Making food go further, last longer

16 May 2009

More than 4 million tonnes of useable food is thrown away each year in the UK, at a time of rising prices and constrained budgets. So what practical steps can we take to get the most out of the food we buy? We asked nutritionist Sarah Schenker.

One simple way we could all cut down on food waste is get into the habit of planning meals and making a shopping list in advance. This helps to ensure you don't buy more than you can use when you're doing the weekly shop - a trap many of us fall into at the supermarket, especially with all those ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ offers to tempt us.


Unfortunately, if the use-by date of that ‘free’ product has expired before we get round to eating it, it's not the bargain it seemed at the time.

To minimise food waste, try to avoid:

  • cooking extra-large portions, most of which you end up throwing away;
  • letting food go past its use-by date;
  • buying more than you can use or preserve;
  • throwing away leftover food, instead of finding ways to reuse it. 

Make the most of your freezer

One important way to avoid wasting food and money is to make proper use of your freezer. Rather than clogging it up with expensive ready meals, use it for staples and ingredients that you can use in a wide range of recipes and meals.

Don't forget they are there, though: give your freezer a good clearout every three to six months and use up anything that's been languishing a while.

You can freeze almost anything, including meat, fish, milk, cheese, fruit, vegetables, wine and herbs. Here are some tips for getting the best out of frozen food:

  • Meat and fish. Wrap individual portion sizes in cling film, as it can be difficult to prise portions apart once they are frozen.
  • Bread. Freezing prevents it going mouldy before you can get through the whole loaf. It can be toasted from frozen, too.
  • Cheese. Freezing can affect the texture of cheese, but if you will be using it for cooking this won’t matter too much.
  • Fruit and veg. To freeze vegetables, blanche them, plunge into ice-cold water, then freeze. Fruit that has been frozen can go a bit mushy, but it’s still fine for baking and cooking.
  • Wine. Rather than opening a bottle every time you need a splash for cooking, save any leftovers in ice cube trays and just pop one into your dish when required.
  • Herbs. If you often don’t use up herbs before they go off, chop them finely and freeze on a flat baking tray, then place into freezer bags and use as required.
  • Individual meal portions. Batch-cook meals such as soup, stew and chilli, then freeze individual portions. These will save you time on evenings when you’re too tired or too busy to cook, and save you money by removing the temptation to phone for a takeaway.

More tips for minimising waste

  • Buy a large chicken for a Sunday roast and use leftover meat for recipes during the week, such as chicken curry, risotto or a pasta dish. Boil the chicken carcass to make a stock for the base of a soup.
  • Use vegetables that are about to go off for stews and casseroles, and use leftover cooked vegetables and meat to make a soup. Use leftover mashed potato for a fish pie or fish cakes.
  • Use bananas that are on the turn in banana bread, and apples or peaches in healthy oat-topped crumbles. Berries that are about to go off can be crushed and mixed with yoghurt, then frozen for a healthy dessert; alternatively, blend them with juice or milk for a delicious smoothie.
  • Learn to adapt recipes: for example, if the ingredient list calls for butternut squash, you can easily substitute a different vegetable that you already have, such as carrots or sweet potatoes.