We are often asked for ways to live a greener and more sustainable lifestyle on a small budget, and I really believe that this can be done – small changes in our everyday behaviour really can make a difference. (Starfish quote?) I personally believe that whatever we can do is beneficial, and involves getting in to good habits and being a conscious consumer – zero waste is a great goal to have, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and supporting each other towards this goal is what this post is all about.
In the Uk we throw away 20% of all the food we buy, which is the equivalent of £700 of wasted food per year for a family of four. When this ends up in landfill it rots and releases the greenhouse gas methane, contributing to global warming. If we stopped all the food waste that could have been eaten (not things like banana skins and teabags) it would have the same impact on carbon dioxide levels as removing 1 in 4 cars off our roads. These are pretty sobering figures, but there are easy ways we can all help to reduce this waste.
1. Meal Planning
It is so easy to nip to the supermarket and come home with lots more food than we actually need (especially if you have a small child in tow). Meal planning is a great way to ensure you stick to your shopping list and only buy what you need. It’s worth thinking about portion sizes too, so take a look at the recipe and see how many it aims to feed and adjust your list to account for this. I find doing an online shop is a good option as it takes some of the temptation away – but do watch out for offers and BOGOF on fresh food as these do just encourage over buying, and as a consequence more wastage.
2. Buying in Bulk
This is great for reducing packaging waste. Things to look out for are dried foods such as pasta, rice, lentils, dried fruits, and tins. If you have a group of like minded parents in your area there are online health food shops that you can bulk buy from and split up in your group. There are also zero waste shops popping up around the country where you can fill up your own containers.
Composting is a real favourite of mine, and perfect for those things that you couldn’t have eaten anyway such as tea bags and vegetable peelings. A lot of councils have a kerbside food waste collection, and the great thing about this is they will take cooked and uncooked foods – check with your local authority for a list of what you can and can’t put in.
Home composting is a good alternative if you don’t have kerbside collections – there are a few do’s and don’ts but it’s not really that difficult once you get the hang of it:
Don’t – add cooked food and/or meat scraps, as this can attract vermin
Don’t – add citrus peel, composting worms don’t like the acidic environment created
Do – go for a 50/50 mix of green and brown waste – green waste is your ‘wet’ material, that is your veg peelings, and brown waste is your ‘dry’ material, such at cardboard and paper, toilet roll tubes, straw from pet bedding.
Do – try and turn your compost if you can, this will speed up breakdown
Do – keep your compost covered to keep out the worst of the rain, thick cardboard is good, or an old piece of carpet.
Check you local council to see if they are doing any promotions on ‘dalek’ style compost bins, these are perfect for small gardens and keeping your compost contained. A wormery or bokashi bin is also a good alternative if you only have a small space. Use the compost as a top dressing around your pot plants or a mulch in your garden – your plants will love you for it!
Learn to love your leftovers. With the best will in the world, all the meal planning and working out portion sizes, you will still sometimes have leftovers. I have a selection of go to recipes that use up leftovers. If you are a meat eater, then a roast dinner provides a perfect opportunity to get another meal or too, the carcass is picked over for any remaining meat and stock made from the bones. This stock is then a great base for soups, casseroles and risotto. Roast vegetables are used in quiche or omelettes, or mixed with rice or couscous. Stale bread is made into bread crumbs to use as a topping for pasta bakes, and freeze well for when you need them, and I cut up any lemons lurking in the fruit bowl and freeze them to use in drinks (g&t). If I have milk close to it’s use by date I will make a white sauce for pasta bake or lasagna.
5. Buying Loose Fruit and Veg
This is obviously a great way to cut down on your plastic packaging – the supermarkets are slowly starting to cotton on to this and are providing a better selection of loose fruit and veg, just bring along your own bags. Wonky veg are now appearing on the shelves (though frustratingly often in plastic packaging), and are changing the perception that fruit and veg have to be perfect, which leads to enormous unnecessary waste. An even better option is visiting your local greengrocer, farm shop or farmers market. In-season veg is often not as expensive as you may think, and you will be supporting the local economy.
6. Freezing Portions
Make use of your freezer! If you have a portion left over, freeze for a later date. If you have uncooked meat still in it’s use by date, but you are not going to get time to cook it – stick it in the freezer. If you grow your own fruit and veg, freeze any gluts – I’ve had a fantastic year for tomatoes and have roasted and puréed them to go in the freezer to make a tomato base sauce for the rest of the year. Bread also freezes really well as does un-iced cakes.
7. Get to Know Your Fridge and Use by Dates
Fresh food will keep longer in a fridge at 0-5 degrees centigrade, with research showing that 70% of our fridges are running too warm. Keep a thermometer in your fridge to keep track of the temperature- in hot weather you may need to turn the temperature down to compensate. Even a degree or so above 5 degrees C will cause food to spoil much more quickly. Some things are best not kept in the fridge, including potatoes (store in a cool, dry cupboard), and bread (keep in a bread bin).
There is often some confusion over best before dates and use by dates. Best before dates can be ignored – use your senses to decide if fruit and veggies are still good to eat. Use by dates shouldn’t be ignored – they are put on cooked food products, meat and dairy and will tell you when something is safe to eat. Take a tip from the supermarkets and put things at the front of the fridge with the shorter used by dates to use first, before they reach their use by date.
With these suggestions you should be able to cut down on food waste with little to now outlay. It’s more about getting into the right mindset of reducing waste. Some of the suggestions might not work for you, but pick out the things that you think you could work into your routine, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Have you got any other hints and tips for reducing food waste, or any great leftover recipes? I’d love to hear them 🙂
Huge thanks to Hannah for her top tips on reducing food waste xx