Food waste is a pet hate of mine. Each year households in the UK waste 7 million tonnes of food and drink. Half of that doesn’t even make it to the plate but goes straight into the bin, ending up in landfill or the incinerator. Let’s not mince words here: this is a shocking waste, not only of money* but of all the energy, water, soil, nutrients and labour that go into growing that food.
In my mind, most food waste is actually a waste of good ingredients. This is partly because I grew up with a mother who viewed food waste as a moral issue but also because I have always loved cooking. As such, I can draw on an armoury of skills, recipes and practices. Very few of these are new or groundbreaking but they do the trick and they are very easy to pick up. Here is a selection.
Planning and pragmatism
Not buying more than I need is the best way to avoid waste. With the food and marketing industries colluding to persuade us we need more, this is obviously easier said than done so I arm myself with a simple but effective system: lists.
At the weekend I draw up a list of meals for the week before writing out the grocery list. At the planning stage I think about what the leftovers might be, how long these will last and how they might be reinvented as part of another meal to save me time. For example, if I plan to serve a niçoise salad, I count on there being vegetables left that I can use in a quick ratatouille or pasta bake. Or if we’re having lamb on Sunday with tzatziki, I might make falafel on Monday to use up the dip and a spicy lamb pilaf on Tuesday with any meat scraps. To the extent possible, I also coordinate these quick, leftover meals with days when I know we’ll be home late.
I actually go further and keep a running list of homemade jams, pickles and chutneys on the inside of the pantry door so I know, at a glance, what supplies I have above eye level. I keep a similar list on the freezer door, so leftovers do not disappear in there.
Overstocked pantries often lead to food waste. Once again, marketers don’t make life easy. There is a plethora of products where once there might have been one and before we know it our larders are crammed with five types of flours, six different grains, stock cubes in every shape, size and flavour, and a lifetime’s supply of condiments.
Being pragmatic about what I regularly cook is the best way to avoid unnecessary supplies that will only end up in the bin. As it happens, I do have a well-stocked baking cupboard as I regularly bake. If, however, you’re only an occasional baker, a pack of plain flour will cover most needs: pastry, pancakes, scones, cakes and biscuits as well as thickening sauces and coating stewing meat. If the recipe calls for self-raising flour, just stir in a teaspoon of baking powder** for every 100 g of flour (plus any additional baking powder specified in the recipe).
A range of dressings and flavoured oils may seem like a good idea in the shop but can languish in fridge and cupboard. Instead, invest in olive oil, vinegar, mustard, lemons and a few herbs so you can mix up a variety of dressings as necessary in an old jam jar. Or pour some olive oil in a spare bottle and pop a sprig of homegrown rosemary in to infuse your own oil.
Waste or ingredient?
Soup, stew and ratatouille may seem like basic dishes but each is a good way to turn tired or leftover vegetables into tasty, nutritious and affordable meals. Master a basic short crust pastry (flour, fat, a pinch of salt and a little water) and a stew becomes a hearty pie. Or make pasties out of ratatouille or a reduced stew.
Crumbles and pies are super for using up fruit and despite their simplicity, make delicious puddings. Or stew the fruit and serve it with pancakes (whether scotch pancakes or French crêpes). Add a dash of alcohol or a pinch of mixed spice for an interesting twist.
As somebody who likes to view everything as a resource, I love making stocks. There is something visceral about boiling up the bones and scraps after a roast chicken with a few roots and a bay leaf. If you are new to making stocks, check out Anne-Marie Bonneau (aka @Zerowastechef) instructions for a nutritious bone broth!
Waste-based treats and a couple of improbable ones
To prove that avoiding food waste does not mean cutting out luxuries, here are a few ideas of how to turn leftovers or ‘food waste’ into tasty treats.
Moreish potato peels – Next time you peel potatoes, turn the peel into a savoury treat. Drizzle the skins with olive oil and crumble sea salt over them. Add herbs or spices if you wish. Fry them in a pan, adding olive oil as necessary to stop them sticking. Or if you have the oven on anyway, bake them for a healthier version.
Candied peel – This sweet gets a bad name because of the bland tubs sold in the supermarket. Homemade candied peel, however, is a different beast. So, next time you squeeze fresh orange juice or make a fruit salad, try this recipe for an indulgent grown-up treat. Allow plenty of drying time but once dried it will keep for several weeks, if of course it lasts that long! You can even dip the sweets in black chocolate and serve them as a luxurious petit four.
Stale biscuits – Don’t throw away tired or stale digestives, gingernuts, hobnobs… Instead turn them into desserts that look and taste much better than they have any right to. Crush the biscuits in a sealable bag with a rolling pin (or a pan). Cover the bottom of a baking tin, ramekins or glasses with the crumbs and press them down. Add a layer of cream, custard or mascarpone and then fresh berries or cooled stewed plums or apricots (you can even stew dried ones!). Chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Even the most improbably forms of food waste can be used to good effect. I spotted these two ideas this week:
- Fermented watermelon rind pickles, once again by @Zero Waste Chef; and
- Numerous uses for fruit stones, courtesy of Trudi Holden of A Lazy Girl Goes Green.
Please do share any tips or suggestions you have for turning food waste into ingredients for tasty meals in the comments box below.
* Estimates suggests that most householders could save £470 per year if they tackled food waste, more if they have children. All figures from Love Food Hate Waste.
** Not bicarbonate of soda (baking soda).
*** This photo is used by way of an example only. I’m not suggesting that this retailer is the only supermarket to indulge in such unnecessary product creation.