How to reduce food waste

Avoid throwing away leftovers and surplus food by reading BBC Good Food's practical tips for running an economical household. Find out how we reduced ingredient waste in our green challenge.

Keith choosing fresh produce

Who took the challenge?

Keith Kendrick, BBC Good Food head of magazines: As a dad and a foodie, I’m used to cooking family meals. I batch cook the kids’ meals, but prefer to cook on a whim for my wife and me. We normally throw out three small caddy-sacks of food waste a week.

The challenge: reduce food waste over a fortnight

Vegetables on a chopping board
WRAP (the Waste & Resources Action Programme) classifies food waste as avoidable or unavoidable. Avoidable waste means food that could have been eaten. WRAP says 7.3 million tonnes of household food waste was thrown away needlessly in 2015. My challenge was to not add to that mountain!

How to reduce food waste

My strategy was two-fold: planning meals and creative use of leftovers.

Week one

Whole roasted cauliflower in an oven dish with salad
I wrote out two plans for the week – one for kids, one for adults – and ordered lots of ingredients. At the weekend, I cooked the kids’ weeknight meals, plus a dozen jars of soup for my wife and me to take to work. Ever tried roasting a whole cauliflower, stalks and all, then blitzing it with coconut milk and spices? Delicious! I used the stalks of kale and broccoli too – lovely when roasted with Marmite. Our Sunday chicken provided enough leftovers to make a curry, a salad and sandwiches for the kids. We still had a fair bit of waste, but none of it could’ve been eaten.

Week two

Rustic vegetable soup in a pot with a spoon
By week two, we had a rhythm – whatever my kids didn’t finish for dinner, my wife had for lunch the next day. The problem? She wasn’t eating the soups I had so lovingly prepared! I thought about freezing them, only my freezer was already full. It was time for an inventory. I took everything out, which provided the meals for the week. Overall, there were only two disasters: a lasagne declared ‘inedible’ by my wife, and a vegan, gluten-free pie that tasted like plasterboard. A total of 263g of food that we could have eaten. All other waste was unavoidable, and we went from three caddy-sacks to two per week.

The verdict

A success... sort of. Planning was fun, and knowing that 96% of what we threw away was unavoidable made me feel good. However, as a spontaneous cook, it was stifling to plan meals so far in advance. The way forward for us is balance – planning the kids’ meals ahead, with more educated portion sizes, and deciding on the day what my wife and I fancy for dinner, with one eye on the leftovers.

Top five ways to cut down on food waste

  1. Don't over buy. Keep track of what you've bought and used. WRAP suggests taking a 'shelfie' - a photo of your fridge and cupboards to remind you of what's there. 
  2. Plan ahead. Think about what you're going to cook and how you'll use the leftovers. I planned in fortnightly cycles, but some might prefer weekly.
  3. Get to know your grocer. I see mine on the way home from work every day, and he's full of advice on how to use up leftover veg. 
  4. Love your freezer. Use your weekends to batch-cook and freeze. There's plenty of freezing tips in our guide
  5. Get composting. Added to soil, compost if great for growing veg and herbs - even i you live in a flat. 

More on how to reduce food waste...

Top tips for cutting food waste
Leftovers recipes: How to use up commonly wasted ingredients
How to freeze food
Freezable batch-cook recipes
How to safely reheat leftovers

What are your top tips for cutting down on avoidable food waste? Let us know in the comments below...

Comments, questions and tips

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Rebecca Baumann's picture
Rebecca Baumann
24th Jan, 2018
I chuck all my veg off-cuts (eg celery tops, carrot tops, the really tough big of the broccoli stalk) into a box in the freezer. I also freeze roast chicken carcasses. When I have enough you can boil everything up for homemade chicken/veg stock.
8th Dec, 2017
I'm a waste not, want not war baby and can't bear seeing food going to waste. Unless it's an ingredient that will be used up quickly, I don't buy 3 for 2 or large packs of stuff. Of course, if something has clearly gone off, it goes straight in the bin. If it's just a little tired-looking and needs to be used up I try to build a meal out of it. Here Beeb Good Food and other recipe websites can be very helpful - enter a couple of ingredients and you'll get lots of ideas.Yesterday, for example, I needed to get rid of onions, kale and chorizo. Adding a few things more we had a great soup to eat with garlic bread. Worst case, every now and then I'll make what we call "naff vegetable soup". Finally, I don't cook massive quantities as we don't have a huge amount of freezer space. PS I'm a good and imaginative cook and like challenges, but otherwise I'm a rubbish homemaker. Thankfully, I'm married to a guy who wields a mean hoover.
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