Yikes! Americans Waste $500-$2,000 A Year On Uneaten Food

You might remember that one of my current goals is to save money by wasting less, so when I saw this article from the Wall Street Journal titled Leftovers: Tasty or Trash you know I had to read it.

The writer states that “the average U.S. family of four spends from $500 to $2,000 a year on food they never eat”.  Wow!  Hopefully some of us frugal types are (in this case) less-than-average, but it’s certainly some food for thought.  We could probably offset the cost of rising food prices by just wasting less.

A few more more interesting quotes from the article:

“Vegetables are the most commonly wasted food in U.S. homes, making up some 25% of avoidable waste, according to CleanMetrics Corp.”

“The number of meals consumed in the home was declining in the U.S. until 2002 and then began to increase, according to NPD Group, a market research firm.”

Image from Leftovers: Tasty or Trash. Click here to read article.

I found the following quote extremely difficult to wrap my brain around – supposedly studies show that when I have lots of food at home, I tend to buy more than when I have less?

“People tend to overestimate what they need at the store when they are well-stocked at home, and to underestimate what they need when they don’t have enough.”

Well, anyway, it was an interesting read.

By way of an update on my goal of wasting less, I can definitely say that I’ve made progress towards developing habits in the kitchen that are helping me not throw away so much food. It’s nothing earth-shattering so I really don’t even have any amazing tips to share; it’s just been keeping my goal in the forefront of my mind at all times.

I can’t really say that wasting less has necessarily saved me hundreds of dollars (or even tens of dollars!) but I do feel like I’m being a better steward of what God’s given me, and as a bonus, I think focusing on wasting less has helped me keep my refrigerator and freezer more organized!



  1. I find it hard to use up produce that isn’t in great condition myself.
    Some of the learning curve about not wasting food is giving up the notion that every meal has to be an event, and every meal is going to make the cover shot of Cook’s Illustrated.

    That being said, you can hide an awful lot in pasta salads.

  2. I myself am guilty of waste. I tend to cook “so that everyone has enough”. Problem is that if I go ever, it ends up in the trash. I can save the left overs, but my husband doesn’t eat left overs and my kids picked up on that and now they don’t like left over either. I promised myself that I would start cooking less, but I’m having a hard time adjusting everything.

    • liz lemon tree says:

      Id say freeze some of it and make soups or add vegetables like spinach to dips. It makes it easier too becuase you dont have to open a whole box of spinach or buy a whole bunch just to make spinach dip.

      You can also blend cilantro or other herbs to make a sandwich, noodle or pizza spread.

      My favorite is home made soups or salad dressings. If you have a magic bullet it is really easy to make. You can use tahini or avocado as a base, add lemon, herbs, red pepper, garlic, green onion, etc. I like to slip in a stalk or two of celery this way or even lettuce into a green goddess dressing. Or even mix some fresh veggies into your favorite store bought dressing to get the family to eat healthier.

    • my sister has a leftover night, I think it’s a good idea plus there’s a lot of things you can make a lot of and freeze so it’s not really like left overs but new :). My hubby doesn’t eat the left overs either so I’ve learned to freeze or envite people over.

    • I know this may not help you much if they just won’t eat leftovers, but sometimes I actually try to cook MORE than enough so that we have enough for another whole meal. (Leftovers are difficult to deal with at our house, too – not because no one likes them, but because EVERYONE likes them and when you have just a little bit of something left, we end up with pouty faces when one kid gets the “favorite” leftovers” and there’s not enough for everyone. It’s easiest to just fix PB&J for lunch for us!)

      If they don’t like the “reheated” part of leftovers, you could make double of something (like a casserole) and just not cook the second pan so that it’s “fresh” the “second” time around.

      • That’s so funny, it’s the same at our house. We “call” the leftovers (my kids are older than yours).

      • See, that’s a great tip! We are a small family, so I always make lasagna into two 9×9 pans instead of one big one, and I put one in the freezer for next time – not even baked. The next time it comes around on the menu, I stick it in the fridge the night before to partially thaw – it’s like having a frozen dinner from the store, except with our own tomatoes and stuff.

        I also make chili in a large enough amount to freeze for other times, but when there’s just a little left, we can use it on baked potatoes for lunch or make chili dogs or something.

  3. liz lemon tree says:

    btw= between my dogs and my chickens i dont have any waste LOL

    • I was waiting for someone to say that! When we built the house, the guy at Regional wanted to know why we didn’t put in a garbage disposal (I think he thought we’d forgotten it on the house plan). I told him I didn’t need one, because I have chickens – God’s original garbage disposal. ;)

  4. veggies, fruits, egg shells make great compost, the bagsads doen’t go fast in our house so they get gross I just add it to the compost.

  5. I don’t plan lunch. It’s ‘whatever is left from last night’s supper’. If there are no leftovers, then we can always make a big salad, have pbj, open a can of soup or something. That helps a lot around here.

    This post made me think of something Hubby read to me just a couple days ago, about how when you garden, and spend ’96 hours raising a tomato, it tastes a lot better’. I think it also helps cut back on waste, because you remember all the time planting, caring for, harvesting, possibly canning or freezing – that tomato.

    • That totally makes sense about cutting back on waste when you work hard to grow your food! And in my experience, it’s *really* hard work to your own food in Colorado, so kudos to you. :)

      • Aww, thanks! It’s not exactly like it was growing up in Illinois. Then again, there aren’t many bugs here! We’ve been at it for about 15 years straight, and we’ve learned a few tricks, but there’s always something new to pick up. I have learned what works for us, and we actually grow well over half our fruits and vegetables for the year – all our potatoes, carrots, onions, green beans, pumpkin, winter squash, summer squash and enough tomatoes for fresh eating in summer and tomato products (canned tomatoes, tomato juice, ketchup, etc.) the rest of the year. Our patch is smallish, but we get enough corn for about 9 mos, and last year I finally figured out cantaloupe and cucumbers! We’ve already got lettuces, chard, onions, spinach and herbs starting for this year.

        We also have an orchard, and except for some fresh stuff in winter it supplies us with all our fruit within reason – apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, plums, sweet and sour cherries (enough for pie fillings, jams, applesauce, etc. too) – but I still buy bananas and pineapple and stuff – and some apples and oranges in winter.

        But I miss blackeye peas, field peas, okra, and some of the other more southern things. And for whatever reason, I really struggle with peppers. I just. can’t. get. them. to. go! Meanwhile, my neighbor up the road has heaps of them :)

  6. I actually noticed myself buying more and more food last week when my fridge and pantry were filled to the brim. I think it’s probably because my brain is overwhelmed by possibilities so I just appease it by buying something I know the kids will eat for sure. But when we have an almost empty pantry we really do just tend to eat what we have. It’s weird.

  7. I often forget what’s in the fridge that needs to be used sooner rather than later. I’ve toyed with the idea of making a list on the fridge with items to be sure and use as a snack or in a meal. I am (perhaps overly) careful about not eating anything that has even the remotest change of having gone bad, and I drive my husband crazy when I throw things out.

    • Sharon, you sound like my mom, LOL. She has a strict three-day rule. I did not inherit that from her, and have more of a one-week rule. :)

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