4 Ways My Empty-Fridge Challenge Helped Me Fix My Wasteful Habits

Looking into my refrigerator, I remember the voice of my Puerto Rican grandmother saying, “What happened…you don’t go shopping? You’re starving your husband!”

I laugh a little just imagining her reaction. The reality is that this is practically what my fridge looks like right before every payday. And before you gasp in shock and jump on my grandmother’s side, please allow me to explain.

A few years back, I would have done this every week:

  • Go to the local grocery store.
  • Shop for all the food I need, want, and could not live without. 
  • By the middle of the week, find a neat recipe from Pinterest.
  • Run out to the grocery store to buy all of the ingredients for said recipe.
  • Cook the meal (which did not end up looking like the awe-inspiring Pinterest photo).
  • Never cook the meal again (because of the huge hassle to prep!).
  • Come home tired from work and uninspired to cook later in the week, so swing by the nearest Chipotle to purchase that burrito.
  • Open the refrigerator to the groceries bought three weeks ago. (All spoiled.)

So now, instead of making sure the fridge stays full at all times, I make sure to fill it up one good time. I eat all (or at least most) of the items I bought and feel content knowing that I did not let anything go to waste. As you can imagine, it took a while to get to the point where I was comfortable with the idea of getting down to an empty fridge, as I scarcely make it to each upcoming pay period. I mean, isn’t the indication of a healthy household the iconic jam-packed fridge with all of your favorite things?

I remember having moments where the empty fridge would tempt me to make a run for the grocery store and grab everything and anything I thought would fill the void where those bare household necessities should be. After throwing away bags after bags of spoiled food left neglected after an impulse grocery store trip, I realized that having a full fridge could not be the ultimate indicator of a healthy household. Instead, I felt lacking in security and contentment from the all the food I left to rot.

I started to see that this newfound perspective of wasting nothing, allowed for added value — for not only the food in my fridge; but, for everything else I owned.

The art of eating everything you buy is a skill developed through trial and error. So without further ado, here are some tips that helped me really tune into the food that I actually eat.

1. Consistency. Whether you plan to cook throughout the week or incorporate dining out once in a while, the key thing is to follow through and keep it consistent. Deviating from plans may end up causing food to spoil and ultimately wasting money. Try incorporating meal plans or cooking larger dinner portions for lunch leftovers. This will eliminate impulse lunch purchases. The first few weeks are the toughest, but in no time, you will find your groove and have the ultimate meal plan.

2. Create a grocery list with must-haves and would-likes. Creating a grocery list is always helpful to stay on track and avoid deviations as you walk up and down the aisles. As you create your list, make sure to include items that you don’t necessarily need, but would like to have (i.e. breakfast bars, smoothie drinks, ice cream, etc…). This minimizes the cravings that can lead to impulse runs to the nearest [insert your favorite dessert shop or restaurant here].

3. Buy the things you already imagine eating. It’s easy to buy food that would go great with your diet plan or pick up an item you pinned on your Pinterest board. However, without taking the time to imagine YOURSELF eating these foods, you run the risk of purchasing grocery items that end up getting neglected and later spoil. If you plan to incorporate something new in your diet, purchase it in very small portions at first. This way you test trial the foods according to your specific lifestyle.

4. Go on more coffee/dessert dates instead of restaurant outings. As opposed to substituting your next home cooked meal for Chinese takeout, pizza and wine, or a happy hour with friends, plan to meet up at a cute coffee or dessert shop. For one, this is a whole lot cheaper than the full restaurant experience. And two — this will motivate you to explore the options provided in your fridge before leaving for your delicious treat!

Overall, getting to the bottom of my fridge has not only taught me to waste less food, but also how to make the most out of what I have! Ultimately, making me a choosier and more resourceful shopper.

Daysha runs a personal blog where she shares her financial journey, life happenings, bloopers, and things she’s learned that may help someone else.

Image via Unsplash

  • Victoria Fredericks

    I love this! I have a pretty empty fridge right now and will keep these tips in mind on my next grocery trip. I really hate food waste. What are your thoughts on boxes like Hellofresh/Blue Apron? They seem wasteful to me too (not to mention expensive).

    • Daysha Lee

      I personally don’t shop through Hellofresh/Blue Apron, as I tend to keep a simple and consistent grocery shop. However, it makes for a really great gift idea for someone who enjoys cooking new recipes. I have ordered from PeachDish as a gift for a friend.

  • Laira

    My SO and I have really built up this similar mindset over the last few months. We’ve surprised ourselves with how many creative, delicious meals we’ve made when we otherwise would have looked at the fridge and ordered take out. Once you’ve accomplished this a time or two it can be really motivating.

    Having a pantry stocked with non-perishables that can be added to different meals (e.g. canned tomato sauce, pasta, frozen chicken etc.) helps a lot. This method lends itself well to stir-fry, casserole, pizza and anything else where you can throw in an assortment of ingredients.

    • Daysha Lee

      I completely agree- non-perishables can make the difference between having random ingredients and having a meal!

  • lazuliz

    We do this too! I feel so proud when the fridge is empty for the week and none of the food was wasted/spoiled. We finally learned to be honest with ourselves that the likelihood of us cooking on Friday or Saturday night is slim-to-none, so we just embrace HH life on those nights. When we want to meet up with friends we usually just hang out at someone’s house, it’s so much cheaper and more chill to hang out around the backyard table and talk or play a board game.

    • Daysha Lee

      This is basically my style in a nut shell! I love the coziness and bonding moments that comes with eating and playing games at a friends house.

  • Louise Fox

    I have got into a flow now of shopping once a week and using all fresh ingredients for approx. 3-4 days – then a few days where there is some left overs mixed with tinned on frozen food. This is working because I’m not wasting and the fridge is basically empty apart from condiments when I go shopping again 🙂