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Why Wasting Food is Bad for a Prepper’s Self-Reliance

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Raise your hand if you have a problem with wasting food.

Don’t worry, you’re far from alone. And once upon a time I was right there with you. In this article, I confess all the things I did that led to food waste and how I changed.

image: person wasting food by scraping plate of spaghetti into garbage

The Prevalence of Food Waste

Remember I said you weren’t alone in wasting food. How about some statistics to back up that statement? In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply.

That’s upwards of 1/3 of all the food in the U.S.


It shocked me that it was that high until I think of how unaware I was of the amount of food I was letting end up in the garbage.

How I Realized I Was A Food Waster

As a young wife and mother to a toddler, I worked hard to learn to be a good wife and mommy. Because I got to stay at home, I made meals three times a day for my family. However, even though I had a food budget I found myself calling my husband once or twice a week to pick up meals. And it wasn’t because I needed a larger budget for groceries.

Then, when I went to my Mommy & Baby group I found that several families with double the amount of kids had grocery bills less than mine! How could this be?

Frankly, I was confused. I didn’t know where I was going wrong. I was raised in a variety of settings due to my parent’s divorce and remarriages. In fact, we always seemed to be learning to live somewhere new. As a result, I was never taught how to actually run a home.

It took time to admit it to myself but I was a food waster. I realized that I was making critical mistakes with our food starting with:

  • what to feed my family.
  • what to buy at the grocery store.
  • how to cook at home.
  • and very importantly how to put away our food.

My 8 Food Wasting Mistakes

  1.  Using expensive ingredients. I am a cookbook hound. I love looking at the yummy recipes in those glossy books and trying to recreate them, but I was wasting our food money in doing so. You see, most of those recipes called for ingredients that were WAY outside the budget of a college student’s family. Instead of using that money more wisely and stretching it over the full month I was buying high priced items that cut days off how far our food budget would go. A better strategy for is to find old cookbooks that use common, inexpensive, staple ingredients.
  2. Buying ONLY name brand items. This was a hang over from my upbringing when we could not afford name brand. Deep inside I saw being able to buy name brand as showing the world (or myself) that we had stepped up in the world. Again I was wasting our food money.
  3. Cooking low-quality food. I had these lovely highlights of dinners that were great. But in order to get those highlights I skimped in other areas. That meant that Monday through Thursday meals was just scrapped together or Hamburger Helper type meals. Even though I cooked from scratch, the food wasn’t healthy and yummy. Made it that much easier to call for take-out when faced with Day 2 of not so good food. There’s a reason they tell us to fill our plate with foods of all different colors.
  4. Cooking too much food for our size family. At the time I had no extra freezer and we really were two adults eating with a toddler just nibbling. I tended to cook for a much larger crowd. That meant we tended to overeat, which is not healthy. Also, there was a lot of food left over. That food would generally go into the fridge and a meal of leftovers might come from it. However in general, we shoved them to the back of the fridge and forgotten until it crawled out and pleaded to be put out of its misery. I needed to incorporate meal planning into my routine.
  5. Chaos is not a good form of organization. As you can tell from the food lost in the fridge my kitchen was in a state of chaos. There was no organization. I had no idea if cans were old or spices were out of date. You just pawed through the shelf in question until you found what you were looking for, or gave up and went out and bought it again. Yup, back to that wasting the food budget.
  6. Failing to use food to its greatest extent. I never thought to use the turkey bones and pieces leftover from Thanksgiving to make a nutritious bone broth. I didn’t use the ham bone to flavor a pot full of beans. When I finished the meal immediately in front of me I threw out the rest and cleaned up for the night.
  7. Storing food improperly. Temperatures vary inside your fridge. There are some foods that shouldn’t be kept in the door. Others do better when kept in the produce bin. Some fruits and vegetables emit gas that causes nearby produce to ripen faster. In your pantry, food storage last longer if you work to lessen the six enemies of food storage.
  8. The worst food wasting sin I committed was sheer laziness. There were times when I woke up the next morning and found that I had set last night’s leftovers aside but never put them away.

Other Ways You Can Reduce Food in Your Garbage

Why Food Waste is Detrimental to Preppers

Why should food waste be a big deal to preppers? Cutting down on food waste is super important for preppers to make their preparedness efforts effective and sustainable.

First, we preppers often invest a considerable amount of time, effort, and financial resources into building a stockpile of food supplies to sustain ourselves during crises. However, when we waste food, we squander these valuable resources, leaving us and our loved ones vulnerable and our preparations compromised.

Second, food waste disrupts the delicate balance of inventory management. How many of us struggle to maintain an adequate rotation of our supplies. For many of us, it’s our Achilles heel. We meticulously plan (and attempt to rotate) our food supplies to ensure we have enough for the intended duration. When we needlessly waste food, it creates a gap in our preparedness plan, potentially leading to shortages or insufficient rations.

