World Food Day was a timely reminder that not everyone in the world has a balanced meal every day and that at least one in nine people go to sleep hungry at night.
Living in Dubai with all it’s visible opulence and luxury it is easy to become complacent about our own level of food wastage. I set myself a personal challenge to eliminate wastefulness in my daily life, and the biggest changes I made revolve around my food purchasing and consumption.
I have not always been entirely successful in the months since then, but I have found various ways to keep on the straight and narrow in shaa ALLAH.
The following 7 tips to reduce food waste may help to reduce or eliminate food waste in our own homes. A number of these tips were contributed by Helpling, an online cleaning platform in the UAE, and mirror my own experiences.
Plan ahead and shop smart – Buy less food
Where possible try to buy fruits and vegetables from local farmer’s markets as it allows you to support the local economy and farmers. Farmer’s markets allow you to eat seasonal fresh ingredients that has not been in cold storage for months and organic options may be significantly cheaper than the supermarket.
More often than not, some of the food we buy in the supermarket will spoil before it’s eaten and get thrown away. Even if it’s only a small amount each time, it all adds up.
Avoid getting sucked in by food offers you don’t need. Buy two, get one free is only a bargain if you need it and can use it all or store it successfully until required.
Making a meal plan for the week can help. Then write a shopping list containing only the items you know you will use for those meals.
And the number one classic piece of advice: never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry! You may walk in there with your shopping list and walk out with a trolley load of food you didn’t want or need. All because our eyes are bigger than our tummies when we are hungry. We imagine that we can eat so much more than what we actually can digest at one sitting!
Work with what you’ve got
Regularly check use-by dates and make meals using items that are reaching their expiry date. This will help reduce the amount of food you throw out, and the different combinations of ingredients can make for some exciting meals. Check out sites like Cook Halaal for some inspiration. And remember, if stored correctly, some foods can be safe for a few days or even weeks after their expiry date.
When you make a big meal, save any excess food. If you are eating out, ask them to pack up the leftovers. It can be your lunch for the following day, or simply a snack for when you get peckish. You can freeze most food in individual portions in freezer bags, too. This can serve as quick dinners in a few weeks’ time when you can’t face cooking!
Store food properly
Proper storage of certain foods can drastically impact their longevity. Of course, the longer you can preserve food, the less you end up throwing away.
You should have a cool and dry cupboard or storage area for any dry, long-life products. Sealable plastic containers, jars with lids, and resealable bags are all ideal for these foods. Choose a container that has adequate space for your produce without allowing too much air inside.
Keep your fridge clean and hygienic, and at the right temperature (ideally around 4 degrees celsius) and your food will stay fresh for longer. Get into the habit of rotating your foods in the fridge each time you shop. Bring items from the back towards the front, as these will have the soonest use-by-dates. This prevents anything from being left at the back and spreading bacteria if it goes off.
Getting rid of pests like fruit flies; which make your organic produce spoil more quickly; is another way to increase the longevity of your fruit and veg.
Use your freezer
Remember ‘the buy two get one free’ scenario I mentioned earlier? That’s when you end up with more than what you need for one or two meals. Freezing what you cannot eat is the best way to store food for later use. Overripe fruits like berries and bananas can be cut up and frozen for use in smoothies when required.
My mother (may ALLAH have mercy on her soul and grant her the highest paradise) froze everything that was purchased in excess of their immediate needs (including fresh or frozen chicken, meat or fish, milk, breads or cookies). It allowed her to buy perishables on sale or in bulk and have them available over the next few weeks or months as required, and resulted in savings on the monthly food bills.
Now all we have to do is remember to defrost the food we want to use in time for our next meal or snack. 🙂
Serve sensible portion sizes
When we eat out at restaurants, it’s normal to get too much food and this ‘upsize the meal’ mentality has begun to affect our meals at home. Avoid over-serving food when cooking for friends and family by serving smaller portions at first, then dishing out any more to those who are still hungry.
You might also try serving food on smaller plates – the same amount of food on a smaller plate seems like more food, as it seems to be taking up more space on the plate.
Repurpose leftovers into something new
Leftover chicken carcasses, bones from lamb chops or rib roasts simmered in water are useful for making stocks or bone broth that can be used in soups, rice or quinoa dishes. Use fish bones and heads to make fish stock but never add fish to the chicken or meat.
Add any loose cloves of garlic, leftover bunches of herbs, lonely carrots and stalks of celery to water and you have the makings of a flavorful stock or broth.
Any sad looking vegetables may be added to the above stock or broth to make a wholesome vegetable soup for a quick evening meal. Add a cup of lentils or cooked chick peas to make it extra nutritious.
Many items that you might just toss in the trash once you’ve used them still have life left in them. Take used coffee grounds for example – there are plenty of inventive ways to use them before they go in the trash, such as keeping your fridge odour-free and other tips here. You can also use old lemons to disinfect surfaces, or even clean the inside of your fridge.
You could try composting. It’s nature’s way of recycling food waste. Much of what you would have otherwise put in the trash can go on a compost heap. Check out this simple how-to guide on composting from Eartheasy.
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