Reducing Food Waste

Simple ways to reduce your food waste

Let me ask you this. Would you throw a £5 note in the bin? I’m guessing your answer is going to be no. We wouldn’t dream of it, would we? And yet, many of us are throwing away perfectly edible food without thinking about it. 

In fact, 70% of total food waste is generated in our homes. It’s estimated that households across the UK waste 4.5 million tonnes of food each year, equating to around £14 billion worth of food. For an average family with children, this works out at around £700 a year.

But there isn’t just a financial impact from our food waste habits, there’s an environmental one too. The UN has reported that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest global greenhouse emitter, following China and the United States in the rankings.

Their press release stated: “…food that is produced but not eaten each year guzzles up a volume of water equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River and is responsible for adding 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to the planet’s atmosphere. Similarly, 1.4 billion hectares of land – 28 per cent of the world’s agricultural area – is used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.”

Feeding ourselves and our families really doesn’t have to cost the earth. There are so many simple ways in which we can both prevent and reduce food waste at home, some of which I’ll share with you here.

We can all make some small and realistic changes over time, changes which fit with our lifestyles and our families, and all these tweaks mount up to collectively make a big difference. 

Preventing and reducing waste

The point is not to go from producing however much food waste we’re creating to zero food waste in one go, that isn’t realistic for most of us. Instead, we need to identify some small changes we can make that become habitual and build on these over time. We’re more likely to stick with our changes if they’re easy and become a habit.

So, what simple things can we be thinking about?

Look at how you’re storing food 

By storing food in the right way, it’ll last longer: 

  • Herbs, bagged salad leaves and green beans will last much longer if you wrap them in a damp tea towel or kitchen roll and store in an airtight container or a bag in the fridge
  • Store potatoes away from onions – they last longer in a cool, dark place with some air to breathe – in a cotton bag is good or you can keep them in a cardboard box as I do
  • Keep fruit and tomatoes in the fridge, only getting out a few at a time for the fruit bowl so you have a ready supply of ripe fruit
  • Carrots and parsnips can quickly go black and floppy but will last much longer if stored covered in cold water in a box in the fridge, changing the water every few days.

You can see here the difference in the quality of the two parsnips a week after purchase – both bought on the same day, the one on the left stored in the veg drawer and the other, on the right, stored in a box of water.

Freeze and buy frozen

If you can’t use something, freeze it as soon as possible. Buying frozen can also help reduce waste because you can usually just get out what you need. 

The sorts of things that you can freeze that you might not already be freezing are: bread products, milk, cheese, tinned tomatoes or passata, tomato puree, cooked beans and lentils, eggs, flour, nuts, ginger, garlic, onions, chillies, herbs and veg scraps or bones to collect and turn into stocks. People always laugh and say it’s not necessary, but cake and wine can also be frozen!

My motto is, if it’s going to go to waste anyway, try freezing it. You’ve got nothing to lose. 

Use the whole ingredient 

Let’s make an effort to make the most of the whole ingredient before it heads to the food waste bin: 

  • Squeezed lemon, orange or lime peels could be used to flavour your water (keep them in a bag or box in the freezer to grab as you want it)
  • Lemon peel, mint stalks, ginger peel, apple and pear cores or pineapple peel can be used to make herbal teas (again, storing in the freezer for when you want it)
  • Save the end of your parmesan rind to drop into a soup, stew or Bolognese for extra flavour (store it in the freezer until you need it)
  • Do you really need to peel potatoes and root veg when a good scrub will do? If you do peel them, store your peelings with herb stalks and bones to make stock or why not make peeling crisps? 
  • What about jars, tins and bottles – is there still something left in these when you go to rinse them for the recycling? Rinse out tomato tins into your dish instead or make a dressing in a pesto, peanut butter, mustard or mayo jar and how about making a hot chocolate in your chocolate spread jar?

There’s so much you can do – you’re limited only by your imagination.

Use up what you’ve got 

  • Make a plan to use the ingredients in your fridge before you go shopping or to use them up with whatever you buy in your next shop. 
  • Get creative to use up bits and pieces – scraps of veg left in the fridge can be added to stews or curries, turned into hearty soups, stir fries, frittatas, summery salads or slaws. Coleslaw doesn’t just need to be made with cabbage, carrot, celery and onion in mayonnaise. Any crunchy veg will do and you can travel the world with the flavours in your dressings. 
  • Swap ingredients in a recipe you don’t have for those that you do – a recipe is just a starting point and not a prescription. Don’t go out buying things especially for a recipe if there’s something you’ve already got that can be used.
  • With a bit of imagination, leftovers can be even more delicious than the first time round, they often make the best lunches, or even breakfasts in our house. They don’t have to be eaten as they were intended for the original meal but turned into something else or padded out with tinned ingredients or other bits and pieces that need using.
  • There are also so many pampering benefits to be found going to waste in your kitchen. From dried ends of cucumber, squishy grapes and overripe tomatoes, brown avocado and bananas to orange peel and ginger, there are opportunities galore to make face masks and peels, bath soaks and skin rubs. 

Meal planning 

  • One of the best ways to help you reduce your food waste is to meal plan. 
  • Meal planning allows you to think about what you’ve got that needs using up and make a plan for eating it as well how to use up the new ingredients you’re going to buy. 
  • Once you’ve done your meal plan, you’ll know what you’re cooking and so can then check what you’ve already got and what you still need to buy.
  • You can also consider how much you need (how many people you’re feeding, how many meals you need to prepare, what’s a portion size, how much your family can eat, do you want to have leftovers) to allow you to buy and prepare the right amount.
  • Meal planning is one of those tasks that you can dread, but honestly the thought of it is far worse than the reality of doing it and the benefits, beyond reducing your food waste, are well worth setting that time aside for. For help getting started, my top tips for meal planning success are just the ticket. 

I urge you to think outside the food waste bin, to think about what and how much you’re buying as well as how you’re storing your food and to get creative with your scraps and leftovers!

Sarah Alder of Kitchen Titbits is a meal planning and family mealtimes expert, transforming mealtimes from stressful to stress-free. Sarah specialises in teaching about meal planning as a way of reducing food waste, saving time and energy in the kitchen, cutting food bills, taking the stress away from mealtimes and getting away from the age-old question of what’s for dinner!

To find out more about Sarah, her courses, workshops and online programmes, visit her website.