There is nothing in this world I dislike more than seeing food being wasted. It physically hurts me. I just think it’s so unfair and ignorant to throw away food while other people on this planet are starving, it’s just not right. There are of course environmental consequences of food waste too, which you can read more about here, in one of my older articles.
However, today’s article is a practical guide full of tips and how-to’s on zero waste cooking to help or maybe inspire you to be more mindful whenever you are buying food, cooking food, or throwing away food.
- Shop little and often.
This is especially true for fresh produce like fruit and vegetables. It’s so sad when a vegetable goes mouldy because we didn’t use it on time.
I recommend planning your meals before even going to the supermarket. Make a list, take it with you and stick to it.
But, if for example there is a sale on tomatoes, bananas or berries, you can prep and cook them into something that can be stored and frozen for later, like tomato sauce, berry jam, or simply freeze bananas for making ice cream.
- Buy loose bread in your own cloth bag and repurpose it when it goes stale.
Many grocery stores and bakeries stock their loaves, rolls, bagels, pastries loose in a display case. They are usually made in-house or sourced from local bakeries, so not only are they plastic free but also a healthier option from the heavily processed pre-packaged white bread you find in the supermarkets.
Bread should never be wasted, it is often used stale in many cuisines and transformed into all sorts of tasty things. Think classic Italian tomato and bread soup, pappa al pomodoro, or the tomato and bread salad with olive oil and oregano from Crete. Turn already-stale bread into croutons or you can always blitz stale bread into breadcrumbs for crispy coatings on fishcakes or to toast and scatter over pasta dishes.
- Drink loose-leaf tea.
Take advantage of fresh or dried herbs to make the most delicious teas without the waste of the plastic mesh tea bag. My favourite is fresh mint tea; it’s so healthy and good for digestion.
You can also buy fresh herbs and flowers and dry them out yourself in the oven. It only takes 5 minutes. My favourites are lemon verbena, rose, chamomile, anise seeds and dried mint.
- Preserve food.
Canning, fermenting, freezing and dehydrating are just a few of the preservation methods that can help your food last longer and reduce food waste.
Extend the season by fermenting food. A head of cabbage left at room temperature will rot within a couple of weeks. Preserve it through fermentation—make sauerkraut and it will keep for months.
Freezing also preserves food. Roast, blend and freeze tomatoes when they are in season and you have tomato sauce to last you for the whole winter. You could also sauté vegetables, puree and freeze them. That’s a good soup base. Another option is to keep a large bag or container in your freezer with veggie scraps like onion and garlic ends, carrot and celery ends, vegetable peelings, mushroom stems, leftover herbs, zucchini ends – use it all! When your bag is full, put the contents into a pot with water to make broth. I also like to freeze fresh herbs like parsley and coriander, as they always come in handy when cooking soups or sauces.
If you have a dehydrator, first of all I’m jealous, second of all you can dehydrate fruits like apples and bananas and save them for afternoon snacks or granola-yogurt toppings.
You can pickle pretty much anything with a 3:2:1 mix of vinegar-water-sugar. Have a look at Brad Leone’s YouTube series on Bon Appétit if you are interested in pickling and fermenting food. He is hilarious too!
If you have a good quality blender, you can make any nut milk you wish at home. This way you don’t have to buy the milk boxes.
If you prefer dairy milk, then I would recommend finding a local dairy farmer and visiting him/her every once in a while with your sterilised empty glass bottles. It’s a fun activity to do especially with children.
- Organize Your Fridge and Pantry
It’s important to take stock of your fridge and pantry on a regular basis so you know what you have, as well as what needs to be used sooner rather than later. Generally, after grocery shopping, we like to put the older stuff up at the front so we’ll use it first or make a mental note of what is about to go off and create a recipe around those ingredients. Also, it’s helpful to store food in clear containers to actually see what’s in them.
- Expiry Dates
Very few foods have a true expiry date. Most labels will have a ‘best before’; this indicates the date after which a food may lose its freshness, nutritional value, or taste. Do not throw away food just because it passed its due date, taste it or smell it first to make sure it’s still ok to eat. You’ll be surprised how much longer food can last.
8.Creatively Repurpose Leftovers
I have no problem eating a delicious meal several times but if you’re not into leftovers, think of ways you can creatively repurpose and reuse leftover food. For example, day-old cooked rice is the best for fried rice, cooked quinoa can be added in soups or salads, beans can be eaten with a sauce or plain, roast chicken makes the best chicken sandwich the day after, and the list goes on and on. Use your imagination!
If you can’t repurpose, then freeze your leftovers in a labelled container for your future self to enjoy.
- Using the whole vegetable or piece of meat.
A great example for this is broccoli stalks, they taste like broccoli too! Cauliflower leaves is another example. Save them for stock, or chop them up for soups, stews or fried as a side dish. Another obvious example is pumpkin seeds! After you scoop out your winter squash, rinse the seeds and either dehydrate or roast them with spices for a tasty, homemade snack. Delicious!
You can also make a peel coleslaw from vegetable peelings like asparagus, young carrots, beetroot and radish leaves, which you can dress with creme fraiche or mayonnaise. Stir in honey, salt and any soft herbs for a nice summer salad.
Roast a chicken last night for dinner? Use the carcass to create a delicious stalk.
Don’t discard liquid meat fats after cooking either. You can store most fats in jars in the fridge and they will be more effective in injecting instant flavour into otherwise bland food. I personally love saving the chorizo oil when I’m frying chorizo.
If you are lucky enough to have a garden at home then I would urge you to have a composting corner. All you need to do is create a whole in the soil, tamp all your biodegradable food waste (if you could not find a way to repurpose them first), and then cover them with more soil. There are many videos online that explain the process better.
- Share food with friends
If you cooked/baked a huge batch of something, and you know you are not going to finish it before it goes bad, instead of freezing it why not share it with friends, family or neighbours?
Hope this inspired you somehow to be a little bit more thoughtful when cooking, and to not take food for granted. Having fresh food on the table is the biggest privilege of all, never forget that!