I’m lucky enough to have grown up in a household where food and the rituals of cooking and shared meals were a hugely important part of our lives. This has led to a lifelong passion for food and respect for nutrition and I frequently talk to clients about the link between what we’re eating and our overall well being in my work as a nutritional therapist.
This respect for food also means that the topic of food waste, which has been prevalent in the media recently, is something I feel strongly about.
Our chef ambassador Adam Handling is an advocate on this subject. Two of the venues in his group, Eve bar and Chelsea, are zero waste with sustainability a huge focus at the other restaurants he’s involved in. His staff are also educated about this as part of their standard training.
His new book, Why Waste? is coming out in the autumn and I can’t wait to read it.
A recent report shows us that in the UK, around 70% of food waste is generated by households. Not only does this have a value of over £19 billion a year, it’s also associated with more than 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and equates to over 15 billion meals.
With statistics like this it can be hard to focus on what we can do as individuals. If you talk to many campaigners about reducing food waste on a personal level they will tell you the best place to start is with freezing and I know that batch cooking and freezing has transformed the way I feed my family.
With this in mind, we asked Kate Hall, founder of The Full Freezer for her advice on getting the most from our freezers and reducing food waste.
What are the easiest ways for an individual to start reducing the amount of food they waste?
The first thing I suggest is to keep a notepad and pen in your kitchen so you can jot down what you’re throwing away (even if it’s being composted).
This is useful to identify foods you waste the most; highlighting what goes in the bin without even being opened (e.g. yoghurts), what gets part-used (e.g. jars of pesto or leftover veggies), and any edible waste that could have been eaten (e.g. potato skins or broccoli stalks).
The simplest options once you know what you are wasting are:
- Buy less
- Plan more (and always check your fridge/cupboards/freezer before shopping)
- Or start freezing these foods instead of binning them!
My personal favourite is the third option (which is what I teach others how to do), as it means you always have a good stash of different ingredients available to cook with, and very little effort is required. It can take a bit of a mindset shift, and how you freeze and then use things matters, but once you get started it is a very simple way to cut on your food waste.
What do you think are our most ingrained habits that could make a big difference to the amount of food we waste if we changed them?
I think the most common ingrained habit is buying more than we need; having our shopping lists set on repeat and not checking what we have before buying more.
I completely understand why this happens though, because our lives are busy, and if you’re not on a tight budget then the simplest option is to just re-stock your ‘usuals’.
If this is leading to a lot of food waste though (which is terrible for the environment), then getting in the habit of checking your cupboards, fridge and freezer before shopping is a great move.
If you struggle with making this habit shift, I have two more suggestions:
1. Make sure you are storing your foods correctly to maximise their life. For example:
- Onions and potatoes should be kept in a cool dark place, but NOT stored together
- Bananas should be kept on a banana hook instead of in a fruit bowl as they release ethylene gas which speeds up the ripening of other fruits
- If your milk turns sour when stored in the door of the fridge, try decanting it into a bottle that can be laid down and storing it in the body of the fridge as it will keep it colder.
2. Start using your freezer almost as much as you use your fridge. Often the freezer is thought of as being for long-term storage, and items end up getting forgotten about.
Whilst you can store foods for a long time in the freezer, sometimes you might just want to make them last an extra few days or weeks. For example, I often freeze fresh berries that I know we won’t eat in time and then use them in smoothies or baking. Your freezer gives you a pause button that enables you to save almost any food from the bin.
Are there any unexpected foods which can be frozen?
Lots! In fact, there are very few foods that you can’t freeze. Some of my favourites are nuts, eggs, leftover tinned or jar foods and wine.
The key is knowing how to freeze these various foods so that they are easy to use after freezing, and knowing what to do with them once they are frozen.
For example, you can freeze salad items such as cherry tomatoes, peppers and spring onions, but they can’t be used in a salad after freezing. Usually, it is necessary to cook a meal using frozen ingredients rather than just defrost them, and it can take a bit of practice cooking with frozen ingredients versus cooking with fresh ones.
How can we think more sustainably about containers and packaging for frozen food?
This is tricky for me, as the most sustainable containers you can use are glass or stainless steel, but these do not allow you to use your freezer space very effectively.
Silicone reusable bags are often seen as another environmentally friendly option, however, if you use them a lot and they wear out, they can only be recycled using specialist schemes (not through our usual council waste collection services). I also find these are often bulky and difficult to clean.
My preference, therefore, is to use plastic freezer bags but to reuse them many times until they wear out, and then use the UK soft plastic recycling scheme to avoid them going into landfill.
Because of how I freeze most foods (as individual ingredients rather than meals), I find that the bags last a long time. And by using bags I can fit far more food in my freezer in an organised way, thus saving more from the bin.
What advice do you have for parents with fussy eaters to reduce the food wasted by their children?
My best advice is to serve food to the centre of the table rather than filling your kids’ plates. This way any foods not eaten are leftovers rather than plate scrapings.
There’ll inevitably still be waste sometimes because kids will be kids, but learning to serve themselves and having independence and self-control with their food are great life skills to develop.
Also, if you want your kids to try more veggies, having a stash of frozen vegetables (shop-bought, or home-frozen) enables you to cook just a small amount so that they can be exposed to them without lots of waste.
My son is 3 and refuses to eat most vegetables, so I sometimes just cook a single floret of broccoli or a teaspoon of peas. I know they usually won’t get eaten, but this allows him to try them without me stressing about throwing them away if he’s just mushed them up.
What should the supermarkets be doing to help consumers cut down on food waste?
I think labelling is a massive issue at supermarkets, with ‘use by’ dates often being used when ‘best before’ would be sufficient. Use by dates are supposed to be on foods for safety purposes (for example on meat), but best before is just there to help us enjoy the food at its best.
Thankfully we have already seen some supermarkets and manufacturers changing the date labels on milk and yoghurts this year, so hopefully, this trend will continue.
Supermarkets could also help raise awareness around freezing, particularly when it comes to multipacks of fruit and vegetables which often contain more than shoppers want or need.
What are your goals for ‘The Full Freezer’ and what’s next for you?
My goal for The Full Freezer is to normalise home freezing and to raise awareness that cooking using frozen ingredients can be delicious, healthy and affordable.
I want households across the UK (and the world!) to feel confident using their home freezers to save food, and in turn; save time, and money and have a positive impact on the planet.
I will continue to run my Freezer Geek Academy six-week course and my corporate ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, as well as producing my weekly Can I Freeze It videos and sharing tips and tricks via social media.
I am also incredibly excited to be in the early stages of writing a book, which will pull together all of my techniques and advice in one place, and provide support to those wanting to master The Full Freezer Method.
Thank you to Kate for sharing so many valuable tips.
I hope you feel inspired, as I did, to revisit the way you use your freezer and help reduce food waste.