buy extra in hopes of getting my family to eat healthier, but my plan usually backfires and the food goes bad. Report
I do the soup trick of mixing up various bits of frozen veggies, I also stir fry veggie left overs to make my own hot side dish. Herb teas that have been sitting around get made into flavorful ice tea. Report
Not only is this a great way to preserve your health, it's also a fantastic money-conserving practice to buy only the food you need to complete recipes for which you already have the major part of the ingredients. Use it up is a great kitchen mantra: it makes you more creative - and possibly a teensy bit wealthier. Report
A good book on the subject of food waste is "Waste" by Tristram Stuart. Not only do we the consumers directly waste food, but further up the supply change there are many factors that cause it as well... Report
I enjoy cooking (not that great at it tho) and love food. I wanted to save shopping money and became a hoarder. Finally my wife had enough and put an end to it, thankfully. I had a large chest freezer filled to the point of having to constantly rearrange food items in order to shut the lid. I had two refrigerator freezers filled to capacity. A closet pantry filled to where I couldn't see half of what was in it without emptying several rows at the front.
I see know that it was more of a compulsion to buy on sale food items in bulk than saving any money. For several weeks I have purchased only foods we constantly use over a short period of time. The rest of the food we need I take from a freezer or pantry. Thus far I had hardly put a dent in my stock piles, but half of the dent I have made is in throwing out expired or freezer burned food items.
For me ideal food purchasing is to buy necessities for the short term and other foods which can be eaten on a meal plan of a few days. This is the only sensible way for me to avoid tremendous waste and save money.
I did this without professional therapy as I would not fear any such practitioner: now my wife is quite a different story Report
We don't throw much away....Heck, I like the heels of bread too. Wasting food is wasting money, so we buy smaller amounts, use it up, buy more. Report
Since living on my own, I throw away very few things. I moved into my house at the beginning of January and the only thing that I needed to throw out was my roommates bad limes and about a cup of milk because I bought a gallon to save money but I didn't drink it quick enough before it went bad and some bagged salad before I smartened up and just saved on buying a head of lettuce that stays fresh longer. So I hardly ever have food to throw out.
Another good way to use up oil before it goes bad is to homemade mayo as it uses about a cup of oil, an egg, ground mustard, and some vinegar. Report
I do most of my cooking for the week on Sunday. Our Thursday night dinner is usually leftovers turned into either soup or frittata. I think a reason for so much waste is that people can be so prissy about leftovers. Some of my friends were discussing leftovers a few days ago on facebook. Some of them said they throw leftovers away the next day. That's ridiculous. When food is properly handled and stored, it can stay wholesome in storage for several days, longer depending on how acidic it is. Report
Great topic! I'd love to make time to read the suggestions, but can't right now.
I also am concerned about the amount of food I end up discarding. When making my grocery list, I plan not only to put the items on the list, but to add the day I plan to make use them in a meal. This will help me support my meal planning efforts. Thanks SP for offering a weekly meal plan and providing the grocery list! So helpful! (And the recipes, of course, that's a given!) Report
If you purchase food from the grocery store that's "not good to begin with" you should be ale to return it for cash or store credit. I have returned raw chicken, bagged salad, even a whole watermelon! They're usually apologetic and helpful. It feels good to get your money back! Report
I used to be a waster, but now, with thought and planning, our family wastes nothing!
I shop once or twice a week, & avoid supermarkets. We have x2 worm farms, we preserve, dry & freeze excess produce from our garden, we swap extra produce w family & friends. My partner makes large batches of tomato sauces with herbs, etc that we freeze in baggies, we use all year. I have tins of lentils & beans on hand so can always whip up a healthy meal in 20 minutes. We have been growing our own food in an urban garden for 3-4 years now and have cut our food bill by %80!! It is worth the time, for your health. Win-win! Report
Because I buy a lot of fresh produce, I go to the store pretty often. So whenever it looks like I'm getting a little 'backlogged' on uneaten groceries, I spend one week every few months or so as "Pantry Week" where I use only what's currently on hand for all 21 meals. Report
I freeze tomato paste in 1 tablespoon lumps - first on a plate, then when frozen, I put them in a baggie in the freezer. I try hard to not waste food - I freeze odd amounts of leftovers for soups or lunches, or, if my garden is too prolific and I can't freeze it - I share with my neighbors! Report
I am bad about throwing things out that just got too old to use. It is usually fresh veggies and fruits this happens with. They looks so good in the store, and even better at the farmer's market, I grab them, and when I get home realize I have more than one person can possibly eat before they spoil. Other things, like beans, flour, oils--with those I am pretty good about planning ahead.

I am going to try your chili sauce, but that brings up one of the things that go to waste all too often: tomato paste. Most recipes only need one or two tablespoons, and there I stand with the rest of the can, and usually nothing to use it in. Once in awhile it will go into something I am making (soup, meatloaf, etc) but more often than not it sits in the fridge until it grows mold, and then gets discarded. Ideas?

As for preserving fresh ginger root: Just got this off Rachel Ray a month or two ago. You can scrape the leftover root with a sharp knife, then put it in a freezer bag and into the freezer. Works for most things, although I think it loses some of its flavor. Report
I DO need to get better. With the skyrocketing price of food and my time at a premium what a waste to go to the store - pick out item - put in carriage - put on check out station - put bags in car - bring bags in house - put food away - and then throw it away later! What a waste! Report
I'm pretty good about not wasting stuff and planning to use everything up that I buy. If it gets close to an expiration date and I realize I won't be able to use it in time I donate it to my church's food pantry. They have a fridge and freezer for perishables too. Report
less than 5%. I am pretty frugal when I buy food. Estimating for what I need for two weeks at a time. If I throw food away, it is usually because it was "fresh" but not good to begin with i.e. bad fresh fruit and veggies. Report