Stretching food and money during the Covid crisis

All of a sudden we cannot freely purchase all the goodies we once could. And not just because our pockets are becoming tighter. Unprecedented demands on supermarkets and food delivery businesses means selection is becoming more and more limited. You wanted a fresh artisan baguette with your bolognese tonight? Sorry, friend. But don’t despair. We see this as a learning opportunity. We can reformulate our relationship with food and reevaluate how we consume. By teaching ourselves how to stretch what it is that we can buy and wasting very little, we can also stretch our money.

Find versatile recipes

Arm yourself with a repertoire of versatile recipes that use up whatever is in the fridge. You are looking for basic recipes that are highly flexible and that you can mix and match the little cooked or uncooked bits you need to use up quickly. For those last few veggies you can make a stock, frittata, stir-fry, soup, stew or curry. As for fruit, you can make a smoothie, crumble, overnight oats or porridge.

Plan and organise

Make a meal diary or schedule for your family each week. Make sure to include meals that use up what is in your fridge. Shop according to that schedule, whether that is online, at the supermarket or with your local greengrocers or zero waste shop. Physically organise your fridge using ‘first in’ and ‘first out’ shelves. You could also do this using a whiteboard on your fridge.

Use tech

Toogoodtogo is an app allowing customers to purchase a ‘magic bag’ containing edible food from restaurants or shops that would otherwise be headed for the bin at the end of the day. Customers do not get to know what is in the magic bag but they will have a good idea of what to expect given its source and receive a significant discount in picking one up.

The Olio app is similar except it is food surplus sharing between consumers. Food sharers must follow guidelines (eg. must be edible!) but the food can be raw or cooked and sealed or open.

Foodcloud brings together businesses and charities. The app allows for surplus food from food-producing businesses to find its way to participating charities and organisations which deal with food poverty (eg a breakfast club for school children). This of course is useful information if you are an organisation in need of food donations or if you are a business with surplus food. It is also useful to know as a consumer because when you spend money at a business that uses FoodCloud rather than bin its surplus you will be supporting food waste solutions.

Another great business is Oddbox which fights food waste by rescuing not just surplus fruit and veg. It also saves ‘ugly’ or odd-looking food that is at risk of becoming waste due to high consumer cosmetic standards. Oddbox delivers seasonal fruit and veg boxes to homes and offices in and around London.

Food refills

Shops like ours are offering food refills and are helping to eliminate or reduce the packaging that comes with the food we purchase. They are also helping us to reduce our food waste by allowing us to buy exactly what we need. Because we are buying by weight we can purchase any quantity we want. For example if you are trying out a recipe calling for fenugreek but you have never used (or heard of?) fenugreek before (and are probably not going to use it again) then you will literally be able to buy two teaspoons of the stuff.

Go-to cookbooks

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Love Your Leftovers: Recipes for the resourceful cook is a good one to start with. Here he balances avoiding food waste with saving money. To get you started, some Love Your Leftovers recipes can be found on his website. Check out the Further reading and viewing section at the end of this article for more from my unicorn, Hugh.

Melissa Hemsley’s Eat Green: Delicious flexitarian recipes for planet-friendly eating. The Hemsley sisters’ approach to food is all about clean eating and this new one is, in our eyes, the best from them yet! It is not just great for flexitarians looking for planet-sensitive, veg-centric recipes. Melissa also presents us with meal ideas using the ingredients we have kicking about our fridge in an alphabetised section near the back of the book.

Victoria Glass’ Too Good To Waste is another British cookbook with frugal recipes. This one is a good one for ways to use up bits of food that most people in this country just don’t eat. Her recipes are centred around using ingredients like the outer skins of bean pods, for example. We like this cookbook for its creativity...and for quotes like these:

“My fridge all too frequently becomes the gateway to the bin.”

“Beansprouts tend to self-soup.”

Chowhound has an article with a list of cookbooks (American) for fighting food waste. And the Love Food Hate Waste blog is another practical online resource for recipes and general ideas for reducing food waste and saving money.

Quick tips

  • Buy ‘ugly’ fruit and veg as these are most likely to be binned by sellers.
  • Know the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates, referring to quality and safety, respectively. See Gov UK advice in References below.
  • Blend herb ends with oil (or chop and mix) then freeze into cubes for future use.
  • Save peelings or ends in a bag in the freezer then use to make stock.
  • Make quick pickles, chutneys or jams with extra bits, gluts or off-cuts.
  • Make a half recipe if you are trying it for the first time; not all recipes work!
  • Store your food properly: see NHS advice in References below.
  • Try composting your own food scraps: see RHS advice in References below.
  • Lastly, use your local food waste collection services.

References

Further reading (and viewing)