Rising food prices have featured in the news recently, with the weekly shop becoming more expensive as producers push higher energy costs onto consumers.
So many of us our now looking at ways we can keep costs down, while still enjoying a varied and healthy diet.
One of the biggest ways to save money is to avoid food waste – and this will have a positive impact on the environment too.
Around a third of all food that’s produced globally is wasted – and this is also one of the world’s major contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Producing food uses water and energy – including the fuel needed to harvest and transport the food – so it’s not just the food that goes to waste.
In the UK alone, the average family wastes eight meals every week, at a cost of around £60 a month. Bread, milk, vegetables and fruit are the most commonly binned items – and in many cases, with a bit of planning and creativity in the kitchen, this waste could be avoided.
Here are some tips to avoid food waste, save money and help the environment. For more ideas and inspiration, including recipes, see the Love Food Hate Waste website at www.lovefoodhatewaste.com.
Make a plan
One of the most effective ways to save money on food is to make a meal plan, write a shopping list – and then stick to it!
Check to see what you already have in the cupboard, fridge or freezer – then plan the week’s meals, incorporating ingredients you need to use up.
Write a shopping list for everything else that’s needed, and try not to buy anything that isn’t on the list. If you don’t stick to the list, you risk buying more than you really need – and overbuying is one of the main reasons that food gets thrown away.
Although they may seem like great value, special offers such as ‘buy one get one free’ are designed to part us from our hard-earned cash – so only succumb if it’s an item you actually need and will use.
Five a day
Fresh fruit and vegetables make up a large percentage of discarded food, so check the fridge and the fruit bowl regularly to see which items are going past their best and need to be eaten.
Making soup is a great way to use up less than perfect veg. A basic soup recipe involves frying an onion and some garlic, then adding peeled, cubed vegetables – root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes work well. Add a litre of vegetable stock, and maybe a handful or two of red lentils to add texture, fibre and protein. Simmer for around 20 to 30 minutes.
If you like your soup smooth, it can be blended, adding more stock if necessary to achieve the desired consistency.
Smoothies are another great way to use up fresh produce and are easy to make. Almost any combination of fruits (and even some vegetables, such as spinach, baby kale, cucumber and avocado) will work. Try putting strawberries, blueberries and a banana in a blender, along with around 300ml apple juice or water, and blend until smooth. If you prefer a thinner consistency, just add more liquid.
Use your loaf
Around 20 million slices of bread are thrown away in the UK every day. To keep bread fresh, don’t store it in the fridge but keep it in its original packaging in a cool, dark, dry place.
Bread freezes really well – and slices of bread can go into the toaster straight from the freezer. For sandwiches, slices can be defrosted in the microwave. Or, if you’re making a packed lunch to eat later, sandwiches can be made with frozen bread – they’ll gradually defrost during the morning and should be ready to eat by lunchtime.
Large loaves can be divided – half to eat and half to freeze. And any bread that’s about to go stale can be turned into breadcrumbs in a food processor and frozen – these can be used in all sorts of sweet and savoury dishes.
Reducing portion size is better for your wallet – and, according to the NHS, it’s one of the best ways to help maintain a healthy weight too.
It can also help to reduce food waste. Uneaten food left on a plate is likely to go in the bin – but if it’s untouched and still in the pan, it can be stored in the fridge or frozen for another day. Mashed potato, cooked vegetables, soups, pasta sauces and curries all freeze well for later use.
Use by or best before?
Keep an eye on the dates stamped on packaging, and make sure that food approaching its use-by date is eaten first or popped in the freezer to be used later.
There are two types of label to be aware of. ‘Use by’ means just that, and is associated with food safety. Usually used for meat, fish, dairy and fresh ready-meals, the food should be consumed before the use-by date to prevent risk of illness. Also check the label to make sure the food is being stored correctly – usually in the fridge – and that it’s eaten within the correct time after opening.
Food can be frozen before the date shown – just make sure that defrosting instructions on the packet are followed carefully.
Other foods – such as dried, tinned or frozen foods – have a ‘best before’ date. This is more to do with food quality than food safety. The date just indicates when that food is at its best – after this time the food is usually still safe to eat, although it may not taste as fresh.
Eggs often have a best before date, but this should be taken more seriously as they can carry a risk of salmonella. Only use eggs past their best before date in dishes in which the eggs are fully cooked, such as cakes. You can also do the ‘water test’ to see if eggs are still fresh: if they sink to the bottom of a bowl of water, they are fine; but if they float to the top they shouldn’t be eaten.