Easy ways to lower your food bills - WBCB: The Valley's CW |

Easy ways to lower your food bills

© iStockphoto.com / Sean Locke © iStockphoto.com / Sean Locke

By Kristen J. Gough
From Completely You 

No idea where you stashed the sour cream? Wondering what's lurking in your veggie drawer? Hidden your aunt's infamous fruitcake behind the milk?

A normally organized refrigerator can quickly become a maze of food items and stuffed shelves. But here's a good incentive to get your fridge under control: Saving money.

The average family of four throws out $1,350 to $2,275 each year in food. I'd rather have a little extra cash, wouldn't you? So how can you keep the food tossing to a minimum?

Check your fridge before you shop.

I have a baby carrot habit. My youngest loves baby carrots, so I usually buy a bag every time I shop instead of looking to see if I really need a new one. I figure, hey, it'll get eaten eventually. Trouble is, we end up with three open bags of baby carrots tucked inside the fridge. Eventually, some end up in the garbage.

Look through and do a mental inventory of what's in your refrigerator before you head to the grocery store to avoid buying more than you need.

Come up with meal plans.

I really try to make a meal plan once a week and then shop once for all of our meals. I find that when I stick to the plan -- and then make a list of ingredients -- I don't tend to buy extras. Better yet, my family uses up all of the food I buy. No wasted food, no lost money.

Skip the fancy ingredients.  

When I'm coming up with meal plans I usually look through a few cookbooks or browse online cooking sites for ideas. Often there's a recipe that calls for an ingredient (or several) that I don't have on hand. Sometimes, I'll go ahead and buy that extra ingredient but lately I've been trying to find substitutions that I know I'll use later.

For example, I use lemon rind as a stand-in for lemongrass. And as much as I like fresh herbs, I often use dried instead, especially in recipes that call for a small amount.

Buy smaller, serve smaller.

Sure, the deal on a 5-pound bag of potatoes might be great but if you only need three potatoes, you'll end up with a lot of extras. Along with buying less, try serving less too. An easy way to serve smaller portions is to use salad plates in place of larger dinner ones. 

Freeze it and use it.

Any guess what food item gets tossed the most? If you guessed produce, give yourself a bowl of cherries! (And if you don't finish those cherries before they start getting mushy, freeze them.)

I often freeze extra fruit and vegetables in small plastic bags. They make great additions in sauces and smoothies. Inside my freezer right now, I've got a bag of blueberries that will probably go into muffins and cherries for a savory sauce to serve over pork chops.

Organize by expiration date.

When I'm refilling my pantry after a shopping trip I try to take a few extra minutes to place items on the shelf according to the expiration date. So the new jars of pasta sauce go at the back of the shelf while the older ones get bumped forward.

Give it away! 

Tis the season, right? If you ended up with more holiday goodies than you could possibly eat, why not wrap up a plate and take it to a friend or neighbor.

Before my neighbor headed out of town for Thanksgiving, she stopped by my house with goodies her family didn't have time to finish. My kids gobbled them up (and now think she's the coolest neighbor ever). So consider boxing up your dinner extras along with those cookies and making someone else's kids happy.

For more great tips on saving money, please visit Ideas That Spark.

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