Some of the most common money-saving tips relate to food, because it’s such a big and everyday expense for most households.
Yet the average family with children throws away a frightening £680-worth of food a year, according to the Love Food, Hate Waste campaign.
If you’re scoffing at that figure then just think about the tail-ends of vegetables, quarter loaves of bread and mouldy fruit that so many of us routinely scrape into our bins. It all adds up.
But with food prices so high, this is one of the first areas where a household should aim to cut back. Here are 12 of the most common myths that encourage us to waste food – and why they’re wrong…
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1. Eggs live in the fridge
An egg shell doesn’t perfectly seal the contents from the outside world; it’s actually full of millions of miniscule holes. That means an egg can absorb odours from other foods nearby, like half-onions, strong cheese and other smelly stuff you keep in the fridge.
If you cook an egg and it tastes odd, you’re likely to chuck the whole batch – no one wants to take risks with eggs.
So leave them on the worktop (I use an egg tree) and use them within their best-before date. If you want a really inventive egg storage unit, check out the ‘Save food from the refrigerator’ website.
2. Tinned fruit isn’t healthy
Once again, wrong! Fresh fruits, frozen fruits, dried fruits, tinned fruits, even juiced fruits all count as one of your five a day, and the same goes for vegetables.
Since frozen and tinned food tends to be cheaper than fresh fruit and veg, this can really save you money while keeping your family healthy.
Not only that, but storing food until you’re ready to use it cuts back waste, which saves you even more cash.
3. Bottled water is better than tap water
Water is water is water is water. Back in 2003, eccentric magicians Penn & Teller offered diners in a US restaurant a choice between bottled water and water from a hosepipe out back. They couldn’t tell the difference.
Of course, there is one big difference: price. You can pay as much as £1 for a small bottle of water, which is ridiculously high compared to your tap. Add to that the additional environmental impact of the plastic bottle and transportation, and you can see that bottled water makes no sense.
4. You can’t freeze eggs
Eggs may not belong in the fridge but you can freeze them. Whole eggs can be beaten and frozen, or you can separate and freeze the whites and yolks. This is particularly useful if a recipe calls for one part of an egg but not the other.
Just make sure you label the freezer bag with the date you froze them and how many are in there.
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5. Store brands are always cheaper
It’s very easy to pick up own-brand products without really looking at the price. After all, very often the supermarket’s own brand is cheaper.
However, that’s not always the case – sometimes the prices are closer than you might expect. And once you factor in sales and two-for-ones on the big brand names, you frequently find there’s no difference, or even that the bigger brand is cheaper.
Always check the whole shelf to look for the best deal, don’t do your shopping on auto-pilot.
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6. You can’t re-freeze meat once it has been defrosted
Meat is so expensive and this myth means mountains of it to go to waste. If you defrost raw meat and then cook it, it can be refrozen afterwards, according to the Love Food, Hate Waste campaign. For example, if you cook a frozen chicken then you can freeze the leftovers.
Of course, you need to be careful to defrost it thoroughly and then re-heat it until it’s piping hot. This could save a great deal of money over one year, as well as cutting back on food waste.
If you waste less, you could potentially afford to buy higher welfare meat and poultry, cutting back on animal suffering too.
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7. You have to pay for convenience
It’s just easy to buy a bag of Aunt Bessie’s ready-to-oven roast potatoes, or McCain’s oven chips, isn’t it? But with a bit of planning, you can create this convenience yourself.
You can prepare and freeze roasties by parboiling them and then freezing. Simply thaw them in the fridge and roast when you’re ready.
Likewise with chips; cut the potatoes into chip shapes, parboil them, let them cool, give them a shake (to rough up the edges) and then freeze.
When you’re ready to put them in the oven, give them a good spray with oil first. Much cheaper than buying ready-made and they’re ready in a hurry.
8. Some foods can’t be frozen
Pretty much everything can be frozen, it’s just that some foods will change. Home-made meals, cakes, even cheese can be frozen, but foods with high water content like strawberries or tomatoes break down during the freezing process.
But those foods can be used in soups or sauces, so there’s still no waste. Don’t try to freeze eggs in their shells, they need to be beaten or separated and then popped in the freezer.
9. Food can be stored indefinitely in the freezer
Most food can be frozen for a very long time and still be perfectly edible. However, the quality does deteriorate.
Because of that, the Food Standards Agency suggests eating frozen food within three months.
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10. Expensive cereals are better for you
Major supermarkets now have entire aisles filled with breakfast cereal and you can pay as much as £5 for a bag of muesli. It’s easy to assume that these pricier products make a better breakfast.
But good, old-fashioned porridge is one of the cheapest options and it is amazingly good for you. It’s low in calories but it’s full of complex carbs, and rich in protein and fibre. A bag of rolled oats can cost as little as 75p for a kilogram.
Just don’t succumb to any of the ‘convenience’ porridge products, like one-serving microwave pots. Making porridge is easy - get up five minutes earlier and enjoy it.
11. Supermarkets have the cheapest produce
It’s easy to assume that a big-chain supermarket will have arranged better deals and discounts with suppliers, and be able to pass those savings onto you.
That’s true for some products, but certainly not for fruit and veg. I tested this last year by shopping at a local market and then comparing the prices to my local supermarket. I found that I was paying 50% more at the big chain than at my local, independent fruit and veg stall.
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12. Meals mean meat
We’re very used to using meat as the mainstay of our evening meals, with vegetables on the side. But this is a very expensive and unnecessary way to cook.
With a bit of imagination, you can make exciting, entire meals from vegetables (I’m a big fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book ‘Veg Everyday’). It’s cheaper, it can be healthier and it’s definitely better for the environment. Use cheese, eggs or even lentils to add protein to a meal instead.
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