Tackling food waste at home

The climate crisis has been a hot topic for the last two weeks with COP26 taking up a lot of space in the news. Getting a global agreement on how to tackle climate change – or save the future depending on how you see it – was always going to be challenging. Some progress was made, but when the chair of the summit ends up nearly in tears* in their summing up, you know all did not go as needed.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the headlines, particularly any relating to food. Interestingly there didn’t seem to be much (even though it’s recognised that a plant-based diet is good for planetary health**) and food waste, a key contributor of global greenhouse gases, wasn’t even on the agenda.

Image by jasmin-sessler Unsplash

Just because it didn’t hit the headlines, it’s still a huge issue. It’s been reported that lockdown helped reduce food waste – I guess being at home meant you had more chance of finishing the food in the fridge! But since lockdown has ended, it’s on the increase once again***.

Climate change and the climate crisis is such a huge issue; so huge it’s overwhelming and easy to think believe there’s nothing one person can do. But there is much we as individuals can do. Because small changes made by everyone soon adds up to big effects. After all, each and every one of us is responsible for the wonderful planet we live on. Ground-up change is powerful stuff and has a big impact, especially when our leaders seem reluctant to take effective action.

Here in The Sensitive Foodie Kitchen, we hate food waste! As most of the food we eat is made using fresh produce we try to make sure nothing gets thrown away. Any scraps or peelings of bits that have sadly gone too far get fed into the garden composter so the nutrients eventually get fed back into the soil. And left overs get recycled into new and sometimes ‘interesting’ meals.

I know life is super busy and reducing food waste can seem like just another thing to have to do. If you’re not too sure what changes to make, or even where to start, here are my top tips for minimising waste and maximising the use of beautiful plant food produce.

  1. Shopping – if you can, shop 2 or 3 times a week so you don’t buy too much fresh produce at once. Alternatively, do one big shop a month for store cupboard staples and top up with fresh produce as and when you need it.
  2. Have a plan – whilst spontaneity is fun, having even a rough plan of what meals you want in a week means you can shop for what you need. This means you buy the right amount and avoid the perils of impulse buys and special offers!
  3. ‘Bargain bin’ challenges – you can get some great bargains when fresh produce hit their sell by date and the supermarkets knock down the price. But it’s only a bargain if you are actually going to eat it! Some items, like bananas, can be frozen and used later. But items like soft fruit and salad leaves tend to need eating the same day. If that’s not going to happen, leave it for someone else.
  4. Sell by dates – always check the dates of products like hummus, dips, fruits and salads if you are not going to be eating them in the next few days. You don’t want them to go off before you’re ready to tuck in.
  5. Portion control – how much will you actually eat? This can be hard depending on who you’re cooking for. If you’re feeding hungry young people with hollow legs, the portions will be big and leftovers might be a myth! But if you’re home alone or trying not to over eat, then cooking more moderate amounts really can make a difference. So adjust the amount cooked to match appetite. And if you cook too much – and you may do so deliberately when batch cooking – make sure what’s left over is a full portion that can either be frozen or eaten the next day. It’s when you have just under a decent portion left that problems arise – we call this ‘doing a Grandma’ as she always did this, every meal!
  6. Make use of the freezer – eating the same meal 4 nights running is no fun (and no good for your microbiome which loves variety) and tends to lead to food being thrown away. Have a good supply of freezer safe pots to store your leftovers in until you need them. Just remember to pop a label on the top otherwise it can be dinner roulette!
  7. Change the dish – if you have leftovers but not quite enough for a full portion (ie: you’ve done a ‘Grandma’!), see if you can repurpose them into something else. Making soup is our usual go-to transformation, particularly with leftover dal, veggie chilli or curry (sometimes these can be ‘interesting’!) Just add more water or stock and blend to make smooth. Spare grains like rice or quinoa make an excellent base for stuffed vegetable mix. Or even for use in porridge (as long as it’s just cooked in water with no other flavourings!). Grains can also be used for salads or the base of a Buddha bowl.
  8. Fresh herbs – it’s easy to use a few for a recipe and then have the rest languishing at the bottom of the fridge. Many can be chopped and frozen (just remember they’re in there!). You can also add them as a flavour flourish to another recipe, like hummus, dips, smoothies or even pancake or bread recipes. Get creative and see what flavour combos you can create. Fresh herbs are packed with amazing phytonutrients so always an extra nutrient boost.
  9. There’s an app for that! – if you have food you know is never going to get eaten then get on an app like Olio and give it away to someone who will use it instead. I’ve found it works even out in less urban areas.
  10. Composting – if you have your own compost bin, then you’ll already be repurposing fresh food waste. Unless you have a wormery, only compost fruit and veg waste plus shredded paper and make sure it’s in an area and set up in a way it doesn’t attract vermin. Many local councils now offer a food waste recycling scheme which is even better, as they take all sorts of food waste for industrial composting. Whilst it’s best not to waste, at least this way it gets properly repurposed rather than creating CO2 and methane on a waste dump!

If you’re not sure what recipes will work with your leftover bits and bobs, here’s a few ideas you can find here on the blog:

Chickpea pancake – more of a tortilla I guess than a pancake, you can use all sorts of mixed veggies for the filling. I often make this to use up the random bits and bobs before our next veg box or shopping trip.

Use a mix of leftover veggies and/or grains as the base for this yummy stuffed aubergine recipe.

This stir fry with green sauce is a mega use up opportunity! Sub the spinach for left over green herbs like coriander or parsley, use up bits of veggies in the stir fry and even serve it with leftover rice or other cooked grains.

There are plenty more recipe ideas on the blog – feel free to experiment with whatever you have to hand!

If you want more ways to reduce your food waste, the Love Food Hate Waste website is a great place to start. And if you have any top tips about reducing food waste you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you – do pop a comment in the box below.

*https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-59276651

** https://eatforum.org/eat-lancet-commission/

***https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/sep/04/how-food-waste-is-huge-contributor-to-climate-change

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4 thoughts on “Tackling food waste at home

  1. Love this!! Also,
    – Check storage instructions and store
    – make your fridge colder to slow spoilage
    – grow what you can and pick what you need (it keeps better when it’s still alive!)
    – left overs? Great! Rice = risotto, aracini, paella… Pasta = lunch, salad, pasta bake, another meal. So many options!
    – too much veg? Make soup/casserole/stew….or hold a dinner party!
    – use by Vs best before. Ultimately, sniff test works best. If it looks good, it probably is good. If it’s dubious, cook it to a higher heat, but trust your instinct and don’t make yourself ill!

    Olio is epic. Get it. Other schemes exist such as Magic Bag, and for sealed long life you can donate to food banks.

    Want to tackle waste on a larger scale?? Check out: https://wrap.org.uk/taking-action/food-drink

    1. Thanks Jenny for all the extra ideas. You’re right about the sniff test – fortunately eating plants means you are less likely to give yourself food poisoning! Extra care with rice is needed though as if it’s not reheated to a high enough temperature it can make you very sick!

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