I’m guilty of it. Throwing away stale or rotten food feels almost too easy. Dare I say it can even feel satisfying, clearing away space in the fridge. Why should we care about food waste? According to the UN, food waste and loss accounts for one-tenth of the emissions contributing to climate change. It creates six times more greenhouses gases than global aviation. Households are responsible for 70% of food waste in the UK, and Christmastime is the worst offender. Our overall waste levels will increase by 25-30%. We also waste on average £730 a year on uneaten food!
Do not despair! By reading this, you’ve already made steps towards reducing food waste. If we make a few small lifestyle changes, we can help the planet and our bank accounts. Below I have laid out some simple advice, as well as ways to use up the most common Christmas leftovers, to have a happy and less wasteful New Year:
Be Mindful of What You Already Have
Before you venture out on a Christmas food shop, take a moment to note what you already have. There are some novel ways to do so:
- Take a shelfie – snap a picture of your fridge and cupboard shelves to save you from listing out everything you have. When I lived with roommates, I would send a photo of our spice cupboard into the group chat so we wouldn’t get duplicates of the same spice.
- Use the free Kitche app – I found this genius app earlier in the year. Kitche helps you track what needs to be used up first by scanning your shopping receipt or manually entering what is in your pantry. It provides recipes filtered by the ingredients you already have. It also tells you how much money you have saved or wasted through food wastage, and the results will certainly motivate you on your food waste journey!
With the enormous pressure to spend at this time of year, this is easier said than done. Seriously, though, no one is going to be disappointed that you haven’t bought three different puddings when most people can’t even finish the first. If you usually receive boxes of chocolate as gifts, there’s no need to buy one of the ever-shrinking selection boxes yourself. Use the first tip, and write a list and try not to stray too far from it.
The shops are only closed for one day! Having worked in a major supermarket for many years, many people would not realise that they had spent £300 on food until I announced it at the till. Met with slightly horrified looks, I certainly did not feel like their favourite person in the world in those moments. Of course, we all have different budgets and families, but I feel that the pressure to create a perfect Christmas plays a part in this too. This article examines the psychology behind our Christmas overspending, and I liked the mantra, you can’t buy a good Christmas, you can only create one.
Make an ‘Eat Me First’ Shelf
Designate a space in your fridge for food that needs consuming soon. This tip is so easy yet so effective! Visual cues can save your salad or berries from meeting a sad, soggy state in your fridge. It makes lunchtimes more straightforward too. Sandwiches, stir-fries, frittatas and tarts are simple dishes that can clear out your fridge. Thanks to modern technology, there are many websites and apps that will generate recipes based on what you have on hand.
Tackling the Usual Suspects
Now we’ve covered the general rules that can help you limit your overall food waste; I felt it would be helpful to offer practical solutions to the main food waste culprits. Below I have included storage solutions and recipes:
The UK has a fickle relationship with spuds. It’s one of our most in-demand pieces of produce, but also the most wasted food! We buy 1.7 million tonnes of potatoes every year, but almost half of it ends up in the bin.
Storage: Store them in a dark cupboard, not the fridge! Limiting light exposure can slow down natural decay, which is why Tesco is trialling a return of selling muddy potatoes to increase their shelf life.
Parboil potatoes and stick them in the freezer. You can roast these from frozen to make crispy roast potatoes! Doing so can save you time on Christmas or prevent you from wasting food after the holiday.
- Bubble and Squeak – It’s time to bring back a classic. It doesn’t have to be only potatoes and cabbage. You can fry any leftover roasted vegetables. If you stray from the traditional recipe, it’s a great way to use up any extra meat, herbs or cheese.
- Wedges – this versatile side dish complements a range of meals and is healthier and easier than chips.
- Leek and Potato Soup – An easy winter warmer. In fact, potatoes can be added to many soups as a thickener. Better yet, you can freeze soup in portions! You’ll thank yourself for doing so come the busy New Year.
Cheese production has a substantial carbon footprint. The fact that two million kilos of cheese will go uneaten this Christmas means that all those carbon emissions were for no reason. Love Food Hate Waste encourages buying individual cheeses that you know guests will love rather than risking a pre-prepared selection.
Storage: Most cheese lasts for a decent amount of time, and hard cheese can be grated and frozen. Soft cheese does not freeze well on its own but can be mixed into sauces and soups before freezing.
- Toasties or Quesadillas – if you have cheese crumble all the cheeses into the ultimate toastie or melt inside a tortilla with the fillings of your choice.
- Sauces – so many cheeses are begging to be melted into an indulgent sauce. Cauliflower cheese, macaroni cheese, or a blue cheese dipping sauce are delicious ways to use up any leftovers.
- Cheese and Onion Rolls – this is a very versatile recipe. Add leeks, potatoes, sausage, or even marmite. You can freeze these pastries too!
Bread and potatoes seem to be competing to take the title of the most-wasted food. Every day in the UK, 24 million slices of bread are binned.
Storage: The food and money we waste seems ridiculous when bread is so easy to freeze! You can defrost bread immediately in the toaster or simply take out a few slices in the morning, and it should be ready for sandwiches by lunchtime.
- Bread sauce – In my opinion, the best roasts have bread sauce. Stale bread works perfectly for any bread sauce recipe.
- Panzanella – this salad is a tasty way of using up any crusty, stale bread.
- Breadcrumbs – not exactly a recipe, but you can freeze breadcrumbs ahead of many meals. Use them to coat meat or fish, as a binding agent in burgers, make luxurious arancini, or use on courgettes. I love to toast breadcrumbs in a little olive oil and garlic, adding lemon zest or herbs if I have any to hand. This technique of using pangrattato as a garnish originated from Italian peasants who couldn’t afford cheese but is a fantastic topping in its own right.
The information above demonstrates the variety of meals you can create from Christmas leftovers. So, when you’re shopping for the post-Christmas period, why not buy fewer lunches than you think you may need? Making small changes to our habits can make a big difference.