How to Grocery Shop to Minimize Food Waste
Minimizing food waste begins with examining your grocery shopping and eating habits. If you end up throwing out a big portion of the goods you buy, it could be time to refresh your habits. Start by going to the supermarket after a meal or snack (never go in hungry!) and always bring a grocery list. Not only will you shop more efficiently, you'll avoid going off-list and making impulse purchases. But there are even more ways to make sure you effectively shop for the freshest foods that will last longer when they land in your refrigerator or in your pantry. Here, we tapped two food experts for their grocery shopping tips. Follow their advice to ensure a little extra green in your pocket, as well as on the dinner table.
Don't Buy Pre-Prepared Food
Avoiding products that are already prepared will help you save money and limit your food waste. "Prices increase exponentially whenever a cookery step is prepared by the grocery store," says Dr. Charles Feldman, PhD, professor of nutrition and food studies at Montclair State University, in Montclair, New Jersey. For example, buy whole onions or butternut squash; if they slice or dice it for you, you might pay double. "Markets are not going to slice, or prepare, or cook the freshest, most visually appealing products or utilize them in self-service takeaway bars," he explains. "Particularly for cooked food items, self-service takeaway bars offer markets a venue to repurpose foods that are not attractive by themselves or near their sell-by dates."
Shop Whole Foods
Instead of buying parts of a food product—say chicken breast, for example—buy the whole chicken. "The whole chicken, or its parts could be cross utilized in many different preparations," Dr. Feldman explains. "So, you could have the breast one day, chicken salad the next, and stock or soup the next: nothing goes to waste."
Buy Seasonally and Locally
While you might already shop this way, both Dr. Feldman and Catt Fields White, the founder of San Diego Markets and The Farmers Market Pros, always recommend buying seasonally and locally for optimal freshness. Plus, you can save money along the way. "When every farmers' table is full of strawberries or tomatoes, prices will be lower than when one farm with hoop houses has managed to be the last one in the market season with berries," shares Fields White. If the market is overloaded with in-season stone fruit during your shopping trip, she suggests buying a full box and slicing and freezing the bargain produce to use when the item's peak season is over. "Farmers' market produce is usually picked and packed hours or days before market, so it will stay fresh in your fridge much longer after you get it home," she adds.
Keep a Record of Food Shopping Habits
Dr. Feldman also suggests keeping a record or chart of what you shop for and using it weekly. "Most people do not know what they will be eating the next day or even the same day," he says. "This leads to food over-purchasing and waste—up to 30 percent or more per average household." By taking note of your historical purchasing and preparation habits, you can then adjust your shopping based on your actual needs.
Buy Food in Smaller Amounts
If you notice that you only use a small amount of a perishable item, don't buy a large bag or box of it. Fields White notes that "one of the great things about farmers' markets is that they're exempt from standard packaging favored by big box stores." So, you can buy just one small onion and just a couple of potatoes—and doing so also eliminates food packaging waste.
Schedule Meals in Advance
Both experts agree the best strategy to shop smart and avoid food waste is meal planning. Dr. Feldman recommends scheduling different meals each day for two or three weeks, then repeating this schedule. "This would allow for varied meals, but you would also be able to plan purchases based on a history," he says. From there, you can keep notes on what was not eaten or wasted to decrease your grocery spending costs, waste, and any other unsustainable practices. As Fields White points out, the grocery store is open every day and there's a farmers' market every week in many places, so, ultimately, you don't need to overload your refrigerator and pantry.