The Plagued Parent

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No Shop November… Um, what?

Around the beginning of November my wife offered us a proposal: Let’s try to eat all the food in our house. Not all at once, mind you, but over the month. See, we are notorious for buying on sale, stocking, forgetting and then tossing food in the garbage. Especially leftovers, and the same pattern ensues each and every time, “I forgot we had meatloaf. And when did we have rice pilaf. Do you think this is still good? What a waste.”

We are by no means unique in this pattern. According to the USDA 30-40% of the US food supply — that’s about 131 pounds of food equaling approximately $161 billion is wasted.


The United States currently does not have a single baseline estimate of food loss and waste. Instead, two very different measures describe the amount of food loss and waste in the United States:

  • EPA estimates the amount of food going into municipal solid waste (MSW): in 2011 food was 21.4% of Municipal Solid Waste, equal to 35.04 M tons (77 thousand pounds)
  • USDA estimates the amount of food loss and waste from the food supply at the retail and consumer levels: in 2010 food loss and waste at the retail and consumer levels was 31 percent of the food supply, equaling 133 billion pounds and almost $162 billion. (Source: USDA)

More recent estimates however suggest that these numbers from 2010 are conservatively low. A number of environmental and food activists, food packagers and producers, believe the amount of food wasted at both the retail and consumer level is closer to 50%. Yes, you read that right.

At the beginning of November my wife and I performed our seasonal food inventory ritual. Everything in the basement deep freeze was catalogued; the contents of the side by side in the kitchen were listed, the pantry was eyeballed and the kitchen cupboards were gone through.

imagesOnce that was done my wife proposed the following: No Shop November. For the month of November we would eat only the food we currently had in the house. Milk, eggs, fruit and bread were the only exceptions — those we could buy. But everything else — snacks, cereals, meats, cookies — would have to last the month and once they were gone, they were gone. No shopping.

Before going any further I need to explain the addiction my daughter and I have with respect to snack foods, in particular crackers. Goldfish, Cheez-its, Saltines, Ritz, Cheese Nips, Triscuits — we don’t tend to discriminate. My daughter is also a big consumer of chips, Jax, Doritos, Smart Food etc.

When the “no shop” concept was proposed I am certain she did a quick calculation to see how long the current rations would last. In fact, after about a week had passed I tried to open a bag of Parmesan Goldfish crackers. Standing in the pantry I wrestled quietly with the bag until, like a little silent ninja, my daughter popped up seemingly from nowhere

“What are you doing,” she asked.

“Goldfish,” I replied.

“No,” she said.

“But I want a cracker,” I whined.

“Step away from the goldfish,” she spoke with the low steady cadence of someone engaged in an unexpected Mexican Standoff. “They have to last a month.”

unknownI put the goldfish crackers down and moved from the pantry past my tiny blonde nemesis, our eyes locked, my expression reminding her that she may have won that fight but I would be back… she had to sleep some time…

In all honestly the exercise has not been all that bad. You do become more flexible with your culinary options. We tossed out fewer leftovers, and we did eat many things that often go overlooked in favor of what was close at hand. Having fewer options certainly makes you mindful of food in a number of ways. For myself, I found that portioning things out seemed more conscious. Where I’d usually destroy a box of Cheez-its, I limited myself to a handful. My daughter tended to do the same.

The one major allowance for shopping during November was, of course Thanksgiving. But even then, my wife was able to keep the budget low despite the fact that we cooked two entire meals: one for us and one for another family in need. Still, we spent less than $100 to feed two families. We managed the leftovers pretty well too so in the end only some dark meat and butternut squash went uneaten.

Overall, I don’t know exactly how much money we saved because, as my daughter pointed out, we might have gotten takeout a few extra times instead of grocery shopping. What I do know is that my wife felt that the exercise was so successful that she suggested carrying it through December.

My daughter’s reaction, “Noooooo. I have no crackers or lunch meat or bread! I can’t eat Peanut Butter anymore! Why? Why? Why?”

Ok, that response was only marginally blown a bit out of proportion, but her concerns are adequately represented. Despite my daughter’s reservations we are continuing the general idea behind the “No Shop Project”.  We certainly have wasted less and made use of more. That was the overall plan. And it taught us to make do, a valuable lesson no matter what. My wife even made me adjust her birthday dinner menu to utilize what was in the freezer, rather than shop for something else.

Truth be told: my wife did a little “stock up” about a week ago. Chips, cheese puffs, cheese crackers, four boxes of cereal (on sale for $1.49); you know the vital foodstuffs that’ll keep her adolescent daughter and sodium addicted husband from turning into gluten-free ogres. No one needs that running around the house over the next month, especially with Christmas on the horizon.


Updated: January 6, 2018 — 12:13 pm


  1. That’s a wonderful way to make yourself more mindful. You have a very smart wife.

  2. What a great idea. Now we’re empty nesters we tend to keep our shopping to a fairly restrained level – although there’s a couple of cans of tuna that are well past their use by date in the back of the pantry!

    1. Eat the tuna anyway. My personal belief is that expiration dates are merely suggestions anyway…

  3. I do this, too. More than I care to admit.

    1. I must confess that four meatballs just went into the trash. At least my daughter ate a few of them today for lunch. Well, nobody’s perfect. Thanks Carol.

