One Easy Way To Reduce Food Costs

reduce food costsAfter years of eating too many of my meals out (and after many prods from the owner of this blog, who constantly made fun of me about it), I have become one of those guys who eats the majority of his food at home.

And honestly, it was my own stupid fault. I didn’t realize that cooking was ridiculously easy if you stick to the basics and have the internet explain things to you. Sure, I can’t pickle a yam, but I can cook a decent chicken, steak, or meatball. Add some vegetables, and that’s a meal. It takes mere minutes away from my schedule, leaving plenty of additional time to squander.

Now that I’m buying a few hundred dollars in groceries per month, I’m conscious about food waste in order to reduce food costs. I’ll go to the store and load up my cart with fruits and veggies, with the plan to eat healthy for a change. A week later, I’ll still have half the produce in the bottom of my fridge, rapidly approaching the best before date.

It’s not a good scenario. Which is why I learned to ignore best before dates, and you should too.

Remember, they’re only a suggestion

A few years ago, I sold potato chips for a living. You’ve heard of the brand.

Part of the agreement the company had with the stores was any chips past the best before date would get pulled off the shelf, with the customer getting credit for their cost. I’d take the expired bags with me, where they’d either eventually be eaten by me or people I knew, or thrown out. Most of the time, those chips hit the trash.

Take it from someone who ate more than his share of expired potato chips. I just about guarantee that the average person couldn’t tell the difference between a bag that was fresh and a bag that was just recently expired. Eventually they’d start to taste stale a few months after the best before date.

What was interesting is the difference between different chip companies. One of Canada’s major chip brands has an 8-week shelf life. The other one has 13 weeks. There might be minor differences between the two production processes, but that’s it.

Why is that? Most people think best before dates are set by the government, or at least by a central body. They determine the shelf life on something, take off a week or two just in case, and slap a date on there. But in reality, it’s the manufacturers who police themselves.

The system works well. The last thing a chip company wants is to have you crack open a bag of rippled and see a substandard product inside. They know better than anyone the shelf life for chips, so they date the product accordingly. The difference in dates has more to do with internal product control than it does with being able to eat it.

How you can save cash when you reduce food costs 

The last thing anyone wants you to do is ignore best before dates completely, or else I’ll start getting angry emails from someone who choked down some yogurt from 1998.

Instead, view them as sort of a suggestion. Meat, dairy, and produce go bad faster than anything packaged, so I’m always more careful around perishable stuff. Even if it’s a day or two before the date, I’ll still give something a sniff before I consume it, just in case. But often, I can get away with eating that stuff up to a few days after the best before date. As long as it smells okay, I’m good to go.

Meat is easy to extend too, since just about every kind can be frozen without incident. You’ll only want to keep it for 60-90 days though, since after that it’ll start to get freezer burnt. You can even freeze certain kinds of fruits and veggies too.

But when it comes to packaged stuff, I say you don’t have to be very careful at all, especially if it has been sealed the whole time. There’s so many preservatives in that stuff you can go nuts weeks or even months after the best before date.

By selectively consuming food after the expiry date, you can easily save money and reduce food costs. We already throw out too much food, there’s no need to add to that pile.

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What To Do with the Extra Produce from Your Garden

One of the best ways to enjoy fresh food is to grow a garden. There’s plenty of fresh food to enjoy during the summer, and it doesn’t cost very much when you grow it yourself.

But what happens when you have extra produce? You don’t want it to just rot. The good news is that you do have some options for making use of it. Here are some ideas for using the extra produce in your garden:

Give It Away

You don’t have to just try to get rid of squash; you can give away other produce as well. Your neighbors will appreciate peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, corn, and other produce. If you have a lot of extra produce, share it with the people you know. They will enjoy it, and you don’t have to see it go to waste.

Another option is to find out if the local soup kitchen accepts donations of fresh produce for what they make. The local food bank might accept it as well. Being able to provide a service for your community, as well as food for your own table, can be very satisfying.

Sell It

Of course, you don’t have to give it away. You could decide to sell it. If you have kids, this can be a great way for them to earn a little extra money. Have a “farm stand” set up so that they can sell your extra produce. You can also consider whether or not it makes sense to take the extra to a local farmer’s market. Some markets charge a hefty sum for participation, so it might not make sense if you don’t have a lot of produce. Consider your options, and figure out what makes sense for your family. Selling your extra yield could mean a little extra cash in your pocket.

Preserve It For the Winter

Just because you don’t eat it during the summer doesn’t mean that you can’t eat it some other time. You can preserve most fresh produce with the right processes. A number of fruits and vegetables can be bottled or frozen. You keep the nutrients and most of the flavor, and you can enjoy your garden even during the winter.

There are also ways to preserve your produce in other forms. When we have a lot of apples, we make applesauce and pie filling. It’s a fun way to preserve all those extra apples. You can also turn extra tomatoes into spaghetti sauce or salsa.

Dehydration is another good way to preserve some of your produce. Many fruits can be dehydrated and stored, or made into fruit leather. I like to dry my herbs and use them year-round. They are tasty, and it saves me having to go to the store when I want herbs.

There is no reason to throw out any of your produce. If you must, turn it into compost. But, really, you are better off giving it away, selling it, or preserving it for use later.

What do you do with extra produce from your garden?