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3 rewarding and easy ways to get more out of your food dollar

December 12, 2013

With Christmas coming up, most of us will be preparing for some serious feasting. Unfortunately it’s also when we collectively generate the most waste. The surprisingly huge environmental consequences of food waste are hard to brush aside. Around one third of the world’s agricultural land is used to produce food that is subsequently not eaten. This land is often “created” by displacing forests, the animals that live in those forests, and the valuable ecosystem services they provide. Furthermore, growing, processing and distributing food racks up a lot of emissions. In Australia, the food supply chain is the next highest generator of greenhouse emissions, after power stations. After all that, 222 million tonnes of food is then thrown out each year in wealthy nations (in Australia, it’s 4.5 tonnes).

Fortunately, there are plenty of rewards  you get from reducing your food waste, beyond a healthier budget and clearer conscience. As it turns out, a lot of the food we throw out is actually really good for us and our tastebuds, if only we’d give them a look in. Here are three discoveries I’ve found really helpful…

1 Get adventurous – try the whole vegetable

While “nose to tail” animal eating has become a pretty well established concept, most of us still readily depart with our broccoli stalks, potato peels and carrot tops, unnecessarily binning perfectly delicious ingredients in their own right. If you don’t believe me, check out Root to Stalk Cooking by award winning food writer Tara Duggan, or this New York Times article from 2011. If you grow your own veges, you get even more bonus ingredients that most foodies would pay through the nose for (or not even be able to buy at all!). Younger broccoli leaves for example are basically like kale, and snow pea shoots are already enjoyed in many Asian dishes. If you’re ever unsure, a quick Google will often give you some ideas and fresh takes on your usual favourite dishes.

LeekFennelFritters-1

Fritters made with fennel fronds and leek greens

2 Friend your freezer

If you come home from your leisurely trip to the farmers market only to realise you’re never going to get through those three bulky items that need to be eaten super fresh – don’t panic just yet. Spring onions (scallions/”shallots” in Australia) are a classic for going wilty and slimy in the bottom of the fridge. Ensure they never die a slow death ever again – slice up the green parts when you get home and pop them in a freezable container. They separate easily even when frozen and are super handy to throw in when you’ve got them pre-cut. Spinach and many other cooking greens can be pre-cooked and frozen in ziplock bags too, making your meals down the track that much quicker too. Those pricier artisan style breads can be sliced and frozen too for easy breakfasts (simply toast your slices to bring them back to their original glory).

My homemade bread in a freezer baggie

My homemade bread in a freezer baggie

3 Get real when meal planning & be flexible

At first when I followed the conventional advice to “plan my meals” and “shop with a list” too stringently, I found myself spending more, not less. I was missing out on specials, and often resorting to take-out when the meal that day just wasn’t what I felt like eating. It was also incredibly boring. If you also suffer from these setbacks, I’ve found it really helpful to learn roughly how many “bags” you’ll eat in a week and bring that many bags with you when shopping. Then fill only the bags you’ve brought with appealing, seasonal, “on special” items. Aim to get less than 2-3 items that can’t be frozen and will go sad in less than 2-3 days (eg. lettuce). When you get home, pop all fresh ingredients into a spreadsheet (I use Drive so everything is on my phone and sharable), and then roughly plan a “menu” for the week. You can then pick what you want the most that day or is realistic to cook if you get home late. With the available ingredients in a list beside your menu items, it’s easy to re-configure a menu item. It can sometimes be handy to leave one day free that week for surprise social outings, or for using whatever you have left over in a bit of a lucky dip stir fry, salad, soup or stew. I’ve enjoyed a lot of surprisingly delicious new combos this way! Of course this approach might not work for everyone – so keep adapting until you find a sweet spot.

A sample weekly meal plan.

A sample weekly meal plan, which will inevitably get chopped and changed

Some great tips from commenters in my last post about food waste:

Use your food scraps to create compost for your garden (or someone else’s). I’ll add that if you’re in an apartment, try a worm farm.

Skip and swap ingredients in a recipe based on what you already have and save time shopping too!

Buy only what you need. I’ll also add here that I try and impose a “1 treat limit” per weekly shop since I’m only human – but this way I get the thing that I really want, rather than something I just bought on impulse.

Resources to help you rethink waste more generally this Christmas:

  1. Planet Ark’s 12 Do’s of Christmas offers simple advice, including some food waste tips
  2. 1 Million Women have heaps of ideas to help you celebrate a no-waste Christmas
  3. “Fill hearts not landfill” with Karma Currency for charitable gifts

What have you found works well to reduce your food waste? 

Merry Christmas! Here's our tree made of previous years' cards...

Merry Christmas! Here’s our tree made of previous years’ cards, that’s both reusable and recyclable.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2013 8:57 pm

    Reblogged this on Curiosidades na internet.

  2. December 13, 2013 9:47 am

    Reblogged this on rawautonomy and commented:
    Some wonderful tips from a New Zealand foodie. These are some practical ways to stretch both your food dollar and the food itself!

  3. December 15, 2013 9:45 am

    Great post! I find that people sometimes forget about ‘reduce’ and ‘reuse’ and go straight to ‘recycle’ or simply ‘throw away’, of which I probably used to be (and in some ways probably still am) guilty. But I’ve found that the more environmentally friendly actions I take, the easier it becomes. My favourite hints at the moment are:

    -Save used tea leaves (including tea bags) and spread them by the roots of your veges
    -Veges also love the water you use to rinse beer and milk bottles
    -Hold on to the vege parts you would normally get rid of (such as celery leaves, carrot ends, onion skins, pretty much anything) and make your own vege stock
    -And most importantly at this time of year – use old wrapping paper or newspaper to wrap presents

  4. December 15, 2013 9:45 pm

    I keep my vegetable peelings in the freezer. When the bag is a good enough size I pour the peel into a stock pot, cover with water and simmer for a few hours to get a lovely vegetable stock. After I’ve strained and frozen the stock, I can add the peel to my compost for even more goodness!

  5. December 16, 2013 6:28 am

    Great tips! These will reduce waste and save money- love it!

  6. December 16, 2013 6:29 am

    And the freezer is one of the best kitchen assistants!

  7. deedsofadixonday permalink
    December 16, 2013 10:43 am

    Nothing goes to waste at our house. All food scraps are collected and then cooked up in our Thermomix at the end of the week; this is then used to feed our dog, a pure bred American staffy. Our vet always comments on how healthy he is.

  8. December 18, 2013 1:56 am

    Ace post, zo! I only very recently stopped being a student, so I know everything about surviving on little pay and having to make the most out of my food dollar, while eating food that is whole and comes from a good source. A lot of my friends just go for cheap junk food, and they use budget as an excuse, but you can eat so well if you learn to use your dollar wisely!

  9. December 18, 2013 1:57 am

    p.s. I do that vegetable peeling trick that The Imperfect Kitchen shared too!

  10. January 20, 2014 6:44 am

    This is great- I do many of the things in this post, I am ALL about saving money. Check out my tips any time you’d like. Looking forward to reading more from you!

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