28 September 2011

Another Way to Combat the Rising Cost of Groceries

The news on grocery prices is grim. The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently released data showing a 120% increase in the cost of food in the last decade. I'm sure anyone who buys food will be surprised that it's only 120%! We can't do anything about the price increases, they'll keep on happening. What we can do is make sure the money we spend on food isn't wasted. We'll stretch those grocery dollars until they scream.

One of the biggest costs associated with food actually isn't the price - it's the waste. Stop food waste and watch your grocery bill shrink. We Aussies are a wasteful people, then we cry and complain about how much it costs to feed our families.

How do these statistics make you feel (I found them on the Hungry Beast site):

*Australians throw out 4.45 million tonnes of food every year (source: What A Waste! Australia Institute Report)

*Approximately 936 kilograms of food is discarded by each Australian household (source: National Waste Report 2010 Fact Sheet)

* The value of the food Australians discard each year is estimated to be around $5.2 billion (source: What A Waste! Australia Institute Report)

* 7% of meat in supermarkets will go unsold and discarded. 30% of the meat bought by consumers will go uneaten. (source: Food Expenditure Tables, Economic Research Service, 2008)

* It has been estimated that 20 to 40% of all fruit and vegetables are rejected by supermarkets due to cosmetic and superficial reasons (source: Ozharvest Canberra)

* In Queensland 100,000 tonnes of bananas, about a third of the annual crop, are thrown out each year. (source: Primary Industries Minister Tim Mulherin)

* 54% of Australian mangoes get thrown away (source: Dr. Ridoutt, CSIRO 2010)

* The annual food waste in Australia is enough to fill over 720,000 garbage trucks. (source: National Waste Report, Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2010)

* Just one quarter of the food wasted in the developed world would be enough to feed the 1 billion people starving in the developing nations across the globe (source: Food and Ethics Council, Tristram Stuart, 2009)

I can tell you they make me feel ill, especially the last point.

I learned long ago to not waste food. There was a time when every single food item on our shopping list was accounted for and used because we couldn't afford to waste it. We didn't have the money to buy more celery if I let it go limp and soggy or to buy meat to replace any that was freezer burned.

To avoid waste (and thus a heftier grocery bill) I had to get a little canny about how I managed the family grocery shopping, meals, fridge, freezer and pantry.

I always went through the pantry, fridge and freezer before shopping day to see what was left.

Then I made up a meal plan, incorporating the food we had. This formed the basis of the shopping list and is the single most important step in reducing or even eliminating food waste. I simply didn't buy what we didn't need.

The shopping list only had things we needed, in the size and/or quantity we needed on it. And I stuck to that list like glue. My price book ensured I knew to the dollar just how much the groceries for the month were going to cost and that's all the money I took to the shops with me. I couldn't afford to over-spend, I didn't have the money to pay for it.

In our house leftovers have always been planned. There are five of us and most recipes serve either four or six, meaning for a four serve recipe I increase the quantities by 50% and we always have an extra serve over. Now if we don't have any extra mouths around the table that leftover serve is packaged up for a lunch the next day or put into the freezer for a mufti dinner during the month.

Reading the stats I am sure we don't have anywhere near 936 kilograms of wasted food a year. We do compost everything we can - peelings, meat and fat, even bones - in the bokashi bucket which goes a long way to slashing that figure.

I rarely put any whole fruit or veggies in the compost. Any vegetables that are looking sad or limp go into soup or casseroles or are used to make stock. Soft or wrinkled fruit is stewed, added to muffins, cakes or biscuits or made into pies. Sometimes I dehydrate it and add it to trail mix for nibbling and lunchboxes.

When it comes to bottles and jars of sauces and spreads my trust skinny spatula gets a good workout. Did you know you can get enough peanut butter for at least two more sandwiches if you use a spatula to scrape out the "empty" jar?

And there's enough Vegemite left in an empty jar to flavour a gravy, soup or casserole. Or swish it with some cool water, pour into a mug and top up with boiling water for a delicious, warming savoury drink. Jam jars can be swished with milk for milk shakes, or pour the flavoured milk into icy pole moulds to make DIY paddle pops.

Bread crusts can be toasted for croutons or whizzed to make breadcrumbs. Cereal crumbs can be crushed and added to muffin mix or to a basic slice base. Or crush them and use them in Shake'n'Bake or to crumb fish fillets, rissoles or sausages.

Leftover rice or pasta can be used to make a salad. You only need small quantities of veggies and a drizzle of dressing and you have a quick lunch or side dish for another meal.

Before you juice an orange or a lemon grate the zest. It freezes beautifully and can be used for flavouring cooking or as a decoration or garnish.

One last thing to remember in the battle to reduce food waste and thereby your grocery bill: it won't happen if you don't make it happen. Start small. This week do a quick inventory, make up a meal plan and then a shopping list. Add only what you need to buy and stick to it. See how little you spend on food and it will encourage you to use up what you have before it gets wasted.

I'd love to know how you handle food waste in your home. Please take a couple of seconds to take the poll on the left of the page


  1. I'd gladly take the poll if I could find it -- some folk must be extremely wasteful as it doesn't happen in my home!

  2. Hi Cath, this is such common sense which makes me wonder what ever happened to common sense? We may think common sense is free however there is a cost involved. How? well if you dont use it when shopping it is expensive, but when you do, it is a mighty saver. I am now a single 60 and have found after months/years of buying for two that relatively speaking I dont need to buy copious amounts of food. Too many pieces of fruit, and I feel the need to eat it all but buy a few apples, oranges and the feeling of have to changes to the feeling of balance. Its just common sense...thank you for a good article.

  3. No waste for this household.All scraps are chicken food.If we had to buy chicken food it would cost about $15 a week.I like that scraps give us eggs.I saw a figure that on average each aussie wastes $200+ a year on groceries .So for our family of 6 that would be over $1200 a year.That is 2 weeks holiday hmm I know what I would prefer.


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