Adapted from Optimum Nutrition Winter 2017/18

Food waste

Every year the average UK family throws away an estimated £700 of food. Although many of us won’t have an eye on the bigger environmental picture, reducing the amount of food waste we produce could shave pounds off the weekly budget. So here are some tips on how to uninvite your kitchen bin to dinner.

Know your dates

‘Use by’ and ‘best before’ dates can be confusing, but the important one is ‘use by’ — food cannot be sold after this date. On its website, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) states: “Use by date is about safety… Foods can be eaten (and most can be frozen) up until the use by date, but not after. You will see use by dates on food that goes off quickly, such as meat products or ready-prepared salads. For the use by to be a valid guide, you must carefully follow storage instructions.”

‘Best before’ is not an indicator of safety. Food is considered edible after this date, but may have lost some of its quality; a common example is spices, which many of us may have lurking at the back of the cupboard long after the best before date has passed into distant memory.

The FSA does state, however, that: “The best before date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label.”

If you want to think about how your actions impact food waste on a wider scale, try working with sell by dates. Shops have to operate within the law when it comes to sell by dates, and we can help by working with the supermarkets. This includes being willing to buy reduced items and just-in-date food with a bigger picture mindset.

Plan ahead

If you are shopping for the week, make a list, and if you get drawn into buying additional items on offer (such as meat products), freeze the extras on the day of purchase rather than thinking you will use them that week.

Because of farm-to-freezer times, frozen produce is also a good source of nutrition, and will keep for when you need it. It can be cheaper, too. For example, if you like fruit with your porridge or in a smoothie, frozen mixed berries help provide a varied diet without committing to buying a pack of each type — and often cost less than buying fresh.


Cook once to eat twice — or more. Batch cooking has many benefits that outweigh the initial outlay of time that it takes. The more you prepare, the more time you get back through the absence of daily cooking and making decisions on what to eat or buy. You also know exactly what you’re eating.

By spending a couple of hours batch cooking more than one kind of dish, you can get variety into your diet too. When cooking and freezing, divide the ingredients between two pots and use different seasonings to make something different: e.g. a large batch of lentils can be used to make vegetarian bolognese in one pot and spicy daal in the other; chickpeas can be divided to make a stew and falafel; or use different herbs and spices to turn minced meat into curry in one pot and the base for a cottage pie in the other (add frozen mash as needed).

Freeze it

Using the freezer is fundamental to reducing food waste. For example, freeze half your loaf of bread and use the frozen half for toast straight from frozen, and the fresh half for sandwiches.

Freeze in accordance with your eating habits. Eat more toast? Freeze 70 per cent of the loaf. (Although bread can be frozen and defrosted as needed — you just have to plan if you want a sandwich!) Some foods (e.g. cheese) may change slightly in texture but are perfectly edible.

If you have had fresh veg in the fridge for a couple of days and don’t anticipate using it soon, clean it, cut it up (if necessary) and freeze it. Mushrooms can be sliced and frozen, even tomatoes that look too elderly for salads can be frozen to be used in a soup or stew. Fresh vegetables may not have the greatest texture after being frozen, but are usually good for the stew pot. Even leftover boiled potatoes and sweet potatoes can be frozen — once defrosted they will lose some of their water content and look a little sad, but they can be sliced and fried (lashings of oil not required!).

Alternatively, they can be mashed before being frozen. Freeze bananas to make banana pancakes, banana bread and banana ‘ice cream’. Bananas can be frozen in their skins but will need to at least partially defrost before being used (the banana can be removed by squeezing one end, and then the banana will usually plop out!); but it’s much more convenient to peel and slice them before freezing!

Portion it

If it’s your habit to defrost a packet of sausages just to use a couple and then leave the rest to go bad, take time to portion foods into wrappers or containers before freezing them. A general rule of thumb is, if it can be frozen then it can be portioned up first. Use containers, wrapping or bags to portion up cheeses, meat such as bacon, chops, mince and poultry, and other staples such as milk and bread.

Get creative

Don’t be afraid to experiment and keep a supply of herbs and spices to jazz up your meals. Fresh herbs are very versatile: they can be washed and frozen as they are, creatively turned into butter cubes (using an ice cube tray) to be defrosted when needed for meat and fish dishes, or added straight from the freezer to use in cocktails.

Spices such as chillies, peeled ginger, and garlic can all be used straight from the freezer.

Know what you have

Don’t ignore mouldy veg at the bottom of your fridge because the mould will spread! Rummage at the back of cupboards, and the fridge and freezer to see what you already have. Check dates and if you know you won’t eat something in time, freeze it.

Think before scraping and scrapping

If half of what you serve up goes into the bin, then it’s time to rethink how much you are dishing out. Keep leftovers from the plate for next time. We commonly shove leftovers from the pot into tubs for lunch, but how about salvaging that untouched food on the plate? It all adds up. Or decant leftovers from dinner plates into a freezer container to use them later in soups, stews, curries, omelettes, or vegetable hash.

Keep leftover bread to make a savoury bread pudding, using odds and ends: e.g. brie and walnut, cheddar, date and spice, feta, pea and mint. Freeze bones from roasts until you have the time and inclination to make stock. Or make stock from bones/chicken carcasses and freeze it for later use.

Donate it

And if you really can’t bear to eat food that is at its use by date, give it away. Even if you haven’t seen a food bank, an internet search may find one near you.

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