I hate wasting money. So, it makes sense that I absolutely hate wasting food. Did you know recent studies have shown that Australian households clock up to between 3-5 billion dollars annually in avoidable food waste? We are very literally throwing away money and a lot of it.
Food waste can be the result of many several factors:
- over shopping
- lack of awareness around best before and use by dates
- throwing out excess food
- not using left overs
- inappropriate storage
How many times have you done your weekly grocery shopping only to find that, at the end of the week, you end up throwing away half of what you bought? I try to minimise my food waste as much as possible by only purchasing food I know I will consume and by trying to extend the life of any food, whether fresh or semi-processed as much as I can.
Minimising food waste is easier said than done. Especially if you’re unsure of how to interpret food labels or keep certain ‘perishables’ for as long as possible. Below are some of the tips and tricks I use when trying to minimise my food waste. Here’s to saving money and supporting a more sustainable future for the environment (to get technical!) but also to having fresher and yummier food, that lasts!
Below are some of the most commonly wasted household foods; vegetables, meat and herbs:
Vegetables – should be placed in the crisper section of your fridge. Most fridges on the market have crisper draws that are cooled specifically to keep vegetables fresher for longer. If you don’t have a fridge with this nifty setting, there are a range of fantastic re-usable fresh produce bags that can be found in supermarkets. They keep my vegetables fresh for up to a week or two longer!
Fresh herbs – Herbs are not cheap. How many times have you used them as a garnish and then placed them in the back of the fridge only to have them go limp and lifeless within a day? Do I have a solution for you! And it’s perhaps my dad’s best kept secret (although, not any more – sorry dad!).
Dampen good quality paper towel in water, trying hard not to break or rip, wring out and restore back to original size, as best as you can.
Wrap the herbs in the wet paper towel.
Place in a plastic bag, tie it up, and put in the fridge (you could also use a damp cheese cloth). It may help to repeat this step if you notice the paper towel drying out.
This keeps my mint, basil and coriander in particular, fresh for up to 10 days in the fridge!
Meat – I like to buy a week’s worth of meat at one time so when I get it home, I split it up. The first two nights worth I keep in the fridge, but for nights three onwards, I freeze straight away. Depending on the portion size you buy, make sure to take the meat out of the freezer either the night before you intend to cook with it, or the morning of, place it on a plate and let it defrost in the fridge. Freezing the meat straight away keeps the meat fresh, it also means that if plans change or you have more leftovers than planned, you haven’t left your meat in the fridge, approaching its use by date and losing freshness.
Best before and use by dates
Best Before – Best before and use by dates are actually quite different. Best before dates tend to be similar to a guideline. Foods can still be eaten after their best before dates however some of the quality of the product may have been lost, for example less flavour or a slight change in texture. As a rule of thumb when it comes to best before dates, if you’re unsure, you should trust your senses. If it doesn’t smell or look right, it probably isn’t.
Use by – Use by dates are placed on foods that must be eaten before a certain time to ensure healthy and safe consumption. If a food has a use by date it can’t legally be sold after that date because of potential health risks.
I LOVE leftovers… not only does it mean I’m not wasting food from previous meals, but it also means I don’t have to do anything. I already have a meal for lunch or dinner. It’s important to remember that cooked meals can only keep for about 2-3 days in the refrigerator, this minimises the risk of harmful bacteria growing on the food. If you decide to freeze leftovers, they can be kept for longer. But remember, when defrosting your leftovers, heat well and eat straight away. Don’t let them cool and reheat again.
Leftover parts (of food!)
Before you throw out parts of meat, vegetables or fruit think about whether they can be used for something else. Below are some commonly wasted parts of food that are not only nutritious and yummy but easy to incorporate into additional meals and snacks!
Broccoli stalk – Don’t throw out the stalk once you have cut off all the florets, the stalk is just as nutrient packed as every other part of this yummy vegetable! Slice it up and add it to a stir fry, or cook it and add it to a salad with dressing.
Beetroot stems – These add lovely colour when added to stir fries as above, or you can even steam them and add some vinegar, honey, lemon and thyme (or any herb you like!) as a dressing and have as a side dish to your meal!
In fact, most left over vegetable parts (celery stems, carrots, potato skin etc) can be kept and added to water (or the above broth) to let boil into a soup. Simply add some herbs and spices, and once cooked, blend up and enjoy!
Beef/seafood/poultry cut offs – animal cut offs and left overs are fantastic to use in stock (also known as broth). Making stock yourself means it is free of all the salt and preservatives found in many of the ‘off the shelf’ brands stocked in the supermarket. It also means you save money and food!
Old Fruit – Before you throw your old fruit out (as long as it isn’t mouldy), think about whether you could wash and freeze for smoothies, stew on the stove for a quick dessert, or add to a muffin recipe. The sugar content of fruit increases as it ripens, which means ripened fruit is perfect for baking!
Do you have your own tips and tricks when minimising food waste? If so, share below!!
I wrote this article when I was an intern at The Healthy Eating Hub in Canberra, the Nutritionists and Dietitians that work there are fantastic and can provide a range of services, check our their website by following the link.