• Good planning can help avoid food waste and save you money. (Flickr)Source: Flickr
International Mother Earth Day is only one day of the year but our tips will see you through the rest of the days of the year too.
Samantha van Egmond

3 Jun 2016 - 2:28 PM  UPDATED 20 Apr 2018 - 11:31 AM

Australians throw away $8 billion worth of edible food (up to 20 per cent of our groceries) every year, often because we buy too much or aren’t sure what to do with leftovers. Try these simple ways to reduce your household food waste – including practical tips from OzHarvest Chef for a Cause Travis Harvey – and you’ll also save time and money.

1. Take a shopping list

It seems like a no-brainer, but planning meals in advance is the easiest way to avoid buying items you don’t need and won’t use. Take a look in your fridge and pantry before leaving home and write a shopping list so you don’t end up with three cabbages in the crisper. The best tip to avoid impulse purchases? Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach!

2. Buy less groceries more frequently

If you can, try to replenish fresh produce and other perishables every few days rather than buying a week’s worth in the hope that you’ll use everything. The fruit and veggies will be fresher and you won’t be tempted to make enormous portions that will be binned later. Choose quality (fresh, organic, fair trade, unprocessed) over quantity and your meals will be tastier for it.

3. Cook only what you need

An effective way to reduce food waste (and the waistline) is to reduce portion sizes, so cook only what is required rather than pouring enough pasta to feed an army. Wait 15 minutes to see if you are still hungry before heading back to the kitchen – you might be surprised at how full you feel.

4. Store food better

Correct storage can add days, weeks and even months to your food. Make sure dry goods are stored in air-tight containers to avoid moisture and weevils, freeze leftovers and remember that not all fruit and veg should be stored in the fridge – sometimes it will make them go off quicker. “Herbs will last for weeks if you get some damp paper towelling and wrap them up before storing in a sealed container,” says Travis. “Spinach and lettuce should always be stored in a bag or container, with any wilting leaves removed before storage.“

5. Understand expiration dates

Knowing what is meant by ‘best-before’ and ‘use-by’ could mean the difference between emptying the contents of your fridge to make a delicious dinner and throwing away a fridge full of perfectly edible food. Check whether food looks, smells and tastes ok – if it does then it’s usually fine to eat – and rotate older ingredients to the front so that it’s not forgotten.

Is it important?
Do we really have to pay attention to "use-by" and "best-before" dates?
When you're trying to use up excess ingredients, "use-by" and "best-before" dates might seem like overly cautionary warnings, but adhering to these labels could stop you and your family from eating contaminated, and potentially dangerous, food.

6. Make leftovers your friend

Leftovers contribute over a quarter of food waste but there are plenty of creative uses for them. Travis’s tip is to make stock and minestrone. “Anytime I have leftover vegetable trimmings like leek, carrot, tomato or parsley stalks I place them in a zip lock bag in the freezer,” he says. “I add to the bag any time I have some more and eventually I have enough to make a veggie stock,” he says. Deboning a chook or filleting a fish? Travis recommends freezing the carcass or bones to make a stock from them later on. Search SBS Food recipes by ingredient to find a dish suited to your surplus.

7. Grow your own herbs

Herbs can make almost any dish tastier, however they can be expensive to buy and a lot of the time we only use half of what we buy while the rest goes limp. A simple herb garden in the kitchen means you will always have a fresh supply on hand and can snip the perfect amount for your dish – start with rosemary, parsley and mint and see how much money you save! See how you can grow your own herbs with a few tips here.

8. Freeze for later

Frozen food gets a bad rap, however the problem isn’t in the freezing but in the quality of the produce. Travis suggests freezing peeled chopped banana for smoothies, or leaving them whole with the skin on for banana bread. “Another great idea is juicing lemons then freezing the juice in ice cube trays so you can grab just a bit as you need it,” he adds.

9. Compost (or donate) the scraps

Put potato peels and wilted veggies to good use by throwing them in your garden as a nutrient-rich fertiliser. Keep a small bin in the kitchen for food scraps and a compost bin outside, in the direct sunlight if possible to help waste break down faster. Check out our how to compost guide right here.

10. Preserve seasonal produce

Cooking with a new bounty of produce each season is exciting, however it can be hard to use up all the excess before it turns bad. Preserving is a great way to enhance flavour to in-season fruit and vegetables by adding salt, vinegar and spices, making it possible to enjoy your favourite foods year round.  “If I am lucky enough to receive some homegrown lemons when the trees are laden with them, I will use as much as I can fresh, make some lemon butter and then preserve the rest using rock salt, bay leaves and fennel seeds,” Travis says.

Make your own preserved lemons, recipe right here.

Lead image from flickr.

Watch Wasted! The Story of Food Waste presented by Anthony Bourdain, on SBS On Demand: 

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