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How much do you waste on food?

According to a study in the UK, not wasting any food will place you in a minority: apparently households waste on average £650 ($1,021) worth of food per year. I will be very surprised if the waste in the US is less although finding comparable data was not possible. Reading this I felt, I believe, rightful indignation; for three reasons.

My first thought (and reason) was that we live in a strange world where 80% of the population doesn’t have enough to eat and 20% consistently over eat. In the light of this distribution, wasting so much food sounds really morally wrong and irresponsible.

Secondly, I started thinking about all the things this money wasted on food could be used to buy. For my family, this is a very generous trip to Bulgaria to see family. There are so many good uses and causes this money could be put to but instead it is wasted on food.

And thirdly, about 19% of the waste in landfills is food which can’t be good for the environment. Biodegradable, true; but food rotting in landfills contributes to global warming.

Right, after raging and raving for some time (this is my temperament) I was calm enough for reason to return. Then I remembered that not even three years ago we wasted loads of food which tells me two things: a) that the practice is really rife; and b) that people can mend their ways if they have a ‘crisis’ and some information. Whilst I cannot help with the crisis (this is entirely your own affair, I am afraid) I can tell you how we stopped wasting food.

I remember the days when we will go to a super market, pile the trolley with random foodstuff, go home put it away, look at each other and think: what shall we have for dinner. This question far too often changed into ‘where shall we have dinner’. As a result, we not only wasted the shopping we had already done but also used to spend a lot on eating out. I will never know exactly how much we wasted this way but I am confident that changing things cut our food bill in half; and we don’t throw food away – ever.

Link menu planning and shopping

We implemented a three step programme, including: cooking from scratch, menu planning and linking our shopping list to the menu. We menu plan for the month but keep the record weekly – this way we shop for perishable food every week. Here is an example:

Saturday  Lunch: Soup and homemade breadDinner: Homemade pizza
Sunday  Lunch: Ham, salad and homemade breadDinner: Roast chicken
Monday  Orange pork
Tuesday Lasagne 
Wednesday  Soup and cheese on toast
Thursday  Olive Ragout
Friday  Pork chops and chips



  • Ham
  • Chorizo for pizza
  • Cold meats
  • Chicken
  • Peppers
  • Shallots
  • Salad
  • Fruit
  • Butternut squash
  • Sweet potatoes

This way, we make sure that all that has been bought is used.

Create stores

We started stocking up on two types of food: staples which go in our store cupboard and meat that goes in the freezer. With the stores it works in reverse: we take into account the stores to plan the menu (and consult the whole family, of course).

Batch cook

In a previous life we used to buy loads of ready meals. Now we prepare our ‘ready’ meals by always cooking more than we need for one meal and freezing the rest. Apart from that we cook and freeze soups and these make very nice lunches during the week – at home or in the office.

Do you waste any food? Do you have any tips for not wasting?

34 thoughts on “How much do you waste on food?”

  1. Wow! That makes me think again. Over the last few years, we have been reducing our waste. Increasing our use of local food, and decreasing our use of fossil fuels by ‘Cook once, eat twice’ (at least).
    It works well for us as we are both, technically, retired and so, working from home, have some leeway on what and when we eat. Will this work for people who are time constrained but who are contributing to the wider economy?

    Will this work in time to ward off the disaster scenario at the extreme end of the forecasts?

    I don’t know.

    What I do know is that I am doing the best I can. I have in mind my children, my grandchildren and my (hypothetical) great-grandchildren. What else can I do?

    • @PatMac: I think this will work for emloyed people – ‘cook once, eat twice’ is what we do and I work full time. Many of my friends cook much more as well. Thing is we have to change the way in which we cook. For me, it is slow cooker, soups during the weekend and meals that don’t take over 30-40 min during the week.

  2. We actually started menu planning a while ago and it really helped us to visualize what we need during the week and what we really eat. We buy exactly what we need plus some snacks and we are all set for the whole week. No brainstorming every night as fas as what’s for dinner. Love it.

    • @Cashflowmantra: What eliminated the waste in our case is cooking (and buying for the meals) and batch cooking (so what is left is frozen for another meal). The only waste comes from eating that much more tha I need to; but then again I married a man who doesn’t put weight on.

  3. We have two 16 year olds at home. Of course we waste food.

    I’m half joking, although we could definitely do a better job. We have spurts where we’re doing a good job and then….we fall back and are at a restaurant again when there’s food waiting at home.

    I think it’s the comedian Jim Gaffigan who talks about taking home food from a restaurant. He says something like: “Waiter, could you wrap this up for us so we can keep it for three more days before we throw it away?”

    • @AverageJoe: No, you can’t be wasting food with two 16 year olds. I remember this age: our sons were like locusts and ate everything in sight. Love the joke!

  4. My wife has used menu planning for decades. She uses the list to do her shopping. She finds it much more organized and it keeps you from buying the less healthy foods. Although my wife does not batch cook because it is the just the two us now, we use leftovers for lunches the next day. Very little if anything is wasted.

    • @Krantcents: Quite right – I don’t cook any Mexican food with chocolate (and loads of it); so it is not on the shopping list. Batch cooking saves quite a lot of time and effort I find.

    • @Aaaron Hung: A friend of mine, a very wise one at that, says ‘Cook once, eat twice.’ Save us buying ready meals as well, because cooking during the week is hard.

    • @Roshawn: It does! But my husband pointed out that it has this effect when eaten as well (remember what the dinosaurs did, LOL) which make the calculation of the net effect really tricky to calculate.

  5. I’m sure if this sort of thing makes you mad, you get especially upset over the fact that many food-producers will strategically hoard food hoping for the markets to go up. It is definitely a financially smart decision at times, but grain especially often goes bad while in silos when market conditions are bad.

    • @SB: My thought exactly. Also, we probaby should do something about the over-consumption matter although becoming a minimalist will be difficult for me. We cannot but try!

    • @SustainablePF: Probably but also there are other factors affecting your ability to plan. I remember when our son was very young we almost leaved off ready meals – there is so much life energy one has and it needs to be targeted appropriately.


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