I hate the guilt that comes from throwing away food, and prevention can be a challenge if you don’t know where to start. It’s possible to avoid a lot of food waste, reuse and dispose more mindfully and it’s not as hard as you think.
Australian households throw out around 20% of food purchased and household rubbish can consist of a whopping 40% food! Here’s a breakdown of what we typically throw out ( from Foodwise.com.au)
Food in landfill breaks down poorly and causes production of emissions, such as methane, almost totally avoidable by composting instead. If you’re fortunate like me, your local council will accept all food in the organics bin (even meat) not all councils do this, and technically you are still probably throwing out way too much food.
You could throw out your one in five shopping bags before you even put it into your car, as they did on The War on Waste and just save yourself the hassle...... BUT I do have some better options….
As they say, Prevention is Better than a Cure, and it's going to save you both time and money.
A great first step, is to take a look at what food items you frequently discard . Is it old bananas, meat, stale bread or meals that you completely forgot were in your fridge? Whatever it is, this is where you can put most your focus first as it will make the biggest difference.
Ever heard of the Pareto Principle? when applied here, it would mean 20% of the food you bring home is causing 80% of your total food waste!
Here are the actions I found most useful in attacking our household food waste and many of them were very simple and fast to implement. These days, a lot of this is second embedded in our daily habits. We do still get caught out with the occasional forgotten food item.....but none of our food goes to landfill anymore.
Buy Less Food
This single step can save you a lot of money, time and effort! Overbuying on food is going to result in waste. Meal planning and sticking to a shopping list can help ,as well as not shopping when you’re hungry...and always check what food you have before going! Try buying only what you are going to eat or freeze in the next 3-4 days instead of an entire week, and you may find this amount could last 5-7 days.
Keep in mind that buying in bulk can be a false saving if you end up having to throw it out, so if you see those great specials and bulk buys, make sure to check the date and have a plan to eat it in time. Another alternative that can work quite well if you love bulk shops is splitting quantities and cost with friends or family.
Buy from Wholefoods and Markets
The fresher you ca can obtain your ingredients, the longer they will last and I certainly notice a huge difference in how long fruit and vegetables from the market last in comparison to supermarket bought. This can be the same for the butcher and baker too!
If you have a recipe that only calls for a small quantity of something you may never use again, see if you can source it from a bulk or wholefoods store (Bonus if you bring your own bag!). Packaged food forces us to purchase certain quantities rather than just what we need. This method will not only save you money and waste but will mean your pantry won’t fill up with items you're unlikely to use, saving the space for the things you need.
Some items can be bought whole and prepped at home. Grated cheese bought from the shop not only comes in plastic but costs more and lasts less time than a block of cheese you can grate yourself at home. And items such as rolled oats can be milled at home in a food processer to make quick oats, oat bran and oatmeal. So when you start from the less processed item, you have a more useful and versatile product, this goes for nuts, seeds too.
Plan Your Meals
Planning your weekly meals can help, but it’s a little bit too regimented for some (including me). I just roughly plan out what we’ll eat for several days for breakfasts, lunch, dinner and snacks. It really does help identify what I actually need, and prevents me purchasing too many items with a limited shelf-life. Food planning does not come naturally to most people and for this reason, I really love and recommend this article....
Organize Your Way to Less Food Waste Full of tips, plus it has a free printable meal planner and shopping list along with an inventory list for your pantry (Tip: you can also use this inventory for your fridge & freezer to keep track of items).
With planning you might be able to get a whole lot more out of your food than you realise by using as much of the food as possible, this is particularly true with meat.
For example, Cook 1 Chicken, Make 3 Meals– Here you can learn how to roast your chicken and then use the leftovers to create chicken fried rice and chicken enchiladas or if you like pork be sure to check out this version to get 5 meals from a roast.
Cook Just Enough
I mentioned above how to get a heap of meals out of meat, but also beware of cooking too much food that either doesn’t get eaten or you discover your freezer is full of ice-cream and pies (or is that just me?).
Ever done a huge cook up and sat back to admire your amazing achievement only to be throwing away your efforts at the next fridge clear out? This has happened to me way too many times and the disappointment is real!! I rarely do big cook ups these days unless I have a good plan of storing, freezing AND eventually eating (this is where the inventory printable mentioned above is really going to come handy if you want to keep track of frozen meals and sides that you can incorporate into your weekly meal plans).
We cook for 2 nights at a time as it’s hard for us to find enough time each night to cook a nice healthy meal. If you have the luxury of cooking each night, and assuming you have food waste, just choose to cook less than what you think you will eat in one sitting. This can take a few attempts to get right, but it does get easier the more you do it. I have to admit, I almost never cook ‘just enough’, but I try to stick to this when I’m doing food that isn’t going to be very appealing reheated the next day.
Leftovers & Freezing
Store and eat your leftovers. Easy? In theory, yes it should be, but in reality most people store and forget, while others have a great aversion to ever eating leftovers. One big tip – Always label the used by date and what it is (there may come a time when it becomes unrecognisable). This will help in knowing what you have, and if it’s safe to eat.
