How to stop wasting food
There are lots of things that we can do to stop wasting food.
By looking at the way that we buy, store and use ingredients, we can reduce food waste and save money!
Plan before you shop
Before you shop, take a look in the fridge, freezer and cupboards. Do you really know what you have already?
A lot of the time we go into autopilot mode when shopping, we pick up the ingredients and items that we know we eat regularly. By shopping this way, we may accidentally buy something that we already have at home. This is fine for food with a long shelf life, such as tinned food, but may otherwise lead to waste.
Knowing what you already have to use up at home is a great starting point! See what needs to be used up in your fridge and freezer and plan your meals around that.
Knowing what you already have to use up, you could create a meal plan for the week. Using up your leftovers and short date food first. Buying additional ingredients for later in the week. This way you will make the most of your leftovers and only buy only what you need.
Make a shopping list
Making a list (and sticking to it!) can really help you to save money and reduce food waste.
Shops are very clever at making their displays deliciously enticing, leading you to impulse-buy food that you might not have intended to buy. These displays are often at the till, on the ends of aisles, or at eye height throughout the shop. Being able to stick to a shopping list can help you to avoid impulse buying.
A carefully thought out shopping list can also help you to stop stocking up on food that you already have at home. How many tins of beans and tomatoes do you really need!
As you start to think about what you actually need, rather than shopping on auto pilot, you can stop wasting food and start saving money.
It’s never a great idea to go shopping when you are hungry as you are more likely to be swayed by the impulse buys that the shops have displayed. You are also more likely to opt for snacks and treats that you may otherwise have avoided.
Shops try to encourage you to buy more than you might need with special offers and multi-buys. If you genuinely need and will use the items, this can save you money. If you will not get to use all of the items before the date runs out, can you freeze them? If not, you will have wasted money and food, so it is worth thinking twice before loading up your trolley with these offers. Of course you could go shopping with a friend and share the multi-buy offers between you and save money that way.
When buying fresh food, unless you will be eating it that day, ensure that the ‘best before’ date or ‘use by’ date has enough time left for your needs. Is it suitable for home freezing in case you run out of time to use it? Do you need to buy all of your fresh food today or can you space out shops to stop wasting food?
Cooking and leftovers
Thinking about portion size can help to reduce leftovers.
Do you often make too much? If you make the same portion size as usual, do you have leftovers? Can you reduce the portion size that you cook, so that there is less leftover? Could you save money by cooking a batch of food and freezing the leftover portions for later use?
If you have leftovers, you can ensure they are not wasted by storing them correctly and labeling them with the date and heating instructions for future reference.
How to store food for longer
Taking a look at how we store the food that we buy, can make a real difference.
Make sure that you take a look at the ‘best before’ or ‘use before’ dates on each item and use the ones with the shortest shelf life first. If you will not be able to use an item before the date runs out, can it be frozen? Can you give it to someone who can use it, such as a neighbour, family member or colleague?
Changing the way that we store some foods can make a big difference to how long it will last and will help us, overall, to stop wasting food.
Fridge / Freezer Temperature
Ensure that your fridge and freezer are set at the optimum temperature. You can take a look in the user manual, or find an online version of the manual if you don’t have one. If you can’t find your specific manual, keep your refrigerator temperature at or below 40° F (4° C). Your freezer temperature should be 0° F (-18° C). These temperatures will ensure that your food is stored safely and will avoid food spoiling.
When you freeze leftovers or surplus food, ensure that it’s stored in an airtight container, or in a sealed freezer bag with the air squeezed out. Label the container with the date it is frozen and with what the contents are.
Try to use frozen food with fresh ingredients, such as dairy or fish, within a month. Most other foods will keep from 3-6 months before they are past their best. Keep an eye on the dates that you have labelled your frozen food with, what do you need to use up soon?
Getting into the habit of checking which food needs to be used up first, will really help you to stop wasting food and start saving money!
Leftover foods that freeze well
* Soup * stews * curries * baby food * fruit purees * rice * double cream * cheese * mashed potatoes * mashed root veg * un-iced cakes * nuts * a plastic bottle of milk (handy) * egg yolks and whites * raw dough for pastry/bread/biscuits etc * breadcrumbs * ground coffee beans * grated cheese * sliced bread (can go straight to toaster) * whole sandwiches (with no salad) * orange juice * herbs * whole chillies * fresh pasta * raw fish * raw meat * left over stock *
If freezing raw meat such as sausages, split into portions first so that you don’t have to defrost more than you need. Ensure that you defrost frozen meat thoroughly before cooking and then do not refreeze it.
Potatoes and root veg
- If you have a lot of potatoes, carrots or parsnips that you will not be able to use before they run out of date.. Cook them, mash them, store in an air-tight container and freeze them! Add a ‘made on’ date to the container and use it within 3 months. Great for serving at a later date with your roast dinner
- If you have lots of potatoes to use up, par-boil them, toss them in oil, then freeze in an air-tight container or sealed bag – ready for your roasting tray at a later date
Freezing fresh fruit and veg
Fruit – space out slices of fruit or whole berries over a baking sheet and freeze until solid, then put in a sealed bag, or container, in your freezer.
