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Can food be clutter?

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The Waste & Resources Action Programme estimates that:

  • UK households throw about 8.3million tonnes of food every year.
  • If we stopped wasting food which could have been eaten, it would have the same impact on carbon emissions as taking 1 in 4 cars off UK roads.
  • Wasting food costs the average family with children £50 a month.

So OK, we know food gets wasted. We don’t tend to think of it as a source of clutter though. However, do you find yourself cramming tins, jars and packets in on top of each other, struggling to shut cupboard doors, and having to pick up everything that’s fallen out every time you try to find a can of beans?

Try these seven ways to avoid food clutter.

Chopin Liszt

Tee hee (Thanks for the image Ian McLauchlan)

1. Shop with a list

Shops are designed to have us buy more than we need. Retailers use sophisticated psychological tricks to seduce us into adding additional items to our shopping baskets. If you walk around a shop looking at the shelves for inspiration as to what to cook/eat, you are likely to buy more than you need. To counter this, decide in advance what you are going to eat, make a list of the items you need and shop only for them. The list will keep you focused and reduce the impact of the way goods are laid out, special offers and so on.

2. Regularly declutter your food cupboards

Yep, nowhere is sacred when it comes to decluttering. Go through your food cupboards regularly and make a point of using up anything that is close to its ‘use by’ date. Don’t worry so much about ‘best before’ dates as these only indicate dates after which food might lose flavour or texture – food past its ‘best before’ date is still safe to eat (with the exception of eggs). And ignore ‘display until’ dates as these are aimed only at retailers.

Going through your food cupboards will also remind you what’s in them, which will help you to avoid buying duplicates (reducing your environmental impact and saving you money and space).

3. Use your freezer

The freezer is a great tool for extending the life of food. If I get a lemon in my fruit box that I don’t have an immediate use for, I grate the zest and squeeze the juice, freezing them for use in baking. Similarly I freeze orange zest for baking. I only eat jam occasionally so I pop opened jars in the freezer. It’s fine even if I have a sudden craving for it as it defrosts fast. A few Christmases ago, I made a massive batch of mincemeat (I didn’t read the recipe through in advance!) so I froze what I didn’t use. It lasted me for years. I freeze open cartons of fruit juice, unsweetened soya milk (which I use only in cooking – if it separates a quick whizz with a hand blender reconstitutes it), stewed apple (again for use in baking) and all sorts of other cooking ingredients.

Don’t forget to label what you put in the freezer. Even though you think you’ll remember what it is, it can be surprisingly difficult. Food may look different when it’s frozen, especially if it’s in a tub or bag that gets frosted up. I find it useful to keep a list of the contents of each drawer of my freezer, updating it as I add or remove items.

4. Scour the web

If you don’t know how to use up an ingredient, Google it! The internet is packed with recipes and recipe sites, including ones you can search by ingredient. Allrecipes and Leftover Chef are just a couple of examples.

5. Make and serve only what you need

Notice if you tend to make too much and adjust the amount you cook over time. If you’re worried about cooking too little, have a backup plan such as providing bread as an extra (which can easily be frozen or eaten the next day if it’s not wanted).

Unless we’re very close to the person in question, most of us would prefer not to eat food that’s been left on someone’s plate. Serve smaller portions with an option to have seconds. That way, unwanted food will be left in the pan, rather than on people’s plates.

6. Eat tapas/Smörgåsbord

If you have lots of small portions left over, serve them all up in one meal. As a child growing up in a family of seven, I loved it when my Mum did this. A plate of tiny portions of everything we’d eaten that week was fun.

Can 'O' Worms composter

My worm composter

7. Compost your waste

Some food waste is inevitable – carrot tops, aubergine stalks, corncob husks, tougher outer leaves from cauliflowers…

It doesn’t have to go to landfill though. The answer is to compost it. Many Councils now collect food waste for composting. Contact your Council or visit RecycleNow to find out whether yours does. Or compost your waste yourself. RecycleNow provides guidance on home composting. If you haven’t got a suitable space for a compost bin and/or you want to compost cooked food or meat, a Worm Composter is a great solution. I blogged previously about how to run a successful wormery.

If you’re not yet part of the Green and Tidy community, sign up here (and get a free decluttering masterclass as a bonus).

How do you avoid wasting food? What’s your favourite leftovers recipe? Comment below to share your ideas.