Huge amounts of food end up in the bin every day. Planning your grocery shopping, storing it properly and adopting a more conscious approach to what you eat can all help to reduce food waste. Even small changes can help to cut waste or even avoid it completely. But nobody's perfect: We don't need to achieve a zero waste lifestyle immediately, we all just need to start. Equipped with a few tricks for keeping fruit, vegetables and other precious produce fresh, and even reviving a few things past their best, you can reduce food waste to a minimum or even eliminate it entirely. Why not start getting creative with your leftovers?
By chilling, freezing, pickling and preserving food, you can extend its shelf life and save it from being condemned to the bin.
Just because a yoghurt is a few days past its best-before date (BBD), that doesn’t mean you can’t still eat and enjoy it. This date is simply a guarantee from the manufacturer stating that, when properly stored, a product will retain its flavour, aroma and nutritional value up until then. You should not consume chilled convenience products like fresh pasta or sausages long after their best-before date. They may contain germs that you can’t see, smell or taste but could still make you ill. If in doubt, it’s best to throw them away. The same applies to easily perishable produce, which will usually have a use-by date on the packaging. After this date, perishable goods should go in the bin.
Put new food at the back, bring older food to the front. The “FiFo” principle (first in, first out) can help you keep track of what’s fresh and what isn’t. It’s also useful to know that refrigerators have different temperature zones. Above the crisper drawer, the higher the shelf, the warmer it will be. The lowest shelf, just above the crisper, will be the coldest. The fridge door warms up the most when opened. So, to help foods in the fridge stay fresh for as long as possible, make sure you place them on the right shelf. You can find out more about this under “Storing food correctly”.
Microorganisms can’t reproduce as quickly in low temperatures. For this reason, the best way to keep food fresh is to freeze it. Here’s some rules for freezing food effectively:
Yes, it might be something your grandmother used to do, but the art of preserving, pickling and fermenting is very much on trend right now! These methods allow you to store food in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight, for up to a year. Always label freshly preserved foods with the date and put them at the back of your cupboard or pantry so that you use the older produce first. Remember that it’s best to dispose of preserves and pickles if the lid is loose, the liquid is cloudy or discoloured, or if they have an unnatural smell.
You can preserve just about anything, even meat or sausages. Of course, the food has to be fresh and undamaged when you do. Fruit should be raw and vegetables should be raw and blanched. It’s actually quite simple… layer washed and prepared produce in a clean glass jar that has either a clip top or screw top and cover with liquid. Put the glass jars in a cooking pot, making sure they aren’t touching. Fill the pot with just enough water so that it comes about three-quarters of the way up the jars and then heat the pot until the water reaches 75-120 °C. Depending on the food, you should keep it at this temperature for between 10 minutes and 2 hours. Later, as the glass jars cool down, a vacuum forms inside them that keeps the lid sealed air-tight. You should repeat the cooking stage a second time when preserving peas, beans and mushrooms.
If you want to try something new, why not test your culinary skills with carrots, green beans, beetroot or peppers? These are particularly well suited to pickling. To pickle a kilogram of vegetables, you’ll need to use half a litre of vinegar (5%) and up to half a litre of water containing spices and seasonings. Heat the pickling liquid and pour it into the glasses or stoneware pots, leave it to cool, then heat the liquid again and pour it over the vegetables. The liquid should cover the vegetables by the width of a couple of fingers. You should leave it to pickle for four to six weeks, after which the pickled food will keep for a further 3-12 months.
Fermentation is an age-old method for preserving food and is used to this day to make sauerkraut. For some people, fermented foods are more digestible, for example. Enzymes and microorganisms break down the sugars in the vegetables in a multiple-stage process. This produces both the lactic and acetic acids that give fermented vegetables their typical flavour and stop them from perishing. Ripe vegetables are ideally suited to fermentation. It’s actually quite simple… before you start fermenting, you need to grate, slice or shred the vegetables. Then add the grated, sliced or shredded vegetables to a glass jar, fill with a 5% brine, and leave for a few days or weeks to pickle. If the jar remains well sealed, the fermented vegetables can keep for several months.
Even when stored correctly, some foods rapidly lose their freshness and take on a chewy or dry, crispy consistency. There’s no need to throw these foods away, though. Here’s how you can refreshen old food in your stock.
If you want to refresh wilting lettuce, simply sit it in cold water for a little while. This will make the leaves crisp again. You can also heat some firmer varieties of lettuce, such as raddichio, romaine lettuce and chicory. To revive herbs that have become limp, simply cut them as you would do it with flowers and place them in a glass with water. They’ll soon perk up again! You can also use wilted herbs to make pesto or freeze them in oil in ice-cube trays.
Just like lettuce and herbs, root vegetables such as carrots, radishes and beetroot just need to be given a little water to bring them back to life. However, it can sometimes take rather longer. Ideally, you should leave the root vegetables in a container with water for several hours or overnight – preferably in the fridge. Alternatively, you could wrap them in a damp tea towel. They will absorb the water and regain their crunch.
Overripe fruit can’t be refreshed, but you can use it in a number of delicious recipes. Brown bananas, for example, are a perfect ingredient in banana bread or as the base of smoothies – and, in summer, they’re great for making banana ice cream. You can use shrivelled apples and pears to whip up tasty jams, purées, compotes and crisps. However, if fruit is past its best, you should use it quickly before it gets mouldy.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? That delicious baguette or bread roll we only bought yesterday has gone hard in the blink of an eye. However, that doesn’t mean you have to throw them away – you can still get plenty of value out of them. Take your dried bread, moisten it with a little water, pop it in the oven for a few minutes and, soon enough, it’ll taste almost as good as it did the day you bought it. If bread has become very hard, you can use it to make breadcrumbs.
Depending on how you store it, leftover pasta can either become watery or it can dry out. If you want to make it taste just as good the next day, simply sauté softened pasta over a medium heat. On the other hand, if your pasta has dried out, just pop it in some boiling water for a minute or two.
If you leave cheese out on the dining table for too long, or if it gets pushed to the back of the fridge, it can soon become dry and hard. You can soften hardened cheese by soaking it in milk for half an hour or so – this eliminates the need to throw it out.
Biscuits are naturally fairly dry, but they can become even drier and a little hard when stored for a long time. If you like your biscuits a little softer, simply pop a sliced apple in the biscuit tin for a few hours. The fruit will give the biscuits a little moisture and soften them up again. You can also do this with cakes and other baked goods.
Sliced vegetables, yesterday’s potatoes, half a pudding – if you’re not careful, your fridge will be brimming with leftovers. You should always give your food a second chance, as it often allows you to get creative. Don’t throw leftovers in the bin, put them in a pan and conjure up something new. Cooking leftovers together with family and friends can be a lot of fun!
Whatever the food, whatever the occasion, there’s always a recipe to match. For example, leftover bread, tomatoes and rocket can become a delicious panzanella. Maybe you could whip up a healthy dessert by turning leftover fruit into a smoothie or fruit salad? And that leftover sliced pepper can be combined with the half-can of sweetcorn and rice from yesterday to create a tasty veggie curry.
Still got some soup leftover from yesterday, but not enough for a full portion? No problem! Just use it the last bit of soup as a sauce for pasta or noodles. And, if that’s still not enough, add a few chopped vegetables and maybe a little vegetable stock.
Check out our recipe ideas for further inspiration on how to use leftovers creatively.