How To Save Money on Food: Use Garbage
Lots of people are looking for ways to stretch their food budget, and in addition to using coupons and looking for sales (which are excellent ideas), you might also consider using garbage. Yes, you can save money on food if you use garbage.
Do I mean real garbage?
The critical thing to understand here is the meaning of “garbage.” I am referring to food that is perfectly safe to eat but that you might normally throw away because you think it’s not usable.
If you recognize these food items and learn what you can do with them, you can stretch your food dollars and even grow food from garbage. Caveat: I am not promising you will save lots of money, but as my mother used to say (and probably your mother, too) every little bit counts.
There are also other benefits to using so-called garbage to save money and grow food:
- The satisfaction of knowing you are creatively frugal
- If you involve your kids in the process, it’s a great learning experience for them
- You may get to play in the dirt (not a plus in everyone’s book, but it was fun when we were kids, right, so why not now too?)
- You will be helping reduce the amount of wasted food. Wasting food is a crime!
Ways to save money on food using garbage
The following suggestions cover a wide range of possibilities, from short-term to long-term results, and ideas that can be great fun for your kids as well as yourself.
Save citrus rinds: You can use lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit rinds to make infused water, which is now all the rage and so much better for you (and your kids) than expensive, sugar-laden soda. Refer to these recipes and tips on how to make your own inexpensive and healthful infused water.
Grow veggies from garbage: You may be throwing away potential produce: the ends of romaine lettuce and celery stalks, garlic and ginger, potato eyes, and other parts of veggies. The fact is, you can grow new veggies from the parts that you may normally toss in the trash by following a few simple instructions.
For example, when using green onions, take the white ends that have the stringy roots and place them in a container with water. Leave the top of the plant above the surface of the water. Put the container on a window sill. The green portion of the onion will grow back, and you can harvest them while the base of the onion continues to grow. Be sure to change the water every few days.
Revive stale cereal, crackers, cookies, and chips: If your breakfast cereal, crackers, cookies, or snack chips get soggy or stale, don’t throw them away. Revive them by placing them in a microwave for about 30 seconds. (Do not use a plastic container: ceramic or glass is best.) An alternative is to place them in a 425 degree oven for 2 to 3 minutes.
Salvage veggie tops: No, the green tops of beets, radishes, and turnips are not garbage: they are nutritious, delicious food! If you or your kids will not consider eating steamed beet, radish, and turnip greens (which taste great), then chop them up and add them to soups and stews.
Reuse your leftovers: If you have leftover veggies, rice, pasta, and/or beans, don’t throw them away! Immediately after the meal, place them in airtight containers and put them in the refrigerator. You can use them in a quick, easy, and inexpensive soup. Just add them to a simple vegetable broth and you can have a full-bodied soup in minutes. Leftover veggies and beans also are a great addition to a green salad or as pita stuffers.
Savor ripe fruit: Don’t toss out overly ripe fruits. Remove any obviously bad spots and use them to make smoothies or fruit ice pops. For example, if you suddenly find you have too many ripe bananas, put them in the freezer in an airtight container. Later, process them in a food processor to make a type of “ice cream” of creamy bananas, to which you can add nuts, syrup, or other favorite toppings.
Save your milk: If you know you have too much milk and won’t use it up before it goes bad, freeze it. Put it into airtight containers and leave about 1.5 inches of space at the top to allow for expansion. Thawed milk is better for cooking, baking, or making smoothies than it is for drinking straight. Be sure to shake is up well before using as it thaws.
Reuse seeds from veggies and fruits. You can save the seeds from certain vegetables and fruits to dry and plant later (a great task for kids) to start a garden without needing to buy seeds. The seeds from bell pepper, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, and eggplant typically can be easily and successfully saved if you follow a few instructions.
Use leftover mashed potatoes and oatmeal: When your kids don’t finish their oatmeal, you don’t have to throw it away (although you might give it to your dog). Instead, made pancakes and another great meal idea! Here’s a simple recipe for using leftover oatmeal. If the oatmeal already contains fruit or nuts, all the better.
1 ½ cups leftover oatmeal
¾ cup low-fat milk or soymilk
2 Tbs melted butter
½ cup wheat flour
½ tsp salt
1 slightly beaten egg or equivalent egg substitute
1 tsp baking powder
In a bowl, slowly add the milk to the oatmeal and stir well. Add in melted butter and egg. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the oatmeal combination. In a preheated skillet treated with spray oil, spoon the oatmeal mixture and cook until the cakes have bubbles, then turn them over. Brown lightly and serve.
The bottom line
I have a general rule in my kitchen: if I realize something will not be used before it will go bad, I freeze it or find a way to use it up in a recipe I can freeze. Breads and other baked goods, veggies (I blanch them and then freeze them), fruits (airtight bags), and opened jars of sauces and condiments are promptly dated and frozen.
Many a small package of frozen veggies have later made their way into an omelet, beans have been refried, or thawed bread has been transformed into stuffing or croutons. Bell pepper plants from saved seeds are blooming right now in my garden. You can save yourself money and be creative at the same time if you use garbage when you prepare meals.
Read more about why wasting food is a crime