19 March 2014
9 Easy Ways How You Can Reduce Food Waste
Like many children of the 1980s I was made to eat everything on my dinner plate. A typical evening meal in our home was accompanied by TV images of the terrible famine gripping Africa and my father reminding us of how we lived in the “lucky country”. It’s not surprising then that, almost 30 years on, I’m continually looking for ways to reduce my family’s food waste and feel guilty on the occasions when I do throw out food.
It’s fair to say that food waste is a by-product of our affluent, time-poor society. In Australia, food is the single largest component of household waste. According to the NSW Government’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign, Australians reportedly toss up to 30 percent of the food they purchase; a staggering 315 kilograms of food per household each year at a cost of just over $1,000!
Every time we throw food in the bin we’re not just wasting our money, we’re discarding the vast amounts of resources, energy and water that it took to produce, process, store, refrigerate, transport and cook the produce. Rotting food in landfill gives off methane, a greenhouse gas that is particularly damaging to our environment.
The good news is that you can become more mindful of the food waste you create and be in a position where you can actively start to reduce it. The following tips on how to plan, shop, store, prepare, eat and recycle food will get you going.
Meal planning is the critical ingredient in reducing your food waste. I find that by planning each meal for the week ahead taking into consideration stocks of food in my pantry, fridge and freezer, I’m less likely to buy too much food in the first place. Meals out and leftover meals are also included in my plan to further keep my food purchasing in check.
Download your FREE Sustainababy Meal Planner printable here to get started.
Buy Only What You Need
Once you have your meal plan sorted, you’ll need to create your shopping list directly from your plan. Of course, a plan is only as good as the execution so when shopping, you’ll need to stick to your list.
If your meal plan tells you that you need three potatoes, don’t buy a whole bag of them. Of course it makes financial sense to stock up on specials of pantry staples you use often, but be extra careful where fresh produce and perishables are concerned. You won’t have saved anything if you end up tossing the food a few days later.
If you’re particularly swayed by specials and marketing tactics, shop for produce online or submit your order in advance. Many independent grocers, organic stores and butchers are only too happy to provide this service.
Download your FREE Sustainababy Weekly Shopping List printable here to get started.
First In, First Out
When unpacking groceries, move older products to the front of your pantry, fridge and freezer and place new products towards the back to help you use up food before it expires. If you have trouble keeping track of your food stocks, develop a labelling system or place a list of contents and date to consume by on the door.
Storage Is the Key
Living for several years in North Queensland taught me everything I know about food storage. I learnt the hard way that if I didn’t store my food correctly, weevils would hatch in my flour and ants would invade anything that wasn’t correctly sealed. If you’re regularly dealing with pest problems or throwing away stale biscuits and cereals, I highly recommend investing in quality, air tight containers to store your food. Reused glass jars are fine if the designer Tupperware pantry isn’t within your budget.
Fridges and freezers not running at maximum efficiency cost higher to run and can spoil your food faster. Ensure the temperature of your fridge is set between 3 and 4 °C and between -15 and -18°C for the freezer. You can easily check your seals by closing a money note in the door. If it falls or slips out too easily you could be losing valuable cool air.
Waste Not, Want Not
Do you really need to peel your carrots, spuds and cucumbers? More often than not the skin on our fruit and veg is nutrient rich and full of fibre. I’m not expecting everyone to enjoy eating furry kiwi fruit, but just be aware of the quantity of fruit and vegetables you discard before you even start cooking.
Learn to love your broccoli stalks too! They add bulk to stir-frys and soups and really don’t taste that bad. Overripe bananas make the best banana bread, cakes and smoothies. Wilted vegies are perfect for stock or vegetable soup, and stale bread and lonely crusts make the best breadcrumbs for rissoles or schnitzels. Simply whiz them in your food processer, dry in a low oven and store in an air tight container when cool. Been gifted a box of fresh apricots or tomatoes from a friend’s garden? Preserve them and enjoy them for months to come.
Get Smart with Portion Control
To avoid situations where your eyes are bigger than your belly, dish up servings on a smaller plate. When eating out, split dishes with a friend or your partner to avoid tossing half of the giant portions found in many restaurants. As for smorgasbords ..... Don’t. Even. Go. There.
Love Your Leftovers
Leftovers are not only great for meals where you’re short of time but they can also become the base for an entirely new dish. Boiled rice can easily be turned into fried rice or rice puddings and excess pasta is great in mornays or bakes.
Use Your Sense
I’m sure my household isn’t the only one where milkshakes are on the menu the day the milk expires. Of course it’s great to exercise caution when it comes to food safety, but in many cases, expiration dates on foods are just as much about manufacturer’s recommendations for peak quality as they are for food safety. If stored correctly, most foods (including meat and dairy) will stay fresh several days past their “Use By” date. If the food looks, smells and tastes okay, chances are it is fine.
Give Waste Another Life
Some of the foods we throw can easily be used again. For example, I always reuse chicken carcasses from a steamed or roasted chook to make stock by slowly steaming in a few litres of water.
Despite your best efforts, there will be occasions where you need to throw out food and for this I recommend chickens, composting or even a worm farm. Our three chickens thrive on the cast-offs from my boy’s meals and in return keep us in good supply of eggs.
Reducing food waste is as much about mindset as it is planning. By questioning and reviewing the way you plan, shop, store, prepare, eat and recycle your food you’ll go a long way towards cutting your food bill and household waste, and that’s a great thing for your wallet and our environment.
About the author: Laura Trotta is an ecoceptional mum, environmental engineer and founder of Sustainababy. She is passionate about guiding parents to lead a more sustainable lifestyle and lives in regional South Australia with her husband and two young sons.
This article was featured in Issue 32, Autumn 2014 of My Child Magazine.