We could learn a lot from the professionals when it comes to cutting food waste, says Andy Lynes. Get started on that spreadsheet!
Writing about the restaurant industry means I get to spend time in professional kitchens. Hanging out with chefs has taught me a lot; I can swear with astonishing fluency, gossip like Perez Hilton on a caffeine jag and drink anyone under the table.
I've also picked up some positive habits too. Chefs would sooner shoot their own grandmother than waste a scrap of food, and I now feel the same way. The government reckon we throw away 30% of all food we buy and I have been guilty in the past of chucking out past-its-sell-by-date meat or rotten veg. But by following the professionals' lead in keeping tight control over the amount of food we buy, we can reduce waste and the size of our shopping bills at the same time.
For chefs, every penny spent on food has to contribute to the profitability of their restaurant. That means deciding in advance exactly how much food constitutes a portion and then ordering only enough to feed the expected number of customers per day.
For the home cook, things are simpler. We know how many people are coming to breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday (the last time a husband rolled in from the pub with his boss unexpectedly in tow demanding to be fed was in a 1979 episode of Terry and June), and better still we don't have to offer them a menu to choose from.
That makes calculating the amount of food required to keep a household fed for a week a cinch, especially if you follow a typical restaurant portion size and allow around 115 grams (4oz) of meat or 170 grams (6oz) of fish per person per dish.
I've recently stepped up my menu planning by recording everything on a simple spreadsheet. Under headings of the days of the week, I list the dishes and their ingredients. I then copy and paste the ingredients for all the dishes into a weekly shopping list which I either print out, if I'm going to the supermarket, or display on my computer in a separate window while I shop online.
That means I'm not throwing random quantities of meat, fish, fruit and veg into my trolley or virtual shopping basket that are only destined for the landfill site. Give or take a jar of pickle or two, the plan is to have a nearly empty fridge by the end of the week when it's time to start the process all over again.
By maintaining the spreadsheet, I'm also building up an archive of weekly menus and shopping lists, ready to be repeated when I'm feeling less inspired or time is tight. True, it's not the most spontaneous way to cook, but the trade off in time, money and bin bags saved is worth it.
Use up your leftovers in one of our frugal recipe ideas, or share your top tips on avoiding surplus groceries below...