Americans toss up to $900 in food every year, but these grocery shopping and food storage tips can help your dollar go further
Corbis Images

Most of us are willing to spend a pretty penny for fresh produce, but it turns out those fruits and vegetables may actually cost you even more in the end: Americans admit to throwing out roughly $640 of food each year, according to a new survey by the American Chemistry Council (ACC). Even worse, we're probably guessing low, since U.S. government figures say it's closer to $900 of food waste per household. (Check out these Money-Saving Tips for Getting Fiscally Fit.)

The ACC surveyed 1,000 adults and found that 76 percent of households say they throw away leftovers at least once a month, while over half throw them away every week. And 51 percent admit to tossing food they bought but never even used.

While that sounds incredibly wasteful-and it is-the reality is if you eat healthy, you're obviously buying fresh fruit and vegetables that will inevitably go bad if you slack on cooking or buy them too far in advance.

Most of us do try and keep food waste to a minimum (a whopping 96 percent, according to the survey). But we're apparently still dropping a huge chunk of change in the garbage despite our best efforts.

So how can you save money and lower the amount of waste you're pushing into landfills? For starters, use those leftovers instead of tossing them. (Try these 10 Tasty Ways to Use Food Scraps.) But you can also shop and store smarter. Here's six ways.

1. Make a List

Writing up a grocery list is a no brainer, but you need to go beyond the Greek yogurt and eggs you just used up. On Sunday, plan out most (or all, if you're feeling ambitious) of your meals, and create a grocery list of exactly what and how much to shop for, suggests registered dietitians Tammy Lakatos Shames and Lyssie Lakatos, known as The Nutrition Twins. Once you're at the store, stick to your list. Impulse purchases can lead to an excess of food sitting in your fridge waiting to go bad, they add.

2. Adapt Recipes

Type As, listen up: You don't have to follow every recipe exactly. In fact, sticking to the exact ingredients often leads to splurging on things you'll only use once, says Jeanette Pavini, savings expert. There's a substitution for almost every ingredient, so anything that you don't already have in your pantry, you can Google and find an alternative for, she suggests. Not only will this keep you from wasting money on new products you'll never touch again, but you can also use up food already in your fridge or pantry that would otherwise go bad. (Start with Better Than Butter: Top Substitutions for Fatty Ingredients.)

3. Stock Up on Dried Grains

Grains and dried beans are an inexpensive way to add essential protein and fiber into your diet-plus, they last up to a year if stored properly, says Sara Siskind, a certified nutritional health counselor and founder of healthy cooking class company Hands on Healthy. Buy grains in bulk to save money, then empty them into an air-tight container. Store this in a cool dark place all winter and pop it into the freezer in the summer, which will help elongate their life, she adds.

4. Avoid Bulk Produce

Buying a carton of tomatoes may seem like it'll save you money, but if you really only need one or two, then spoiled produce is no longer a bargain, say the Nutrition Twins. This is especially true if you're cooking for one, in which case you should always just pluck one tomato off the vine and leave the rest for someone else to purchase.

5. Consider Buying Pre-Cut Fruit

Yes, those containers of pre-cut strawberries, pineapple, and mango seem like a rip-off when you can buy double the amount of whole fruit for the same price. But washing, peeling, and slicing whole fruit is a lot more time intensive, which may lead you to put off eating the fruit until it's gone bad, says Siskind. The pre-cut options may be a bit pricier, but the time saver may be worth it if you're actually more likely to eat it.

6. Buy Frozen

Most of us know to avoid sodium-heavy frozen food, but that's really only true for frozen meals. "Frozen produce is just as nutritious as fresh since the produce is picked and frozen immediately, keeping the nutrients intact," explain Shames and Lakatos. Frozen produce is also very economical (you can typically score a 12-ounce bag of frozen raspberries for the same price as 6 ounces of fresh). Plus, they add, frozen produce gives you flexibility to coordinate an impromptu girls night out without having to worry about the veggies spoiling in the fridge. (And check out these 10 Packaged Foods That Are Surprisingly Healthy.)