It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I became obsessed with never wasting a morsel of food, but it definitely dates back to early childhood. A favourite saying of my parents and grandparents was – and still is – ‘waste not, want not’ and we were exhorted to think of the starving children in Africa before leaving even a crust on our plates. And while my mum has grown up in relative affluence like many of our ‘Baby Boomer’ folks, she was raised by parents who lived through the depression. For this generation, discarding any food at all was considered a huge sin.
Fast-forward 30 years, and we in Australia seem to have all relaxed a little on the topic of food waste. According to Oz Harvest, each year over 5 million tonnes of food ends up as landfill, enough to fill 9,000 Olympic sized swimming pools. One in five shopping bags of food ends up in the bin. Grocery bills which are unremarkable these days – $200, $300 per week for a family – would have been unimaginable even five years ago. So, perhaps it’s time we hit rewind and began to work our way back towards zero food waste as a goal.
It’s true that the increase of hours many people work and the need in most households for two incomes, make this challenging. It’s much easier when you’re attempting to whip up a meal to satisfy all of your little food critics in 30 minutes to discard perfectly fine, but surplus ingredients. As for leftovers that aren’t quite enough to form another meal, who has the time to transform them into a brand new, gastronomic masterpiece the following day?
The answer is, it doesn’t take more time. It saves you time later on when you have a quick lunch prepared, or a healthy lunchbox filler on hand in the freezer to pop into that schoolbag in the morning. With these handy tips, not only will you save food but you’ll also save time – which is probably at the heart of why I’ve become obsessed with collecting them!
My kitchen tips for zero food waste
- Excess pancake batter (even a few tablespoons), add mashed banana, a handful of blueberries or a grated apple or pear. Fry up as small, bite-sized fruit pikelets and freeze until needed. Great for lunchboxes.
- Broccoli and cauliflower stems. Broccoli stems are deliciously sliced and added to a stirfry, or finely chopped and added to Bolognese (they won’t even know it’s in there). Cauliflower stems and leaves can also be stir-fried, and the stems make delicious pickles (see below).
- Get pickling! Bought too many radishes, cucumbers or another crunchy veg? This easy recipe will turn them into beautiful pickles to enjoy on burgers, toasties, with Middle Eastern food or on a cheese board!
- Leftover rice or quinoa? I either freeze these versatile grains in small containers to have for lunch with a can of flavoured tuna or use them to make patties for lunchboxes. Just add a whisked egg, some grated cheese and grated veg (carrot or zucchini work best) plus any herbs or spices you like, and a tablespoon of flour. Fry into small fritters and pop in lunchboxes with cherry tomatoes or similar for lunch.
- Bananas going bad? Peel, chop in half and put in the freezer in a ziplock bag. Use when you have time later for smoothies, banana pancakes, banana bread or muffins.
- Are wraps or tortillas getting stale? Cut into small triangles, spray with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper (cumin or paprika sprinkled over works well too). Bake in a hot oven for just a few minutes (keep an eye on them) and they become yummy chips for a quick snack, or lunchboxes tomorrow.
- Leftover panettone, bread or plain cake? There’s only one option here, and that’s bread and butter pudding! Get googling to find one which suits your ingredients, but essentially if you have eggs, butter, cream and sugar, you’re on the way to turning that stale stuff into something drool-worthy.
There are so many more clever ideas you can employ to head towards zero food waste, and I’m sure you have many of your own. I hope these tips help to stretch your grocery budget a little and create some yummy treats for your family at the same time!
By Lauren Hamilton
Writer, mama, food nerd and founder of Digital Narrative