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posted: 3/14/2012 2:02 PM

Inventive ways to waste less food

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Spoilage is the primary cause of food waste. Buying food in larger quantities can save money, but only if you use it up before it goes bad. On my community forums, members participate in our annual No More Wasted Food Challenge, which helps everyone to be vigilant about reducing food waste for the upcoming year.

Here are a few tips to help you:

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Keep an inventory list: Keep track of what you have and when it expires. You can use a dry erase board, calendar, notebook or an index card in your kitchen to create a master list. One reader, Vicki from South Carolina, shares: "Rather than just putting a date on the containers in which I freeze leftovers, I add the leftovers to my calendar, with a date to take them out of the freezer. I count out four weeks and put the leftovers on my menu plan." You can print inventory sheets here, too: frugalvillage.com/forums/stockpiling/116882-stockpiling-inventory-sheet.html. It's also important to know how long your stored foods can last. Visit StillTasty.com for information on food storage and shelf life. There are also mobile apps available to keep track of your inventory. Visit Thoughtbug.com/products/food_inventory and PantryList.net.

Clean regularly: Organize what you have in your kitchen so you can access items easily. Keep shelves clean, too. Group like items together and arrange shorter items so you can see them. Another reader, Karen from Kansas, shares: "I freeze leftovers in vacuum-sealed FoodSaver bags and use plastic baskets to group like items together in the freezer. I just remove one basket at a time and flip through the contents like a file."

Have a plan: Keep a handy list of ways to use up common foods. To start compiling your list, visit FrugalVillage.com and do a keyword search for "use up". You'll find hundreds of ideas to use up just about any food item before it spoils. Your list can include leftover makeovers or 'planned-overs' (leftovers with an intended purpose). I have entire forums dedicated to recipes that use leftovers, too.

Another reader, Trish from Alabama, shares lots of ideas for meals that make great leftovers:

Chili: Freeze leftover chili for another quick meal by itself, or use it to make chili mac.

Roast: Have roast with veggies in gravy one night, then shred the leftover roast and add it to cooked rice for another meal, serving it with the leftover veggies on the side. I also use leftover roast to make beef potpie, wraps, sandwiches or casseroles.

Dice uncooked round steaks or a small roast to use for soups and stews, beef kebabs, beef and rice, casseroles, Hamburger Helper, fajitas, beef and onions with pasta, etc.

Roasted chicken: Roast a whole chicken with baked potatoes one night, then chop up the leftover meat and use it for a chicken casserole, chicken and dressing, chicken tetrazzini, chicken and rice, chicken wraps, chicken salad sandwiches, tacos, soups and stews, or add BBQ sauce to make sandwiches. You can use turkey in the same ways. Dice leftover baked potatoes to make potato salad, or use them to make twice-baked potatoes or mashed potatoes as a side dish.

Ham: Dice leftover ham to use in scrambled eggs, omelets, frittata, fried rice, macaroni and cheese, scalloped potatoes, ham salad sandwiches or loaded baked potatoes.

Hamburger patties: Serve leftover patties with rice or pasta, covered in mushroom and onion gravy. Or crumble them to use in spaghetti, casserole, soup, chili or other Mexican dishes.

• Sara Noel owns Frugal Village (frugalvillage.com), a website that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. Send tips, comments or questions, to Sara Noel, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106, or sara@frugalvillage.com.

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