As it’s Food Waste Action Week this week (1st – 7th March), we’ve put together some top tips on how to avoid food waste in your kitchen:
Households account for over half of the 88 million tonnes of food wasted every year in Europe, far more than any other part of the food system. For that to change, we don’t just need to challenge wasteful attitudes, but also rediscover the lost art of kitchen management.
There are many new technologies and innovations on the horizon that can help reduce waste (AI, extended shelf lives etc.), but a simpler answer lies in the recent past. Frugal, thrifty, and creative cooking, as well as careful planning and management, were essential skills to have during times when food was harder to come by (such as during WWI and WWII).
Fortunately, food is more plentiful and accessible than ever in Europe, but we now face new challenges: what is easy to come by is easier to waste. Therefore, in order to reduce our impact on the environment, it is time we re-learnt the art of running an efficient, organised low-food-waste home.
Here are a few tips I found that work for me, starting with the most preferred and impactful options and working down to what should be last resorts – a bit like a home kitchen version of the food waste hierarchy.
1 – Get organised
When it comes to reducing food waste, by far the best option is always prevention, to avoid buying things that are unlikely to get eaten. Far too many of us organise our kitchens like the armageddon is coming, with an overflowing fridge and overstuffed cupboards. While there is no harm in having a healthy stock of some long-lasting goods, this should really be the exception.
Another problem many of us have is that we are aspirational shoppers, or, even worse, we shop when hungry! The result is that we buy things we like the idea of cooking or eating, rather than what we are certain will get used.
Planning ahead is the best way to avoid this. Before heading to the shops, write a meal plan for the week and then turn this into a shopping list. Make sure you check your cupboards, fridge and freezer as well, to avoid doubling up on things.
If the idea of a carefully planned, big weekly shop is not your thing, then small regular trips to the shop are also effective, where you only buy ingredients for what you are going to cook and eat that night.
2 – Proper storage
Good storage of food is an art in itself (or a science actually). Too many of us use the fridge as a long-term store of food, filling it with items that are easily forgotten and lost at the back, slowly spoiling, or they may not even need to be there in the first place. There is a lot of information about food storage out there. If you can freeze something instead, then do it, as it will keep far longer.
It’s also a good idea to practise the art of FIFO. This is not as mysterious as it might sound. First In: First Out. This is the mantra adhered to by good restaurants, and there is no reason we shouldn’t adopt it at home too. When unpacking your groceries, enact some stock rotation, moving older products to the front of the fridge/freezer/pantry, and new products to the back. This reduces the likelihood of items sitting hidden for weeks and months, slowly perishing out of sight. So give FIFO a go.
3 – Batch cooking
Lots of people like to save time by cooking big batches of food at the weekend and freezing portions to use throughout the week. This uses ingredients when they are freshest and tastiest and also means you are much less likely to waste food.
4 – Head to tail – root to fruit
Many chefs are now touting the benefits of cooking using the entity of an animal, fruit or vegetable. This includes making delicious stock from kitchen scraps. Why not collect your carrot tops, onion scraps, garlic skins and other veg odds and ends in a bowl in the freezer, ready to turn into a delicious stock once full. Stocks not only make use of kitchen scraps, but also turn the plainest meal into something delicious. If you want to try something a bit different, then keep plenty of glass jars handy too, to turn ‘waste food’ into scrumptious pickles, preserves, or fermented treats.
5 – Trust your senses
It’s good to be mindful of use-by-dates, but don’t follow them religiously. Trust your senses – does it still look good, taste fine and smell ok? If so, then reach for the saucepan and not the trash. If there is a bit of spoilage on food, then you can always just cut around it rather than throwing it all out.
6 – Emergency ‘use it up’ recipes
Milk, bread and bagged salads are the most commonly wasted food, so they deserve special attention when managing your kitchen. Try not to buy them in bulk and have a few recipes ready for using up extras, like making breadcrumbs, croutons or cottage cheese. Here are some more ideas for using up leftover bread and milk.
7 – Dodge the trash
Even after careful planning, shopping, storing, preserving, pickling and stock boiling, you are likely to have some food left over. Make sure you have plenty of airtight packaging ready to store leftovers in the fridge or freezer, to be eaten at a later date or incorporated into another meal. Anything that is inedible should be composted. If you’re really adventurous, there are even people reusing some inedible food waste in beauty products.
So there you have it, a few tip to improve your kitchen management skills. Remember, it’s better to prevent waste than deal with it afterwards, so get your meal planners out and start taking stock of your kitchen and its waste. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a bit of fun along the way though– carrot jam anyone?