Operation fridge zero

Here’s one way to fight inflation: stop wasting so much food.


Earlier this year, my internet presence peaked when I Tweeted:

People across the globe lost their minds in a collective lament over our children’s insatiable appetite for the most expensive produce. To this day, my Tweet circulates through online parenting communities and inspires a flurry of DMs on a regular basis. Of course, the issue is not limited to children and the parents who pay for their thousands of berries. We all face the rising cost of groceries every time we hit the register.

According to the U.S.D.A.’s recent Food Price Outlook, food prices were 4.3 percent higher in August 2023 than August 2022. This outpaces the all-items Consumer Price Index (CPI), which rose by 3.7 percent during that same timeframe. But you don’t need to be an economist to recognize this. Just spend $23 on a salad and you’ll understand.

As with most couples, Doug and I feel the effects of inflation. When we chose to forego my corporate salary last fall, we knew our monthly cash flow would take a hit. Pair rising costs with our reduced income and we had to evaluate our expenses and identify the areas where we could do better. Food was high up on that list.

When people think about spending less money on food, they immediately turn to dining out and ordering takeout as the main cost culprits. That might be the case, if you live in an area with solid restaurant options. But don’t count out this fact from that same U.S.D.A report: CPI for food-at-home (i.e., grocery store) purchases increased by three percent from last August to this one. Maybe that’s why my Tweet hit so hard: even when you’re “making your coffee at home,” so to speak, you’re still spending more money than ever before.

We (and by we, I mean, me) make our meals at home most days. I learned how to cook early in our relationship when money was tightest, but those survival skills evolved into a passion over time. Before many of you knew us, I even wrote a food blog–yes, the type with a long-winded story before a half-baked recipe. But fear not today, dear readers. I’m about to give you the recipe in this money blog right now.

If you want more value out of your groceries, stop wasting food. Aim for an empty fridge. Use everything you have.

What seems like a simple shift in mindset can make a huge impact on your health and your wallet. Reducing food waste benefits your whole life and the environment around you.

On Instagram, I’ve become more vocal about Operation Fridge Zero in the past few months, because I want to show people how they can stretch their money better in the kitchen without sacrificing the quality of the food they’re preparing. We are what we eat, so I am not suggesting you and your partner live off Spam and ramen to accomplish the goal of an empty fridge. There are small, conscious changes that you will feel if you commit to them. Let me share just a couple tips to get you started.

Check dates. When you shop in person, peep the expiration dates on perishable foods. I’ve noticed more and more that foods with “Use By” dates are still on shelves at the very end of their lives. The last thing you want is to buy a bag of string beans that’s growing fuzz the next day. You want to have some runway with the items you’re bringing home.

Shop with the seasons. During the pandemic, we subscribed to a weekly service that delivers produce from a local farm in New Jersey, and it’s really retrained my brain to cook according to what’s most available. When there’s lots of a certain ingredient, it costs less. All summer, I serve delicious salads filled with tomatoes and corn. I buy stone fruit, and yes, even the most elite fruit: berries, because they’re abundant, and the pricing reflects that. We switch to apples and root vegetables in the fall. In other words, don’t be a martyr and keep buying raspberries when they’re $7.99 a carton. Not only are items overpriced when they’re not in season, but they don’t taste as good.

Store produce with care. Take two seconds to learn the right way to store your fruits and veggies. I assure you, it matters. This article from Real Simple can help.

Prep your bases. Once the kids returned to school this fall, I resumed this ‘lil life hack to speed up our meals at home. Prepare a couple of bases–like rice, pasta, and lettuce–to use throughout the week. Having bases already available is kind of like a writing prompt in the kitchen and will inspire you to drum up good pairings with the produce and proteins you have available.

Win friends with salad. Contrary to the beliefs of Homer Simpson, salads are great. Salads are versatile. When I have a surplus of eggs, I make egg salad. When I have leftover chicken, I make chicken salad. If cooked pasta starts getting dry, I make a pasta salad. Anything can be a salad.

Find the mush. Use it, anyway. Just because your fruits and vegetables aren’t in peak condition doesn’t mean you should toss them. If my vegetables are on the edge, I make frittatas and soups. For fruits, make smoothies, compotes, or muffins.

If you’re not ready to adopt a Fridge Zero lifestyle, that’s cool. Maybe try one thing for a couple of months. Sustainable practices lead to sustainable habits that lead to a more sustainable monthly nut.

Though I do love pistachios. Better use them all.


Think the end of summer means the end of travel? Think again! For every late-season travel deal and fall getaway, there’s Babbel: bite-size language lessons built by experts so you can confidently explore anywhere you go. Get 55% off using this link and start conversing today!


Do you have a money question you’d like answered in a future issue of The Joint Account? Nothing is too icky.

AND…a source call for the book: Does your significant other come from money and you don’t? How does that impact your relationship?

Oh yeah, we’re going there. Email [email protected]. Note that being anon is OK, but we’d like to speak with both of you!

Are you a brand or business interested in reaching The Joint Account’s audience of 11,000+ subscribers? Email [email protected].

Find us everywhere: @dougboneparth + @averagejoelle

The content shared in The Joint Account does not constitute financial, legal, or any other professional advice. Readers should consult with their respective professionals for specific advice tailored to their situation.