Finally, food waste undermines the principle of sustainability that many we strive for. When we waste food, we also squander valuable resources such as water, energy, and agricultural inputs, counteracting the self-sufficiency and resilience that we desire.

Those are three pretty big reasons to stop wasting food, don’t you think? It’s just super important if we want to maximize the effectiveness and sustainability of our prepping efforts.

Final Thoughts

Acknowledging that I had these blind spots was the first step in correcting them. There is no shame in not knowing how to cook, maintain a home, raise a family, or homestead. Many of us have holes in our skills base. Consider how to run your kitchen, food budget, and food storage as another skill to work on. Find a mentor. Search out a great blog or book. You can change from a food waster to a thrifty foodie mom!

What ways do you waste food and how could you change your food-wasting ways?

Guest post by Heather who blogs at Prudent Pantry. Updated and revised by Team Survival Mom.


33 thoughts on “Why Wasting Food is Bad for a Prepper’s Self-Reliance”

  1. Great post and even better reminder.
    Two things we started last year that have helped us:
    After a meal we have four choices for left overs: pack leftovers for the next days lunch, freeze, put on the menu to eat within three days, or put on our designated left over shelf in the frigde. (The shelf gets checked every day.)
    Keeping a monthly menu with the goal of eating from our pantry first.

    On the brand name thing, we have a few brand names that we really like, but for the most part we have found generic substitutes that are just as good or better. (We bought brand name for a long time, and just had to get over it.)

    1. My family general doesn’t care what brand I get of any given item, except TP. Well if that’s all they are picky about I am blessed. There are great sales and coupons I can use!

  2. My husband keeps all our leftovers in check with packed lunches. I also eat leftovers for lunch most days. I find that I end up throwing produce away because it has gone bad. I need to make sure to use the fresh produce before any frozen or canned items. I am lucky that I live near a very inexpensive produce store. I get bags of organic lettuce for $1 and bags of fruit for $1 but still, I hate to waste food. My goal this year is to waste next to no food. I have been making smoothies with my squishy produce. My favorite is banana, apple and lettuce. I know it sounds bad but it is really good and I get 3 fruits and veggies in with one drink.

    1. Great job on repurposing your food! We often take bits and pieces of fruit leftovers to make smoothies as well. I often throw the pieces into a freezer bag until it’s full and everyone gets a smoothie breakfast.

  3. This has been something I struggled with for years. I seem to have gotten a better handle on it now, though. I do best when I plan in advance what I will do with any leftovers and shop for any additional ingredients when making the original purchases. I especially love to get two meals and cook only once. For example, when making any type of roast (beef or pork) we plan to have the leftovers in the form of a BBQ sandwich, or tacos, etc. It seems like my family prefers to eat the leftovers when they take on a new appearance/flavor. I have, on too many occasions, thrown out garbage bags full of food (money). It is so sinful. I have made it my goal for the past year to break this habit of laziness. I would like to say it was something other than laziness, but it wasn’t. I had a fantastic example growing up—my mother cooked every single night of the week and really knew how to stretch a dollar.

    1. The biggest food wasting sin I had to overcome was CHAOS. I have 4 kids on the autism spectrum so they didn’t help. I had to find ways that I knew I would save our food. Such as while hubby and kids cleaned up the table I was immediately bagging and wrapping up the food. If I waited until it cooled a child would knock it down, or I would get distracted.
      One step at a time. It sounds like you are making progress!

  4. I use over ripe fruit for smoothies also. But I freeze everything. It will keep longer and you can use when you are in the mood. All fruit can be sliced or cut up before freezing. My smoothies tend to be more like soft serve ice cream and they satisfy my cravings as well as being good for me.
    If I have produce that I can’t use in a smoothie or soup, it goes in the compost pile. That way I don’t feel guilty that it was over looked. Some people have chickens that will eat scraps. You will get it back as an egg!
    I’ve been known to save tiny amounts of onions and green peppers. I will put them in soup or a stir fry. Or they go in the freezer until I have enough to do something with.

    1. Deb, Excellent reminder about using compost. If food is too far gone then compost it so it helps next year’s food! My hubby has a upgraded compost pile on his list for this spring.

  5. H. (eyes wide open)

    One of the best rewards of using up leftovers, cooking from scratch, buying store brands, etc. is the money you save. I have always been thrifty, however, I still had much room for improvement. Over the last year I have really cracked down on this. I truly have cut my grocery bill in HALF!! My husband and I are thrilled. Especially with the price of everything going up, up, up.

    Like another commented, I have more success in turning my leftovers into something different, sometimes it can be a challenge but I enjoy getting creative.

    Great post Heather!

