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Seven ways to reduce food waste when you’re on a budget

Not everyone has the resources to batch cook and store meals. Here are seven easy ways to reduce food waste and save money even while on a budget.

Food waste isn’t usually the first thing people think of when it comes to saving the planet, but the leftover meals we throw away have a significant impact on climate change. 

By chucking away unwanted food, we’re wasting the resources used to create and transport it, as well as creating extra methane emissions when the food is left to rot in a landfill.

Households in the UK generate an enormous amount of food waste every year, exceeding that produced by the catering and manufacturing industries. According to food waste charity WRAP, 70 per cent of the UK’s surplus food is thrown out by people at home, amounting to around seven tonnes of waste.

Reducing food waste is certainly in the best interests of the planet – but at a time when the cost of living is rising at unprecedented levels, being more thrifty with your meals can also save you a lot of money. 

People on low incomes are usually already adept at getting the most out of what they have. But for those looking to cut down on their food waste a little more, many of the tips and tricks out there already can be geared towards people with plenty of resources and the cash to buy in bulk.

Here are some ways to make sure you are not creating more food waste than you have to, even when on a budget.

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Don’t take a “best-before” date at face value

Most of us are guilty of binning food after seeing that a product in our fridge is past its “best before date”.

However, “best before” labels simply mean that the quality of the food has likely reduced, not that it is necessarily unsafe to eat. It may not taste as good or look as appealing, but it’s unlikely to be unsafe to eat unless it has visibly gone off or smells bad.

Looking in supermarket “yellow label” sections can be a great way to grab bargains past, or close to, their “best before” dates. Just make sure you consume the item quickly so you don’t end up wasting it. 

These dates differ from the use-by dates, which you should adhere to, even if the food looks and smells fine. If you don’t, you risk getting food poisoning.

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Be smart about how you store supplies to cut food waste

White goods such as fridges and freezers are expensive and unaffordable for some people. As many as five million UK households were living without these essential appliances last year.

But there are still ways to extend the lifespan of food. If you have direct access to outdoor space, keeping products such as milk in a cool bag outside will make them last for a few days, particularly in the colder months. 

If you have a freezer, but – like in many households – it’s too small to store much, you can use the same cool bag trick with blocks of ice which can help food last a little longer.

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Eggs and butter can be safely stored in a cool place indoors, but avoid items like yoghurt which are particularly sensitive to changing temperatures. Since it’s safer to keep vegetables for a few days, rather than meat, opting for veg-heavy meals is good for the planet and safer for you too.

Alternatively, some products can be kept for longer if stored in a water-tight container and kept in cold water. And ultimately, keep an eye on sites such as Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace, where good-condition white goods can often be found going for cheap.

The materials you use to store food make a difference too. Salads and leaves fare better when kept in paper rather than plastic, for example.

Eggs last longer than you think 

Even if the best-before dates on your egg box have long passed, they may still be fine to eat (especially if they have been stored somewhere cool). Research by app Too Good to Go showed Brits were throwing away as many as 720 million eggs a year in 2018.

Try the egg test before you throw a box out. Put an egg in a roomy glass or bowl of water. If it sinks and stands upright on the bottom, it’s likely fine to eat. If it floats, gases have accumulated inside, and it should not be eaten.

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Pick up the phone

Whether you’re looking to prevent food waste by giving out your leftovers, or by collecting some from someone else, there are apps that help you do both in just a few clicks. 

One app you can use is Olio, which will connect you to locals looking for extra food, ingredients and household products, meaning you can avoid creating food waste and help out a neighbour at the same time. 

This also means if you’re short for cash and need an easy way to pick up some free food, someone in your local area can likely help.

NoWaste helps you keep track of the food you have at home and manage your grocery shopping so ensure you only pick up what you’ll use. Its handy menu planner also lets you organise your kitchen to use up all the spare ingredients you have.

Don’t be put off by frozen food

The majority of the food we throw away is fresh fruit and vegetables. Buying frozen – if you have access to a freezer – means it keeps as long as you need it, is usually cheaper than fresh produce, and is just as nutritious.

There are also plenty of fresh food products – such as bread – which you can stick in the freezer to make them last longer, if you have space to do so 

Try reviving before throwing away 

Before you throw away something you think is past its best, consider ways you might be able to revive it. This can be done, for example, with bagels, by sprinkling some water on the bagel and heating it for a short time. You can find instructions on doing this at this link.

Different kinds of fruit and vegetables can also be revived by soaking them in very cold water. This trick can be used for potatoes, lettuce, carrots and herbs, for instance. 

Make use of your scraps 

The scraps of food we often throw away without thinking can be extremely useful when it comes to sprucing up our favourite recipes.

One way to use up the peels, stalks and tops of vegetable scraps is to quickly fry them with some olive oil, add water and simmer to create a vegetable broth. You can use this broth immediately, or freeze it for later use.

When you’re cooking with foods where you would usually throw one part away, consider other ways you could use the extra part. 

Broccoli stems, for instance, can be used in a number of different recipes, such as falafels, by grating or chopping up the stalk and blending it into a falafel mix. 

The skins of bananas can be used in pancake recipes, while potato peels can be sprinkled with salt, pepper and spices then baked in the oven to be eaten as a crispy snack. 

Some vegetables can also be regrown from scraps. If you put the ends of spring onions in water, for example, within around ten days they will have regrown and will be ready to eat again. 

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