Eat up: How to cut waste and save cash

Half of the food we grow on Planet Earth is wasted. That’s the conclusion of a shocking new report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

It’s discovered that around two billion tonnes of the four billion produced is discarded each year. In the developing world, that’s largely down to poor infrastructure and farming practice, but here in the UK there’s a less forgivable reason.

Up to 30% of the veg grown in this country isn’t harvested because it doesn’t conform to supermarkets’ high standards on appearances.

That’s a shocking figure when the developing world faces famine and poor nutrition. But it’s equally alarming that so much is wasted in Britain, when household budgets are shrinking and growing numbers are relying on food banks to feed their children.

In fact, families in the UK chuck out £680-worth of perfectly edible food each year, according to the campaign group WRAP.

I’m particularly interested in this because my New Year’s Resolution was to cut the amount of food wasted in our home. Okay, we’re only 10 days in but so far we’ve thrown away considerably less food. Here are some of the tools and tips I’ve found most useful.

Making meal planners

I often recommend writing a meal plan each week as a way to save money and cut waste.

Yet I’ve struggled to implement this money-saving technique myself. As I juggle work, a toddler and looking after the house, it’s all too easy to only think one meal ahead at a time.

But over the last two weeks, I have carefully planned the week’s meals ahead, including using up leftovers at lunch. This has already made a huge difference to what we throw away; everything in the fridge has a purpose.

It’s also helped me plan healthy meals that both the adults and the toddler in the house would want to eat – so I don’t end up cooking two separate things. I’m saving money as well as time spent cooking and shopping.

Online meal planners can be really useful. I particularly like the Change 4 Life Meal Planner and Recipe Finder. The meal ideas are good inspiration and each costs no more than a fiver to make.

There’s also a good sample plan available on the LoveFoodHateWaste website. You can even find smartphone apps to help you set out your meals, so find a tool that works for you.

Get pro-active with spare stuff

If you do have spare ingredients lying around, it’s easy to just ignore them. In the past I have felt like we’re storing food we won’t use, just until it’s mouldy enough to justify throwing out.

But now I get pro-active with our leftovers, often cooking and freezing meals so that we can eat them at a later date.

Simply running an internet search for ‘recipes’ and your leftover ingredient can throw up some really interesting ideas. It’s also a good way to find interesting new meals ideas, which I often struggle with.

Get firm on leftovers

Although my husband was a fairly unwilling signatory to our waste-cutting resolution (anticipating lots of peculiar meal combinations), he has got on board with leftovers.

Instead of taking a sandwich in each day, he now takes a portion of the previous night’s meal if there’s any left.

Most workplaces have a microwave for staff, or there are some decent thermos flasks on the market that can keep meals hot until lunchtime.

Serve the right-sized portions

While some leftovers are fine to keep for tomorrow’s lunch, any food that’s been pushed around a plate and then left is usually destined for the bin.

So I’ve been trying hard to get the portion size right when I’m cooking and then when dishing up. People can always go back for seconds, but leftovers on a plate are just unnecessary waste.

For tips on cooking and serving the perfect portions, there’s advice available over at LoveFoodHateWaste.

Eat your uglies

One of the things that really shocked me in that report was that we waste so much food simply because it’s grown into the ‘wrong’ size or shape.

It doesn’t matter if your pepper bulges oddly or your carrots are a rude shape; they all taste exactly the same.

Of course, if you only shop at a supermarket then it can be hard to find cheap, less-beautiful fruit and veg – although the fresh economy ranges are a good place to start. Then you could try greengrocers, veg boxes and farm shops to buy less-than-perfect food for less.

[Related feature: Save money with ugly food]

In my house, we’ve started using a vegetable box delivery to save money and it really works.

Don’t be too precious

I always used to chuck food out once it had reached its ‘best before’ date – but I’ve since discovered that’s not the same as a ‘use-by’ date.

It might be at its best in the first few days, but if it looks okay and smells okay then it probably is okay. Use your judgement when it comes to fruit and veg, but obviously be a bit more cautious with meats and dairy products.

Potential savings
 
After just 10 days, it’s hard to judge how much money we’ll save by cutting back waste. However, several organisations estimate that families throw away an average of £50-worth of food a month, meaning potential savings of up to £600.
 
By eating up leftovers so scrupulously, I think we’re going to cut back on one or two extra suppers and a couple of lunches each week – which I’d estimate will save us as much as £10. So by January 2014, I hope to have saved an impressive £520 as well as doing my bit to reduce waste.

Read our article 'Never put eggs in the fridge: A dozen food myths that could cost you' to see some of the ways we waste food unnecessarily.

Are you saving money by cutting food waste? Do you struggle to use up everything you buy? Share your tips and difficulties with others readers using the comments below.