How Empty Nesters Can Reduce Food Waste

by Gary Foreman

How Empty Nesters Can Reduce Food Waste photo

In a time of rising food prices, it’s wise to reduce food waste, and as a result, grocery bills. But eliminating food waste can be a challenge as you adjust from cooking for a family to cooking for just one or two. These tips can help empty nesters reduce food waste.

Experts estimate that from the farm to your table approximately 25% of food produced is wasted.

Much of that happens getting food from the farm to your grocery store. But much of it happens from the grocery store to your table.

In a time of rising food prices, it’s the wise empty nester that does what they can to reduce food waste and reduce their grocery bill.

When you were little, Mama told you to clean your plate. She might have even made you stay at the table until you did, wanting you to join the clean plate club. But there’s more to eliminating food waste than that. So let’s learn how empty nesters can reduce food waste.

Have a Plan for Using All the Food You Buy

Begin with planning. You might not have a full-blown meal plan before you head to the grocery store, but you should have an idea of what you’ll be cooking and serving. Avoid buying impulse items, especially fruits and vegetables that spoil quickly. No matter how juicy those berries look, you’ll be wasting your money unless you know when and how you’re going to serve them.

The same thing is true for other items that have a longer shelf life. It’s good to have some basic foodstuffs on hand, but a sale item isn’t a value if you already have a six month’s supply in the pantry at home. (See A Grocery Stockpiling Guide: How and When to Save.)

One store technique that could be helpful is to inventory your grocery cart before you checkout. Look at each item and decide if you’ll eat it before it goes bad.

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Use Food Storage Methods That Reduce Food Waste

When you get home, package and store your groceries to maximize the shelf-life. Learn specific methods in our article on Food Storage Practices that Reduce Food Waste.

Frozen items require proper packaging to avoid freezer burn, especially with self-defrosting freezers. You’ll find a number of ideas on How to Prevent Freezer Burn and Ways to Stop Losing Food to Freezer Burn.

Have an Inventory System

Learn to use the FIFO (first in, first out) system for your pantry and freezer. Some people actually use a marker to date cans and boxes before they’re put away. You can accomplish the same thing by putting the new stock in the back and taking from the front. Or putting new items on the left side of a shelf and taking from the right.

Do the same FIFO thing with your freezer. If you have two packages of ground meat, make sure you choose the oldest one first.

Begin keeping a simple inventory of both on your refrigerator and your freezer. The inventory doesn’t have to be fancy. Just keep a list of what’s inside and when it went in. You don’t need to list every item. Instead, just inventory the important ones. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll be reminded of something that would have gone bad without the reminder.

Have a Plan for Using Up Leftovers

Leftovers can be a challenge for most of us. We’ve all had our experiences in turning leftovers into science projects on mold growth. With no kids in the house, we can’t use that excuse. Fortunately, the microwave and freezer can take leftovers from being a problem to being a solution.

Traditionally, we’ve always packaged leftovers by the type of food, keeping leftover roast in one package, potatoes in another, and veggies in a third. A different strategy would be to take a meal-sized portion of each and put it on one paper plate. Wrap it for the freezer and mark what it contains on the outside. You’ve created a single-serve TV dinner! Now when you want to eat but don’t want to cook, you can check the inventory on the freezer door, choose a meal, and pop it into the microwave. Lunch or dinner is served in minutes!

Change Your Cooking Methods

You’re probably not feeding hungry teens and their friends any more, so just cook enough for two or four portions. Look for recipes that freeze well, and serve half tonight and freeze the other half for a later time.

If you miss cooking, find some friends and form a supper club. Take turns gathering for dinner at members’ homes. If some members don’t like to cook, they can “buy out” their turn by providing the groceries for someone else to prepare. Keep in mind that this isn’t a full on dinner party. It’s just a family-style dinner with friends.

Watch Food Waste When Dining Out

Take your food savings outside the home, too. It’s tempting for the empty nested to eat at restaurants. You’ve probably noticed that restaurant portions have grown at the same time your appetite has shrunk. You should plan on taking a “doggie bag” home and adding it to your leftover inventory.

Can you cut your grocery bill by 20%? That depends on how much food you waste. Even if you only save 5%, isn’t it worthwhile? After all, any empty nester knows that Mom would be proud if you were to join the clean plate club!

About the Author

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and

Reviewed April 2023

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