Shopping list, portions, ugly fruit and veg: how to cut your food waste

A new report suggests the average household throws away £800 worth of food a year, but there are plenty of ways to reduce the amount of food we waste.

The price that we pay for our weekly big shop is on the rise.

According to the latest inflation figures from the Office for National Statistics, food inflation increased to 3.5% in April, from 3.3% in March.

That makes it the highest food inflation figure seen since March 2013.

There are all sorts of factors playing a part in the jumping food prices at supermarkets, from Brexit to the war in Ukraine to the rising costs of energy.

Given this, and the cost of living crisis, it makes sense to target ways that we can be more efficient with our food shopping.

And one area where we can ensure our money goes further is by cutting back on food waste, which according to new figures is responsible for a huge amount of lost cash each year.

Going straight in the bin

A new study by supermarket giant Tesco has found that the average family in the UK wastes food worth around £800 a year.

That’s a significant chunk of cash that is ending up in the bin, or at least the food recycling box.

The research found that more than three quarters of us throw away unopened or unused food, with more than one in three households (37%) doing so at least once a month.

Incredibly it suggested around half a million people end up throwing away food they have not opened, or simply forgot to eat, each and every day.

According to the Tesco study, some of the most commonly wasted food items include the likes of chicken breasts, potatoes, sliced bread, lettuce, milk and bananas.

It’s not just fresh food that we end up chucking away though, with the study pinpointing store cupboard items that frequently end up in the bin.

These include condiments, biscuits, dried pasta and rice.

Cutting down on food waste

First off, I think it’s important to be realistic.

No matter how good our intentions, for many of us a little food waste is almost always going to happen.

The issue is the scale of food waste currently, which is simply unsustainable.

So what can we do to reduce the levels of food waste from our own food shopping and ensure that less of our money ends up being thrown away?

Get organised

Speaking for myself, I know for a fact that my family waste more food when we don’t have a plan in place for what meals we are going to eat over the next couple of days.

I am particularly guilty of picking up certain food items ‘just in case’, only to end up missing out on eating them before the use by date is reached.

In recent months we have been much more organised on this front, in part because we now do two smaller shops a week rather than one big one.

It means we are less at the mercy of iffy use by dates on the perishable items from Tesco’s Click & Collect team as well.

Check the dates

If you’re shopping in person, then being a bit more thorough in checking use by dates is a smart move.

It can be easy to just drop that packet of mince in your trolley without thinking, but if you have a meal plan already sorted then you’ll know exactly when you will need that mince.

Make sure the dates line up, and there’s less chance of perfectly good items going to waste.

Don’t be so choosy

Are you a bit of a picky eater? I don’t mean having an aversion to things like mushrooms ‒ that just makes sense ‒ but rather, being a bit choosy over the appearance of certain foodstuffs.

I know I am guilty of it at times, turning my nose up at a perfectly good Granny Smith apple because it is a little bruised in places. But being overly picky in this way contributes to far too much food waste.

Some stores actually make a virtue of flogging ‘ugly’ food, selling ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetable boxes. 

Make the most of your freezer

It can be all too easy to view the freezer as the place where only specifically frozen goods go ‒ your chicken dippers, and the like.

However, the freezer can be a fantastic tool in the fight against food waste.

You can freeze leftovers from your main meals and then have them later on in the week, rather than let those leftovers go to waste.

Freezers can be great for getting more out of dairy items and even bread, as well.

Get measuring

If you don’t fancy keeping your leftovers for future meals, then you will need to reduce the chances of having any leftovers in the first place.

And that means being a bit more on the ball with your portion sizes.

I have started weighing out my food, and while that’s been motivated primarily by weight loss goals, it has had the pleasing side effect of reducing waste too.

There will be an element of trial and error at first, but once you have an idea of how much pasta you need for a family of four, for example, you can eliminate the chances of cooking too much.

Have a ‘use up’ day

Off the back of its food waste research, Tesco has launched a campaign promoting ‘use up’ days and it’s an idea that I really like.

The thinking is that once a week, you make a meal which is simply based around using up what you already have in the kitchen.

Sure, it might be a bit thrown together ‒ accompanying a curry with spaghetti rather than rice, because it needs using, for example ‒ but it is still better than seeing that food end up in the waste.

It’s something that my wife and I used to do before we started having children, and I’m keen to reintroduce it to our own routine.



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