Knocking money off your grocery bill may not be easy, but it can be done. By using coupons, planning your meals, and shopping regular sales, it’s not that hard to whittle your food bill down a notch or two.
Still, you can often save even more with a very basic technique: Reducing food waste. By eating leftovers, using up foods before they go bad, and repurposing everyday ingredients, you won’t have to buy as much at the store.
Beyond saving money, reducing waste is also a good move for humanity. By reusing food that’s about to go bad, we can keep good food out of landfills and reduce the constant strain we put on the planet. Around one third – or 1.3 billion metric tons – of food produced for human consumption is wasted around the world each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Sadly, fruits and vegetables – the very foods that provide the bulk of our nutritional needs – are the most likely to end up in the trash.
While we can’t change global trends, we do have some power over what happens in our own homes. Here are eight ways to reuse, repurpose, or save expiring produce so it doesn’t end up in your local landfill:
#1: Make vegetable soup.
Vegetable soup is a great catch-all for your expiring veggies – and they don’t even need to start wilting all at once. Just keep a large Ziploc bag in your freezer and add to it whenever you’ve got produce that’s about to go bad. That way, you’ll have a great start to your soup when you’re ready.
Each time a vegetable – tomato, carrot, zucchini, onion, etc. – gets to the point where it only has a few days left, take the time to wash it, cut it up, and throw it in your freezer bag. The next time you’re ready to make soup, simply throw your frozen vegetables in with the rest of your garden goodies. Simmer with vegetable stock and/or tomato juice, add your favorite seasonings, and your soup is good to go.
#2: Add bananas or zucchini to bread or muffins.
Save your zucchini and bananas for bread or muffins. You can add either to almost any dessert bread recipe, and you can freeze them beforehand.
When my summer garden went nuts this summer, I made way too much of this simple zucchini bread recipe. I wouldn’t say it’s healthy, but it is oh-so-good. You can add overripe bananas to any banana bread recipe of your choosing, or even add them to a premade banana bread mix from the store.
#3: Make a smoothie.
Smoothies are a great way to use – and hide – your expiring produce. The key, as above, is freezing your produce before it expires, washing it, then cutting it up ahead of time.
Add your favorite fruits and vegetables together in a blender along with some soy milk, almond milk, or yogurt. Mix and add ingredients like honey or frozen fruit until it reaches your ideal flavor and consistency, then suck it down it right away.
Also keep in mind that smoothies offer a wonderful opportunity to trick your kids into eating nutrient-rich vegetables. Throw some kale or spinach into a delicious smoothie and they’ll never know.
#4: Start a compost bin.
Composting is a great way to put your already expired produce to good use. If you can’t consume it, you might as well use it to create vitamin-rich soil for future veggies.
Many people start a simple compost bin using a medium-size trash can, but you can buy compost-specific containers online. Either way, mixing your expired produce with grass clippings, leaves, and other plant material will help break it down into fertilizer you can use in your home garden.
#5: Start juicing.
Juicing is yet another great way to put all your fruits and vegetables to good use. I have an Omega brand masticating juicer, which I mostly use to juice vegetables with some lemons and limes thrown in.
This is yet another way to use produce that can get your kids involved. It’s amazing what kids will drink when you add a tiny bit of fruit for sweetness.
Whenever we have expiring produce and I’m in the mood to juice, I’ll whip up something tasty for the entire family to drink. Most of the time, my juice blends include a mix of green vegetables (kale, bok choy, spinach, dark lettuce, etc.) with carrots and an apple or a lemon. My kids love it, and so do I.
#6: Pickle expiring cucumbers and onions.
This summer, my husband and I pickled a bunch of cucumbers with onions when a rush of our fresh vegetables came due all at once. First, I made “noodles” out of the cucumbers and onions with my vegetable spiralizer. Then, I covered them with a mixture of sugar, vinegar, and spices. It was absolutely delicious, and it helped the veggies stay fresh longer.
There are a ton of different ways to do this, but I used Martha Stewart’s recipe for pickled onions and cucumbers.
#7: Clean and freeze berries and grapes.
Getting your kids to eat fruit is easy, and adults tend to love fresh fruit, too. Unfortunately, produce like apples, grapes, and blueberries can go bad quickly.
Keep an eye on your fresh fruit so you can act before it goes bad. Right before it expires, wash it and freeze it for later. From there, you can add fresh frozen fruit to your smoothies, your morning cereal, or yogurt. My kids will also snack on frozen blueberries and grapes by themselves any time of the year.
#8: Get out your dehydrator.
A basic food dehydrator is a great tool to have if you want to reduce the amount of fresh produce you waste. With a dehydrator, you can make healthy snacks like apple and banana chips.
I tend to use my dehydrator in spurts, and mostly for apple chips. The best part about it is, the only prep you need to do is wash your produce and cut it into even, thin slices. Once you prep your fruits and stack them in your food dehydrator, you just turn it on and you’re done.
To Save Food, Be Proactive
Any one of these strategies can help you reduce waste and make the most of the food you buy. Still, it’s important to be proactive and think ahead if you want to use expiring produce before it goes bad.
If you wait too long to check, you’ll have mushy, rotten produce on your hands. While you can still throw that in the compost pile to get some use out of it, you’ll be better off if you can eat the food you buy.
Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.