At least 40% of food is being tossed every year in the United States alone, resulting in food waste and loss of money. Keep reading to find out how to make your groceries last longer so you can save money!
Welcome to week 4 of the money-saving grocery shopping challenge! If you’ve missed any of the challenges, you can catch up here:
This week I’m going to share with you some proven tips to make your groceries last longer.
So much food is thrown away each year in the United States: at least 40%. Food is expensive, so that’s a lot of money being tossed in the trash! And a huge waste of food.
I don’t know about you, but I hate wasting food. Just as much as I hate wasting money.
Luckily, knowing how to store food properly will keep it fresher longer and prevent it from spoiling so fast. Properly stored food will also keep your grocery bill down and minimize the risk of getting a food-borne illness.
Keep reading for some great tips on how to make your groceries last longer!
How to make your groceries last longer
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1. Know the real expiration date
Most items last longer than their date suggests. We usually end up throwing out foods that are past their “sell-by” or “best by” date. However, those are not the actual expiration dates.
Eggs, for example, will last up to 66 days after they are placed in their carton, which is well beyond the “best by” date listed. Egg cartons have a three-digit code stamped on them, called the pack date. The pack date is the day the eggs were actually placed in the carton. This date goes by the Julian calendar, where January 1 is 001 and December 31 is 365.
Eatbydate.com is a great resource to find out how long your foods really last.
2. Store meat in the freezer
Ground beef can last in the freezer for 3 – 6 months. Steaks and roasts can last even longer – for up to a year.
When you find a good deal on discounted meat at the grocery store, don’t pass it up. Bring it home and freeze it! I usually buy the 3-pound tube of ground beef because it ends up being cheaper at my local grocery store. Then I just separate the meat into 3 1-pound sections, wrap them each in aluminum foil, and place them in gallon-size freezer bags.
3. Use what you have
Take note of what’s in your freezer, pantry, and fridge by keeping an inventory of everything. (Grab 3 free inventory sheets here!) Check allrecipes.com for recipes using the ingredients you already have. This saves you a lot of time and money, and you won’t be throwing away a pile of expired foods. What a simple way to make your groceries last longer!
4. Don’t throw away scraps
If you’re chopping carrots or celery, don’t throw away the scrap pieces. Freeze them to use in recipes such as stock or broth later. Freeze citrus zest and juice and thaw out later for dressings and other recipes.
If you made stock or broth from your scraps then you can freeze that, too. Just pour it into ice cubes, freeze, then put the frozen stock cubes in freezer bags.
5. Keep canned foods
If properly stored, canned foods like tomatoes and certain fruits can last for a year past their expiration date. This is due to the high acidity found in them. Low-acidity foods (meats and vegetables) can last 2–5 years past their expiration date.
However, if the cans are rusted, cracked, bulging, or leaking, then it’s time to throw them out. Those are all signs of bacteria.
6. Freeze the dairy
Dairy products can be frozen, which will make these types of groceries last longer. You can freeze milk for up to three months. To freeze, pour out a little bit so you can leave room in the top to keep it from busting. To thaw it out, place it in the refrigerator and leave overnight. After it’s thawed, it’s best to use it up within 3-4 days.
Hard cheeses (Cheddar, Swiss, etc.) can be kept for 6-9 months when frozen in an airtight container.
You can find more information on freezing dairy products here.
7. Keep certain produce separated & stored properly
Did you know that certain fruits release ethylene gas, which speeds up the ripening process of ethylene-sensitive foods? Apples, avocados, and bananas should not be kept near grapes, leafy greens, and broccoli.
Store these items in separate bins in the refrigerator or separate bowls on the counter. Keep potatoes, onions, and garlic in a nice cool, dark place, but not in the fridge.
Cucumbers, carrots, and peppers should be refrigerated to maintain freshness longer. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, and avocados are okay left out on the counter.
8. Freeze fresh produce
Fresh fruits and vegetables can be frozen to keep them fresh for later use.
Bananas can be frozen in their peels and stored for 2-3 months. The peel will turn brown, but the fruit is still good. These are great for making banana bread!
Blanching vegetables first is the best way to freeze them. Cut or chop the veggies, boil them for about 2 minutes, then immediately transfer them to an ice bath. Drain the water off and let them dry completely. After they are completely dry, spread them out on a sheet pan, place them in the freezer to freeze, then place them in zipper freezer bags.
Keep in mind that vegetables with high water content, such as leafy vegetables and tomatoes, don’t freeze well.
Fresh herbs can also be frozen. Chop them up, mix them with a tiny bit of water or olive oil, and freeze them in ice cube trays. Once they’re frozen, pop them into freezer bags.
9. Buy dry beans
Dry beans are super cheap and they take up less storage space than cans. When stored properly (in a cool, dark, dry place), packages of dry beans can last up to a year.
To extend the shelf life of dry beans, transfer them to an airtight food-safe storage container. They tend to dry out fast if they are left in the bag they came in. Place the container in a cool, dark place.
10. Let the cheese breathe
Cheese needs to breathe so it doesn’t dry out. Store cheese in parchment paper or beeswax to preserve its flavor and consistency. When you purchase cheese, rewrap it immediately after you get home.
For more on storing cheese, see this article from Eat This, Not That.
11. Use a vacuum sealer
If you buy foods in bulk, vacuum sealing them will help them last a lot longer. For example, you can vacuum seal and freeze chicken breasts separately, making it easier to only grab a few pieces at a time.
