A Quick and Easy System To Reduce Spoiled Produce In Your Home

As I mentioned yesterday, we are eating much more produce this year than we ever have in the past. Sometimes I look at the changes in our eating habits around the home and think, Oh no! We are suffering from lifestyle inflation, but then I realize that we were living well under our means for so long, and nutritionally, it wasn’t the best way to live so although we are spending more on healthy food, in the long term, it’s better for our family.

But with all the produce we buy, and all that we eat, there is still way too much that goes to waste! We really try to cook everything we buy, and we have certainly learned what kind of portions we can handle, but we still have things that expire in the fridge before we can get to them, just because we forget they are in there. We have the regular fridge area, which nothing really ever expires in, but the crisper we have where all the good fruits and veggies rest is out of sight, and we often forget what we put in there.

I decided the only way that we would be able to stop wasting food that we forget about in the crisper is to remember everything we buy and when we buy it. We have been trying to do this for years and, well, we just can’t mentally remember everything especially as our lives get busier and busier. So I decided we needed a visual reminder somewhere that could tell us exactly what we have in the fridge, when we bought it and when it will be going bad.

I thought about putting a notepad on the fridge and writing the date of purchase and expiration date on everything we put in the fridge, but I know that would be too much work and we would quickly grow tired of doing it, slip back into our old system of trying to mentally remember everything, and start wasting food again.

So instead of doing something complicated that would require a ton of effort to maintain, I thought I would use a method that we use to teach our kids, to make it much simpler with a color coded system that was small, not ugly as my wife doesn’t want the fridge covered with a huge calendar or notepad, and would be fairly effortless to keep up. We already do something similar with our bulk foods so I know it works well in the long term, but this is the first time we are applying it to short term habits.

Here’s what I came up with:

There are three different squares, one green, one purple and one red. The green one is for produce that we just put in the fridge. Every time we buy more produce, which is about once a week, we shift what was on the green square to the purple square, and from the purple square to the red square. That means we will know what the oldest produce is at all times, and be able to focus our diet on eating that food before it goes to waste.

If we get really good at using the system and optimizing our eating habits around the oldest produce, we should ideally be able to eat all the food on the red square, before we buy any new produce. There are also some food items, that we can see just by looking at the squares, that wouldn’t need to be moved from square to square as they either are eaten up around here very quickly when we know we have them, or they last longer than other produce.

Do you have any tricks to insure you don’t waste food at home?

Image by moon angel

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11 People have left comments on this post

» wyojeffNo Gravatar said: { Aug 13, 2010 - 10:08:31 }

This is a great idea jesse. Every time I have to clean out the fridge, I make a mental tally of the food that I'm throwing out and try to guess the cost. It does nothing but make me angry about the amount that is going to waste. One way I was able to take some of the guilt out of the fruits and vegetables is to start a compost bin. While they are still being thrown out and not eaten because they have gone bad, they are still being used to create some great soil for my garden next year.

» Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar said: { Aug 13, 2010 - 11:08:34 }

Thanks Jeff, and your idea is great too. I wrote yesterday about my tiny garden, and the soil certainly could use some compost…though I'm hoping with this system in place, I won't have any more waste!

» Dr DeanNo Gravatar said: { Aug 13, 2010 - 01:08:10 }

Jesse, Do you think the green bags work? I have seen mixed reviews. Some report good results, if you are sure the produce is completely dry.
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I've thought about trying them but had no idea whether they were just a waste of money or if they really worked. According to Funk, who commented below, they use them to great success. I may try them out, even with our new system in place.

» Dr DeanNo Gravatar said: { Aug 14, 2010 - 05:08:04 }

The best system is usually the easiest.

Let us know how it works in real life!
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Absolutely! I'll keep you updated on are spoiled produce count 🙂

» emilysutherlandNo Gravatar said: { Aug 16, 2010 - 06:08:20 }

One thing that helps us use fresh produce more quickly is to wash the celery, cauliflower, broccoli and lettuce as soon as we bring them home, then we put them into baggies so they're quick and easy for the kids (and us) to grab on the go. If we decide to steam the cauliflower and broccoli, it's already ready to throw into the steamer… and if we want to use the celery in our cooking, it can be diced quickly and easily from the baggies. We also use up melons and grapes more quickly if we wash and prep them for eating right after they're home. Sure, it takes a little time… but while you've got the knife and cutting board out, it's totally worth a little extra time in the beginning to have the good-for-you food ready to grab for the next few days.
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» Money FunkNo Gravatar said: { Aug 16, 2010 - 08:08:32 }

I know what you mean about trying to use it all up before it goes bad. We use the green bag produce savers. They really do work.
Cutting everything up and putting it into individual size servings works, too. The kids will grab them up if they are prepared for them. Other stuff I can't get to quick enough, I will cut up and freeze, if applicable. Now I just need to learn to can.
Meal planning also helps me to use up all the produce.
Then there is getting creative with my packed lunches and breakfasts. Fruit salads, smoothies, and salads all work. 🙂
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I have always been curious if those actually worked, but never bothered to try em out 🙂 my kids do really enjoy when the food is ready for them to grab. My three year old loves to be able to get her own food from the fridge. I've also done the freezing here and there, which really does work, but we don't always get to it. Awesome tips, thanks!

» ForestNo Gravatar said: { Aug 16, 2010 - 09:08:54 }

Jesse that is awesome! I tend to throw veggies in the freezer if they threaten to go bad and I can't see a time to use them in sight. Frozen veggies can be thrown straight into sauces, curries and stew too.
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I really don't cook with frozen stuff as often as I should, I know it's a huge cost saver and can really help saving those spoiling produce items we forget about. With my new system in place though, I really hope nothing gets to that point anymore.

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