Have you taken a good look in your pantry lately? Do you know what’s hiding in the back? What about your freezer? Can you easily recognize each item? Are petrified condiments lurking in your refrigerator?

It’s easy to laugh about these things until we think about what we are throwing away in terms of money spent, food wasted, and what could have been used to help the less fortunate. I heard recently that we Westerners throw away the equivalent of 45 days of food in one year. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Using a few simple steps, we can all cut down our waste, save some money, and help feed hungry people.

The first step is to be honest about your present circumstances. Your pantry should accurately reflect you and your family’s current eating habits. Some questions to think about:
o What is your household like? Include number of people, ages, lifestyle, etc.
o Who does the cooking?
o How much time do you (or the person cooking) have to shop and cook?
o Any dietary restrictions?
o What meals are eaten at home?
o What meals need to be prepared to take to work or school?
o What is your budget?
o What do you and your family like and not like to eat?

Use these questions to develop a food/cooking profile. Mine would look like this: I cook easy-to-prepare meals using a combination of fresh and prepared ingredients for the three of us, including a lactose-intolerant child. We don’t like what I call “foofy” food—gourmet or creative food.

After creating your food profile, it’s time to do a food inventory. Put like items together (condiments, fruits and vegetables, snacks, rice and pasta, etc.). You might be surprised at what you find. One client had well over 50 bottles of spices, and she didn’t even cook.

Let go of what does not fit with your food profile. Swap items with family or friends. Donate non-perishables to charity (remember, most don’t take expired items). Toss spoiled items.

Once you have cleared out your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, it will be easier to maintain them, plan meals, cut waste, and save money. Use the following tips:

• Commit to using what you have before buying more. Determine what meals you can make with what is already in the freezer and cupboard. Remember how your mom wouldn’t buy any more cereal until it was all gone? Don’t ask what your kids want; present them with the available choices.

• Check your freezer and pantry before going to the grocery store. Too often we blindly dump items into our grocery cart, assuming that we need them. Know what you have before you shop.

• Keep food from spoiling by freezing. Deli meat, cheese, baked goods (including bread), and cooked meats can be frozen to preserve their freshness. Freeze meal- or individual-size portion of casseroles to use later when you need a quick meal.

• Don’t let the fresh stuff go to waste. Small amounts of meat, cheese, fruits, and vegetables can be combined in soups, salads, a stir fry, wraps, egg scrambles, and sandwiches.

• Create your own buffet. Why cook another meal when there is already plenty of food in the refrigerator? Figure out how to best reheat your leftovers (which may be on a baking sheet in the oven instead of the microwave). Add a salad for a balanced meal.

• Check with friends and family before tossing. When I buy too much or make something that didn’t turn out the way I expected, I ask my mother-in-law or friends if they want it. I have also taken leftover cookies or crackers to work.

• Keep a grocery bag handy for donations, mistakes, or sale items that you couldn’t pass up. Your local food pantry can always use extra food.

Take control of the food in your home. Determine your family’s food profile. Figure out what you have. Make a list before shopping. Cook with what is available. Cut down on food waste, and save money on groceries. You’ll be glad you did.

©Renee Ursem, 2012

Author's Bio: 

Renee Ursem, Professional Organizer and owner of Get It Together, LLC in Las Vegas, helps people learn how to organize and maintain their spaces using simple, practical strategies.
Renee can be reached at www.get-it-together-llc.com. Find her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/GetItTogetherLLC) and Linkedin.