It’s always interesting to observe what other people are buying while at the check out line in the grocery store. You can learn a lot about how people live just from looking at what’s moving down that conveyor belt! But it’s also enlightening to hear what people say about their supermarket purchases, as well. The other day at the check out line, I overheard a woman making conversation with the lady behind her. “My husband doesn’t like any of the snacks I buy, but eats them anyway and then he complains about how much money I spend on groceries. Why does he think I’m here so often?!” The small talk was all in lighthearted jest, and I’m sure the woman doesn’t mind that much that her family gobbles up everything she buys, even if it makes her go to the store a lot. After all, we all have mouths we need to feed, and sometimes it seems like they are endless pits that are never satiated!
But the woman’s joking comment reminded me of how often it seems like the main grocery shopper in a family gets frustrated with how much food the rest of the family members go through. We all need to eat, especially those growing teenagers, but could it be more that spouses and children are being wasteful about the food in the house, which just makes the shopper have to go to the store more and more? This is an issue that can be fixed! If you feel like you provide enough food for your family but they somehow tend to plow through everything uncontrollably, here are a few easy ways to help everyone get on board with eliminating waste when it comes to the food you buy. You’ll save a ton of money and get a handle on your household’s food consumption in no time!
1) Make it a Team Effort: This is the most important rule when it comes to not spending a fortune at the grocery store as well as not wasting precious food. Everyone in the household has to be on board. Do you pack leftovers for lunch but are married to someone who gets take out every day? Does your spouse make the kids one thing for dinner but if they don’t like it, will prepare a second meal? It’s hard to change people, but when it comes to financial priorities, some things are not negotiable. Have a family meeting to discuss what your goals are in terms of being a bit more conservative about food consumption. Stress to your family members the impact that being mindless with food can have (for all my tips on avoiding food waste in general, as well as scary statistics about how much money a household throws in the garbage when they waste food, click here). Someone is going to have to become sort of a “food watchman,” a family member in charge of overseeing the input and output of food in the house. This might fall to you, or it might be fun to assign this job to a kid who likes leadership roles. The food watchman’s job is to keep an eye out for food that is being wasted, as well as reminding the rest of the family what perishable stuff needs to be eaten soon.
2) Stick to Snack Rules: Yes, kids (and everyone) need snacks, but that doesn’t mean that the pantry should be a free-for-all. Whether or not you believe in designated snack times, or if children are allowed to graze throughout the day, you can still set up some guidelines that the family needs to stick to. This can be as simple as not allowing your family to open a new box of a dry snack like crackers or chips until an-already opened one is completely finished. This is why things go stale and hence, why things get wasted! Nobody wants to eat that little handful of Cheez-Its that have gone soft and gross in the pantry. In my own household, no one is permitted to start a new cereal until the first one is totally gone. It might sound harsh, but this will prevent food from going stale and compel everyone to actually eat what is already available. If you follow my guidelines for saving money by shopping less, you already know not to stock your house with a ton of stuff at once. But I get it, sometimes I’ll stock up on dry snacks if the price is right, too! If this is the case, you can always hide a few new boxes of things until opened snacks are finished. Seriously. For more tips on organizing your pantry, click here.
3) Label Food by Priority: Perishable priorities - this is the phrase that we live by in my house. It means that every day, you are making an effort to eat and utilize the most perishable food in the house, and prioritizing your meals and snacks around what’s most perishable in order to not waste anything (for instance, snacking on raspberries first and saving the apples for later in the week). For tips on menu planning with this in mind, click here. This is the heart of frugal eating and shopping, and how you’ll learn to not spend a fortune at the grocery store. You can make this habit easy for your family by spelling things out for them. For example. when I get home from the store, I check the expiration dates on the yogurts I’ve bought, and number them with a marker based on what’s going to expire first. You can do this with lots of things. Encourage your family to eat them in order. Organize your fridge so that produce to be eaten first is in the front, and move things you’ve just bought to the back. You can even make a daily “Things That Need to Be Eaten Soon” Post-It to leave in the kitchen so your family knows. I know all of this may sound a tad silly written out, but I promise you – it is not silly, time-consuming, nor difficult to do in real life, and it is how you will save money in the long run. Spending five minutes a day inventorying the house’s supply of food pays off big time!
4) Give Them Some Perspective: It’s sometimes easy to forget how many individuals are food insecure and downright hungry out in the world. When you take some time to think of others who are not as lucky as you might be in terms of having food, it helps everyone appreciate what’s in the fridge and actually eat it. For ways to include your children in helping the hungry, see here.
5) Love Leftovers: I don’t know when eating leftovers became something to begrudge, but it certainly shouldn’t be. Sorry, this is one of those non-negotiable things I mentioned above. Repeat after me: eat leftovers, eat leftovers, eat leftovers! Your household grocery budget will not decrease if your other family members are not in agreement about this. Those three extra chicken nuggets, scoop of rice left in the pot, and half a yam that no one wanted at dinner? Yep, that’s someone’s lunch the next day. And once you start realizing how much money you’re saving by doing so, everyone will learn to love and look forward to them. If you don’t eat what’s already in the house, what you’ve already made, or what you’ve brought home in a take out container, you are literally throwing money in the trash.
Finally, be realistic about what your family’s food needs are and adjust your shopping as necessary. Track patterns and make sure you are only supplying things that your family truly does enjoy and eat. It’s great to introduce new foods and try recipes, and it is important to encourage trying new healthy things, but a lot of food can be wasted if you do this to excess. I think it’s a very common thing, especially among good-intentioned moms, to have some anxiety over making sure our kids are always well fed and that food doesn’t run out. But it’s OK to calm down about this a little. Your children will not starve if you don’t have forty different snacks in the kitchen to meet each of their needs. Learning to use up what you already have and not have too many choices is good for all aspects of life. Not having everything you could ever want breeds creativity and gratitude, even if it’s just about how else you can make a sandwich when the bread runs out. So good luck, and remember, it is a team effort!