    1. H, You are right on target! When we found out that we had to go gluten free and start making pretty much all our food from scratch I was actually relieved. You are right the cost of our food budget has dropped even with cooking gluten free.

  6. I work in a building where, because of who it is served to, a lot of food is waisted every day. A couple fellow employees more in charge of the food than I generally ask me if I want the leftovers. Heck yeah! This is usually fruit or veggies, never opened, never touched, but due to government guidelines can’t be saved. There are many nights that I eat for free. And me freezer is packed with an assortment of fruits and vegitables, ready to be added to any dish at any time. People are waistful in the U.S. I take enough food home to share with my parents and my kids and their families and STILL mountains of food is thrown out because I simply don’t have room in my freezer for all of it.

    1. Charley you lucky duck! Love when networking pays off in unexpected ways. I walked into our local produce store near closing. The owner had 25 pound boxes of bananas for $4.00 so she could get rid of them!

    2. See if you can connect them with a food bank or similar organization. Many have gleaners programs, people who go around and collect such food and deliver it to the food bank or soup kitchen. Or you could volunteer to BE that food gleaner for them.

      I agree, it kills me how much waste there is in the food industry. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be part of the solution in some small way.

      1. I tried to get them to save things and even volunteered to take it to our local food bank for them. I was told no. Today I was offered a half box of carrots that I couldn’t take because I just don’t have any more room. If I was diligent I could fill several grocery bags every day with the unopened food that is thrown away here every day. Makes me ill.

        1. H. (eyes wide open)

          It is frustrating how much food gets thrown away. I just heard that my children’s high school throws an unbelievable amount of food away everyday. They are not allowed to donate any of it. Mostly because it is fresh and not individually marked and dated.

          Have you tried dehydrating anything, Charley? It takes up less space and needs no refrigeration. You are very lucky!

        2. Why not get a couple of rabbits to eat the carrots and other veggies that go to waste. Then eat the rabbits. They are good.

  7. Stealth Spaniel

    This is probably the hardest kitchen learning curve-keeping good food out of the compost pile. I had one of those miracle mothers; you know the type. Worked 12/18 hour days, still managed to keep her lawns and gardens picture perfect for House Beautiful, the house was always lemon clean, the laundry was done, and her kitchen was Food Network amazing. I miss her much, and wish that in addition to her blue eyes, I had inherited “the incredible” gene! 🙂 The only thing that keeps me from throwing good food out is to immediately divide the food into freezer meals. If I just put the spaghetti sauce in the refrig, it will be thrown out in 5 days. I have also started dividing things up immediately when I get home from the grocery. Putting off the job just means it will not get done. I have also found that it is easier to use up left overs in a large family but don’t know why. I think the most important thing is organization.

  8. Half Acre Heaven

    I find I use leftovers about half the time. If I plan ahead I do a much better job of getting them used up, or transformed into something new. For instance we host for tacos and football on Monday’s and use any leftover meat in crock-pot chili on Thursday when Camp Fire keeps me out of the house until dinner time. My biggest challlenge is when there aren’t enough leftovers to seem “worth” saving to try to make a meal of. Those tend to spend a week in the fridge before going to the chickens. But like a previous commentor said, you get those back in eggs. This reminds me I need to clean out the fridge. :/

  9. My family is pretty good about using up leftovers or converting leftovers into new meals, but we have a bad habit of not eating up all the bananas before they go bad. One reason is because the bananas stay green too long where we live (Alaska), and they go from green to black almost immediately in winter. Trying to catch them at their optimum yellow stage is almost impossible in the winter time. But last night I worked against my natural laziness and made a sour cream banana cake. I have never liked banana BREAD, but this cake got RAVE reviews from my family. I put the other three large PEELED bananas in the freezer in a MARKED container for next week. I honestly don’t know why I never took the time to do that before. We all get too tired or just lazy, and honestly, a tasty, good, and useful product is just staring us in the face.

    1. bananas freeze just fine to use them for anything except eating plain. Throw them in the freezer peel and all. Peel them when your ready to use in baking or whatever. I like to take a qt or half gal of ice cream, add 6 or 8 bananas, some ovaltine or boost for vitimins, protien powder. Mix well, then stick your ‘healthy’ ice cream back in the freezer. I usually have plenty of strawberries to add too. ( I start out with moose tracks) experiment with various mixes. Great way to use over ripe bananas.

  10. I dehydrate any produce that is getting wilty. This next may gross out some of you because of cultural baggage, but you really can use a spoon to remove mold from spaghetti sauce or jelly. the rest of the jar will be perfectly safe to eat. I have been doing this for over twenty years with NO food poisoning resulting. Also mold can be removed from chunk cheese by rubbing it down with vinegar, or just by cutting it off. Also odd and end chunks of produce (root ends, peels, etc.) can be saved in a bag in the freezer and used to make a veggie broth or to enrich broths made with old meat bones.

