How Much Food Do You Toss?

The Average American tosses $859 worth of food a year, how do you stack up?

According to the 2009 Department of Labor's consumer expenditures reports, the average American spends $6133 on food each year. And according to several reports, the average American wastes 14 percent of their food purchases. Broken down, this means the average American is tossing $858.62 each year. That's $71.55 per month. If that same amount was invested at 6.5% from age 20 to 65, that's $230,000 being tossed in the trash.


We're hearing a lot these days about would-be retirees who simply don't have the assets needed to leave the work force. The almost quarter of a million dollars tossed as bad lettuce would come in handy to those and others struggling with a job loss or temporary leave of employment to raise young children.

These numbers were startling to me as I think we are actually worse than the average American in tossing food that's gone bad. I would guess we easily toss 20 percent, if not more. So I challenged myself to track this for a week and actually see the numbers for myself. As you will see, the amount wasted clearly was substantial. These days I'm finding myself tossing a lot less and plan to start another week of "food tracking" this month.

Day 1, August 16.


  • 1 small squash - 50 cents
  • entire bag of cherries - $5.00
  • container of strawberries - $3.00
  • small squash - .50
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  • 1/2 tomato - .25
  • 1/4 container of guac - 75.

Total day one = $10.00 (What I clear after taxes, commute, babysitting costs, dry-cleaning, and associated work expenses for one hour).

Day 2, August 17

The only thing wasted thus far today was about 1/8th of a bagel with cream cheese, and that was partly to just be a bit healthier and eat less. The bagel with cream cheese is a bit over $2.00 so I will estimate that at .25 tossed. I could have just wrapped it to take home. The moment he saw me toss it, my five year old exclaimed, "Mom! I didn't know you were going to be so wasteful!".

Also, my "new awareness" forced me to cut up an almost overripe canteloupe and my two year old and I are eating that now for dinner.

Edited to add: Bedtime snack ended with 1/2 cup of leftover yogurt that had to be tossed as my two year old poured his water in it for fun. This is organic yogert, about $4.00 for a the container that has four cups. So that is 50 cents more being tossed tonight.


Day 3, August 18

Some of this may be sinking in, only tossed some bread crusts today. Cost of one piece of whole wheat bread is about 20 cents, so we'll call this a nickle for the day and pats on the back all around.

Day 4, August 19

Unlike the re-using my trash challenge, which is driving me a bit batty, I'm thrilled with my newfound dedication to tossing no food. I "re-used" the crusts today and just slathered on peanut butter and the boys look at it like a whole new sandwich. And the tiny bit of French bread that was to be wasted is in a recycled bag in my car to bring to the fish pond we go to to feed the fish. Not bad!

Day 5, August 25

Nothing tossed today, but a bowl of bean casserole is looking a bit shady and we went out to dinner which will just add another day to its aging, but otherwise good!


Day 6, August 26

Bean casserole will be going into the compost (1.50?) (80 cents can of beans, salsa, some onion). Used up the last of a very sad onion with the last of the spinach for a spinach pasta which is sitting in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch. Pat on the back again Eileen - doing really well at this.

September now and time to see if my progress is holding steady.

Good wishes. Eileen

Editor's Note What are some of your personal experiences with household food waste. Post your tips and advice here!

About The Author: Visit Eileen's blog to read more about Eileen and her frugal journey at

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October 5, 20090 found this helpful

One of my favorite things to do is include my fridge (and freezer) in my meal/grocery planning. Once a week, I take things out and reorganize. This way, something doesn't get lost in the back that I could have used for a snack or meal. I really enjoy being able to put together a meal with all stuff I have on hand.


Another thing I do is to try freezing leftovers if I can tell I am not going to use them right away. For example, I made spaghetti last week and had a lot of noodles and sauce left over. Often, I would make up some individual lunches but I could tell that we wouldn't be able to eat all of them. So I just put the spaghetti and sauce right in a casserole dish and froze it. I'll heat it up in the next couple of weeks and none of it will have been wasted.

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October 5, 20090 found this helpful

Being recently disabled and unable to work I've definitely become aware of wasting precious food due to spoilage. I have only a $72.00 food allowance per month which I use only for items such as fresh veggies, fresh fruit, milk, butter, and eggs. I started shopping for those particular items only on an 'as really need' basis.


I am Blessed to have a food bank near my home and go there every couple of weeks and am given staples like flour, sugar, bread, canned food, etc.

If by some chance there is anything in my fridge, freezer or cabinets that I think is going to spoil before I can eat it I now share with neighbors and/or take to the food bank right away even if it's not my food bank shopping day.