  4. I’m thinking we’re going to try for a no-spend January, recover from the holiday season and start the year off right. Hopefully we’re as successful as you! 🙂

    1. I’ve run across that idea on some money and finance blogs. Some use the month to pay down any Christmas debt. Think about that for a second: I wonder if the savior ever imagined that “Christmas” and “debt” would ever be uttered in the same sentence. Thanks Amber.

  5. Sounds like us! We do something similar every now and then, eat what’s in the house, and there is plenty. I usually institute this when one of the boys will say there is nothing to eat . . . I know what nothing to eat looks like, and it doesn’t resemble our fridge or pantry!

    1. That’s my favorite — “there’s nothing to eat” typically translates into “there’s nothing I want to eat”. We hear that one a lot, and sometimes it comes out of my own mouth. A little scarcity never hurt anyone. Perpetual scarcity, well that’s a whole other matter indeed.

  6. I do a proper food shop roughly once every two weeks – I make meals out of the food I have in the house and I buy enough to last us roughly 10/14 days. As I work closely with supermarkets in my day job, I do get to top up in between with essentials eg teabags though 😊

    1. Sounds like a workable system. Thanks for sharing Linda.

    1. Thank you Margaretha, but that might be a bit of an overstatement. Most of us are lucky to live with such surplus that we find the most meager deficit troublesome. It is good to be reminded how that deficit, at least for us, is no more than a temporary inconvenience.

  7. I completely get this! My husband lost his job nearly five years ago (long since has a new one, thank God) and we were given no choice but to re-examine our spending habits. One area we found great need for revision was in the kitchen – just like you said, stock-ups and leftovers long forgotten were a huge waste of food and money. While it began out of a need for conscious frugality, we have kept the habit of using what is here. I find myself much happier with less in the cupboard because I know I’m using it wisely. We use leftovers intentionally as the springboard for another meal – or simply, a second meal, whether frozen for another night or just reheated that same week. I’ve learned to think about meal planning based on what is on hand rather than what do I want to eat. It makes me stretch my culinary brain and skills, too! A book that was a great resource in this re-thinking was Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Feast. I highly recommend it.

    1. I will definitely check Adler out. It is amazing how most of us consumers have swallowed the myth of the “necessity of surplus” (pun intended). As with most myths, once challenged and debunked, living beyond them is not only possible but enjoyable.

  8. My MIL is a full on hoarder and bargain shopper. Anytime she sees a good deal she buys. She has five or six freezers full of food in her basement and keeps bringing us things like ketchup and peanut butter. If there is ever an apocalypse, you guys are welcome here. We have enough toilet paper to last a few hundred years. I hate how much food we end up throwing away when she brings over 6 pounds of lunchmeat or cooks a 20 pound ham for 4 people

    1. I’ll program your locale in so I’m prepared for the zombie apocalypse. Just be sure to leave word if you have to flee, or at the very least leave the ham behind…

  9. We’ve done something similar this month (well without proclaiming it). We have purchased no food, until there is just absolutely nothing left but my husbands hoards of junk food. It was relieving to free up the kitchen/freezer space. Ours is more for the sake we are moving, but I think this is a great practice to do a couple of times a year!

    1. Prepping for a move is difficult enough without worrying about what to do with all your food. Hope all goes well. Thanks for commenting.

  10. Brilliant. Since we’re already halfway through December, I’m enacting No Shop January.

    1. We may be doing the same trying to see how long we can keep this going.

  11. Good for you. This is a life lesson for most of us. Although we have a backyard compost and our City has a program to recycle “food garbage” that would otherwise go into landfill, I really hate wasting food. We have so much, others have so little. It’s a shame.

    1. At least your city is making a collective effort and the waste becomes something productive. Still, as you say, to have such abundance when others have such scarcity is a drastic imbalance that’s really unsustainable.

  12. So guilty of the wasted food thing myself – mainly because I buy too much organic produce which goes off before I have used it. Not good.

    1. Even with not shopping, buying less, there is still waste in our house. It is a struggle to be sure.

  13. a great idea to try to use everything in your cupboard. We are so guilty of wasting food and money that is for sure. I think I’m going to adopt your idea for 2017.

    1. Please, stop back and let us know how it goes. Very interested to see how your experience unfolds. Your comments, as always Sue, are greatly appreciated.

  14. We are in the middle of a No Spending month. It’s amazing what you can come up with to eat. Some of the things we have made while going through the inventory have been things the kids have come back requesting. It’s a great way to limit waste, but I agree…in my case I miss the Cheese-its!

    1. My wife broke ranks the other day and did a decent shopping since the sales were good. My daughter grabbed me and said, “We have snacks! Lots of them; it’s like we’re loaded.” I guess this is also one of the payoffs to not having the stuff around — the sense of excitement and gratitude that the absence provokes. Thanks Sarah

  15. That’s a great idea. I should do this more. I’m not great at this type of thing because a) I really hate meal planning and the more thought it needs, the more I hate it; and b) I don’t like feeling trapped into having to eat something because it’s what’s there or I’ve planned it.

    1. I have to say that we battle the same (a) and (b) as do you. It really takes some wrapping your brain, and your menu, around the concept.

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