How To End Food Waste, Depending On How You Shop

Photo by Tami Aftab.
Nearly a year after the pandemic first impacted the UK, how we feed ourselves has changed a lot. With eating in restaurants majorly restricted for a large part of the year and budget constraints limiting many people's access to food delivery services, our meals have been centred almost solely in the home. This has led to a greater consciousness not only of how we cook but also how we shop, what we end up buying and how much of it goes to waste.
Food waste is a well documented problem. According to the food waste charity WRAP, we throw away 6.6 million tonnes of household food waste a year in the UK. Of that, almost three quarters is food we could have eaten. But a combination of use-by dates, poor planning and overbuying means much of it is discarded despite good intentions.
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Luckily there are so many ways to combat food waste, from learning to store shop-bought herbs properly to reconfiguring your freezer space. However as the food writer and author Anna Jones shows us in her latest book, One Pot, Pan, Planet, you always have the capacity to do more. The book doesn't just share a wealth of delicious recipes but also explores all the different ways that what we eat and how we prepare it can be used to help – not hurt – the planet. One of the most practical ways comes from having a better understanding of how you cook and eat.
As Anna shows, understanding what kind of food shopper you are is one of the key ways you can not only combat food waste but save money, too. Ahead we've shared Anna's key tips for working out what kind of food shopper you are and how to make the most of being either a daily, weekly or bulk shopper.
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It’s been received wisdom for years that a weekly shop is the most economical and least wasteful way of shopping. I guess this is a symptom of out-of-town shopping centres and changing lifestyles. But I don’t think that’s the case for everyone. To reduce your waste I would encourage you to ask yourself the question ‘what kind of cook am I?’ and shop accordingly.
For me a weekly shop does not work. I am not a planner and I like to decide what to cook on the day I want to eat. Checking exactly what’s in my cupboards for that meal, then going out to the shops with my tote and buying specifically for that meal with a few extras to top up the cupboards, breakfast or snacks is the way we waste the least. Granted, I live close to a lot of shops which I know is not the case for everyone.
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When I do an online shop, I stock up on tins, jars and some (non-refillable) cleaning products and household stuff, then I shop daily for each meal or each couple of meals. It means I am on top of what’s in my cupboards, in my fridge and I use what I buy; nothing gets forgotten about. This method may not work for you, though. So I’ve laid out the kind of cooks I most often come across here.
Having spent a lot of time teaching cooking, both in people’s homes all over the UK and the US, and observing how different people shop, cook and prep, I think that cooks generally fall into three camps: daily cooks, weekly planners and batch cooks. What kind of cook are you?

DAILY COOKS

Those who decide what to cook that day
How to waste less
- Do a monthly shop for long-life, store cupboard goods you know you will use.
- Before you do that monthly shop, do a quick audit (this might be the night before, if you are going to shop on your way home from work) of what’s in your cupboards and fridge.
- If your schedule permits, do a daily or every-other-day shop for fresh fruit, veg, dairy, bread etc.
– Buy loose fruit and veg so you are not left with leftovers from large packets.
– Store any leftovers in the freezer if you will not eat them within 2 days.
– Do a bi-monthly look at everything in your cupboard. If things need to be used up, move them to the front of the cupboard, then write a list of those things and stick it on the front of your cupboard so you can keep them in mind when you decide what to cook.
– I find limiting the amount I can buy to one tote bag’s-worth makes sure I do not keep adding extra things we don’t need.
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WEEKLY PLANNERS

Those who love to plan or those who are unable to shop frequently
How to waste less
– A weekly shop suits planners.
– Before you shop, do a good audit of what’s in your cupboards and fridge.
– Write a detailed shopping list based on recipes, with amounts that you can refer back to at the shops to make sure you don’t overbuy fresh food.
– Buy loose veg so you are not left with huge leftovers from large bags.
– Avoid being tempted by offers and 2-for1 deals. If you waste the excess, it’s not a good deal; if you know you will use it or can adapt a recipe then go for it.
– Do not shop when you are hungry.
– If you shop once a week then it is key to make sure your food is stored carefully.
– Make sure you cook the food you buy. If plans change and you don’t cook, then double-cook the night after and freeze that meal. Or take into account what food may last until next week and shop accordingly the week after.
– Try to cook the things with a shorter life early in the week and the things which may last longer at the end.
– Learn how to make the things that don’t last a week or plan to pick those up in the week. If your bread lasts a month you are buying the wrong bread.

BATCH COOKS

Those who cook a couple of meals to last throughout the week
How to waste less
– Before you shop, do a quick audit of what’s in your cupboards and fridge.
– Plan out the number of meals you want to make and be sure you have containers to freeze any excess.
– Write a detailed shopping list and stick to it – how often you write it is down to you – see the notes above and below depending whether it’s weekly or daily.
– Don’t be tempted by offers and other things unless you know exactly how to use them or they can be cooked and stored in the freezer.
– Think about toppings – if you are eating the same things for a few meals, think about varying what you put on top (this can be a good way to use up leftover herbs, breadcrumbs, stray nuts and seeds etc).
– If you are unsure if you will eat leftovers, freeze them; don’t forget about them in the back of the fridge.

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