I often think now of how often in my life I took the luxury of food for granted when so many people go without :-(

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October 5, 20090 found this helpful

I was raised in a family with eight kids, we never wasted food. I will use leftovers for lunch the next day, or freeze them for another time when I don't feel like cooking. My husband is on unemployment and I am unable to work, so we are living on 248.00 dollars a week and I can stretch a dollar,lol.

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October 6, 20090 found this helpful

Earlier this year, we had to bring in to our house who were homeless, one being one of my children, and of course my first grandson. I can now see how they probably became homeless because of how wasteful they are, especially food. Our daughter was not raised up to be like that either. Four months of this, was not working out for us, and thank goodness they are someone else's problems now, not us.

Now they are gone, our food money is way back down for just the two of us, and a LOT cheaper for us.

Some of the highlights, and we know who was the worst like that, and it wasn't my daughter, though she did tend to get too much food often, and not finish it, or not put it into the refrigerator for later.

About $8 for a tray of sushi, took a couple of bites and let it sit for hours, and threw it away.

Took the crab for use for a meal for everyone, and took it all and made it into a sandwich, took a couple of bites, and let that sit for hours, and threw it away. I don't remember how much, but, it was crab.

I went to get the Parmesano Reggiano because I use the micro planer, which makes mounds of it, with very little of it used, it was gone, because he threw it away. :( He goes through a lot of the shredded Parmesan, the ones that have a lot of preservatives in it, way more cost than what my micro planed Parmesan costs. He threw away at least $5 of my Parmesan, which could have probably filled 3 of those Parmesan shakers, aren't they over $3 for each, probably closer to $4.

Anyway, these are only a few of the highlights, during the last months, and he is a very, very wasteful person. Besides, leaving my refrigerator wide open while he's cooking this summer, and try to stop him, he won't listen, he'd do it anyway if I shut the refrigerator or freezer doors, over and over again. Just leave the doors open while he was busy cooking, often cooking in the middle of the night.

This is just some of the food and energy wasted, it was going on all of the time in many other ways, a walking, talking menace! No wonder they were all homeless to begin with! Not of course my grandson causing it, he's only 7 months now.

It is a lot nicer now, and a lot cheaper again.

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October 6, 20090 found this helpful

Both of my parents were 'depression babies' meaning they grew up during the depression. My grandmother saved aluminum foil and waxed paper.

I don't throw anything away, even if it's one slice of tomato. I freeze whatever I don't use - always labeling the container with what it is and the date.

I had to 'train' my husband not to waste food, even that last slice of tomato. He's so funny. He won't eat the ends of bread and when the bread gets to the bottom of the bag, he opens the new bag and won't finish what's in the old bag!

So I freeze what he won't eat or I eat what he won't eat. I don't ever throw out bread. I've used a lot of bread this way; french toast, especially recipes that are for baked french toast the kind you soak overnight, croutons, bread pudding, bread crumbs.

Also I've found that as I grow older I am becoming so much more aware of throwing food out, not just for the money, but because most of the world goes hungry, including people in our own USA.

Thanks for the tips!

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October 9, 20090 found this helpful

I don't like getting on a guilt trip about food waste but it seems to be the only "vacation" I have been on in awhile!
here's what I do with some of mine :
but there are things I can't comfortably add to this soup,such as leftover potatoe soup from a couple days ago.
It wouldn't be please to add a milky buttery leftover to it.

I used to be on a "kick" to have Entenmann's cake that had a caramel filling once a week or so & buy it & end up not wanting more than 1 or 2 pieces.But my parents would end up with the rest of it.And then it was pecan pie.A couple pieces ala mode later & I was tired of it & they were upwards of $8 each.

The cats were getting a good bit of the food until they all either got killed or whatnot & I still put things out for the neighborhood farm dogs & other furry friends. My biggest inspiration being out in the country where it costs $100 a month for trash pick up is to not buy nearly as much!Faced with recycling it,being challenged to find & learn crafts to use it,I use a LOT less! I can burn trash but I don't have a burn pit or a barrel right now!

Face the food dilemma with this in mind : what will I do with leftovers or the packaging? Am I creative enough to be able to deal with it all after I get it home?

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January 18, 20100 found this helpful

LOl You really need to have a look at an oz site, simple savings, the things that you can do with leftovers is mind boggling. I have gotten my weekly grocery shop down to about 80 dollars, most weeks and about 200 once a month, and the chickens get some of the scraps and what is left over goes to to the worms which in turn give me poop to grow more of my own stuff.

Very frugal household these days, 12 months ago I was spending 200 a week Australian on groceries and putting out a large of garbage each week. Now we put the recycling bin out once a fortnight and have to check if we have garbage once a week.

Small steps, Big changes, huge impact!

So you go girl, keep watch on what you buy and what you throw out, and your wallet will thank you and the planet will thank you too.

Cheers and keep up the good work.

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