Wasting food? Here's how to stop
Every year in the UK, we throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink - more shockingly, over 50% of this is food we could have eaten (1)! This wastage costs the average UK household £470 a year - if you have kids, this rises to £700 a year. Not only is this costing us money, it's having a huge impact on the environment too.
Why do we waste food?
There are two main reasons behind food wastage:
- Not using food in time
- Cooking or preparing too much food
We tend to waste fresh food, such as fruit, vegetables and salad, and baked goods the most. Whilst food waste reduced by 21% between 2007 and 2012, it's still a huge issue. Throwing out food which is past its best could be making a serious dent in your budget. 61% of us believe that fruit and vegetables go off quicker if left in their original packaging. In fact, this isn't true - fresh produce can stay fresher for longer if kept in its packaging, but only 13% of us realise this.
Expiration and best-before dates
There has been a lot of news lately surrounding 'best-before' dates and many foods can actually be eaten weeks after the date on the packaging. It pays to be cautious with meat and dairy products, but use your common sense. Chucking that salmon fillet or pack of chicken breasts into the bin could be a costly mistake, and the average family could save £60 a month by reducing their food waste (2). Executives from major supermarkets advise us all to use our heads when it comes to consuming food past its best-before date - that means looking at it, smelling it and seeing how it tastes before preparing or cooking it, to see if it's still edible.
Here are a few foods it's safe to eat past their best-before date:
Bags of salad leaves are often left lingering in the fridge and thrown out the day after the date on the packaging. Open the bag, discard any brown or wilted leaves and you'll find that most salads are fine to use for at least few days after their best-before date! Any leaves which are slightly less fresh are ideal for sandwiches for a healthy lunch!
Eating tomatoes a week or two past their best-before date just means you'll enjoy a sweeter, riper tomato! Avoid any that are mouldy or watery, but otherwise you should be fine.
Many of us are guilty of throwing away a carton of eggs a few days after the best-before date - and you're missing out on a high-protein breakfast omelette or tasty scrambled eggs! Eggs can usually last around three weeks past their best-before date and there's an easy way to test if your eggs are edible. Fill a glass with cold water and drop the egg (gently) in. An egg that floats has an accumulation of air in the shell, which means it has gone off. Eggs which sink are safe to eat!
We all love some yoghurt with fresh fruit or morning granola, and because yoghurt undergoes a lactic fermentation process when it's made, it can last longer than you might think. Check your yoghurt carefully for any mould spots, but if it looks and smells ok, it could last for up to a month after the sell-by date, provided it's refrigerated.
It's important to be careful with meat, as meat that's gone off could harbour dangerous bacteria which could lead to food poisoning. The best-before date for most beef can usually be stretched by at least a few days, but make sure it is thoroughly cooked all the way through at high temperatures to kill any bacteria.
How can you reduce your food waste?
As well as being less strict over binning food past its expiration date, there are other things you and your family can do to reduce your food waste and save money - your weekly shop will never be the same again!
Plan your meals and write (and stick to) a shopping list
Working out your meals for the week is one of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce food waste. Check your cupboards to see what you have and what you need and double-check any recipes to make sure you pick up the right ingredients, in the right quantities. It might be cheaper to bulk-buy basics, but will you really use them before they expire? Make sure you're not tempted by BOGOF offers in the supermarket and stick to your list.
Measure portion sizes
Portion control doesn't just help you to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, it also cuts your food shopping bill. We waste hundreds of pounds on food each year because we've prepared or cooked too much. Check packaging and recipes for portion sizes and weigh them out, so you're not cooking too much food.
Enjoy family mealtimes
Rather than cooking every member of the family something different and eating at different times, sit down to a family meal where you're all eating the same thing. This reduces the amount of food you'll need to buy and can also help introduce children to new foods and healthy eating at a younger age, making it more likely they will grow into healthy, happy adults with a great attitude towards food and a healthy lifestyle.
Refrigerate or freeze leftovers
If you're anything like us, you're probably guilty of binning leftover chilli con carne or throwing out the remainder of that veggie pasta dish. Leftovers can be refrigerated to make a tasty lunch the next day - without any cooking! For larger portions that you know you won't eat the next day, your freezer is your new best friend. Invest in some plastic tubs and get in the habit of freezing fresh food before it expires as well as storing any leftovers for last-minute dinners on those busy days when you get home from the gym!
Take home leftovers when eating out
Treating yourself to a Chinese buffet or an Indian meal out is great, but what about all that leftover food? It's only going to end up in the bin, and most restaurants will be more than happy to package up your leftovers to go. So you can enjoy them tomorrow and reduce your impact on the environment! You can store takeaway leftovers in the fridge for use the next day - just ensure you heat food up thoroughly before eating.
If we all did our bit to reduce food waste in our homes, we could reduce the impact on the environment whilst saving ourselves money. That's money you could use for an activity holiday abroad, gym membership or even a pampering aromatherapy massage! Reducing food waste and planning meals also ensures you are thinking more about the food you eat, which makes it easier to make healthier choices - good news for your health too.
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