Students can avoid wasting food, money with planning, creativity


Living on your own can mean pinching pennies. One way to make a buck last longer is to avoid tossing leftovers and spoiled food in the trashcan. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans discard about 40 percent of food they purchase. For the average American family, this adds up to $2,275 in the trash can every year.

“We’re busy thinking about our regular lives, and don’t value the food we purchase,” said Mary Meck Higgins, associate professor and extension specialist for K-State Research and Extension. “We let it go bad because we buy too big of amounts of food, or we are cooking too much. When you toss it out, you are losing money and time.”

Few college students have hundreds or thousands of dollars to toss out every year in moldy cheese, spoiled meat and uneaten leftovers. It is possible to significantly reduce food waste, saving money and landfill space.

One way to reduce food waste is to make, and stick to, a grocery list. Taking inventory of current supplies before a shopping trip can help eliminate duplicate purchases and wasted money. For ideas using ingredients you already have, the website provides recipes using only ingredients you have, which can save time, money and food.

Understanding food labels can also help stretch food longer. Most foods come with “best by” or “sell by” dates. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most properly stored foods are typically safe to eat up to several days after these dates. Check these labels when shopping, and purchase products with the latest spoilage dates to avoid throwing away spoiled food.

“Pay attention to use-by dates, even before you buy the products,” Meck Higgins said. “If you can’t use something up before it goes bad, don’t buy it.”

According to the USDA, food that is no longer safe to eat may have an unpleasant or unusual odor, taste or appearance due to the presence of bacteria. Regardless of expiration dates, toss any food that looks, smells or tastes like it’s rotting.

Reducing leftovers can sometimes mean getting creative. Some dishes are more forgiving for using leftovers and older, but still good, products. Soups, omelets, casseroles, and smoothies are excellent dishes for leftover meat, vegetables and fruit.

“Use the most fragile fruits and vegetables first, and plan ahead,” Meck Higgins said. “If you buy a carton of berries, eat them fresh the first night, in a smoothie the second night and then freeze the rest for a dessert later.”

In addition to wasting money, tossing out food puts a strain on landfills. According to National Geographic, Americans throw about 34 million tons of food waste annually. This was a concern K-State’s Department of Housing and Dining Services took into consideration last spring.

Kelly Jean Whitehair, K-State alum and hospitality management and dietetics instructor, led a study to determine how much food students were throwing away. After implementing a poster campaign in the dining halls advising students to “Eat what you take. Don’t waste food,” students reduced food waste by 15 percent.

“All it took to change behavior was a trigger that made students think twice about the topic of food waste before they started eating,” said Whitehair in a January 2012 press release by Housing and Dining Services.

Whether it’s a weekly grocery list or creative cooking, careful planning and usage of resources can help reduce food waste in landfills and keep thousands of dollars from ending up in your trash can instead of your stomach.

Jena Sauber is a junior in journalism and digital media. Please send comments to