Being a more responsible cook is all the more important at Christmas, a time of year that’s notoriously excessive. By trimming back, cooking smart, planning ahead and rethinking some old traditions, we can all make a difference to the planet and run our homes more efficiently.
Think through everything, such as ordering ingredients from suppliers that use minimal packaging (your local butcher, for example) and how many Christmas food deliveries you’ll need to get.
Ordering your food shop online for delivery saves time when you’re busy, but if all your deliveries are coming in separate vehicles, a large shop from one place would be better. If you choose a large supermarket or online service like Ocado, make sure you secure a delivery slot in good time.
Shop local or share transport
Aside from walking or cycling, public transport is the most ecofriendly way to shop, but as anyone who has lugged a turkey weighing several kilos knows, it isn’t easy. Then there are the potatoes and root veg – not to mention the bottles of fizz! Consider car-sharing with a local friend or neighbour, and if you can walk, a shopping trolley is useful. Buy one with decent wheels that will last.
How to reduce packaging
There are some key opportunities to cut down on the amount of packaging you bring home at Christmas. A turkey from a reputable supplier, like a butcher or farmers’ market, often comes in no more than a cardboard box, whether you have it delivered or pick it up yourself.
Buying loose fruit and veg means that you buy only what you need and you can put everything in reusable bags. Making food from scratch also cuts down on packaging. Even though flour, sugar and dried fruit come in bags that need to be recycled (unless you buy them loose), they won’t be as highly packaged as a decorative cake that needs to be protected while it sits on the shelf.
Local shops that make food on the premises or are supplied by central kitchens are also less likely to sell produce in anything other than minimal packaging – it would cost too much otherwise. Crisps and snacks often come in packaging that can’t be recycled. Buy bigger packs rather than individual portions to cut down on how much you need to throw away, and remember to take your own reusable shopping bags to the supermarket.
Make basics such as bread, pizza dough, hummus, sauces and jams yourself to reduce the amount of packaging you bring home.
Cut down on food waste
Plan what you are going to eat, then buy no more fresh food than you need (and, as stated above, buy loose fruit and veg if possible). Only serve things you know will get eaten. If most people you’re inviting hate cranberry sauce, for example, don’t buy a large amount. Ditto when it comes to sprouts.
If you’re unsure what extra bits and pieces you might need, buy frozen, tinned or long-life foods that will last well into the new year.
According to lovefoodhatewaste.com, we’re saving £3.4 billion a year between us compared to 2007, and we’re also saving five million tonnes of CO2 – reportedly, that’s like taking 2.2 million cars off the road. So, creating as little food waste as possible really does make a difference.
However, we still throw away 18% of the food we buy on average. This comes at a cost to us, as it wastes money and is a strain on the planet’s resources. It’s worth noting that the packaging that accompanies wasted food produces 15% more CO2 than the food itself.
Take a look at our Christmas portion planner to ensure you have the perfect amount of food for your party.
Cook with care
We go through metres of foil, baking parchment and cling film at Christmas. If you want to cut down on both your costs and waste, invest in reusable wax wraps and tin liners. Foil is recyclable, but check your local authority to find out what is accepted.
Get your knives sharpened. Sharp knives are easier to use and create less waste.
Stainless steel boxes, glass jars and silicone bags are all brilliant ways to store food. The bags in particular are good for packing food flat to stack in the freezer. Food stored properly will stay fresher for longer, too.
Bones and peelings
Make stock from vegetable peelings (or make them into homemade crisps) and bones. If you have a slow cooker or pressure cooker, consider using this to make the stock so you can have your hob free for other dishes.
Many foods we’d normally peel don’t actually require it, and those peels create a lot of food waste. Add plenty of herbs, garlic or seasoning and cook everything through properly and no one will notice.
Use your freezer
Make sure your freezer is relatively empty before the festive season so that when you have leftovers you know you won’t eat straightaway, you’ll have room to store them. Remember to label them as well.
Love your leftovers
Most leftovers can be eaten as is, or conjured into new and exciting dishes such as Christmas pizza, turkey minestrone or sprout hash. Browse our guide to what you can freeze, then try our best recipes made with Christmas leftovers.
Items that we use every day can be swapped for sustainable options. Opt for recycled aluminium foil and FSC-certified baking parchment, roasting bags and paper cases – they reuse waste from other products in a more sustainable way.
All produce scraps can be used on your garden if you compost them, as they break down into the soil. Plus, it’s easy and saves a lot of waste from going in the bin.
Switch your cuppa
Tea and coffee are often sold in plastic – even teabags can contain it. Buy yours loose and brew in a teapot or reusable teabag. Loose tea is great for gifting in a pretty box, too.
Scrub up better
Washing-up sponges often contain and are packaged in plastic, but reusable sponges can be put in the wash when they’re dirty, and natural dish brushes made from wood and coconut fibres can go in your compost bin to break down into earth.
Green up your table
Embrace foliage – use leaves and plants with candles for a beautiful table setting. You could even handwrite place names on winter leaves using gold pen. Anything green can then be composted. Just make sure you don’t use anything too prickly, or unsafe around food.
Check your fridge
According to WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme), the easiest thing you can do to create less food waste is to set your fridge temperature between 0-5C. On average, fridges are set at 7C, but this lowering of the temperature can make your food last for up to three days longer.
How to be a smart Christmas cook
Have any tips for having a greener, more sustainable Christmas? Leave a comment below…