By Leslie Kelly

Tossing out food is like throwing away money. Follow these easy tips to reduce food waste and save lots of dough.

Photo via Meredith Publishing

1. Label and Date Your Leftovers

Have you ever pulled a package of mystery meat out of the freezer, wondering "what's this?" and "how long has it been in here?" If I couldn't figure it out, it ended up in the trash, a regular ritual in my kitchen until I fell hard for the Sharpie. In professional kitchens, the walk-in fridge is full of bins and bowls and racks of prepped ingredients, sauces, stocks. Everything is labeled and dated, with the labels affixed on the top of each container or on the side, so it's easy to read. No more mystery. Here's a guide on how long to keep foods in the freezer:

  • Tomato/vegetable sauces: 6 months
  • Meatloaf (any type of meat): 6 months
  • Soups and stews: 2-3 months
  • Poultry and Meat Casseroles: 6 months
  • Poultry (cooked, no gravy): 3 months
  • Poultry (with gravy/sauce): 5-6 months
  • Meatballs in sauce: 6 months
  • Pizza dough (raw, homemade): 3-4 weeks
  • Muffins/quick breads (baked): 2-3 months

2. Properly Store Your Produce

Cut down on the slime factor in your produce bin by making sure fruits and veggies are kept dry and, in most cases, in an airtight container. Don't wash produce, especially lettuce, in advance or it begins to deteriorate. Here are buying and storage guides to some of the most popular produce:

3. Have a Weekly "Eat Down the Fridge/Freezer" Meal

Leftovers don't have to be boring. Re-imagine last night's carrots and potatoes as a Kitchen Sink Soup. Stir-fry rice with veggies, plop a perfect fried egg on top and you've got a dish that would look at home on a restaurant menu. Take the headache of meal planning and make it a fun competition, challenging the family or the roomies to come up with something cool and original with what's in the fridge or freezer. The winner gets to skip cleaning up. Doesn't it feel good to turn lemons into lemonade chicken?

Check out our collection of Budget-Friendly Recipes.