Food Waste, Money Waste, and a Pantry Challenge

Food Waste, Money Waste and a Pantry Cooking Challenge

You probably don’t think twice about throwing out food that has gone bad. That lonely stalk of celery, the odd russet potato, the last two slices of meatloaf… But turn that food you just threw away into money, that might make you think twice. Food waste is a HUGE problem in the US. According to the USDA, up to 40% of food in America is wasted. That equates to 133 billion pounds (218.9 pounds) or $161 billion. YIKES!!

And it isn’t just food that wasted. Water, labor, fuel, and land were all used in the growing and harvesting of the food that has been tossed into the garbage. Food that ends up in landfills is left to rot. When rotting, food produces methane gas and when calculated globally, accounts for 6% of total greenhouse gas emissions.

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Food waste equals money waste

The average middle income household spends approximately $7000 annually on food. If up to 40% of the food you purchase is wasted (rotting in your fridge, thrown away, uneaten leftovers, etc), you are wasting $2800 a year.

Let me say that again for the folks in the back:


Think of all the ways you could spend that $2800… vacation, paying off debt, saving for a down payment, investing, and so much more.

In short, food waste is money waste. And I don’t know about you, but I hate wasting money.

How do I reduce food waste?

I wish that reducing food waste was an easy answer, but it is not. Here are some of the actions you can take in your own home to reducing the amount of food waste that happens on a daily basis.

Reducing food waste also means you’ll waste less money. Because you are doing some (or all!) of the actions mentioned below, you might see your grocery budget shrink.

Food Waste, Money Waste and a Pantry Cooking Challenge #foodwaste #savingmoney #zerowaste

1. Take inventory of what you already have

So many grocery items get shoved to the back of our pantry, fridge, and freezer that we completely forget about them. The best way to make sure this doesn’t happen is completing a monthly pantry inventory.

Pantry inventory only requires 20 minutes of your time, paper, and a pen. That’s it. Taking inventory allows you to see what’s lurking in the back of your shelf so you don’t buy more and use what you already have.

2. Meal Plan

Meal planning is so important to cut down food waste. Not only do you waste less, but you spend less when you plan ahead. Planning meals in advance doesn’t need to be super fancy, nor do you need to try a new recipe every week. Here are some of my favorite meal planning tips!

  • Use up what’s in your pantry first
  • Make a binder of your family’s favorite recipes and declutter the rest
  • Plan your meals starting a week ahead
  • Designate certain dishes to days of the week (ex. Taco Tuesday, Pasta Wednesday, Pizza Thursday, etc)
  • Make a list of meals at the beginning of the month that you can make what what you already have on hand plus a few things from the store. Place these meals into your weekly meal plans and check them off the list.

For a super simple meal planner, check out my printable HERE.

3. Shop with a list

After you know what’s in your pantry and you’ve made a meal plan, write a list of all the additional ingredients and staples you need for the week. Shopping with a list helps you avoid impulse purchases and save money. Also don’t go to the grocery store on an empty stomach!

If there was an award for list making, I may win it… I check the stores’ websites a week before I go shop so that I can price everything and stay under budget. I write this list next to my list of meals and compare it to my pantry inventory.

4. Use your freezer

You find an awesome sale on onions and buy 10 pounds – great! But are you actually going to use up all 10 pounds of onions before they sprout or go bad? Probably not. Likewise for other produce you might buy in bulk, what do you do with so much?

Unless you have a large family, the truth is that you probably won’t eat up produce you buy in bulk. So learn how to prep and store produce in the freezer.

For example, we were given about 15 pounds of potatoes. FIFTEEN POUNDS. Y’all know how big a five pound bag of potatoes is… so what did we do with what we knew we couldn’t eat? We chopped, blanched, and froze them. Now we have curly fries, steak fries, hash, and potato wedges for months!

