NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Deborah Hanlon is like many people when she shops at the grocery store. She buys the healthy foods – fruits and vegetables we know we’re supposed to eat. And then? “Hardly any of it is eaten!’ she says. It goes bad, and she has to throw it out.

“I am a single mom of three boys, and I drive myself crazy with this,” says Hanlon, who also owns and runs a center for mindfulness called The Center for Being, Knowing, Doing.

Besides missing out on the nutrition, it’s costly to throw out groceries.

“I probably 'throw out' a good $50 a week from this,” Hanlon says. “It's shameful. And yet ... I'm like Pavlov’s dogs. I go to the store, see the fresh fruits and veggies aisle and voilà – I go into a buying frenzy.”

Hanlon is far from alone in this particular form of money-wasting. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average American throws away between $28 and $43, which accounts for about 20 pounds of food each month. Some 35% of what’s thrown out is fruits and vegetables, and meat accounts for some 35% of what we toss in the waste bin.

Financial Dieting

Part of curbing this trend hinges on changing your spending habits.

Kathleen Quarterman, a real estate agent with Weichert Realtors, also throws away a lot of fresh produce.

“I end up throwing away all of my fresh herbs…because they rot before I can use it all,” Quarterman says. “Most often, I also end up trashing romaine lettuce, bell peppers, tomatoes."

Quarterman has reduced the amount of canned goods she throws out due to their expiration dates.

“I was purchasing too many with coupons and not eating it enough,” Quarterman says.

Hanlon and Quarterman have plenty of company.

Lori Bruhns, a time management and organizing expert, teaches clients on how not to waste the food they buy by coaching them on how to buy the right amount. Bruhns says taking a quick inventory of your pantry weekly can ultimately result in big savings.

“Doing this on weekly basis will help you become familiar with the food you … currently have and over time to understand what are main staples for the family,” Bruhns says.

Plan meals using the staples in the pantry for the main ingredients and shopping for the rest, she suggests.

“My favorite site to help in the meal planning process is allrecipes.com,” says Bruhns. “You can put the ingredients you do have in your pantry and get recipes that include them."

“Don’t be influenced [to buy an item] just because it’s less expensive,” says Gary Foster, a psychologist and chief scientific officer at Weight Watchers. “Many foods high in fat and high in sugar are on sale, sold in limited quantities and advertised, helping to encourage consumers to purchase these items, because they feel like they are getting a deal,” he says.

Another tactic? Be aware of product placement. Foster conducted a study on the shelf placement of cereals.

“The healthy ones were on the bottom shelf, and those high in sugar were on the third shelf – eye level for toddlers and children and within arm’s reach for adults,” Foster says. “This helps to influence the purchase of the more sugary items, because they are more visible.”

And, of course, eat before shopping, and avoid impulse items by making a list and sticking with it, Foster says.

As for Quarterman, she’s found another way effective way not to over-buy at the grocery store. She says she began researching how to plant her own produce garden so she can eat healthier and use what she grows, as needed.

—Written by S.Z. Berg for MainStreet