Do you want to save money? Then believe me when I say you need to “Cut your food waste!”. Buy only what you need, when you need it. Simplify your life and plan ahead. I’m still amazed to think that we have been living in Almuñécar, Spain for a little over a year. The time has gone by so fast and we have settled quite easily into our simplified life. I think back to some of my shopping habits prior to moving here and I can’t believe how much “waste” was in our daily lives.
Life for us in the USA – full of food waste
Each weekend, I would plan out the meals for the week and head to the store to buy all of the groceries. If items were on sale, I would sometimes purchase extra because it was a good deal. I would often buy frozen food and stock up the freezer, so we would always have “last-minute” or “quick meals” at the ready. When I returned home from shopping the pantry shelves, freezer and fridge were packed full! I also would impulse buy and if something looked good, I would buy it “for later”.
Even though I planned the meals in advance, life would take over and things wouldn’t always go as planned. Perhaps there was a school event or some other occasion that would have us eating out or changing our plans. Sometimes I would have to work later than usual and our schedule would be thrown off, then I wouldn’t have time to prepare the planned meal. And yes, many times I just didn’t feel like cooking or we weren’t in the mood to eat what we planned.
This was our regular routine and without fail each and every week we would throw away food. Before going grocery shopping I would “clean out” the pantry, fridge and freezer. I would throw away those misfit items that expired or went bad. It may have been fresh produce that was at the back of the drawer or something that had expired because it wasn’t within eye shot when opening the door. We had food buried in the freezer for months and we would “discover” it, only to find it had freezer burn. Sometimes the weekly food waste would take up nearly half of the kitchen garbage can.
You see, I do the shopping so I am well aware of what we have in the house. The rest of the family works more on the visual level. If they open the pantry, fridge or freezer and can’t see it without moving anything else,then it is less likely to be eaten. If items need to be moved to see it, it lives in its little spot for a long time. “Outta sight, outta mind”. I would try to organize things so that most items were visible, but it still didn’t prevent the weekly waste. What does your pantry look like? Do you have those 5-year-old canned goods in the back too?
Our life today
I can say that not only have our habits changed since living in Spain, but our food waste is pretty much non-existent (Nada, Zilch, Zero)! Okay, there may be a little, we aren’t perfect, but it is very rare. The grocery stores here don’t have much in the way of variety. Space is limited here in Spain and that includes refrigerator and cabinet storage space. Thus, when purchasing items there aren’t usually any “super sized” items to buy. If you want ketchup, there may be 2 different types and each with one size. These are just two of the cultural differences that have helped us simplify our life and cut down on food waste.
We also found there is very little available in the way of ready meals or pre-made food/mixes. There is one small freezer section at our store in Spain, not 3-4 aisles like in the USA. All of this was a pain in the side when we first moved here, and it was laborious to have to make every single meal. I kept thinking “Why don’t they have frozen meals?” (Well, they do have some, but very few). What I end up doing is making “extra” when I am cooking a big meal. Take chicken tacos for example. I cook double the chicken, shred it and then set half of it aside and prepare it for freezing. That way I have something at the ready for those days when I don’t feel like cooking. An added bonus, we have fewer left-overs going to waste.
So what new habits do we have in place to help?
Tips to help simplify your life, with less waste
- Stop stocking up on everything. It isn’t the end of the world, you won’t wither away if you don’t have a week’s worth of food in the fridge.
- Buy only what you need, what you know you will use.
- Shop every 2-3 days. Quick stops at the store more frequently are helpful for us. We only buy what we plan to eat that day or no more than 2 days out.
- Shop with a list. This should help with your impulse buying. I go with a shopping list in hand and buy what is on that list.
- Avoid shopping when you are hungry. Have snacks handy (almonds, granola bar, dried fruit, etc), so if you are shopping after work or when hungry you can have a quick snack to avoid the extra purchases.
- Buy Fresh. We buy 90% fresh food, very little is frozen or pre-made or processed. This is difficult with busy schedules, but if you plan ahead it can be done.
- Don’t fill the shelves! Make sure your pantry, fridge and freezer are no more than 50-75% full. Keep all items visible by the entire family.
- Cook double and Freeze half. It isn’t usually extra work to throw a few more chicken breasts on the grill or double that lasagna recipe. Once it is cooked, immediately take half of it and freeze.
- Limit the choices. If they are hungry, they will eat it! Too many choices can lead to random snacking. If there isn’t much to choose from and they are hungry, they will eat what is available!
If you follow these tips, you will likely have less food waste. It takes time getting used to shopping more frequently and making more meals, but it works. We aren’t “throwing away” food/money!
Enjoy some of our other Money Saving Tips.