The clean plate club can save you money

Americans lost $100 billion in 2009 by incurring overdraft fees, letting money languish in low-yield checking accounts and overpaying for mortgages.  This kind of thing makes us crazy, but it’s a different $100 billion figure that has caught our attention recently.

In American Wasteland, Jonathan Bloom reckons we waste $100 billion worth of food each year, which we could probably save with a little more attention and planning at the grocery store and in the kitchen.

If you don’t have time to read Wasteland, you can get the gist from Tara Parker Pope’s November 10th column, which cites that a family of four spending $175 per week on groceries squanders more than $40 a week, and $2,275 a year.  Sounds about right—who hasn’t bought beautiful produce on Monday, only to throw it out after busy schedules reduce lofty culinary ambitions to takeout, and fresh vegetables to mush?

But in the new year, you can start getting your $40 a week back, in five simple steps:

  1. Plan your meals before you grocery shop.
  2. Make a detailed shopping list and stick to it.
  3. Serve reasonable portions so food isn’t left on plates.
  4. Save your leftovers, and make sure you store them so they stay good as long as possible—freeze them if necessary.
  5. Eat those leftovers!

Forty bucks a week is a great reason to start putting more thought into your grocery shopping and meal planning, but there are plenty of other reasons too, namely your health and the environment.

Restaurant food and prepared food that we turn to instead of cooking generally aren’t as good for you as homemade meals prepared with whole foods and seasoned by your health-conscious self.

When it comes to the environment, the National Institute of Health reported in 2009 that wasted food accounts for about 300 million barrels of oil per year.  According to New York Times’ food columnist and Food Matters author Mark Bittman’s calculations, a steak dinner for a family of four uses the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving an SUV around for three hours while leaving all the lights in your house on.  Yes, Bittman’s asking us to eat less meat, but throwing less of it out is a good idea too.

Plenty of reasons to start putting more thought into food.  But since this is a personal finance blog, we’ll conclude by reiterating the numbers.  America loses $100 billion a year to food waste!  Your family could be losing $40 a week. That’s $2,275 a year!