Can you guess how much of all global food that is produced gets wasted? 5%? 10%? Not even close – shockingly, it’s ONE THIRD (1).
Much of this waste is outside our direct control (as end users) because farmers are often forced to throw away food that doesn’t meet supermarkets’ strict requirements, and supermarkets themselves throw away food that doesn’t get sold. Of course we can petition to reduce food chain waste and do things like buy wonky veg to help curb these problems, but we can also directly reduce the amount we chuck away ourselves in the kitchen – you’ll be doing your bit to reduce food waste while saving money on your weekly shopping bill. Here's my top 10 tips:
1. Shop smart. Probably the most important change we can make to reduce food waste is by planning ahead for our shopping. Use meal plans and make lists for what you need, thinking about recipes that use shared ingredients so you can use everything up (e.g. if you buy a punnet of mushrooms but only need a few to top a pizza, plan to use the rest in a soup, stew etc). Definitely don't go shopping hungry either, as research shows we make unhealthy food choices when we're hungry (2).
2. Use a Sharpie. We all know how easy it is to forget when we opened something: that tube of tomato concentrate says use within two weeks of opening but can’t remember if it was opened two days or two months ago?! Keep a Sharpie handy in the kitchen and write the date on that jar / tube / carton when you open it as a handy reminder. You can also tape sticky notes to your frozen portions so you know when you made them, and more importantly identify what on earth they are!
3. Optimise your fridge. Make sure your fridge is functioning properly, with tight seals, a temperature between 1-5℃, and organised in a way that keeps your fruits and vegetables separate. This is because some fruits produce ethylene, a gas which speeds up ripening and can cause other veggies to spoil faster (3).
4. Watch those dates. Remember, not all expiry dates on food are related to food safety – ‘best before’ dates are simply the manufacturers' suggestions for peak quality, and foods are still safe to eat beyond this date (as long as they look, smell, and taste ok). ‘Use by’ dates however are the ones we need to watch, as food can be unsafe beyond this date.
5. Use the whole of the vegetables. There are tonnes of examples of how we can get more out of our fruit and vegetables:
- Many foods you usually peel can be cooked with the skin on – potatoes, carrots, parsnips etc all contain nutrients in the skins that would otherwise be thrown in the bin. Just give them a quick wash first.
- The stalks of many veggies (like broccoli and cauliflower) are perfectly edible too, and are sometimes even the tastiest bits!
- The leaves of some vegetables (like carrots and beetroot) can be delicious and really healthy too – eaten raw or wilted like you would with spinach.
For any scraps you don’t end up using, make a quick veggie stock by boiling a few handfuls of veggie peelings / scraps with an onion, some water, and some herbs for about 60-90 minutes, strain, and freeze for a rainy day.
6. Take advantage of your freezer. There are also countless ways we can make better use of our freezers, and here are my favourites:
- Notice that you’re regularly throwing away half of your loaf of bread? Chuck half of it in your freezer when you buy it, and take it out once you finish the first half!
- Have some bananas that you don’t think you’ll get through in time? Peel, chop, and freeze them and you’re a few steps away from having homemade ‘nice-cream’ later in the week.
- Leftover grapes / blueberries can be frozen to make the perfect way to cool your wine without diluting it (plus you get a fruity treat when you finish the glass).
- If you open a bottle of wine but don’t end up finishing it, tip the leftovers into an ice tray ready to pop into your next recipe that calls for wine, like this beetroot risotto.
Let me know of any other freezer tricks you might have so we can share our collective wisdom!
7. Rotate your food. When you unpack your shopping, put the new food at the back of the shelf / fridge, and bring any older foods forward – this is standard practise in commercial kitchens as it helps remind you what you have that needs eating, and avoid foods rotting in the back of your fridge!
8. Leftovers for lunch. Sometimes these can be the best meals! If you’ve made a little too much of something or went over-board on that takeaway, store any leftovers for lunch or dinner then next day. Even if you think there’s not enough to save, just a couple of spoons of leftovers can be padded out with some toast to make a frugal but wonderful meal.
9. ‘Use-it-up’ meals. Once a week, try to make a meal using random bits of food you have lying around, including fresh produce and / or store cupboard staples that are nearing the end of their shelf-life. It’s a great way to use up food that might otherwise have been thrown away, and you never know – you might come up with a brilliant new creation or food combo!
10. Compost / donate. Lastly, if you can’t avoid throwing away food, try your hand at composting – your garden will love you for it! It produces some really nutrient-rich soil and it also means your bin doesn’t get as smelly with old food. If you have any jars or tins of food nearing the end of their shelf-life that you don’t think you’ll use in time, donate them to your local foodbank and help someone who can’t afford to buy food.
1. Food and Agriculture Organizations of United Nations. (2017). SAVE FOOD: Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction. Accessed on 13/04/2017 from: http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/
2. Tal, A., & Wansink, B. (2013). FaWening fas4ng: Hungry grocery shoppers buy more calories, not more food. JAMA Internal Medicine, 173(12), 1146-1148.
3. ACS Chemistry For Life (2013). Keeping Fruit Vegetables, and Cut Flowers Fresh Longer. Accessed on 06/10/2017 from: https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2013/acs-presspac-june-26-2013/keeping-fruit-vegetables-and-cut-flowers-fresh-longer.html