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10 Top Tips for minimising food waste

As Weight Management Nutritionists, we talk about food, a lot. I find it particularly valuable to hear about peoples struggles and concerns around food, because it helps me to see the big picture of our food environment today, and what encourages people to make the choices they do. It also makes me think hard about what needs to be done to fix things.  

 A very hot topic at the moment is food wasteYou might be thinking about leftovers on your plate, the cucumber turning to mush in the veg draweror the potatoes sprouting little green shoots at the back of the cupboard. Sadly, whilst these things contribute, food waste is much bigger than this. Research shows around 30% of all food that is produced is wasted.  With the amount of wasted food, we could feed each person on earth who doesn’t have enough to eat.  

When food is wasted, the energy used to grow, harvest, package and transport it, is also wasted. And that wasted food, when discarded in landfill, has another impact – it releases methane – a greenhouse gas and major contributor to climate change. In the United States, the production of food that goes to waste generates greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 37 million cars’2. 

Climate change, wasted calories, undernourished people, wasted food – there’s a lot going on here. 

So, why are we wasting a third of all the food we produce? If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone who lived through the war, you’d likely find them saying they savoured every morsel of food, that times were lean, and that all food was used up. It’s a different picture today. 

 Food production methods have advanced massively in the last 50 years, meaning food companies can produce more, for less money, and in less time. It means where once we were aware of the energy we would use kneading a loaf of bread, the time needed for it to prove, and the fuel used in its baking, we can now buy a loaf of bread cheaper than it costs us to make it ourselves, and with none of the time. When food is produced in large quantities, it’s more likely some of it wont be eaten – around 30% of it 

Back to talking about food. Through conversations, we can see people have real and valid concerns around food waste – here are a few that stick in my mind: 

  • I live alone, and most things are portioned in 2s.’ 
  • I don’t want to eat the same meal several days in a row.’ 
  • It’s cheaper to buy packaged fruit and veg than loose, so I always end up wasting some.’ 
  • Deliveroo have a minimum order amount which is more than I can eat.’ 
  • ‘There is usually a ‘2 for 1’ or ‘buy one get one half price’ offer – it’s better value to buy more, even if we don’t end up eating it before the use by date.’

Interestingly, these concerns are also often also reasons people eat more than they need, and contribute to people gaining weight – something else on peoples’ minds at the moment.  

So, what can we do to avoid both eating more than we need to, and to avoid wasting food?

Our Top Tips for minimising food waste:
  • Plan meals in advance, write a list, and only buy what you need – most supermarkets are making an effort to make their loose fruit and veg comparably priced to packaged ones so look out for them. If they’re not doing so, write to them and ask them to!
  • Think about how you might use leftovers during the week – for example, roasted veggies go really well in a frittata or Spanish omelette! Websites likeBig Oven,Supercook, andMyFridgeFood allow you to search for recipes based on ingredients already in your kitchen. 
  • Portion off and freeze leftovers – putting what you need on a plate and sticking the rest in the freezer for another day saves us overeating, wasting food, and also getting taste fatigue from eating the same meal a few days running.  
  • Donate food to a community fridge A community fridge is housed in a public, accessible place so that people may freely donate and use surplus food. Have a look and see if there’s one in your area! 
  • Download helpful apps: with award-winning Olio you can let local people know when you have food going spare, or check out if you can rescue some yourself! Too Good to Golets you rescue meals from cafes and restaurants in your area for a fraction of the price that would otherwise go to waste.  
  • Join a local community food sharing scheme such as Casserole Club and share a portion of your meal with a neighbour who needs it – you can either share the meal and spend time with them too, or drop off the food for them to enjoy at their leisure. Or Share a meal – if you’re finding yourself eating alone, see if any friends fancy joining you for dinner! You could even do a pot luck when you put together your leftovers to make up a meal!
  • Compost inedible scraps and prevent them from producing methane in landfill! If you don’t have a compost bin, visit a local allotment and see if someone else does – or look at joining a community composting scheme.
  • Know your dates: 
    1. Use By is for perishable items and means use by. It dictates the safety of a food. Follow storage and ‘once opened’ instructions in order for the product to last until its use by.  
    2. Best Before refers to the quality not safety of a food – When the date is passed, it doesn’t mean that the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture. Follow storage and ‘once opened’ instructions. 
    3. Display Until and Sell By – retailers may use “sell by” and “display until” dates on their products: these are instructions for shop staff not shoppers so don’t worry about them. 
    4. Eggs have a sell by and a best before date – for more information about eggs check out this useful site. 
  • Use your freezer. While there are plenty of benefits to eating fresh food, frozen foods are often just as nutritious and they also stay edible for longer. Cooking and freezing food before it goes bad is a great way to avoid having to toss it. Try chopping up a load of veg and freezing it in portions – ready to throw in a quick healthy stir-fry at the drop of a cauliflower!
  • Vote with your money and talk about it! Preventing food waste is the most effective way to limit its impact on the planet. By avoiding producing food we don’t eat we can save the land, water, and energy that would have been used to make it. Talk it up! 

There are so many benefits to reducing our food waste, and not many in favour of keeping it up! But it’s not black and white, all or nothing: every small change makes a difference. Think about whether food waste is happening in your home, and what things you could do to break the ‘mould’ – yuk.