  11. you are so right, there is so much to efficiently running a home that I just wasn’t taught, still working on wasting less. I am looking to fill in the holes in my skill set.

  12. organicprincess

    Love all the ideas on not wasting food during the winter we take leftovers and make a big pot of soup this helps with dinner during the week in the summer we grow much of our own food so we can and freeze alot.
    thanks for all the ideas

  13. No Hunger Games

    I am so pleased to have found a blog that seem to understand that it may not take a global event or even a national event to trigger a TEOTWAWKI for your family. I am very fortunate to have a good job and so does my hubby; however it does not mean we should not create stores of food. Not to go Biblical on you, but I always think about the story of the ‘Seven Bountiful years followed by the Seven Lean years’…. and how those who were not prepared struggled! Though for some we may already be in the lean years, so what if these become even leaner…. We should not let us be fooled by a society of ‘instant gratification’ that there will always be a Super store just up the road where there is a never ending stream of supplies to pick from.

    I come from the ‘the other side of the world’ and as an immigrant I was very surprised how much the US waste. Believe me, I am not trash talking the US by any means, since I have always dreamt of moving here and living the American dream. My Dream did come true, but in the back of my mind I always think of my family that has lived through concentration camps at the turn of 1900. One of my most prized possessions is a set of ‘doylies’ that my Great Great Gran made out of her petticoat, during her years in concentration camp. This is my tangible reminder that no matter how hard times get, you can make something beautiful that will be treasured for generations to come.

    So really, back to the comment on the ‘Waste of food’. You all have very good and inspiring suggestions. I follow these too. Recently I started to dehydrated veggies from the frozen food dept. I can not afford the #10 Cans of dehydrated foods for sale, so I have decided to proceed this way.
    On average a pound of frozen peas will fill up one dehydrator tray and my family of 4 can eat this as a side once rehydrated, just like we would have in the case of a frozen bag of veggies. This saves us from having a freezer full of frozen food spoil in the case of power loss. Each frozen pound of veg is exactly that… veggies (with a bit of water of course), but when compared to a can of peas the frozen food makes your $ go a little further.

    Locally we our W- Super store does the prize match and although we live in a very small town and it does not pay to drive all the way to other stores in the nearby larger towns, the price match deal comes in VERY handy. I typically do all my shopping on Thursdays since most stores distribute their weekly sales flyers on Tuesdays. Thus with my list and coupons in hand I go on a very well planned shopping trip. I stock up on the items that are really good priced, e.g. last week i was able to get McCormick spice bags typically $1.78 at our local store for $0.50. Needless to say, I made out like a bandit :-).

    Keep this blog going this is wonderful and truly inspiring to have ‘friends’ from all over that share ideas and suggestions on how to improve our lives and that of our families.

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  15. My kids prefer leftovers in their lunch to sandwiches… so dinners get used up. I end up baking something with any fruit that might look a bit past it (and all brown bananas get tucked into the freezer until they get transformed into banana bread or smoothies).

  16. Another great use of produce going “old” is vegetable stock. Through everything into a pot, cover with water, and let simmer (or use a crockpot while you sleep or at work). Then strain it and either freeze it, or can it.

    1. I like to do that and freeze the broth in ice cube trays ( I also do this with meat scraps ) you can use a couple of cubes to make a nice cup of soup on a cold day or add to soups , stews, ECT

  17. Great post! I am learning about getting the absolute most out of all of our foods and still keeping our budget! I make full meals out of leftovers to have as “heat and eats” when we are fending that night. We have a family of 3 and 90% of the time it is just myself and my son since my hubby is on the road. I also use scraps to make stock and compost. It is all a learning process but I am so proud 🙂

  18. Not buying name brands is good but I have allergies to so many things and the worst one is Sulfa, Sulfates, Sulfites and Sulfonamides. Now these allergies do not act up like most allergies these cause Pain in joints and other health problems. It wasn’t until I went to a Nutritionist that I was told to read every label on each type of food that comes into my home. Unfortunately my health had been damaged to the point that although eating right helped I had problems that could not be helped. I buy all organic /free range meats and kosher meats. I prefer the kosher meats simply because they have to be raised in specific ways and and butchered in specific ways. I read ALL labels. I have to forgo a lot of my favorite foods because Of the additives. Let me eat something that is not good for me and I am in terrible pain for weeks. Just by not checking a label 1 time. Now everything I eat is homemade unless I don’t know how to make it. By the way stay away from cookbooks printed after 1949. Then you won’t be using mixes and such in your food. Go to Pinterest and look for cookbooks that are on archive.com. You can find a lot of old cookbooks that will give you some great recipes. I love going through the cookbooks that were printed in every war the U.S. has been in up to WWII. You will find a lot of great recipes that will save you a fortune when you shop.

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