A couple of freezing tips:

  • Some vegetables need to be blanched before freezing. A quick Google search of your vegetable and “freezing” should help you.
  • When freezing anything fresh, “flash freeze” it on a baking tray before putting it into a container. So with our potatoes, we laid a single layer out on the tray and stuck it in the freezer for two hours. Then we put them into bags and back into the freezer. Now when we pull them out, they aren’t stuck together.
  • Freeze produces before it gets to its final edible stage
  • Freeze bags of produce flat for easy storage
  • Fill glass jars either to the “fill line” on wide mouth jars or to the shoulders on regular canning jars

5. What to do with “last leg” produce

That produce that gets left to the last second might easily make its way to your trash can unless you get creative. Food waste stops with your creativity! Here are some ideas to take care of those wilty items:

  • Make vegetable stock
  • Chop and simmer fruit with sugar to make a yummy syrup for pancakes and waffles
  • Chia jam is delicious and can last a while in the fridge (this could work with any fruit)
  • Jelly is another option
  • “What’s Left in the Fridge Soup” – chop and simmer vegetables and pasta (like minestrone soup) in a big pot on the stove and serve with crusty bread
  • Freeze wilting herbs in ice cube trays with olive oil. Once frozen, put them in an air-tight container and use for cooking as needed.

6. Get creative with leftovers

Leftovers don’t need to the the same thing over and over again. Repurpose them to make new dishes your family will love (and won’t even know they’re leftover!).

  • Spaghetti and meatballs >> meatball subs
  • Spaghetti and meatballs >> cheesy meat and pasta bake
  • Shredded chicken tacos >> shredded chicken pizza
  • Shredded chicken tacos >> shredded chicken pasta bake
  • Chili with cornbread >> baked potatoes with chili and other toppings
  • Chili with cornbread >> chili pie
  • Shredded chicken tacos >> fried rice with chicken

The possibilities are endless when it comes to repurposing leftovers.

If you aren’t one to eat leftovers and you can’t learn to love it, then try a different approach. Maybe cut back on the amount of food you make to begin with. Or have the main dish be small and have two different side options. Either way, that will help you reduce food waste.

7. Substitute when needed

I am not a huge fan of buying an ingredient at the store just to use a third of it in a recipe. What the heck should I do with the rest of it?? Or did I even need that ingredient in the first place?

We were vegetarian for over five years. We learned really early on that vegan/vegetarian food bloggers love to have lots of one-off ingredients. So instead of buying whole packages of these random ingredients we didn’t know if we’d use again, we substituted similar items.

It’s the same for any way you cook. Seasonings and spices can get expensive. Jars of small diced whatevers will probably go to waste after the first use. Instead try to find ingredients already in your pantry that can take the place of what the recipe calls for. Even eggs! Replace an egg with 1 tablespoon of chia seeds soaked in 3 tablespoons of water for 10 minutes.

To reduce food waste and save a ton of money, we normally don’t follow recipes! We make food from scratch in our home using what we have on hand. The type of recipe (curry, tacos, pasta, etc) guides us on how to season and cook the meal.

A pantry cooking challenge!

I challenge you to a pantry cooking challenge! What does this entail?

  • Take pantry inventory
  • Meal plan around what you already have
  • Purchase minimal ingredients and “extras” each grocery store trip
  • Use up leftovers

The goal is to eliminate food waste from your vocabulary for an ENTIRE month. That means taking all these awesome tips from this post and putting them into action. For the month of September, we actually stayed on budget for groceries (which hasn’t happened in a while)!

So start now and make a plan with what’s left in your pantry at the end of this month. How little can you buy to make meals your family will love?

What are some of your favorite ways to reduce food waste (and money waste) in your home?

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  1. The dollar amount is really eye opening. I’ve heard the percentage before but not put together and turned into a vacation — that’s what will motivate me! The best way I’ve found to reduce food waste is planning meals, which I do anyway for dietary reasons (and I hate having to go to the store more than once a week). Thanks for all the ideas and reminders!

    1. That money wasted hopefully opens people’s eyes to just how much we toss out!

  2. What an amazing post! Super helpful and eye opening! Thanks for sharing and I will definitely need to start taking inventory of all that’s in my fridge so I don’t lose what gets shoved into the back! Thanks so much!

    1. I’m so glad you found this useful! Good luck using up all that’s in your fridge!

  3. Great way to save money. Meal prep is also a good idea if you don’t want to waste food.


    1. Meal prep is SO GOOD. Taking that extra hour or so at the beginning of the week to prep veg, spice blends, etc really makes sure you don’t let anything go to waste.

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