Leftovers can make a convenient snack or lunch the following day and there are lots of resources on the internet that can help you turn them into a new meal. We often use leftovers in soups, omelettes, stir-frys and usually, one night a week, we have a medley of leftovers for dinner. Be careful to make sure food safety is a priority and head to this page of the Australian Food Safety Institute for some tips on freezing and reheating.
Not sure how to cook leftovers? Cooking 1 Handed has heaps of simple delicious recipes, check out the Ranch Potato Cakes (for left over mashed potato - How yummy do they look!) or you might want to do a comfort food Stuffing Bake (from leftover chicken or turkey).
(Image: Ranch Potato Cakes from Cooking1Handed)
The freezer is your Friend! We regularly freeze soups, pasta, mashed potato, lunchbox snacks, baked goods and the list goes on. If you have meals or sides already frozen, this can reduce the time and effort to create a meal, and makes it a little easier to resist takeout. If you’re bread is always going stale before you can eat it all, remember to freeze half each time you buy it and defrost as needed for instant fresh bread.
I've always thought kids were a bit of an ecological nightmare (now I have my own, I know this to be true!) my secret weapon is my freezer. There are lots of things you can make that stay frozen until ready to pop into the lunchbox (or in their face) like Muesli Bars, Banana Cake and these Freezable Cookies.
I have successfully frozen chopped onions for cooking, grilled chicken thighs for a quick Caesar salad, even fresh spinach that I bought way too much of (Make sure you wash it first!). Also, be careful freezing in glass jars unless you know they are safe & always freeze prior to the used by date, writing what date you froze on it.
How you store the food in your home will also impact how long it lasts.
The best way to store items such as celery, herbs, lettuce, leeks, broccoli, spring onions (and more) is in a vase or jug of water. Our celery stays crispy for weeks this way and just requires a water change every 2 days.
Ensure you make the most of your fridge and crisper drawers, (yes, they do have a purpose) Keeping fruit and veggies in the drawers will keep them fresh longer. If you have a small drawer, this is perfect for cured meats and cheeses to maintain a steady temperature.
Oils and pantry items should be kept out of sunlight at room temperature.
Bananas can ruin your fruit bowl, always store separately unless you are wanting to speed up the ripening process on other fruit (This is a great way to soften up those under ripe avocados)
If you’re unsure how to stock and use pantry items, read this article from Little Sprouts Learning, which has some great information on key items you may want to consider having on hand with example of meals you can create . There are also hints for bulk and wholefood shopping!
Use By or Best Before?
Use By and Best Before dates are not the same!! The Food Standards Agency gives a good explanation with a video. Use by dates should be followed but best before is a guide only. I would never recommend eating any meat, fish or dairy products past the date! Items such as flour, legumes, cereals, pasta and other dry goods as well as items such as honey are generally still fresh so to speak, and safe to consume.
Any food with visible mould should be thrown away, including bread. I once ate a fruit mince pie that I discovered was 2 years over the date (thanks Grandma!) although it didn’t make me ill, I wouldn’t have chosen to eat it had I known! Just goes to show everyone has their own ideas and standards of what they are prepared to eat, so just figure out what yours are and be safe!
Donate Your Food
Giving your food away is better than trashing it. This works particularly well with birthday cakes and party food, your friends and family will love you for it. If you have a social gathering, be sure to send your guests home with some leftovers.
Tinned or dry foods that you know you will never use, can be donated to homeless shelters or offloaded with seasonal food drives. Remember, there are still people going hungry in major cities despite the amount of food available, but please make sure it is within date. If you’re in Australia keep an eye out for FoodBank donation points.
Not everyone has a garden, but you can get small kitchen composters, or use a small space to bury the occasional fruit core. Have a read of Think You Can’t Compost for the low down on composting in small spaces. Biome have a cute video on how composting works if you're still not totally into the idea yet. Remember to double check with your local council if they accept food waste and make the most of it.
I've heard banana peels are great to bury near your roses and unsalted nut shells, coffee grinds and tea, can literally be scattered on top of the soil, and in pot plants.
If you are still using a food disposal system check out why it might not be as green as you think
And if you’re thinking about vermicomposting you might want to take a look at this step by step guide from Everchange Productions
(The Urban Composter above is a 16 litre airtight bucket, simplifying the process for those without space or not wanting to deal with heavy, smelly bin systems - the image contains an affiliate link)
Do a Challenge
A few times a year we have a little challenge in our house where we try to spend the least amount possible at the supermarket. This is fun and a great way to save a few bucks especially in the lead up to Christmas (and after). How do you do it? Well, the aim is to eat what you can in the house by buying the least items possible. You will need to raid your pantry, fridge and freezer or anywhere else you store your food and use what you can. We still purchase fresh fruit, vegetables and meat but some family meals only require a few dollars if that.
You might also want to give Empty Fridge Day a try, which is another take on using what you have. The idea is to empty your fridge (by eating not throwing away food of course) so that when you shop, you come home to a clean empty(ish) fridge.
I have a free 30 day challenge for subscribers too!
(see at the bottom of this post)
What are your best tips on avoiding food waste? Let me know in the comments, I love hearing these types of tips!
If you want to know more about storing food without cling-wrap, head here.