Cutting down on food waste can save you serious cash. Check out how I extend the life of these super-healthy but super-perishable foods.

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Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where associate nutrition editor and registered dietitian Jessica Ball keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

Even though I live alone, my freezer is always packed full. I am on a budget, so I take advantage of how long things will last in the freezer to help me cut down on food waste. Not only is this better for the environment, but also it helps me save money. The average American throws away around $1,300 per year from wasted food. That's more than Americans' average annual spending on vehicle gasoline, apparel, household heating or property taxes. Needless to say, being mindful about how you store your food can save you some serious cash. 

a block of frozen berries, frozen peas, and a frozen steak on a designed background
Credit: Getty Images / Westend61 / Frank Bean / Siri Stafford

There are many frozen foods that I always buy, sometimes to save money and sometimes to have a treat on hand (who doesn't love ice cream?). These are things I almost always choose to buy frozen because they cost a fraction of the price of fresh. Plus, most of these foods have a very short shelf-life in the fridge, but last several months when frozen. Here are six foods you should always buy frozen to save money. 

1. Berries

I love fresh, in-season berries as much as the next person. But here in Vermont, the season for that is very short, so for the majority of the year, I buy frozen berries instead of fresh. Frozen berries are picked at peak ripeness and flash-frozen, whereas many fresh berries that aren't locally sourced are picked before they are ripe and ripened during the transportation process. Frozen berries are super versatile, too. In most cases, they can easily replace fresh in a recipe, whether it's for overnight oats, smoothies or even in most baked goods. They are a fraction of the price at the store and usually come in larger quantities so you don't have to splurge on several fresh pints if you need a lot. Plus, they can be stored in the freezer for several months. 

2. Spinach

You have probably heard that it's a good idea to eat more dark, leafy greens. Greens like spinach are packed with nutrients and potential health benefits like improved blood pressure, more radiant skin and better exercise recovery. While they're a super-healthy choice, fresh greens can be pricy and go bad very quickly in the fridge. Instead, I always have a few packs of frozen spinach on hand. It makes it easy to add greens to everything, from stews to smoothies, and I get all of the nutrition with none of the waste. Sure, you can't use frozen spinach for, say, a salad. But most often I buy frozen and then get fresh when I have a specific recipe in mind and know that I'll be able to use the whole package.

3. Peas and Edamame

Looking for a plant-based way to add protein and fiber to your meal that won't break the bank? Look no further. Green peas and edamame boast an impressive 4 and 9 grams of protein, respectively, per half-cup serving. Plus, each has 4 grams of fiber per serving. This protein and fiber combo helps make peas and edamame super-filling, affordable foods. While canned peas can last a long time as well, I choose frozen peas because they usually contain less added sodium than their canned counterparts. They cook quickly and help you up your veg intake in stews, soups, pasta, casseroles and more. I am always finding new dishes to add them to. 

4. Meat 

To help me save money on meat, I usually buy it in large portions at Costco for the discounted per-pound price. Since I usually only cook for one or two, I'll portion it out and store it in my freezer. This makes dinner planning a breeze because I can plan around the proteins I already have. Not to mention, my weekly grocery shops are way cheaper. It does take a little planning ahead to thaw frozen meat (see our guide on how to freeze and thaw meat safely), but pre-portioning what I buy allows me to only use what I need when I need it. I don't eat meat every day, so this helps me avoid fresh meat going bad and being wasted. 

5. Bread 

A few years ago, I started making my own homemade sourdough bread. It takes some time, but it's a process I love. That said, fresh bread (or any bread, for that matter) doesn't last long on the counter. Instead, after I bake or buy a loaf of bread, I'll slice it and throw it in the freezer. Since it's presliced, I can easily grab as many pieces as I need to. And I never have to worry about opening a bag to find mold on my beloved bread. This also helps me justify buying fresh whole-wheat bread when I don't make my own. Even though it's a few dollars more than typical store-bought sliced bread, I know it will last me longer and not go to waste if I keep it frozen. 

6. Fish 

Fish has a notoriously short shelf life, only about one to two days in the fridge. Plus, it's one of the more pricy proteins at the grocery store, so it's especially sad to have to throw it away unused. Fish is super healthy, and there are ways that you can eat more of it when you're on a budget. One way is by keeping fish frozen until you are ready to use it. Similar to meat, I will buy a larger cut of fish, cut it into individual portions for cooking and put it in the freezer until I'm ready to use it. As a bonus, it typically thaws much faster than poultry or red meat. 

Bottom Line 

While there are several other foods you will find in my freezer (hello, cookie dough), these are foods you should always buy frozen if you are trying to save money. These foods have notoriously short shelf lives, so are common sources of food waste. Storing them in the freezer helps you cut down on waste and, in turn, save money. Plus, they are super healthy and can be cheaper to buy on the front end if they are frozen or bought in bulk to portion and freeze. For more on how I use them, check out these make-ahead meals I swear by for busy weeks.