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How to eat well while reducing food waste

18 August 2020
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How to eat well while reducing food waste

Each year, a staggering amount of perfectly good food is thrown away. In fact, almost a third of all food produced around the world is wasted.

In Australia, about 7 million tonnes of food is thrown away each year. That’s the equivalent of each household throwing away one in five shopping bags of food, worth $3,800 each year.

That’s why reducing food waste isn’t just good for your budget – it also reduces the impact of food production on the environment.

Here, we look at some practical and creative ways of cutting down on the amount of food you throw away, while saving you money and still eating well.

Plan your meals

Make a weekly meal plan and shop according to those meals, rather than buying on impulse.

“Making sure you’ve got a plan of meals that you want to have for the week can save time and money and reduce waste,” says Joel Feren, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for Dietitians Australia.

Try to stick to your shopping list, rather than adding extra ingredients to your trolley because they seem like a good idea at the time.

Chances are, you may not end up using those impulse buys and you could end up throwing them out.

“Planning ahead can be a really useful strategy, instead of just buying random ingredients, only using half of them, and throwing the rest out.

“Rather than just buying random veggies and meat and cooking meals on the fly, adding in some structure can help to reduce some of those issues around waste.”

Make meals from scratch

Aim to make most meals from scratch – it’s better for you and much cheaper.

It may be tempting to order takeaway a few times a week, but it can end up making a large dent in your weekly budget. Let’s say you order a takeaway meal that costs $60 twice a week, you’ll end up spending $6,240 a year.

The great thing about homemade meals is they’re usually healthier than takeaway and you can control the amount of salt, sugar and fat.

If a recipe calls for a specific, expensive ingredient, consider whether you can use it in other meals as well. Sometimes those special ingredients are partly used, then go to waste in the fridge. By planning other meals around it, you won’t waste an expensive item.

Buy tinned and frozen veg

You know the feeling: you’ve bought your vegetables for the week, only to open the fridge a few days later to find half of them wilted in the crisper.

One solution is to have a supply of tinned and frozen vegetables, so you always have them ready to add to meals.

“Tinned vegetables and frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh varieties, but they're going to keep a whole lot longer,” Feren says.

That means less waste and less money down the drain.

Get creative with offcuts

Rather than throwing out wilted vegetables, use them. Parts of the vegetable that you might normally throw out, such as broccoli stalks and celery leaves, can be used in salads, soups and green smoothies.

If you have a leftover chicken carcass or meat bones from the night before, boil them up with any vegetables and herbs you have in the fridge to make a tasty stock for future meals.

Another way of reducing the amount of food you throw in the bin is to set up a compost bin in your garden or on your balcony.

“That's a win-win: it reduces the amount of food that goes into landfill and provides compost that’s nutrient rich for your garden,” Feren says.

Eat leftovers

It can be easy to forget what meal you ate and when, so label all leftovers with the date it was stored to help keep track of what should be eaten next, and to avoid food poisoning.

Of course, it’s important to follow food safety guidelines when storing and re-heating food. Most food can be stored in the fridge for three days at the most, as long as it’s been cooled down and refrigerated quickly.

Taking leftovers to work the next day is a cheap and easy lunch and will save you money. Just buying a sandwich and a coffee for lunch each day will soon add up over the long term.

Embrace the ugly

Tonnes of perfectly good produce are thrown away each year because they don’t fit the standard sizes and shapes set by supermarkets.

Many supermarkets now have an “ugly” section where the wonky, imperfect fruit and vegetables are sold at discount prices.

This cheaper produce may look a little odd, but it tastes just as good as the perfect fruit and vegetables.

You can also buy directly from farmers or markets if there are some in your area. Produce bought directly from the source is often cheaper because there are no transport costs – it usually tastes better too!

Don’t shop when you’re hungry

If you go to the supermarket when you’re hungry, there’s a high chance you’ll give in to temptation and add junk food to your trolley.

Chances are, you’ll also choose foods that appeal to your hunger pangs, but don’t fit into your weekly meal plan and could end up being wasted.

“People tend to make poor food choices when they’re hungry,” Feren says.

“Make sure you've eaten before you do your supermarket shop,” he says. That way, you’ll make wiser shopping choices, which will be better for your wallet and hopefully for the environment too.

Track and monitor your food waste

Do you know how much food your household wastes each week? Most of us don’t and we’re likely to be shocked at the amount of food that’s routinely discarded

A good way to become more aware of food waste is to track how much food is wasted over a given period. There’s a couple of ways you can do this.

The easiest way to include everyone in the household is a simple chart on the fridge. This allows you to keep a record of the type and amount of food that’s discarded, and apportion an estimated value to it. It’s a simple way to involve children in the process as well. You can see an example of one family’s food wastage chart here.

The second way is to use a food waste tracking app on your phone. There are a number of apps available to help better use and manage the food we buy, and minimise the amount we throw away. Some food waste tracking apps include Foodwise, Smartphood and Fridge Buddy. Explore the wide range of food management apps, and find one that works best for you and your household.

Joel Feren is an accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for Dietitians Australia.

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