NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and her husband used to spend $1,000 a month on food, about 25% of which she says went to waste. 

Despite the fact that Americans have loosened their belts to accommodate bigger portions of food, a lot of food still gets left on the plate or to go bad in the refrigerator. A recent survey from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) suggests that Americans are not aware of just how much they waste and the impact it has on their wallets -- $161.6 billion annually, $371 per capita. The environment is also adversely affected by growing food unnecessarily. Approximately 35% of fresh water, 31% of cropland, and 30% of fertilizer used in the United States was used to grow food that was thrown out.

An astounding 31% to 40% of the food supply in the United States gets thrown out. Further, research findings from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggest that nearly 75% of Americans think that they waste less food than the national average.

As their top reasons for throwing out food, consumers surveyed cited safety concerns and a desire to eat the freshest food. When measured by weight, the top foods wasted are, not surprisingly, perishables--fruits and vegetables.

The researchers suggest Americans can reduce food waste by planning not just meals but portion sizes and freezing food they cannot use before it spoils, among other things.

The researchers say that their findings suggest the need for clearer and more consistent labeling and offering packaging that consumers want--re-sealable bags and smaller portion products as well as discounts for food near its expiration date or damaged food.

People who were surveyed also were "open to alternate sales approaches, such as ‘buy one get one free later’ [offers] that allow them to get savings without overloading their pantries," said study leader Roni Neff, director of the Food System Sustainability & Public Health Program at CLF.

“Often, we buy things we think we want in the moment, or things we think we should be feeding our family…, only to find it molded in the back of the 'fridge,” says Kendal Perez, savings expert with “Be realistic about what your family will consume and what kinds of meals you'll actually make, and buy accordingly. Planning meals is key to saving money on food and avoiding excessive food waste.”

That discipline and proactive mindset has helped Schroeder-Gardner and her husband rein in their superfluous spending on food. They have cut their food bill in half and their waste by about 10%, she says.