Partnerships, Recipes

Tips To Reduce Your Food Waste [Love Food Hate Waste X Jack Monroe]

I’ve partnered with Love Food Hate Waste for their #FlungTogetherFood campaign this month to help raise awareness of the need to reduce food waste. You can find out more about Love Food Hate Waste here: lovefoodhatewaste.com and get involved with the #FlungTogetherFood challenge by sharing your creations on Facebook or Instagram and tagging @lfhw_uk
Do you know how much food you throw away in your household every week? As a former foodbank user, I am almost fanatical about not throwing food away. I take leftovers home from restaurants, wrapped in napkins and stuffed in my handbag. I have a jar of butter portions, sugar and sauce pots from cafes, and teabags and biscuits from hotels I stay in on tour. I can’t bear the idea of throwing food away – or other people throwing it away on my behalf – because I know what it is to go to bed hungry, and to be hungry for days. But sometimes, life doesn’t work out as planned; the meal plan doesn’t come together, the fruit or veg spoil faster than their expiry dates, and things end up in the blue food waste bin on the counter. I feel guilty, for days, but it feels inevitable. And it’s not just me. Of course it isn’t. In the UK alone, 43 million tonnes of food is purchased every year – the majority of it for home use – and a quarter of that is wasted. 700,000 tonnes is redistributed through charitable organisations and commercial routes, such as for animal feed, and other food waste reduction projects, but at the current rates of wastage and our own resistance to changing our habits as a society in general, real change isn’t going to happen in my lifetime, or my sons lifetime, or even his childrens lifetime, unless we start to treat it like the very real emergency it is. Food wastage costs £19billion a year, and food going to landfill is responsible for 20% of methane emissions – one of the biggest causes of climate change. You may wonder what you can do to help – at times we can feel powerless, like a tiny pixel in a huge and incomprehensible picture – but we all need to take responsibility for our own actions. I am a strong believer in the power of cumulative small actions; there’s no point not doing anything simply because you can’t do everything. I thought, because of my experiences and my work around food poverty, that I was pretty hot on not wasting food. So I set myself a challenge for a week. I replaced the blue food waste bin in our kitchen (2 adults, 1 child, 2 transient adults and a recipe testing schedule) with a 2 litre glass jar instead, so I could properly confront the extent of the problem. I asked every member of my household to do the same.
At the end of the week, I was absolutely shocked to see how much food we, as a usually careful household, actually threw away. As the week progressed, we all started to apologise to one another for the state of our jar, and made a conscious effort to waste less, to absolve ourselves of the shame of adding to the pile. It was a real wakeup call, because, I thought we were doing okay. If you dare face the realities of your own food wastefulness, you can do the same. The glass jar is kind of essential, as the idea is you physically confront a very visual image of exactly what you’re wasting, and each member of the family has to take personal responsibility for their own waste-pile. It’s brutal, but it’s seriously effective. You can pick up jars cheaply to get you started, just make sure it has a tight seal on it so it doesn’t start to smell!
Now you’ve started thinking about being less wasteful with food; here are some of my top tips to get you started!
  1. Make an inventory of what you already have before you do the shopping list. I am a bit methodical about this; I fold a sheet of A4 paper into four sections and label them ‘CARBS, PROTEINS, FRUIT AND VEG, FLAVOUR’. I then rifle through the fridge, freezer and cupboards and write down every last thing that’s there. Every dusty herb and spice, every can of beans, every quarter bag of frozen peas gets written down.
  1. Meal plan from your inventory. I have a meal planner chart and each week I write the dates in next to the days of the week. I then match what I already have in the fridge or the fruitbowl, by its use by date, to each day of the week, and plan meals around them with what else is kicking around. This leaves you with a lot less to buy, because you’re using what you have, and reduces both your food waste and your shopping bill in the process. By assigning days to use certain items up, you reduce the risk of forgetting about ingredients that languish in the back of the fridge. I learned these tricks working in food service and restaurants and pub kitchens; basically stock take, plan ahead based on what you have, and date rotate. Every single day. It’s a couple of minutes work once you get the hang of it, but you’ll save a fortune, in both time and money.
  1. Substitute ingredients for similar ones. If your recipe calls for swede and you have carrots in, put the carrots in instead. Swap out fruit and veg for similar items that you have in already – this sounds really obvious, but it’s been one of the questions I have consistently been asked most as a food writer over the last seven years. ‘I don’t have this in, can I use that instead?’ Work out what the main function of that ingredient is – is it bulk, protein, a bit of heat, a root veg, some zing? – and replace it with something that will do the same job. I keep meaning to do a table of substitutes at some point but every time I start, it’s so large and daunting, I stick with replying to individual tweets and comments instead!
  1. Learn to preserve. I pickle pretty much everything I can get my hands on; from radishes to roots to mushrooms to beans and many other things besides. All you need is water, salt, vinegar and a dash of oil, and whatever flavours take your fancy, and you can turn that withered pepper or shrivelled mushroom lurking in the bottom of the fridge, into a zingy condiment or snack that will last for months.
  1. Freeze leftovers in individual tupperware portions immediately after you’ve served up. And then label them, and stick them in the freezer. And THEN, I know this sounds fastidious but you may have guessed by now that I love a system, write what it is on a sheet of paper. I keep a half-sarcastic ‘menu’ of home made ready meals stuck to the front of the freezer at home, and when I’m working late or away, my partner and son just pick what they want from the list, bung it in the microwave, and cross it off. Keeping a visible list reminds us that we have good food in ready to be eaten, and when it gets long, I put my feet up for a few days and take some time away from the stove to munch our way through it.
  1. Finally, get creative with what you have. You can go on my website – jackmonroe.com – and type an ingredient in the search bar to find ideas – and BBC Good Food is another great resource, as is jamieoliver.com and many others. At a push, most veggies can be blitzed into simple soups with a can of beans and some stock and a bit of flavour – curry powder and coconut milk are excellent catch-alls for even the blandest and most tired of vegetables – and then popped in the freezer, labelled and written down, for another day. You can also make pasta sauces, risottos, top pizzas, make pickles, preserves, vegetable omelettes, tarts, quiches – the options are literally limitless! And even tired bags of salad can be given a new lease of life with my salad bag pesto – see here for the recipe!
I’ve partnered with Love Food Hate Waste for their #FlungTogetherFood campaign this month to help raise awareness of the need to reduce food waste. You can find out more about Love Food Hate Waste here: lovefoodhatewaste.com and get involved with the #FlungTogetherFood challenge by sharing your creations on Facebook or Instagram and tagging @lfhw_uk
Click here for my books! All text copyright Jack Monroe.

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