How Reducing Food Waste Can Stretch Your Travel Funds

Recently I saw France pop up both in my Facebook newsfeed and in the actual news (I do read that, too! 😉 ). Social media was oozing with applause for the French government, who just announced last week that they'd begin forcing grocery stores to donate expiring goods, or face fines. Though I too joined the hoards in virtually “liking” this movement, I had a bit of a bone to pick.

The overall forward thinking is fantastic, but how can we swiftly praise a bandaid solution, without questioning why it's happening in the first place? And let me be clear here: that problem, is food waste.

All of us have fed the food waste monster throughout our lives, some much more than others. Fortunately, there's an easy way to help diminish it: start buying expiring foods!

But, why?

Besides the glaring hypocrisy in encouraging the donation of expired goods to others but deeming them inadequate for ourselves, there are travel-related benefits to buying expiring food. It's quite simple: buy marked down goods, save money. Save money, travel sooner!

Keep in mind, you can (and should!) practice this not just at home, but while you're travelling. Ready-made foods (e.g. bento boxes, salads, sandwiches) and tasty produce often get marked down at the end of the night. These items are great to throw in the fridge and bring for an on-the-go lunch the next day.

Consequently, I typically grocery shop around the last hour of a store's closing time (8 or 9PM) which is usually when those neon stickers get slapped on. I then transform into the shameless five-foot-short stalker following the employee handling the mark-down sticker gun around the store to grab reduced items. It saves us a lot of money, prevents food waste, and more often than not means more whole, perishable, and typically less processed foods in our cart (and bellies!).

Marked down international foods
Marked-down foods from around the world – Japan, Montreal, and Korea. We stockpile items like green beans, cabbage, mushrooms and more which are easy in a salad or stir-fry – plus grab-and-go options like sandwiches and salads. As you can see, food waste happens everywhere. But so too do item reductions, which can save you big and reduce waste!

Expired foods: the not-so-dirty truth

Now, there's a lot of unfounded skepticism out there around eating “expired” foods. The most important point is that most foods are still safe to eat long past their expiry date. The “best before” or “use by” dates mark a food's nutritional peak, and is point till which a manufacturer will vouch for a product's optimal freshness. Put simply, a food is still consumable and has a shelf life beyond that date (within reason, of course).

Labels aside, if you've ever wondered how long those items in your fridge last, Eat By Date has Shelf Life info on all kinds of foods. The next time you're contemplating tossing something out, do a quick search – it could save your wallet and the environment.

How to Lessen Food Waste & Grow Your Travel Funds

Purchasing expiring products to cut food waste sounds good in theory, but where do you begin? How do you prevent it all from spoiling, and how can you use it up effectively? Here's some steps to get you started.

1. Snag those stickered-goods

Produce, dairy, meat, canned goods and dried products all have a shelf life. That means just about anything in these aisles can eventually have a mark-down sticker slapped on it – so keep your eyes peeled! Many stores have bins, shelves, or piles devoted to marked down or clearance items. I find this especially common in the produce section. If you have a shopping list, make an effort to find the marked-down items of what you're already looking for, and/or substitutes depending on what's on sale.

2. Don't let expired foods go bad

Are you not buy marked down goods because you're afraid of not using them up? Tsk tsk, that's no excuse! There's plenty of ways to stop deterioration from happening, and still enjoy fresh meals. Here's a few tips:

  • Cook marked-down foods soon after purchase, then freeze or refrigerate them for later use if you're not able to use them right away. Here's some quick tips on what freezes well and what doesn't.
  • Make meals that integrate a diverse variety of cooked produce. Think of ways to integrate expired goods into meals you were planning to make already or are likely to eat. Pasta sauce, chillis, soups, pizza and sandwich/panini toppings, omelets, side dishes, casseroles, etc. are all diverse and can integrate a number of commonly expired foods such as meat, dairy, or produce.
  • Cut off bad parts of food and use what's good. Cheese, veggies, and fruits can still be usable even with a few soft spots or mould. Simply cut off “bad” parts and use what's left. If you think it's good enough for someone with less to eat, there's no good reason you shouldn't be eating it either.
Homemade Travel Salad
Salads are a great way to use up veggies the day of – items like carrots, greens, and eggs often get marked down. This is a ultra cheap salad (<$1) I made in Japan last month with homemade peanut dressing, and a side of green tea and miso soup.

3. Learn to use “unusable” foods

Think just because an item is expired its unusable? Wrong-o! There are plenty of ways to use up foods that are on their way out. Here's some ideas for common “unusable” items:

  • Stale bread: croutons, bread crumbs, bread pudding, pies, sauces, sausage – stale/crusty bread is actually the star of many recipes. The Guardian has a list of 20 recipes for leftover bread, and Bon Appetit has 14 other tantalising uses.
  • Overripe bananas: the condensed sweetness of overripe bananas is perfect for so many things – pancakes, homemade ice cream, smoothies, cakes, breads, to name a few. Get more ideas here.
  • Sour milk: no matter, make batter (if you liked that one, let's be friends)! The acidity and tang of sour (not curdled, separated, or mouldy) milk is a key player in baked goodies. Fun fact: a lot of “buttermilk” that's commercially sold is actually artificially soured milk. Sour milk can be used in pancakes, waffles, bread, cake, biscuits, soda bread, donuts, scones, and plenty more.
  • Substitute, substitute, substitute: ever run to the grocery store because you're missing that one recipe item? Stop! Check first if you can use up something in the fridge to substitute. Food is more diverse than you think, so don't waste and replace!

4. Compost what you do waste

Composting is an easy way to recycle food into something useful. Many communities worldwide now include compost pick-up, though a growing number of people are beginning to use compost to make their own soil instead. Here's a simple how-to guide on starting your own compost – it's really easy!

Wasting food is a problem we've all fed at some point in our lives. Just a few small changes can make big difference in how much you toss out, not to mention replenish those travel funds. Waste less, save more, and travel sooner! 🙂 Happy saving!

What are your favourite food tips to cut costs?