Food prices are soaring, but we’re throwing away more of it than ever. Here’s how to take creative action.
How much do you throw away each year? Go on, have a think. How about the country as a whole? Ready to be shocked? According to data from the charity Waste and Resources Action Programme, 9.5 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK every single year.
That’s the equivalent of 9.5 million baby humpback whales, or 9.5 million 1979 VW Beetles in leftover food. This breaks down to 6.6 million tonnes from households alone, with the rest coming from restaurants and elsewhere. This comes out to an average of around 14kg of food thrown out per week by each household — about the same as a microwave or a wild coyote. (That’s enough of the madcap comparisons by the way.)
Anyway, considering the current cost-of-living crisis this is a waste many simply can't afford. To help you make your food (and money) go further then, we asked a range of chefs and eco-experts to share their favourite hacks for reducing food waste. Practical, cheap – and even delicious – these are the tips every kitchen needs.
Know how to read the use-by date
“The use-by date tells you when food is no longer safe to eat, but you should still inspect your food by observing its look, smell, and touch. If your food appears still good, it is likely fine to consume. A lot of food is safe to eat well after the best-before date, potentially for up to two weeks to a month.” – Adam Lowy, Founder - Move For Hunger
Respect the food
“If you want food to taste great, you need to respect it. There’s no way I’ll ever throw away the broccoli stalk – it’s the best bit. Cauliflower leaves, when cooked, taste just like cabbage, and you can use carrot tops to make a fantastic pesto. All of these bits that people usually throw away are edible, and yummy” – Laura Kurton, private chef (and owner of English Cottage Vacations).
Freeze your herbs
“If you can’t seem to get through your fresh herbs, garlic or ginger in time, create a blend in the food processor by adding a little bit of plant-based butter or coconut oil to your herbs. Place the mixture into an ice tray and store it in the freezer. Dill, rosemary, and thyme work great. To use, preheat a skillet and add in one of the cubes, then toss in your favourite veggies.” – Plant-based chef and author Nicole Derseweh.
Sit down and plan your meals
“Sounds obvious, but it’s the number one thing you can do to reduce food waste. Spend an hour one day a week to plan your meals for the next seven days. Take stock of what you already have on hand, and shop with a grocery list. Keep discount offers in mind to maximise your spending power, too.” – Vandana Sheth, registered nutritionist and author of My Indian Table: Quick & Tasty Vegetarian Recipes
Stock up on long-lasting basics
“I never buy fresh produce if I don't have a clear plan on using it in the next day or two. Products like Huel’s Mac & Cheeze, or packs of pre-cooked lentils, tinned fish and veg, are all great ways to stock your cupboards without risking waste. Organise your cupboards as you stock up and you should be able to keep food for months, if not years in the case of tinned produce.” – Anthony Collias, CEO & co-founder of sustainability tech company Treepoints.
Cut up fruit for the family
“One of our morning rituals is to cut up fruit and divide it into bowls for the family to eat whenever they want. We have never wasted fruit since we started doing this.” – Ren Patel, founder of Ren’s Pantry.
Have a leftover buffet-style dinner once a week
“Have one night where all of the leftovers in your cupboards and freezer are prepared for everyone to choose from. Most perishable foods can also be safely frozen indefinitely, so if you can’t eat it before the food may spoil, pop it in the freezer and pull it out when you’re ready to eat.” – Adam Lowy.
Learn to make a good soup
“Learn to make a simple soup to which you can add any protein or vegetable that is destined for the bin. You could add canned beans or pasta to it to make it more filling – get creative with what you include. And try batch cooking your soup and freezing it into portions to have in the weeks ahead when the fresh food runs out.” – Ren Patel
Use the skins
“In most cases, it’s not necessary to peel vegetables; the skin provides fibre and brings flavour to your dishes. Onion skins are great for infusing flavour into soups, stocks and sauces, while broccoli and cauliflower florets can be used to bulk out a stir fry or a soup. For dishes where you only need a dash of lemon and lime, you can juice the entire lemon or lime and then freeze the excess juice in an ice cube tray.” – Ren Patel.
First in, first out
“To prevent food waste, it’s best to use a system known as ‘FIFO’. It stands for ‘First In First Out’ and is used by chefs. Basically, when you cook you want to utilise the ingredients that were bought first, instead of using the most recent items. This will help you save time and money. You can organise your cupboards, pantry and fridge this way to make it second nature.” – Chef Lonnie G, a private vegan chef in Miami
Don’t discard cheese rind
“Cheese rind is often thrown away, but unless your cheese is coated with an inedible substance like wax or cloth, it can be used in your cooking. For example, you can add it to white sauces, tomato sauces, bolognese or soup to give an umami flavour. The rind will soften when you cook it so you can then chop it up and eat it.” – Ren Patel.
Know how to properly store your fruits and veggies
“We often improperly store foods in the refrigerator and therefore they go bad quickly. For example, citrus fruits and vegetables such as carrots, celery, and potatoes can be stored in water to prolong their freshness. Fruits like strawberries and blueberries should be stored in an air-tight container after being washed and dried.” – Adam Lowy.
“I always eat accordingly. What I mean by that is, if you integrate your leftovers or what is at risk of going off into your meal prep, there's just no way food waste can happen. Leftover cooked vegetables can be turned into a type of hummus sauce for a midday snack with crackers, or that fruit from breakfast that wasn't eaten can all be thrown into the blender to become a smoothie.” – Laura Kurton.
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