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Nadiya Hussain: How to cook with less waste

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Our columnist Nadiya Hussain used to throw away so much food – until she had children. Read her simple tips for cutting down on your household food waste.

Like all of us, I hate waste, but I didn’t always think about it. For that I feel a pang of guilt. But you live and learn. I have learnt and I am still learning every day. Growing up, I never saw my parents waste a thing. They used to use everything they bought and shopped at the greengrocer’s so they never had plastic waste, either. Brown paper bags would be shredded and used in the pigeon house and rabbit hutch.

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When I left home and lived on my own, I didn’t really think twice before plating up too much food, then mindlessly throwing away leftovers. I didn’t give it a second thought. Everything my parents did hadn’t rubbed off on me.

But we had to tighten our belts when we bought our first house: we had a mortgage and a baby on the way. I thought carefully about everything I bought, how I would use it and how far it would go, meal-wise. Thirteen years on, we live in a town where waste is discouraged and recycling encouraged – which helps in our quest to waste less and think more.

Cutting down on waste starts with how I buy. I have realised it’s the way I buy that determines whether there’s waste. I write down what I’m cooking Monday to Thursday and then make a list. And I do all the food shopping online so I’m not distracted by the offer signs in the shops. And today, after years of walking into shops empty-handed, I make sure I have carrier bags with me. Thank you, Sir David Attenborough, for opening our eyes!

So on weeknights I know exactly what I am cooking, but weekends are a case of cooking with what we have in the fridge and cupboards. This has made me a better cook. It’s also taught me how to cook with what we have, and to not be tempted to pop out to the shops every time we need something. By the end of the week, there are lots of (lovely) meals with eggs and potatoes and it means we can have a fresh start come Monday.

Potato, pepper and egg stew

I’m hopeful that by cooking and eating this way, I can teach my children about waste and making the most of what you have. But like most generations – much like myself – they will probably forget everything I say. They will move on and do damage, as we did before them. But later, they will hopefully have their moment of realisation. It’s a process, a way of learning.

But with parents – and Sir David Attenborough – showing us the way, I’m hopeful that we won’t go far wrong.

Top tips for cutting down on food waste:

1. Shop smart and be realistic. Being honest about what and how much you eat will help you do a more effective shop. It sounds so simple but this has really helped me be more savvy. It has improved our health as a family, too.

2. When we eat, I plate the food up in the kitchen and take the plates to the table. When it’s help yourself, it’s hard to gauge how much to cook. Plating up and taking it to the table means there are less leftovers – and if there are, freeze them.

3. Know how to store. If we store ingredients and produce properly, they will last longer. Read the storage instructions and then, once you’ve established what is in which cupboard/shelf in the fridge, it will become second nature. Saves money, too.

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Read more articles by Nadiya...

We can make our children healthier
How to get kids to eat their greens
How I eat on a budget
Why I asked my family to be vegan
Kids and restaurants can mix

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