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How to cut down on your food waste – and save yourself some cash

70% of all the food that’s wasted in the UK is domestic household waste; that’s the equivalent of £700 of food each year for an average family with children. Here are some simple steps we can all take to cut down on the food, and the cash, we waste.

We all do it; it’s so easily done. The opened packet of ham that gets lost at the back of the fridge; the ingredients you buy to cook and then pass over for a last-minute takeaway; the forgotten fruit that goes squidgy and brown. They’re bought with good intentions, but they all end up in the bin.

But the problem is, the little bits we waste here and there can really add up. UK households waste a massive 4.5m tonnes of food a year, worth £14bn; that breaks down to £700 worth of wasted food for an average household with children. So as well as throwing food away, we’re throwing our cash away too.

So what can we do? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Here are some small changes we can all make that will help us use up a bit more and waste a bit less.

Keep an eye on these most frequently wasted foods

These are the foods that are likely to be thrown away. So it’s worth keeping an eye on whether they’re going past their best, and making an extra effort to use them up:

  • Bread
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Fizzy drinks
  • Vegetables (especially potatoes and carrots)
  • Fruit (especially apples, bananas and oranges)
  • Fruit juice and smoothies
  • Tomatoes, salad leaves and herbs
  • Pork, ham and bacon
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck)
  • Ready meals and leftovers also often end up getting chucked away – and that’s a real shame, as that’s a whole lost meal. So make a special effort to eat them if you can.

Develop a use-up mindset

By shifting the way you plan your meals, it’s possible to develop good habits around food waste. It’s really just a case of being mindful about what’s in the fridge. Here are some ideas:

Schedule in a use-up day. One way to avoid wasting food is to designate a day each week as ‘use-up day’. Have a look at what’s lurking in your fridge, and think about how you could turn it into a meal. Combine it with freezer and storecupboard ingredients, and top up with extra shop-bought bits if needed.

Love your leftovers. Instead of throwing dinner leftovers away, plan how and when you could use them:

  • Think about how to convert them into the next day’s lunch or dinner.  For example, you could use up roast chicken in an Asian noodle salad, turn salmon into fishcakes or add stir-fried veg into a rice salad.
  • Shred and freeze cooked chicken, and plan in a curry or stir fry for the following week.
  • Divide hefty leftovers into portions and freeze them, so you have a ready meal for an upcoming busy day.

It’s worth planning when you’ll use these leftovers, rather than bunging them in the freezer and forgetting they’re there. It’s also a good idea to date anything you freeze, and rotate regularly, to avoid losing something useful at the back.

Here are some more smart freezer tips:

  • Freeze gravy in ice cube trays, then throw a cube into soup or stew for depth of flavour, or have ready-made gravy for some roast potatoes.
  • Cut up fruit and veg to freeze for crumbles, smoothies and soups
  • Turn leftover bread into breadcrumbs and freeze; they defrost in minutes spread out on a tray or plate.
  • Grate and freeze small batches of cheese, ready to sprinkle on pasta, beans on toast or a jacket potato.

Get to know your spice and condiments cupboards

It’s worth building up a small but essential range so you can change up the flavours for leftover ingredients. For example:

  • Create ready-to-go spice mixes to revive left-over meat or vegetables. Just fry up a chopped onion in a splash of oil, until translucent (clove of garlic optional). Stir your spice mix in, and cook through for 30 seconds, then mix in your cooked leftovers until everything’s heated through.

Here are a couple to get you started:

Mexican fajita spice: 1 tsp smoked paprika, 2 tsp ground cumin, 2 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp dried oregano, and ½ to 1 tsp cayenne pepper/chilli flakes (depending on how hot you want it).

Indian spice mix: 2-3 tsp mild/medium curry powder, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp cinnamon and ½ tsp turmeric.

  • Make sugar syrups for cocktails using your choice of whole spices (cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves, allspice, peppercorns…). Here’s how:
  • Combine your spices with equal amounts of sugar and water. Bring the mixture to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has reduced by half. Leave the syrup to infuse while cooling, then store in a jam jar in the fridge (it will keep for up to a month).
  • Put used vanilla pods and/or cinnamon sticks into a jar with sugar for a delicious pancake topping.

Don’t confuse use by and best before dates

Use by dates are the important ones; they indicate when the food may no longer be safe to eat, so you shouldn’t eat it after this time. However, best before dates are about quality, not safety. So although the flavour or texture of the ingredient might be less than perfect, the chances are you won’t really notice once it’s part of a meal.

Keep an inspiration list handy

Some dishes are particularly brilliant for leftovers; here are some of our favourites. We’ll add the recipes into our Inspiration section soon.

Savoury      

  • Mixed leaf pesto
  • Croquettes
  • Chopped mixed salads
  • Soups, stews and curries
  • Stir-fries
  • Poke/Buddha bowls
  • Veggie pasta sauces
  • Pasta bakes, such as lasagne, with white or cheese sauce

Sweet

  • Mixed fruit crumbles
  • Bread and butter pudding
  • Fruit smoothies
  • Mixed fruit muffins and loaf cakes, such as banana bread, or apple and cinnamon muffins
  • Rice puddings
  • Stewed apples (these are amazing with ice cream, a drizzle of golden syrup and a sprinkle of granola)

Spread the word

Finally, if you get into the use-up habit, help us spread the word and inspire others by sharing pictures of your leftover creations on our social media networks. Remember to tag us, and use the hashtag #loveyourleftovers. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

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