Vacuum sealers also keep foods from getting freezer burn or covered in frost. This is a great investment to make your groceries last longer and save money long term.
12. Freeze breads
Whenever I buy hotdog buns and hamburger buns, I only keep out what I’ll need for the week. I put the rest in freezer bags and freeze them. They’ll last for months in the freezer.
I do the same when I buy a loaf of bread. Our family doesn’t eat an entire loaf of bread before it goes bad. So, I remove half of the loaf to be used and freeze the other half for later.
13. Put marshmallows in the brown sugar
Brown sugar dries out, making it extremely hard and unusable. Store it in an airtight container and toss a few marshmallows in with it. The marshmallows help the brown sugar retain its moisture, keeping it fresher longer.
14. Wash berries in vinegar and water
Berries can be washed in a water/vinegar mixture with a 10:1 ratio (10 parts water, 1 part vinegar). This mixture keeps them fresher and plumper for twice as long. It also helps to keep away those pesky fruit flies.
See other amazing things you can use vinegar for here!
15. Freeze leftover sauce
Whenever I fix spaghetti, I use less than half a jar of sauce because my daughter doesn’t eat any. (She only likes the noodles!) The rest of the sauce can be frozen, just like homemade sauce, to use later.
16. Buy a bread box
I honestly don’t know a single person who uses a bread box nowadays. We used to have one when I was growing up, though. The best place to store bread is in a bread box. Bread should be kept in a cool, dark place and if you don’t have a pantry, then a bread box is a perfect choice.
I love this one on Amazon. The lid turns into a cutting board!
17. Label your containers
Keeping certain foods in airtight containers is a great way to make your groceries last longer. However, if the containers are not see-through, then more than likely you’re going to forget what’s in them. Label the containers and make sure the labels are always visible. This will help you see exactly what you have at a glance and keep you from tossing foods you forgot all about.
18. Properly store honey
Honey should never be stored in the fridge. Storing honey in the refrigerator will cause it to crystallize, making it really hard to work with. However, if crystals do form on the honey, place the jar in a pan of warm water.
19. Place foods in reusable containers
Certain foods, such as cereal, tend to stay fresher longer in reusable containers. After getting your groceries, take the foods out of their original packaging and place them into reusable containers. Food-grade plastic or glass containers work best. Plus, it’s easier to store foods bought in bulk!
20. Store greens with a paper towel
Lettuces tend to wilt quickly and can even get slimy and gross. After buying a bag of greens, place a fresh paper towel in the bag, and seal it with a clip. The paper towel will absorb the moisture and keep the greens fresh longer.
21. Keep spices in the dark
Direct sunlight as well as heat can cause spices to lose their flavor and become stale quicker. Store them in a cool, dark place, such as a spice drawer or cabinet to keep them fresh.
22. Put an apple with the potatoes
Apples release ethylene gas, which prevents potatoes from sprouting. Keep your potatoes in a cool, dry place and store an apple with them to help them stay fresh for twice as long!
Don’t store onions with potatoes, though. Both onions and potatoes release moisture, making them spoil faster.
(Don’t worry – ethylene gas is actually a natural plant hormone that sets off the ripening process. It’s perfectly safe!)
23. Refrigerate whole wheat flour
Since whole wheat flour still has the wheat germ attached, it will spoil in warmer temperatures. Keep the flour in the refrigerator to keep it from going bad so quickly.
24. Wrap celery in foil
Celery goes limp quickly and can get rather soggy. To keep this from happening, wrap the stalks in aluminum foil before placing them in the refrigerator.
25. Freeze leftovers
Casseroles are delicious, but they can leave a lot of leftovers. When you’re putting the casserole away after dinner, place some in containers to have for lunch the next couple of days and freeze the rest for later. That way you avoid tossing half of an uneaten casserole in the trash.
Freezing any leftover meals is a great way to make your groceries last longer.
26. Store onions in pantyhose
Bulb onions need to be stored in a cool, dry place that is well-ventilated because they need to be able to breathe. The best way to store onions is in the leg of clean pantyhose.
Cut off the legs of a pair of pantyhose and drop an onion down inside it, then tie a knot above the onion. Continue adding onions and knots until the pantyhose leg is full, then hang them in a cool, dry place.
27. Keep the fridge at the right temperature
A super simple way to make your groceries last longer is to keep your fridge at the right temperature. If the refrigerator is too cold, it can actually freeze your food. And if it’s too warm your food will spoil faster. The ideal temperature to keep your refrigerator is between 35- and 38-degrees Fahrenheit.
28. Wrap banana stems in plastic wrap
Bananas often ripen all at the same time and it usually happens pretty quickly. Slow the ripening process down by breaking the bunch apart and wrap each stem in plastic wrap. You’ll get a few more days out of your bananas. And if they start to ripen before you eat them, stick them in the freezer.
29. Make smoothies
When fruit starts looking like it’s seen better days, toss them into a blender and make smoothies or shakes. This is a great way to use up tired-looking fruit.
30. Invest in an ethylene gas absorber
Place an ethylene gas absorber in your refrigerator bins to keep fruits and vegetables fresh longer. The Moso natural air purifying bag also absorbs moisture to keep mold, mildew, and bacteria from forming. And it absorbs orders, too! This little bag is less than $10 and it’s reusable for up to 2 years! Another great way to save!
Do you have any tips to make your groceries last longer? I’d love to know what you would add to my list!