10 easy ways to minimise food waste in your kitchen

Managing your food resources more carefully is good for your pocket and the environment

Lilly Higgins: ‘Make stock with leftover chicken carcasses & vegetable scraps, build up a collection in the freezer.’

Lilly Higgins: ‘Make stock with leftover chicken carcasses & vegetable scraps, build up a collection in the freezer.’

 

Food waste is a hot topic lately but it’s much more than a passing trend. It’s the way our grandparents used to cook, because they had to cook that way. Everything was measured, made from scratch and leftovers eaten the next day. Nothing was disposable.

It makes much more financial sense and of course it’s so much better for the environment. We’re now beginning to realise that it might play a larger part then we realised in countering climate change .

According to the not-for-profit social enterprise Food Cloud, food waste accounts for 8-10% of greenhouse gases, four times the 2% of global aviation. In 2014 Project DrawDown, the world’s leading resource for climate solutions, pointed to “food waste reduction” as the number one solution to tackle climate change.

A key piece of kitchen kit that helps me prevent wasting food in the kitchen is my freezer. My 96-year-old neighbour showed me her many freezers years ago along with a little notebook tied to the handle of each freezer door listing the contents. She crossed items off as she took them out. She also had an impressive pantry of jams and chutneys that she had made herself that summer.

My own freezer is an Aladdin’s cave of random precious items. I try to label things. Masking tape is ideal for scribbling a vague description on, always adding the date too. Sometimes I end up defrosting a mystery tupperware tub that could either be chicken stock or apple puree. Either way delicious and the makings of an interesting dinner.

I have a drawer for chicken carcasses and vegetable peelings that are ideal for making stock, one for milk (it freezes so well) and I keep plenty of bread and bagels. I also reuse bagel bags and fill them with bread crusts to make breadcrumbs. A section for leftovers and a deep drawer with jars of stock.

The chest freezer has meat and bread. I try to buy freezer boxes of mixed cuts of meat from small scale producers like Rosscarbery Recipes pork and beef and Skeaghanore in West Cork. They sell through select stores, Neighbourfood and their websites. It’s amazing value and the meat is such great quality and ethically sourced. It makes meal planning so much easier knowing what’s already in the house and you can buy every part of the animal from small producers.

The likes of Skeaghanore sell the prime pieces of duck and chicken that are usually in demand as well as the hearts, livers, wings and carcasses for stock ensuring no part of the bird goes to waste. Achill Mountain Lamb, similarly, sells boxes containing every cut of lamb. It’s incredible value, beautiful produce and it supports farming families.

Recently chefs Erica Drum and Conor Spacey collaborated to host a Food Waste Supper Club in Dun Laoghaire’s Ink Cafe. They created a beautiful seasonal Irish menu, demoing the dishes then feeding the lucky diners that managed to nab a ticket.

Food Cloud donated the excess food the day before the event so both chefs used their extensive experience and skills to create a stunning six-course menu. It really highlighted the quality of the food that gets donated to Food Cloud and raised awareness of how much food does really go to waste.

As consumers and cooks there’s so much we can do. It’s an opportunity to take charge instead of feeling powerless about the current climate crisis. Knowledge is power so here are my top tips for making your kitchen more sustainable.

1. Plan your meals and make a list. Having even a vague meal plan for the week will mean you can write a good list and know what you need for everyone to be fed all week. Get exactly what you need to carry out your meal plan. Check what’s in the fridge and cupboards before you head to the shop. Food Cloud estimates that the average Irish household wastes on average €700 on uneaten food. Make sure you rotate your stock when you’re putting the shopping away. Older potatoes go to the top of the pile and the new ones on the base and so on.

2. Seek out and support sustainable organic farmers or at least local chemical free growers. They feed and build the soil. It’s in their best interest to do so. They don’t pollute with pesticides and chemicals. They provide habitats for wildlife to work with, and not against, nature. My own dad is the son of a farmer, he always tells me that when the fields were ploughed when he was little, flocks of seagulls would descend on the furrows as worms and bugs were unearthed. The soil was crawling with life. Now the seagulls don’t venture near the fields. It’s such a telling, poignant observation.

3. Eat from root to shoot. Use the vegetable peelings to make stock. Remove the leaves from carrots and beetroot as soon as you buy them or else the greens will sap the energy from the vegetable and make it limp. Store the greens in water. Carrot tops are great for pesto. Chop beetroot greens and saute with garlic and lemon. Roast cauliflower and broccoli leaves. Always use the stems of basil, parsley and coriander as they’re full of flavour too.

4. Cook freely, make a dish your own. You don’t always have to stick to the exact recipe. Get creative, there’s always a few days where I have to just look at what we have and make something nice for dinner from what’s in the fridge and cupboards.

5. Store leftovers in jars or clear containers so that you can see at a glance what’s in the fridge and label it well if it’s going into the freezer. The freezer is a fantastic resource if you don’t feel like eating the same thing two days in a row. You’ll be delighted with that cauliflower cheese another night!

6. Make leftovers into another meal. A little leftover roast chicken can be added to stir fries, dumplings or make soup etc. Bread becomes stuffing, bread & butter pudding or French toast. I usually cook double when I’m making quinoa or rice so there are leftovers for lunch the next day. Perfect for filling a burrito or as a base for a salad bowl, soup or stir fry.

7. Make stock with leftover chicken carcasses & vegetable scraps, build up a collection in the freezer. I always reuse bagel bags for this. One full of leek greens, carrot peelings and organic onion skins. I’m always amazed how quickly they fill up. Then it’s time to take out the slow cooker and get some stock simmering. Chicken bones are fantastic for adding to this. I then store it all in large jars, adding a handful of spices or herbs depending on what I’ll be using the stock for. Herb stems are ideal here for adding flavour. Just make sure you label the jars, aromatic stock for Thai soups etc. It can be frozen in glass jars just make sure you leave room at the top as the liquid will expand. Defrost it slowly at room temperature.

8. Get into fermenting! It’s an amazing way to use up excess food. Vegetables in salsas, kimchi & sauerkraut or using bruised fruit or fruit peels to flavour kombucha or make pineapple tepache. There’s a ferment for almost everything including bread being brought back to life in kvass and apple peels making amazing vinegar. Fermenting has been an amazingly rewarding and fun hobby of mine for over a decade now and I’m constantly learning with each ferment.

9. Compost. Almost anything that can’t be eaten or used can be composted. A little kitchen compost bin is really handy. What goes into it will depend on whether you have a commercial brown bin collection, most people do at this stage, or if you’re just composting in your garden. Make sure you read through the specifics regarding each.

10. Pickle leftover raw vegetables. Quick pickles are fun and easy to make with so many different flavour possibilities plus they’re delicious. The basic recipe I use is equal parts vinegar to water. But you can vary it depending on taste. They keep in the fridge for up to 2 months. So if you’ve got 1/2 a cucumber just pickle it! Pop leftover sliced onion into that jar too and you’ve got a lovely addition to sandwiches and a topping for curries or salad.

Heat 500ml vinegar (White, apple cider etc.) with 500ml water, 2 tbsp salt and 1 tbsp sugar together in a pan till dissolved. Set aside for ten minutes before using. Then pack your jars with bitesize vegetables. It can be cauliflower florets, carrots, peppers, cucumber, onions, radish etc. or a mixture of all. Add herbs like thyme or coriander stalks.

A few spices like clove, peppercorns, fennel or cumin seeds can have an amazing effect. Turmeric adds amazing colour and flavour too. There’s so much room for creativity and experimentation with these pickles. They taste great after a few days on salads, in wraps, as part of a larger mezze spread or just served in a bowl with drinks.

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