Rising world food prices mean many families these days are struggling to pay for the food on their tables. Yet all too often the same households waste the contents of their fridges and cupboards because they unnecessarily get rid of good food. This is a major problem – it is estimated that close to 50% of all the food thrown away in the UK comes from domestic homes. This discarded food and drink weighs in at a whopping 7 million tonnes every year and more than half of everything thrown away could in fact have been safely consumed. Although encouragingly the amount of food waste has reduced by 21% between 2007 and 2012, the amount of food sent to landfill would still fill Wembley Stadium five times over.
Fighting the battle against unnecessary food waste involves learning the tricks of thrifty buying and sensible food usage. Here we find out some starters for ten to tackle the expensive and environmentally damaging practice that is food waste.
Think like a chef and plan ahead
Profitable restaurants rely on their chefs to work out in detail how much food they need and then stick to it. Applying this principle to a home environment may sound quite rigid but it can be done in a light touch way and still have a significant impact.
Start by planning out a weekly menu – using a simple spreadsheet can help with this. Once you have listed out the meals, record all the ingredients you will require. This information will form the basis of your shopping list and helps avoid the temptation to throw random amounts of expensive items like meat and fish into the trolley. Of course there is room for some flexibility, but the overall aim should be to buy what you need for the week and end up with a fridge which is virtually empty at the end of it. Yes you don’t have the comfort factor of looking into a permanently well stocked fridge but if you visualize those food items as cash and then imagine throwing them into the bin, you will find an empty fridge a much more appealing prospect.
If you do find rogue food items left over towards the end of the week and don’t know what to do with them then Sainsbury’s and Google may have the answer. They have developed an easy to use online tool whereby users type in the name of an ingredient and the tool automatically generates a list of possible recipes containing that ingredient.
Another way to make your weekly food shop stretch is by sticking to healthier sized meal portions. We often cook and throw away excess food, particularly products like rice and pasta. Getting a grip on the amount and types of food that our bodies actually need will cut bills and improve overall health and wellbeing.
Cooking too much food, even when we throw some away, often leads to overeating. These supersized portions tend to come about over time and so we eat more than we think. This portion creep has had a major impact on the nation’s waistlines. Accompanying that weight gain is an increased risk of developing several types of cancer.
Various websites provide detailed information about recommended weights and measures of common food items. They also provide easy to follow indicators such as eating a slice of quiche or pie no wider than your hand and a pizza portion equalling no more than a third of a dinner plate.
Increasing usability of food
Over £12.5 billion is wasted each year in the UK on food which we buy, never use and then throw out. Many people waste food in this way because either they don’t understand food freshness labelling or they are unaware of how to store food properly.
Over the years so many different formats of food labelling have developed it is hardly surprising that many of us are left confused. Navigating a safe path around ‘best before’, ‘display until,’ ‘sell by,’ and ‘use by’ dates is difficult and with the demands of busy lives many people err on the side of caution and throw out any item which falls foul of any of these indicators. The bottom line is that ‘use by’ is the only label which is important from a food safety perspective. The other labels only reflect the diminishing quality of an item’s taste or appearance or are there for shop management purposes.
In terms of preserving quality, this is an area where storing food correctly can have a major impact. Using air tight containers, food bags and adhering to ‘keep refrigerated’ recommendations will help food last longer and save money. Making effective use of the freezer is also important. If you buy large value packs of items which can be frozen, use some now and freeze the rest for later. Also freeze leftovers of excess cooked food where it is safe to do so.
With these tips in your armoury you are well equipped to wage war against the modern scourge which is food waste. Time to get cooking – but remember less in this case is definitely more!
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