The waste is staggering. The average American family throws out between $1,300 and $2,200 in groceries each year, according to the National Resources Defense Council.
With a growing movement to eat healthier diets full of fresh fruits and vegetables, the flip side is that 25 percent of all wasted food is produce.
Jeanie Ahn of Yahoo! Finance and I set out to find the biggest wastes of money in your refrigerator and cupboard. Our goal: to help us all save money, save time and maybe save the planet, too.
You know the big culprits of wasted food: For example, we don’t plan our grocery lists out, we make impulse purchases (never grocery shop hungry), we take expiration dates too seriously, and we overbuy.
So, let’s look at some of the less obvious ways we waste money on groceries.
Meat: Don’t Buy Fresh
When it comes to meat, Jeanie says, “Unless you are eating it that night, buy frozen.” I check my local grocery store and the skinless boneless chicken breasts are $1 more a pound fresh than they are frozen. Even better, buying frozen in bulk at warehouse stores can offer even more savings.
Buy Frozen for Fruit, Too
If you are putting fresh fruit in your smoothies, you are throwing dollar bills right into the blender. Warehouse stores offer frozen mangoes, pineapples and blueberries at incredibly low prices. My local Costco has three pounds of frozen blueberries for under $10. Fresh blueberries can cost three to five times that amount. Pro tip: Frozen blueberries microwaved for a minute add a healthy and cost-effective sweetener to plain Greek yogurt.
Strictly Organic Can Cost You
Consumer Reports lists organic produce as 47 percent more expensive than conventional produce, but the Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists 15 fruits and vegetables that aren’t as severely impacted by pesticides and fertilizers, and are good options for saving some cash.
The so-called “Clean 15” tend to have peels, husks or outer layers, and include fruits like pineapples, melons, kiwis, grapefruit, papaya and mangoes, and vegetables like cabbage, eggplant, corn, avocados and onions. The EWG writes, “Relatively few pesticides were detected on these foods, and tests found low total concentrations of pesticides on them.” Keep in mind that an analysis of studies listing the antioxidant properties of conventional versus organic produce showed the organic produce had more of the cancer-fighting compounds by 18 to 68 percent. Those reports, however, did not break out the differences by fruit.
The bottom line is, buying all organic is good for you, but making strategic decisions around conventional produce could save you hundreds of dollars each year.
Convenience Costs You More
Individually packaged snacks, especially those in structured packaging, can cost you double. I looked at popular lunch box treats like cookies, chips and crackers. While single-serve bags of chips weren’t much higher priced than the big bags, single servings in structured cardboard or plastic containers was almost double the cost of regular-sized packages. Buying in bulk and putting treats into a wax bag or Bento container for kids' lunches could save a family with two kids $500 a year.
Sometimes Smaller Is Better
One ingenious trick we found was buying produce off the salad bar for recipes that call for small amounts, or when you are cooking for just one or two people. A bunch of celery in my grocery store cost $1.89, but buying the 1/4 cup that the recipe called for directly off the salad bar only cost 80 cents. An added bonus was that the salad bar celery came pre-chopped.
Storing Your Produce: You’re Doing It Wrong
This HGTV video that shows how to properly store your produce rocked my world. They say that onions make potatoes sprout so don’t store them together; treat asparagus like flowers by trimming the stems and putting them in a glass of water; never put tomatoes in the fridge; and garlic likes it dark and should be kept in a paper bag on the counter. Who knew?
Tune into "Good Morning America" for tips on how not to waste money at the makeup counter.