Vegetables – boil evenly sized pieces briefly, then cool quickly in iced water, then drain, space out the pieces of veg over a baking sheet and freeze until solid, then put in a sealed bag, or container, in your freezer.
Raw meat and fish
- Keep raw meat, poultry, and fish refrigerated. They should be stored separately from other foods so that they don’t contaminate them. Many fridges have a meat compartment in the bottom of the fridge or you can store uncooked meat and seafood on the lowest rack in your fridge to prevent their juices from leaking onto the other foods
- Removing raw meat from its original packaging and re-wrapping in foil, can extend its shelf-life in the fridge
- Wrapped raw fish can last a little longer in your fridge if you store it on a layer of ice cubes in a bowl (adding fresh ice when necessary)
- Milk, cream, yogurt, and other dairy products are best stored on the upper shelves of your fridge. The temperature there is the most constant, so they’ll keep longer
- Keeping milk in your fridge door, whilst convenient, is not the best place for it. The door area is warmer, so your milk will go off more quickly there
- Mayonnaise will last longer in the fridge door as it is less likely to separate and can last much longer this way
- Your cheese should be kept wrapped in its original packaging if possible, this will keep it from going mouldy. If this is not possible, wipe excess oil from each face of the cheese, then wrap in waxed paper or parchment paper, to keep it from drying out
Cheese can absorb the flavours and chemicals from plastic wrap, so it’s best to avoid that.
- Eggs should be kept in a cool dark place, preferably in your fridge. Keep on one of the shelves, rather than in the door of your fridge, and keep separately from other foods. Keeping them in their box is ideal or in an egg tray
Some fruits give off a gas that can speed up the ripening of surrounding fruits. These fruits should be kept separate from other fruits and should also be kept out of the fridge. Knowing which fruits give off this ripening gas can really help you to stop wasting food.
Gas releasers: avocados, bananas, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes.
- Citrus fruit and melons are also best kept out of your fridge. Once citrus fruit is cut, it can however be wrapped and refrigerated to prevent it from drying out
- Most other fruits will last longer if they are kept in the fridge. Leave some fruits out to ripen, but once ripe, store in your fridge
- Don’t store fresh fruits and vegetables in their own airtight bags or containers, as this can speed up decay
- Leftover slices of fresh fruit can be kept a little longer in the fridge if you sprinkle lemon juice over them, this will prevent browning and help to preserve the fruit. Similarly you can brush a left over half of an avocado in lemon juice or oil and wrap in foil to keep it from browning, do not refrigerate it
- Keep these ethylene-producing fruits away from your vegetables in the fridge: apples, stone fruits, mangoes, passion fruit, pears, and kiwis
Do not wash your fruit until you are ready to eat it, as the excess water can speed up decay.
Most veg can be kept fresher for longer, if you keep them in the fridge. Remove any traces of mould from your veg to prevent it spreading. Do not wash your vegetables before placing in the fridge, as excess water can speed decay.
- Potatoes and root veg are best kept in a cool dark place rather than the fridge, this will help them to last much longer. If the potatoes have little sprouts, they have not gone bad, simply rub the sprouts off. Your potato will still be fantastic
- Onions, garlic and shallots should be kept in a cool, dark place, in a paper bag, rather than your fridge. In the fridge, they will lose much of their flavour and not last as long
- If you have a bag or container of salad, add a sheet of kitchen towel to absorb moisture, this will help your salad to keep crisp and fresh for longer
- If you have left over celery, wrapping it in foil can help it to stay crisp and fresh for longer
- Asparagus can be kept for longer if you trim the end off the stems and place upright in a glass with water in the bottom, cover loosely with a plastic bag, keep on your counter rather than in your fridge. This will keep them fresh and crisp for a week
- Store-bought mushrooms are best kept in their original packaging in the fridge and wrapped with cling film once opened. If you have loose or wild mushrooms, they last longer if kept in a paper bag in the fridge
Here is a tip for keeping your leafy herbs, such as basil, parsley and coriander, fresher for longer.. Remove the packaging, trim a small amount off the end of each stem, place them in a glass of water on the counter, much like a bunch of flowers. Cover the herbs loosely, with a plastic bag. This will ensure that your herbs stay fresh for at least a week, rather than go slimy after a couple of days in the fridge.
Help your fresh bread to last longer, by storing it at room temperature, in an airtight container or a paper bag. You could also wrap it in a clean tea towel. Do not store it in your fridge, keep it on the counter. You can also revive almost-stale bread that is on its last day, by warming in your oven.
Storing nuts at room temperature, in air-tight containers, will preserve their natural moisture and help them to last longer. Ideally, you should store them in their own shells.
You will find that refrigerating your soy sauce, can help it to maintain its flavour and last for up to two years.
There are lots of other fantastic food storage tips out there. Search the internet for terms like: clever food storage, food storage hacks, storing food for longer, make food last longer, stop wasting food, storing food correctly etc.. Or feel free to post your own tips and tricks in the comments section below.
If you would like to receive Thrifty Sustainability updates by email when a new article is added, please subscribe here: