Some of us were brought up to clear our plates and eat everything put in front of us even if we were stuffed to the gills and not particularly partial to soggy cabbage. That is because we were brought up by parents and grandparents who remember the war, and really know what it means to go without. Food waste to that generation was unthinkable but today it seems to have become the norm.
In the UK, we throw away approximately 2.9 million tonnes of food a year. That equates to roughly £24 a week per household. Many will throw away much much more. It is understandable that with modern supermarkets and busy lifestyles, we often overbuy, under plan and find that we’ve got food that we just can’t use. The bigger sin, of course, is perfectly good food being thrown away by retailers and restaurants, but we believe that the best place for all of us to start is at home.
There are many ways to fight food waste, by shopping smart, storing better but also being resourceful and creative with what you buy. But here are our absolute ‘go-tos’ – ones that we literally wouldn’t be without – ones that we know work for us.
Pay Attention to ‘Use By’ Dates
Make sure you keep an eye on ‘use by’ dates when you are shopping in a supermarket. I always check the shelves for the longest use by date. Of course, items with short ‘use by’ dates are quite likely to go to waste anyway as nobody will buy them, so if I know am using something that day, I will take it. But there’s nothing worse than spending money on a pack of chicken breasts, looking at them in your fridge the next day and realising that they are past their ‘use by’ date already. A waste of chicken and a waste of money!
Some online supermarkets now helpfully provide a receipt with things in order of their ‘use by’ dates. I love this feature and use it to make my weekly meal plan by using things in that order.
Know the Difference Between ‘Use By’ & “Best Before’
It is fairly common knowledge that there is a big difference between ‘use by’ date and ‘best before’ dates but make sure everyone in your family knows the difference. Use by is the one to adhere to usually and indicates when a food may no longer be safe to eat. But a ‘best before’ date simply indicates that it might not taste as fresh after that date – it is still perfectly safe to use.
Use your common sense – a lot of things are perfectly safe to use well after their use by dates, especially fruit and vegetables, which give a fairly clear indicator of when things are not!
BEST BEFORE AND USE BY DATES EXPLAINED
‘Use By’ dates means your food is safe to eat until the date on the packaging and will be used on perishable products. ‘Best Before’ dates usually indicate that your food will taste better if you eat it before the date on the packet – it is perfectly ‘safe’ to eat, but it just may not taste its best.’
Stack from the Back
I am an obsessive stock rotator too, especially when it comes to things like yoghurts! Follow supermarket practice and stack from the back! That way you will use the oldest items first.
PLAN YOUR WAY OUT OF WASTE
I generally try and make some sort of meal plan for the week – I don’t stick to it rigidly, because my family seldom has a regular schedule, but it means I tend to only buy what I need, and that I use stuff in the order it needs to be used.
I also write a list of items in my fridge by ‘use by’ dates on my kitchen blackboard, so that I don’t forget about something languishing at the back and have to throw it away. Simple but surprisingly effective!
My biggest bugbear is opening a jar of something that says ‘use within 6 weeks’ – how on earth are you meant to remember when your six weeks is up? And in actual fact aren’t many of these items perfectly safe to eat for a while past the six weeks?
To make sure I know when I opened something, I keep a Sharpie by the fridge and write the date I opened it on the top. Then I can make an informed choice as to when I use or throw! You can buy special food labels too as used in professional kitchens to ensure stock is rotated appropriately. So if you like a label, and we know we do, you might want to invest in some.
We know the freezer is always our friend when it comes to saving food. Of course, we can always freeze leftovers whilst remembering not to reheat more than once, and we can batch cook too. But have you thought of freezing the following:
- the rest of a jar of pesto or curry sauce if you’ve only used half – we pop ours in an old baby food pot to use at a later date
- citrus fruits that are heading past their best – juice them and pop them into ice cube trays – and to get the most juice out of them, pop them in the microwave first – even better you can pop them straight into your favourite G&T
- fresh herbs that are starting to wilt – mix with olive oil and pop them in ice cube trays
- bananas – chop them up and put them in a freezer bag, ready for adding to a nice icy banana milkshake or smoothie
- milk – no need to keep a fridge full – just take it out a few hours before you need it
- cheese – yes, cheese!
- wine – but it does beg the question, why!?
- egg whites – yes, all you custard lovers who end up with excess white, pop it in a bag in the freezer ready for your next meringue moment
- fruit juice – either from a carton or any other fresh fruit – pop into an ice lolly mould – healthy treat too
GET RESOURCEFUL WITH THOSE RECIPES
There are some great books and websites out there guiding you through the noble art of using up leftovers and produce slightly past its best. Indeed we have a number of our own that we are happy to share in our Resourceful Recipes section. Find out how to let a wrinkly satsuma live with our ‘Fresh Fruit Juice Jelly’, create a delicious compote or bake your squishy soft fruit beautiful in a delicious traybake. You might also want to have a look at the excellent recipe finder on Love Food Hate Waste or at Supercook, or have a look – it is such a satisfying thing to do.
SOUP IT UP
Soup surely has to be the food waste warrior’s greatest friend. There is simply nothing that cannot be souped in our opinion – we’ve got an extensive repertoire that we can recommend, but my mum used to literally throw everything into a pan of stock, boil, and blitz, and it was always delicious! For lots of other soupy ideas, check out our Resourceful Recipes section. We are literally adding to it all the time on a constant voyage of soupy discovery! And it’s not just a winter warmer – our latest favourite, Andalusian gazpacho! Delicious!
GET IN TOUCH WITH NATURE
If all else fails, we would recommend considering the ‘holy trinity’ in biological solutions to food waste – the dog, the guinea pigs and the chickens! There is literally nothing that these three will not eat! Leftover meat and cooked vegetables tend to go to our beloved springer spaniel – in moderation of course because he would literally eat an entire roast.
Our lovely little the guinea pigs take care of any slightly wrinkly carrots, outer leaves on vegetables and odds and ends of fruit, and the chickens take care of pretty much everything else.
Obviously, that is a big commitment, but we wouldn’t be without them now, particularly as chickens love bananas, and I come from a particularly fussy banana family – one spot of black and they are rejected – happy days for our chooks!
CONTROL THOSE PORTIONS
It goes without saying that the less you cook, the less you are likely to throw away. We are only a family of three, and I tend to ‘under’ estimate what I should cook for my little family, which makes me feel a little guilty, and often sees me going without and hitting the biscuit tin! I wouldn’t recommend that, but be sensible and stick to portion guidelines that are usually on packets of pasta and rice.
BE A BORE ABOUT HOW YOU STORE
Careful food storage should be at the core of what you are doing to avoid food waste. Refrigeration is obviously vital for many things, but make sure you cover (preferably not in cling film, but with a reusable alternative) open packets of ham, fruit, tinned goods, and cheese, to ensure you get the longest life out of them.
The British Egg Industry Council also recommends you keep eggs in the fridge, although we never do – generally, because we use them straight from the chicken.
Bread is best stored outside of the fridge and if you don’t think you’ll use a whole loaf at once, pop half in the freezer! It takes no time to defrost and can go straight into the toaster frozen.
And back to those pesky bananas – they will last longer if you separate them, ie. from each other, and you should keep them away from other fruit too, as the ethanol they emit speeds up the ripening process of other fruit.
So there you go – we can guarantee that all of these work because we use them every day. Is food waste non-existent in our house – not quite – I have an 8-year-old, but I’d say we definitely deserve a gold star for our efforts.
What are your favourite food waste avoiding tips? We are interested to know what other tried and tested ideas are out there!