How to cut down on food waste
Reducing food waste can be easier than you think and is based on the principle of just buying what you need – and using as much of it as possible.
• Make a meal plan for the week. Design a weekly meal plan that uses some of the same key ingredients. For example, a whole chicken can be used to make roast chicken, chicken salad and a soup, amongst other things. It also will save time in shopping, thinking of what to cook and food preparation.
• Make a list. Before you go shopping, make a list of the food you need for your meal plan. Before you set off to the shops, check what you have already. Really look – even in the backs of those cupboards with tins in and deep down in the drawers of your freezer. You could be surprised what you still might have.
• Stick to your list. This is key to buying only what you need. Supermarkets aren’t there to feed us, they exist to sell us food, and they’re good at it. Tempting offers, delicious smells, expensive products at eye level – ignore them all. A two for one offer on something you don’t need doesn’t represent a 50% saving so much as a 100% waste of your money.
• Try to do one ‘big shop’. If you limit the amount of times you need to pop to the shop to get groceries, you will limit the amount of times you’re tempted to make impulse purchases. It’s that simple. And don’t ever do your ‘big shop’ while you’re hungry because you’ll be compelled to buy more.
• Shop local. If you can, why not use smaller local shops such as greengrocers, butchers, bakers, local farmers selling eggs and vegetables etc. You are more likely to be able to buy just what you need and there may be fewer miles from ‘field to fork’ and the packaging is likely to be reduced. And you also get the added warm feeling that comes with supporting your local community.
• Make your own dinners. You don’t have to be a great cook to make great dinners – sometimes it’s about putting the right things together. But less convenience food and more home cooking will really help you to use all the food you buy, as well as being healthier for your waistline and your bank balance. If you need help getting started, the NHS website ‘Change 4 Life’ has a host of useful resources including recipes that can feed a family of four for £5.
• Know how to substitute. There’s always going to come a time when you need something for a recipe that you don’t have. Usually at the last minute. Before you go back to the shops and waste time and money, make sure you don’t already have something that you could use as a substitute. For example, half a mashed avocado instead of an egg, or greek yoghurt instead of sour cream or vinegar instead of lemon juice (just use half the amount!). Just do a quick search on the internet “what can I use instead of…?” You can also use it as an opportunity to experiment with different flavours too – you may even create your own unique dish!
• Make friends with your freezer. The freezer is a great tool to reduce food waste because it keeps everything fresh until you need it. Take bread for instance – at 24 million slices, or 1 million loaves a day, it is one of the most commonly wasted food stuffs in the UK. Yet fresh bread kept in the freezer can be used as needed (it defrosts quickly at room temperature or can be popped straight into the toaster!) and stale bread makes excellent breadcrumbs for freezing. Leftover filter coffee can be frozen in ice cube trays and used in iced coffee. Other staples such as milk, butter and herbs can be frozen meaning that you’ll never run out. Do some research to find out how your freezer could work harder for you.
• Know what to do with leftovers. Despite all your best efforts, leftovers are inevitable. Before you scrape them into the bin, see if you can use them to make another meal. Excess rice can make a rice pudding for example, and vegetables can be used in everything from soup to samosas. What about leftover foods that haven’t been cooked? Do a quick internet search for other recipes – there’ll be lots to try. If fresh fruit is overripe, use it straight away or freeze it (for example, peeled bananas cut into coin sizes make excellent smoothies, and chopped up oranges and limes can be used instead of ice).
• Know the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates. It’s not always necessary to throw food out if it’s past its best before date; it’s about quality and does not mean the food is unsafe. Use that fantastic diagnostic tool that’s staring you in the face: your nose. If it looks and smells bad, it’s been left too long. ‘Use by” dates need to be taken more seriously; once the date has passed the food could be unsafe
For food that you can’t eat, freeze or reuse in another recipe (egg shells, apple cores, orange peel and vegetable peelings for example) composting is a great way to keep it out of a landfill site.
Councils across the UK offer subsidized schemes for composting bins, water butts, caddies and much more. Go to getcomposting and enter your postcode to find out what’s available in your area.
Don’t just think composting is for people with gardens – some councils will collect your food waste for community composting and there’s also a great little gadget called a bokashi bin. This ferments food waste (including cooked food leftovers, meat and dairy) on your counter top using a special bran. It’s an airtight container that gives off no odour. Each bin has a tap and the liquid it produces is teeming with good bacteria and can be used neat as a free and effective drain cleaner. You can find out more here.