In the UK, we waste an estimated 9.5 million tonnes of food each year. 9.5 million tonnes! That’s an enormous amount of food, and it costs the average British household around £470 each year!
But aside from the financial implications of food waste, all that food rotting away in landfill releases methane (a greenhouse gas) and leachate (which can cause groundwater pollution).
WRAP estimates that the UK’s food waste is putting more than 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere annually.
If those numbers have opened your eyes to the fact that food waste is a major issue that we need to address, here are my top 10 tips for reducing food waste in your own home.
1. Always write a meal plan
My number one top tip for reducing food waste is meal planning! You’ve probably heard about meal planning plenty of times, and perhaps brushed it off as something that’s only practical for super organised people, but truly: you need to plan your meals. It only takes ten minutes or so each week - you don’t need to display your plan on a beautifully decorated chalkboard or write it down in a bullet journal using twenty different coloured pens. Just make a list of 7ish meals that you’ll cook over the next week. That’s it.
I never used to meal-plan, and when I went shopping I would just buy whatever caught my eye, with no real idea of how I would pull everything together into a week’s worth of meals. But it makes such a difference when you know what you’re buying for. Okay, perhaps the asparagus looks tempting, but if you’re not going to end up cooking it, it will just languish in your fridge for two weeks before you inevitably throw it away. What’s the point?
Instead, make a list of meals that you want to cook, and only buy what you need. If you spot something else that you fancy while you’re out shopping, don’t be tempted to buy it needlessly - instead, just add it to the meal plan for next week!
You’ll end up with a fridge full of food that you will actually eat, resulting in minimal food waste, and lower shopping bills.
2. Check your kitchen before shopping
I always write my meal plan and shopping list in my kitchen. This way, I can look through the cupboards and fridge, checking what we already have, and what we need to buy.
Got a few veg left from last week, that didn’t end up being used for whatever reason? Make sure you incorporate them into next week’s meals.
- Already got half a bag of rice in the cupboard? No need to buy more!
- Found a packet of polenta that’s been sitting, forgotten, in your cupboard for months, patiently waiting to be used? No time like the present!
There’s no need to start from scratch each week; make sure you’re using up the food you already have, in order to avoid buying (and potentially wasting) more than you need. By the way, the same applies to clothes and other types of purchases - don’t buy stuff you don’t need!
3. Plan to make meals with cupboard staples
When you’re creating your meal plan, try to choose a few meals that use fresh ingredients, and a few that are based around cupboard staples.
Big, beautiful salads packed with fresh vegetables are great, but there’s no point planning to make one every day of the week if the vegetables will be going limp after a few days in the fridge. Chances are, you’ll take one glance at your soggy lettuce and immediately call for a take away instead.
Instead, fill the last couple of slots on your meal plan with dishes that can be prepared using mostly cupboard staples. A vegetarian chilli, for example, can be made with beans (tinned or dried), tinned tomatoes, and rice - all ingredients that will keep in the cupboard for a long time without going off. This kind of meal is also a great way to use up your last few fresh veg, as even slightly wrinkly vegetables will be great when cooked up in a big casserole.
Want to learn about supermarket food waste from a real-life dumpster diver? Pawprint chats with Matt Homewood about why stores throw out tonnes of produce every week. Watch now.
4. Never go shopping hungry
Have you ever wandered around the shops when you’re hungry? I have, and I always end up buying so much stuff that I don’t need. Everything looks tasty when I’m hungry - all sorts of snacks and treats that I don’t really need, dozens of types of fruit and veg, yoghurts, fresh desserts, baked goods... and of course, as soon as I’m no longer hungry, I look around and wonder why on earth I bought so much. There’s no way I can eat it all while it’s still fresh.
The trick is to never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry (and the same applies for online grocery shopping too!). I always do my food order after lunch or dinner, when I’m nice and full, as I’m always less tempted to buy unnecessary food. It’s better for my bank balance, and creates far less waste!
5. Soup is your friend!
Got a few veggies left in the fridge at the end of the week? Chances are, they won’t be at their best - peppers will be wrinkly, mushrooms will be browned, and carrots will be bendy.
But you don’t need to throw any of those veg away - as long as they’re not mouldy, they’re still totally safe to eat.
An easy way to make the most of slightly old vegetables is to make soup. Just boil up your veg in some stock (I always add some red lentils too, to make the soup thicker, heartier, and more filling), and blend.
By the time it’s all blitzed up, nobody will know that your vegetables weren’t at their prime - and you’ll be able to feel proud of the fact that you used up every last scrap of veg in the fridge, rather than allowing it to go to waste.