Avoiding food waste is an almost daily battle. Fresh produce is fickle; we’ve all experienced the avocado that has sat unripe for five days only to discover, on the sixth day, it’s almost too brown to eat. It’s the one area I’m constantly striving to be better at from shopping more sustainably to finding new ways to keep food fresh for longer. It’s not easy to sidestep food waste altogether, especially when you don’t have the final option (which I do not) to compost and anything that spoils has to go straight in the trash. Over the last few weeks, I’ve learned a few strategies for reducing food waste and I thought they would be helpful to share with those of you struggling to do the same.
Be Flexible with Grocery Shopping
Grocery shopping can become a habit carried at the same time on the same day each week. However, it’s best to be as flexible as you can be with your food shopping so you only pick up what you need when you need it. You may find you waste less food if you buy less and shop more frequently. If one big weekly trip is your only option, there is something to be said for waiting until your refrigerator and cupboards are almost empty before picking up more fresh food. You’ll eat everything up and have an empty refrigerator to stock up. If you’re unable to visit more than one place to do your food shop, try to be flexible with the day you do the shop. Hold off and eat up all those extra half chopped veggies and leftovers. I’ve never found rigid meal planning to be particularly useful although having a rough idea of knowing what meals we can make from the ingredients we buy and what’s for dinner tomorrow is a enough of a loose plan to help put a stop to food waste. If you find yourself wasting a lot of food that my following tips won’t necessarily alone help you avoid, try meal planning for a while to cut down on wasted produce.
Have an ‘Eat First’ Shelf
I heard about this idea from the documentary Just Eat It and I liked it so much I implemented it in our own kitchen. The deal is: anything that is open, half eaten, or going out of date is placed on a shelf in your fridge. This is the ‘eat first’ shelf and it usually consists of half a tin of beans, chopped veggies, wilted leaves, and almost expired packages; all those ingredients that get pushed to the back and forgotten about. Whenever you’re cooking a meal, check the ‘eat first’ shelf to see if you can toss in any extra ingredients. It means you use up all those odds and ends that, on their own, don’t make much of anything but together can create a tasty something.
Store Food Correctly
The right storage plays a huge role in how long your food lasts and how much is wasted. Learn how to store fresh produce so it stays fresher for longer. Some fruit gives off natural gases as they ripen, which makes nearby produce spoil faster; some veggies are good in the crisper while others are better in the pantry. A tip I’ve found for making herbs last an exceptionally long time is to soak and then wring out a clean tea towel. Roll the herbs up so they are completely covered and store them in the refrigerator. Storing leftover food is just as important. Glass jars are great for half eaten avocados, cubes of tofu, or spare dressing while a cloth or plate placed over a bowl of food keeps it fresh long enough for you to eat it. It sounds obvious but keep your food storage, whether that’s the refrigerator or pantry, clean and free from moldy foods – they cause other food around them to rot faster. There’s a lot of (often conflicting) advice on how best to store fruit and veggie but it’s mostly trial and error. Try out some suggested methods and figure out what works best in your kitchen.
Always Eat Leftovers
It’s tricky to get portions right and there’s almost always some leftovers going spare. Get into the habit of eating last night’s leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch or adding them as side dishes with your main meal. You might be able to get another meal or two out of the leftovers but for the scraps that don’t quite make it, eat them as a snack or as a side dish, or figure out a way to re-purpose them in fresh dishes. Don’t be scared to go off-piste when cooking from a recipe. Extra veggies, a few extra beans (even if they’re not the ‘right’ ones), or a few more herbs sprinkled on top will rarely ruin your dish. I’ve found being flexible with adapting recipes often results in the most delicious meals you’ll ever eat at home.
Make Use Of The Freezer
If you can’t quite manage to eat up all the leftovers or if you’ve overestimated how much your household can eat, make use of your freezer by chopping up fruit and veggies to store for later. This avoids food going to waste and any produce nearing the end of its life can be saved in the freezing process. Sometimes, if there’s an especially good deal at the grocery store, you can buy extra just to freeze it. You could go one step further and make meals out of the food you have, divide them up into containers and freeze to eat later. When you’re too tired to cook, you’ll thank yourself for putting homemade food in the freezer. Having these ‘ready meals’ has saved me countless times when returning from travel and there’s nothing to eat in the kitchen!
All those half tins of beans, leftover bowls of rice, and veggie scraps can all be made into delicious (if perhaps slightly odd) meals. Small portions can be added to fresh dishes, turned into soups and stews, or used as extra toppings, and all thrown together to make a peculiar yet tasty meal. If you save up all the scraps from your veggies, you can turn them into homemade stock, which can be frozen using an ice cube tray and used to flavor all sorts of dishes. It tastes much better than the store bought stuff and, in the process of making it, you’ve saved a lot of food that would have been wasted. Making use of all those scraps, odds and ends, and leftover foods might not look like much on their own but by re-purposing them into new meals it helps to avoid so much food waste.
Give Food Away
If all else fails, give your extra food away. Perhaps you had guests over and overcooked or maybe you’re going away and need to empty the refrigerator; a simple solution is to give your food to someone who can eat it. Food waste is unsurprisingly common, but there really is no excuse for letting good food go to waste.
Leave your tips in the comments.