How to Stretch Your Food Dollar: Food Storage Tips

by in How-to, January 4th, 2012

Last year The New York Times and other news outlets reported a scary statistic: Americans throw out approximately 40 percent of all the food we purchase. Let’s say you spend $100 a week on groceries — that’s like taking $40 and just tossing it in the trash. If you’re one of the many of us who are resolving to spend money more wisely in the new year, then taking a look at your grocery shopping and food storage habits and making some improvements will help stretch your food dollar even further. Over the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing helpful tips to make the most of the food you buy and help you avoid having to throw anything away.

1. Don’t let oil or nuts go rancid. Whenever I cook in a friend’s home, rancid olive and vegetable oil is the number one food sin that I see committed. Many people don’t realize that oil goes bad, so it’s very important to keep it (especially pricey olive oil) in a cool, dark place. Take the sniff test to determine if yours has gone bad: if it smells musty and off, it’s time to say goodbye. (And here’s an important food disposal tip: if you must throw it away, don’t pour oil down the drain; it’s terrible for waste-water treatment plants.) If you don’t use a lot of oil, avoid buying giant bottles so it won’t go bad before you use it up.

And the worst offense you could commit against your lovely bottle of olive oil is to keep it on the stovetop. Yes, it’s handy to have it close by, but the residual heat from cooking will speed up its demise. As for nuts, many people don’t realize that they go bad quickly, because the heart-healthy oils they’re packed full of go rancid. Nuts keep very well in the freezer, so if you buy walnuts to bake with, keep them in a plastic bag in the freezer until you need them. No need to defrost before use. This is also an excellent place to store pricey pine nuts. Just remember to close all plastic bags with a rubber band or clip, and then store in a freezer bag.

2. Butter needs your TLC. Butter is another item that I often see languishing in friends’ fridges long past its expiration date. Salted butter keeps a bit longer because the added salt acts as a preservative, but unsalted butter that’s required for baking goes bad more quickly. Butter that’s gone bad will also smell a bit “off,” but the best way to check it is to slice off a small piece. Is there a translucent ring around the edge? If you’re in a pinch and really need butter, then you can slice the outer edges off and still use it, but for delicate, butter-heavy baked goods, you’ll want to get some of the fresh stuff. The great news is that butter freezes extremely well, so if you buy a pound of butter, but only need one stick for your recipe, throw the other sticks in a plastic bag and store in the freezer until you need them — no more than a few months, though. (This is actually a great thing to have if you’re making pie dough, because you want your butter as cold as possible. For pie dough, take butter out of the freezer and just defrost slightly before cutting it into chunks.)


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Comments (15)

  1. Rachelle says:

    Everyone should do what they can to reduce waste of food. It is just not sustainable to continue the way we are.

  2. Thank you for the food storage tips! I’m going to try freezing my hoards of butter.

  3. Jen says:

    I generally try to only cook enough for the portions that will be eaten that same day. The feeling of guilt and disappointment of having to throw away left over food lies heavy on my conscience.

  4. sunny says:

    I have had a problem with cooking too much with each meal so I have now started freezing the rest and I have meals prepared for when I dont feel like cooking!!

  5. Rod says:

    If you're Paula Deen, you store butter in your body, y'all!

  6. Katy says:

    i know that 'off' butter taste, often its when im about to make that icky boxed mac and cheese, it makes it taste kinda funky.

  7. Leticia says:

    the Food Special, "The Big Waste" is an eye opener. We Americans waste millions of dollars in unused food. We should do whatever we can to reduce food waste; let's start by using the most in our kitchens!

    • LydiaP says:

      Since I am not working, I have found many ways to stretch foods into healthy things and also leftovers into totally repurposed meals. Too many chefs don't realize or just don't care what they waste. I think that there should be more of this waste made public and people taught to use everything.

    • Debbie says:

      I agree that "The Big Waste" opened my eyes also. The show helped me realize that alot of this trashed food should be recycled to homeless shelters, as well as to some sort of market that strictly sells "seconds'. Good job Food Network. Your programming usually appeals to most of us, and this new show is very innovative and forward thinking! Thank You!!

    • JLF says:

      One of the most used appliances in my kitchen is my Food Saver vacuum sealer. I buy my meats in bulk and once home, divide into single meal portions, seal and freeze them. This way I only cook what is needed for any given meal, aids in portion control and significantly reduces leftovers that could go to waste.

      BTW – when I freeze my butter, I enclose it in a sealer bag to reduce air exposure. It may be my imagination, but it seems to allow it to keep longer.

  8. Bartmas says:

    I am watching The Big Food Waste and wondering why………can't Foodnetwork get something going to take the waste and feed the hungry children……….because of Foodnetwork I donated to Feed the Children and now watching the Big Waste……..why can't we get something going to take the waste, the not so perfect foods, have volunteer cooks across the nation take this waste and feed our children. Heck. I'm ready to not spend another dime and do dumpster diving …. I wonder how many other people will watch this and think the same thing. I, personally, am going to take this challenge to eat less, waste less, and share more. Oh, and Buy American made products as much as I can.

  9. Emily says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone. I was really excited to write this blog series and it's great to see other people sharing tips and tricks how to waste less food. Sunny, that's an excellent way to solve your problem of cooking too much– I do that a lot and it's SO nice to realize that you have dinner waiting in the freezer! JFL- I've never used a vacuum sealer but I hear they're great; I agree with you on freezer bags helping extend the freezer life of butter. And Jen, I agree with you as well: it makes me absolutely cringe to throw any food in the garbage. My mom always jokes that I act like I grew up during the Depression!

    For those of you who commented on what Food Network does: our kitchens work with a fantastic local NYC charity called City Harvest, which rescues perfectly edible food from farmers markets, offices, restaurants, grocery stores and (in our case!) production kitchens, and then donates it to soup kitchens and food pantries. It is a really wonderful organization and something that should be replicated everywhere.

    • JLF says:

      Several years ago I heard of a program in Wash DC – can't remember the name of the program – that would gather up leftover food from local restaurants and hotels, take it to a kitchen where people in need of job training were taught cooking skills repurposing the food into new meals, that were then fed to homeless folks in need of a meal. No waste, job training, feeding the needy. Win-Win-Win. I wish I knew if it's still operational and if it is being replicated anywhere else. Anybody know?

    • Boots says:

      I wanted to find out how to locate Food Network and/or Paula Dean about a recipe for PB&J Muffins. I followed the recipe yesterday and am convinced the recipe is wrong. It calls for 2 tablespoons of baking powder. The muffins were horrible, horrible. Please proof the recipe and see if the baking powder should be FAR less. Thanks before someone else makes the same mistake.

  10. Gregory says:

    I've been using a vacuum sealer for several years and have found it really helps extend the life of frozen foods especially–the price of the machine and bags is more than made up by the savings from the reduction in spoilage

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