How little food can you discard in one week? It's worth figuring out.

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Using a list results in smaller grocery hauls, and less waste Photo by Meredith

The average family of four wastes more than $120 every month on food that never gets eaten. That's like buying five bags of groceries and delivering two of them to a dumpster. Here's how you can save a whole lot more.

1. Know the Expiration Date Myth

"Best by" and "sell by" dates are just manufacturer suggestions for when food is at its peak—not when it goes bad. "Sell by" is actually earlier—sometimes by up to a couple of weeks. If you didn't know that, you have lots of company: Surveys have shown that up to 90 percent of Americans misinterpret the dates and throw food away prematurely. Many foods will stay good for days or even weeks after the package date.

2. Use a Smaller Cart

Fifty-five percent of what we buy during an average shopping trip is unplanned—which means more waste potential. Fight the impulse by using a basket or a smaller grocery cart. The smaller they are, the less you tend to buy.

3. Freeze!

Freezing food is like hitting the pause button, and most anything can be frozen. Pop half-used milk in the freezer before vacation, and it'll still be in great shape when you get home. Cheese (best shredded and used for cooking), eggs (out of the shell and raw, but scrambled), bread (sliced), and tomato products (pasta sauce, tomato paste) all freeze well, too.

4. Make a List

How many times have you forgotten you already had lettuce and bought more? Open your fridge before making your list. Research shows people who use (and stick to) shopping lists have the lowest bills and make the fewest trips to the store. If you find yourself in the store unarmed, take a moment to look over your cart before checkout. Ditch anything you can't see using during the coming week.

5. Have a Plan

Map out menus for the week—or, if that makes you crazy, at least for a couple of nights—and incorporate ingredients you tend to have too much of (cilantro and celery, for instance). Include a weekly "eat down" night to empty the fridge of whatever's still hanging around.

6. Don't Give Up

Revive older food: Soak wilting veggies and leafy herbs in ice water to re-crisp them, and toast stale bread, crackers, or tortilla chips. Leftover stir-fries are great for tacos, and wrinkled fruit is excellent for smoothies.

7. Use Storage Know-How

Storing food right can buy you days of shelf life. Strawberries do best laid in single layers, with cloth or paper towels between them (cuts moisture). Nuts keep better in the fridge (oils won't go rancid), meat should be on the bottom shelf (where it's coldest), and eggs go in the main fridge (not the door, where it's too warm).

This Is How Much We Waste

  • 40% = How much of all food in the United States never gets eaten
  • $1.5 billion = What it costs Americans to dispose of food, now the single largest component of municipal solid waste brought to landfills
  • 50% = How much more food Americans waste now than we did in the 1970s
  • 100 million = Acres of cropland that could be saved if consumers reduced food waste 30 percent by the year 2030

More about Creating a Sustainable Kitchen:

—Dana Gunders, author of Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook. Her sources include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the World Resources Institute, and the U.S. Geological Survey. Check out Dana's website here.

This is an excerpt from the September/October 2016 issue of Allrecipes magazine - pick up a copy today or subscribe here!