I used to work in my family's restaurant and helped run it. I love good food, and I've cooked family meals for over 60 years.
During World War II and for a few years afterward, food was in short supply and was rationed as a precious amenity. I was brought up in this era, and my parents naturally had strict views about eating everything on our plates. They would admonish us if we left anything on our plates by reminding us that children in other parts of Europe would be more than grateful to eat what we had left. So, not wasting a single morsel of food was ingrained in me from an early age.
Nowadays, food is plentiful for those who can afford it, but with poverty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate emergency sweeping the world, food-saving habits are again becoming the fashion for those who care about saving money and doing right by the planet.
1. Freshen Bread Loaves, Rolls, and Buns With Water and Heat
I learned this clever little trick from my mother-in-law, and it has saved the day on many occasions. The problem is that doughy items like breadsticks and buns always look very tempting when you buy them, but they don't stay crispy on the outside and soft on the inside for longer than a few hours. After a few days, they are still edible, but they're no longer so enticing. This may lead to their being cast aside in favour of something that stays fresher for longer.
The way to freshen them up is to sprinkle them lightly with water—do not soak them—and then bake them in a preheated oven on gas marked nine for five minutes, turning them over halfway through. This is sufficient to dry out the dampness, making the crust crispy again and leaving the interior soft.
If you leave them in for another couple of minutes, they become like toast with a very hard and crispy crust, which you might or might not prefer depending on your taste and chewing ability. You can even do this with slices of bread, but if you are not vigilant enough, they will become toast within a minute.
2. Save the Water You Use to Boil Veggies
The water that remains after you have drained off your boiled vegetables contains vitamins and flavour, so it's a good idea to keep it to use later, and you can even freeze it to save it until you need it.
Vegetable water can be used as an addition when making soup to provide an extra layer of nutrition. It can also be added to stews and used to make gravy. Spinach water is quite nice to drink on its own, as it has quite a strong flavour.
3. Use Your Vegetable Scraps and Veggies That Are Close to Spoiling
If you are storing vegetables in your fridge or vegetable rack, and they need to be used up quickly because they are wilting, drying up or generally past their best, don't just chuck them out. Use them to make soup or add to stews, curries, stir fries, or baked vegetable dishes.
There's no reason why cauliflower cheese should not have leeks, broccoli, kale, spinach or a small amount of red peppers added to the cheese sauce. I nearly always add extra vegetables, and it doesn't spoil the texture or taste.
Baked aubergine is traditionally made by adding tomato and onion, but there's no reason why you shouldn't add chopped courgette, a little rice or quinoa, chopped peppers, and even a little leftover minced meat, topping it all with grated cheese. I love the variations.
4. Blend Appropriate Food Scraps to Feed Your Garden
The following types of food waste have nutrients that are particularly good for plants:
- Coffee grounds
- Tea leaves (including teabags made of paper, which breaks down and decomposes easily—otherwise, tear the bags open)
- Banana peels (these contain potassium, phosphorus and other micronutrients)
- Egg shells (these contain calcium, which is a necessary nutrient for healthy plants)
- Fruit peel and cores
- Vegetable peels, leaves and any unused parts of vegetables—cooked or raw
- Nut shells
All or any of these, apart from nutshells, which are too hard, are best liquified in a blender with about half a cup of water. My method is to then pour the mixture into a jug, adding a little more water to make it easy to water around plants.
The intention is to enrich the soil to nourish the plant roots rather than getting the mixture all over the leaves. It may look a bit yucky at first, but once it has rained or the plants have been watered, the mixture just seeps into the soil and disappears.
This is the blender I use. I've been using it frequently for about three years with no problems. The blades are still sharp, and I can blend anything from soup contents to smoothies and, of course, for blending food waste to feed the garden, as you have seen. It comes with a second flask that has a screw-top lid, so your smoothie is portable. I love it.
6. Deter Cats With Citrus Peels and Old Herbs
If you want to deter cats, your own or someone else's, from pooing or just sunbathing on your best plants, and thereby digging them up or crushing them, it's good to remember that there are certain strong smells which they dislike.
If you sprinkle lemon, lime, grapefruit or orange peel around the garden, they will avoid that area. They also dislike the smell of thyme, rosemary, lavender, mint, cinnamon, and curry, among other things.
7. Get Rid of Slugs With Coffee Grounds and Egg Shells
You can also use coffee grounds and broken eggshells to deter slugs. The eggshells should not be too finely ground, as the whole point is to leave sharp edges which cut into them, causing them to move away. These are particularly useful sprinkled round hostas and any other plants that they particularly attack.
Also, if you have any beer dregs, don't throw them away, but instead put them in slug pots. The slugs love the smell of beer, and pile in, only to drown and die happily. This is preferable to using slug pellets, most of which are bad for the environment and poisonous to animals.
8. Join a Local Group or Website That Promotes Sharing Unwanted Food Items
It's surprisingly easy to give away food that is surplus to requirements. The obvious one, if you have such a local facility, is to give to a food bank. These are charitable concerns, run mostly by volunteers in church halls or similar sites that are set up to feed the homeless and other people experiencing food poverty. Most will only accept packaged or tinned goods still within their "eat by" date, and nothing fresh or perishable like fruit and vegetables.
However some do serve cooked meals, and one of my local London charities makes food available to all comers, regardless of whether they are poor—people just need to turn up and choose some food without being questioned. Then there are hostels for the homeless and refuges for victims of violence that also accept gifts of food as well as other items.
There are also websites or apps where people can give away food. Olio is one such app that specializes in giving away or requesting food and non-food to or from people within your local area, so you can specify how wide an area you would be willing to donate or collect from. I joined recently and it seems to work quite well. According to Wikipedia, it started in London in 2015 and now operates in about 50 countries.
Another way of donating or swapping food and other items is by forming a local Watsapp group, or something similar, consisting solely of neighbours within a certain street or area. My street does actually have a friendly local group to which nearly all my neighbours belong, although I haven't yet seen anyone offering food. Maybe someone needs to suggest it.
There are a lot of videos on the internet about reducing food waste. I've watched a few, and I thought that the one below was particularly useful. See what you think. It has lots of good ideas, and no one is suggesting you take up all of them, but it does offer some food for thought—pardon the pun!
Video: 100 Ways to Avoid Food Waste
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Do Leave Any Further Ideas and Comments Here
Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on May 22, 2021:
Like Peggy, I was taught not to waste food during my childhood. We also have a compost pile and make good use of it. Thanks for sharing these 8 tips. Appreciate it!
Diana Grant (author) from London on May 22, 2021:
I had a compost bin, but t was never very satisfactory
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 13, 2021:
I was a baby boomer and grew up much as you did concerning not wasting food. To this day, I do much of what you suggested, except that I do not blenderize the food scraps. We have a compost pile. That is where the vegetable peels, eggshells, coffee grounds, etc., are put.
Lady Dazy from UK on May 13, 2021:
I enjoyed reading your article and I picked up a few tips.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 12, 2021:
Thank you for sharing the great tips. I’ve never thought of some of them before. Avoiding food waste is important.