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Bad apple with good apples

Why is it that we seem to be spending more and more on groceries each week but we have less and less to show for it?

Rising food prices are one thing, but there's something seriously wrong when only a few days after dropping $100 on groceries, there's nothing to make for dinner. I feel like we buy plenty of food on our trips to the grocery store, and yet take-out meals round out at least two or three suppers a week. And while Indian and Thai can be nice once in a while, on a regular basis it really adds up.

Fact is, too much of our food ends up in the composting bin, whether it's not-so-fresh veggies or pasta that's starting to toughen up.

I asked Toronto holistic nutritionist Joy McCarthy for tips on how to cut down our food bill and keep more of our groceries out of the green bin. According to Ms. McCarthy, it's all about planning. The first step is to put a calendar on your fridge and plan out your meals for the week, she says.

"This helps you save money because you're not buying foods that will go to waste," she said. "And this also helps you to buy healthier foods because you're sticking to a plan."

Stock up on staples, so that quickie meals aren't so difficult to put together and you can avoid the quick take-out fix. "Brown rice, quinoa and millet make easy one-pot meals in a pinch with just a few veggies. Same with whole wheat pasta," she said. "Shop for one week's worth of produce, but buy in bulk for non-perishable items."

As well, Ms. McCarthy suggests stocking your pantry with a well-rounded roster of condiments, spices and herbs so you're just picking up your basic ingredients each week. Plus, you'll have the flavourings and cooking oils to whip meals together quickly and easily.

But what about those pesky perishable items that you have to buy in large portions? Some of the most wasteful food-chucking in our house happens when we forget about those extra cauliflower or broccoli florets after using it in only one recipe. Fresh basil and parsley always comes in massive bundles. And does anyone really ever go through an entire bunch of celery before it goes brown?

"Freeze fresh herbs or dry them yourself," said Ms. McCarthy. "You can cook them in the oven or simply hang them upside down. I juice things like celery, or make a soup with it."

Soups are a great way to utilize those extra veggies, just be sure to deal with your food overages right away to avoid spoilage.

Leftovers can be frozen too, and Ms. McCarthy suggests making excess pasta (a common occurrence in our house) into a fresh salad the next day for lunch.

Most importantly, think of your perishables as the main event in a meal and plan around them. "If you always focus your meals around fresh vegetables, you will never have stuff going bad in your fridge," said Ms. McCarthy.

Because there's bound to be a day when the fridge looks barren, keep some items on hand that can be used to make a meal quickly – frozen greens for a last-minute stir-fry, wild salmon, canned beans and low-sodium whole tomatoes for when you don't have them fresh (though keep the cans to a minimum to avoid bisphenol A). Just remember to replenish the items when you use them up.

But all this pre-planning can get boring, no? Ms. McCarthy suggests trying one or two new recipes a week to keep things lively, but do it on the weekend, so you have the time to get it right and you won't end up ordering pizza (again!) when it all goes south.

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