There has been much focus lately on our environmental footprint and how to reduce food waste in the UK. According the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) charity, the amount of household edible food that is put into our bins and wasted every year is in the region of 5 million tonnes and worth an estimated £15 billion. Wasting food not only contributes to global warming, deforestation and the growing worldwide problem of how to deal with unnecessary packaging waste. It also keeps you out of pocket. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s interest to stop our food from turning into rubbish.
There are many ways that we can cut down on our amount of avoidable food waste (see Spoiler alert). In an ideal world, we would simply not buy more food than is needed and use up every last morsel before it spoils. It has to be said, that this is far easier to do if you have teenagers living at home because their raving appetites makes it more difficult to buy too much food. Even the most packed fridge and cupboards can be quickly depleted, especially if they have brought along their friends.
However, once the dust clears, a quick inventory of the kitchen often tells you that they have devoured the good stuff, leaving behind an eclectic mix of food items in their wake. They may have even left the same items that they had chosen to ignore the week before. The fickleness of teenage tastes means that you may also be stuck with a surplus of a particular food that they previously liked to eat. In effect, the reality of a busy life is that despite best laid plans, it is difficult to avoid having any leftover food. But more than often you end up with random pieces of old veg, several bags that contain single heels of bread, broken crackers and a yoghurt that is getting perilously nearer to its ‘use by date’.
Most people do not want to resign themselves to throwing perfectly good food into the bin, especially if they are the ones who had bought it. But unless you fancy taking part in a Ready, Steady Cook! from Hell, knowing what to do with old food is a whole other matter. Since I also face this weekly challenge, I have some suggestions that will help you cut down on food waste and use up some foods that are typically left behind.
Even if your once crisp veg has become slightly bendy, you can still roast, mash or simply dice and add them to soups, casseroles and sauces.
Blend old fruit into smoothies or chop and add them to a crumble, muffins or scones. Even the blackest, softest banana will taste amazing baked into a banana bread.
Old yoghurt, cream fraiche or sour cream:
Provided it is not past its ‘use by date’, use it in a dressing, sauce or to top some fruit, soup or curry. You can also use them in a marinade for chicken or fish or as a substitute for buttermilk when baking.
Old bread and rolls:
Unless old bread is mouldy, there are too many reasons why you should not bin it. Sliced old bread can be used to make bruschetta, garlic bread or toast. Diced old bread can be made into croutons for salads, soups or added to stuffing. Breadcrumbs can be added to just about anything to give some substance such as veggie burgers or to thicken sauces and soups. They can also add crispiness to foods when toasted and used in salads, on top of casseroles and pasta bakes or as a coating for fried/grilled foods in place of a heavy batter.
Old pitta bread, tortillas, rice cakes and crackers:
Old pitta bread and tortillas can be quickly transformed into dippers by simply cutting them into triangles and toasting in the oven. To add more flavour, you can brush them with olive oil and add a sprinkle of paprika. Smaller toasted pieces can be used as croutons or turned into breadcrumbs. Old rice cakes and crackers can be turned into breadcrumbs and added to burgers and falafel or used as coatings for fried/grilled foods.
There are also several online resources if you need more inspiration to help use up old foods and cut down on food waste such as: https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/
Best of all, once you get into the habit of looking at older, forgotten foods as ingredients for great meals you will discover new recipes and even new ways of cooking. If my children hadn’t gone off rice cakes and abandoned several flavours mid-pack, I wouldn’t have created a recipe for the tastiest popcorn chicken. This week, however, I was faced with some old pitta bread, neglected flatbread and a sad looking cucumber left at the back of the fridge. Just what I needed for a Hearty Greek salad with toasted pitta chips.