Zero waste kitchen - How to keep food waste to a minimum

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More than one-third of all produced food is wasted, and this is a global problem. Think about your own household, how often do you throw away food that has gone off because you didn’t use it fast enough, or leftovers that you never got around to eating, or scraps that were left over from prepping? All of these bits add up, and together your waste could not only have fed a small village but saved you money. We waste as if food, money, and resources are not a problem, but the reality is they are. Food that ends up on landfills emit methane when they decompose, and that is released into the atmosphere which in turn aggravate the greenhouse effect. We have people dying of hunger while we throw away food just because we didn’t feel like eating it. We have a scarcity of water, fuel, and other resources yet we waste as if there is enough to go around. And we all complain about food getting more expensive and salaries smaller, yet… you get the point.

According to Jonathan Bloom, author, activist and creator of Wasted Food:

There are three main factors: abundance, beauty and cost. The overall food supply is far too abundant — about twice the necessary amount per person — and we want that food to look perfect, with the “right” shapes sizes and colours”. His solution? “Becoming more connected to your food will help you avoid waste. [If] you grow your own food you’re simply more conscious while you shop and cook, you’re less likely to waste
— Jonathan Bloom

Although a great solution, it is simply not do-able for all. Some of us simply do not have the space, the time, nor the talent to grow our own food. And even if you can, you cannot grow ALL of your food so you still need a few pointers on how to cut back on waste. Here is my quick list, with a free printable at the end:

1.       Plan your meals for the week in advance:

Decide what you are going to cook for the week, then make a shopping list of all the ingredients you would need. A great idea is to work out about 20 different meals that use more or less the same ingredients. Then rotate these dishes every week. Not only will this make shopping easier, you will also cut down on those half bottles and open bags of ingredients that are usually left over after making a new recipe.

2.       Shop smart and realistically:

Buy only as much as you can realistically consume. Live alone? Then buy loose produce. Family of 2? No need for a 3kg bag of carrots, 500g will do. If you know you will not be able to eat everything or safely store it, then don’t buy it. If you live an impulsive life, deciding to eat out on a whim, or maybe you eat out a lot for business, then don’t buy for days in advance. Rather pick up produce as you need it. And always do a roundup of what is in your pantry, fridge and freezer before going shopping.

3.       Be creative with your food:

Use all of the food that is safe to eat, e.g. beetroot leaves as part of a stir fry or salad, making pesto from the broccoli stems, etc. Keep onion skins, carrot offcuts and other vegetable scraps to make homemade stock. You can save meat bones, chicken carcasses and even fish bones to add to your stock pot. Learn how to substitute ingredients in order to use up what you already have instead of buying new ingredients.

4.       Cook only the portions that you need, or will use:

Don’t cook as if you are going to feed an army. Prepare enough for your household for the meal, plus extra for lunch the next day. Some dishes can be made in bulk and frozen, such as stews, soups and pastas, but then you have to store them properly and eat them timeously.

5.       Save, and actually eat, leftovers:

Have a “leftover night” every week, or as needed. For dinner on this night your family then have whatever is left over in the fridge from the week before. If you know you won’t be able to finish all the leftovers, pack them in containers and give them to the homeless or needy.

6.       Store food correctly:

Educate yourself on how to safely store food, to keep it fresh and optimum for as long as possible. For our handy guide, see here.

7.       Ignore sell by and use by dates, use your head instead:

Tons of food is wasted every year because consumers think the food is no longer safe while in actual fact these dates are only guidelines, and should not be followed religiously. If a food looks fine, smells fine and tastes fine 99% sure it is actually fine.

8.       Clean out your fridge and keep it clutter free:

Make sure that you can see what is going on in your fridge. If you cannot see it, you cannot eat it, so keep it clutter free. Order the food in your fridge in such a way that you know what must be used first (follow the FIFO rule – first in first out)

9.       Label and date code things in your freezer:

This way you keep track of what went in first and so must come out first. Also you will be able to distinguish between soup and stew by simply reading the label, since everything looks the same frozen! This makes planning a lot easier.

10.   Although it looks spectacular, don’t keep fruit outside the fridge:

You just shorten their shelf-life since they tend to get over ripe a lot faster outside. If you don’t like eating fruit straight from the refrigerator, then get into the habit of taking out whatever you can and will consume in the day in the mornings.

11.   Preserve things that you can when you buy in bulk:

Canning, freezing, drying; preserving fruit and veg that you got in bulk at a good price makes it worthwhile. Soft fruit doesn’t freeze well, they get soft when they defrost, but you can still use them in smoothies or dessert sauces. Over ripe fruit can be used to make jams and fruit spreads. Vegetables can be dried (onions and garlic work very well), or made into sauces or purees. If you do not take care of the ingredients you buy in bulk, you are contributing to waste as well as throwing money down the drain.

12.   Try composting, but don’t let that be an excuse:

After you have used up anything that you can, whatever is left can be added to your compost heap. But a compost heap is not an excuse to waste, thinking that at least you are doing something good. Not wasting is good, composting the bit that is left over is great.

13.   Prep fresh meat, fruit and vegetables the moment you get home from the store:

Chop what must be chopped, slice what must be sliced, portion what must be portioned. Store everything clearly marked. This way you increase the chances of actually eating the produce since you cut back on the physical work. If you bought in bulk you also cut down on the time that the produce spends in your fridge or kitchen, thus shortening the shelf-life.

14.   By the funny looking fruit and vegetables:

Consumers want and demand perfection, and that leads to the ugly produce being left behind, ending up on a landfill. The misshapen, funny looking fruit and vegetables taste the same as the beautiful ones, and sometimes you can even get them for cheaper. What you want to use the fruit and veg for will also determine in what state you can buy it, e.g. if you want to make smoothies or a sauce, buying overripe berries or tomatoes will actually improve the end product. For stews and soups, buying vegetables that are a bit wilted won’t make a difference. If you are planning on cooking it the same day, you can buy perfectly ripe produce. Always buy with the end in mind.

15.   Keep track of what you throw away:

Pick a week and write everything down that you throw away, repeat once a month or so. If you see a pattern, you know what to change, e.g. if you throw away a half packet of lettuce every week, either stop buying lettuce or buy in smaller quantities. If you continuously have milk go off, buy in smaller quantities, or opt for another solution.

16.   Make sure your fridge and freezer works optimally:

Check the seals, gas and thermostat. If it doesn’t work correctly your food will go off much faster and you will waste more.

17.   Keep the seeds:

Starting your own garden is easier than what you think if you just harvest the seeds and pits of the fruit and vegetables that you consume. Pumpkin, tomato, avo trees, and more can be grown from the produce that you have already eaten.

18.   Use your coffee grounds and tea leaves:

They are great fertilizer, your plants will thank you. Work them into the ground around your flowers, and sprinkle the grounds into the grass to keep away mosquitoes.

I hope a few, hopefully all, are great tips, and that you can use them. Share with us a few of the things you have adapted or changed to curb some of your waste?