Food Waste - How can we make the most of what we eat? – Louise Mercieca
If ever there was a time when we needed to be resourceful with our food then, surely, it is now! We have seen the fragility of our infrastructure over the past few weeks with shops running out of every-day items, things we take for granted not being available and meals becoming rather interesting as we get to the bottom of our stores before heading out to restock!
It seemed timely to tie in the subject of food waste in line with ‘Stop Food Waste’ day, which took place on 24th April and consider our current need to be economical and resourceful with our food.
Just how much food do we waste?
The value of UK wasted food (i.e. excluding inedible parts) is estimated at around £19 billion.
For manufacturing, the percentage food waste of food produced/sold is less than 3%, whilst for retail the figure is under 1%.
Household food waste makes up 70% of the total UK food waste
Why are we so wasteful? In essence I feel it’s because we can be (or we could be when we knew that our local shop(s) would always be stocked up!) but what happens when that might not be the case? When we have to really be resourceful and creative with the food that we can access? We need to get crafty and imaginative with our cooking, that’s what!
We haven’t always been wasteful with food. As a nation, we used to be quite good at being self-sufficient and resourceful with food and, if ever there was a time when this was most clearly demonstrated, it was during WW2 when strict rationing was in place.
The food rationing of WW2 actually went on for longer than most people realise; beginning with the rationing of butter, bacon and sugar on the 8th January 1940 and carrying on until 1958! During that time a typical weekly food ration for an adult would be: -
Cheese 2 oz
Margarine 4 oz
Cooking fat 4 oz
Milk 3 pints
Sugar 8 oz
Preserves 1 lb every 2 months
Tea 2 oz
Egg 1 fresh egg (plus allowance of dried egg)
Sweets 12 oz every 4 weeks
This does not look very much at all when we remember this is an adult’s weekly allowance but was necessary to ensure a fair distribution to all. Even the Royal Family had ration books (but they did also have kitchen gardens ) and those who had allotments/gardens would keep chickens or grow considerably more vegetables to boost their ‘measly’ rations!
To enable the country to make the most of their rations the Government set up The Ministry of Food to help manage resources and also provide recipes and nutritional advice., Tthink of it ais a historical version of Jamie Oliver’s Keep Cooking and Carry On – a programme designed to help us through (not rationing but) limited availability of our usual food supplies in current times.
I wanted to share some tips on cooking creatively and being as resourceful as possible when it comes to both the food that we have access to and ensuring that, with limited supplies we still get all of the nutrients that we need.
Now is a really good time to use up all those random items in your pantry! Please note that whilst it is ill-advised to use up anything that has gone past its’ use by date (this can make you very poorly) food can be eaten once it has passed its best before date. The best before is an indication that food will taste better before that date so for example, if it is something spicy, it may have lost its’ spiciness a little but it is still edible!
I have been working my way through my pantry randoms and have the following suggestions: -
Traybakes – always an easy option to throw things together in the one tray!
Chickpea, potato and red pepper tray bake (or any veg you can get)
Tinned chickpeas (save the water!)
Potatoes peeled/washed and chopped
Red pepper washed and chopped
Drizzle olive oil
Simply pop everything into the oven and cook until the potatoes are cooked.
Now, I said to save the Chick Pea water (aquafaba) because there is a surprising amount that you can do with this! If you are vegan you may well be familiar with this as it is often used as an egg alternative, here’s some recipe ideas for aquafaba!
Simply whisk the aquafaba with an electric whisk – this will form stiff peaks (and there’s the bonus that you can’t over whisk this as you can eggs), after whipping add sugar, still beating the mixture then turn out onto baking paper in small peaks on a low temperature for about 1 hour 30 minutes.
200g dark chocolate (60-75% cocoa), broken into chunks
150ml plant-based milk/milk
330g plain flour
110g cocoa powder (unsweetened)
¾ tsp baking powder
3 tbsp aquafaba
4 tbsp honey/maple syrup
Another good way to use up jars/packets lurking in the pantry is to whizz up some energy balls – these are great if you are working long shifts with few breaks and need to keep up both your nutrients and your energy! They are also good to make with children as they are quick and easy to throw together. There’s no particular recipe as such, I just empty things I have into the food mixer! These are the combinations I often use: -
(quantities vary – there’s no exact science, you may just need to add more or less liquid to get the right consistency).
Apricot and Almond Energy Balls
1 cup almonds
1 cup mixed seeds (flax seeds/pumpkin/sunflower/chia – anything you have)
1 cup chopped dried apricots
2-3 tbsp boiling water
2 tbsp honey
2 cups pitted dates
1 cup almonds
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup flaxseed
1/4 cup cacao powder
1/4 cup agave syrup or maple syrup
2 tbsp almond milk
Coatings (to roll in)
Unsweetened shredded coconut
Place all ingredients into a food processor (aside from the toppings) and pulse into a sticky ball
Remove and roll into small bite-sized balls
Spread out your toppings and roll a few of the balls into each of the toppings to give you a nice truffle selection
These will keep in the fridge for up to 7 days
If you are struggling with energy levels swap the almond milk for strong black coffee as the liquid and you then have mocha balls!
There’s lots we can do with food in our cupboards and plenty of ways to use up the things we usually throw away – for example if you have carrot or radish tops don’t throw them away use them to whizz up a healthy (cheap) pesto: -
Simply wash and dry the tops and add in the following ingredients to make a ‘sort of’ pesto!
½ cup olive oil
½ cup mixed nuts
Squeeze of fresh lemon
2-inch block of grated parmesan
Simply pop all the ingredients into a mini mixer/processor and blend up – this gives you a wonderfully green, nutritious pesto with greens that potentially would end up in the bin (or in my house they end up in the guinea pigs!).
There really is a lot we can do to use up our ingredients – try to be creative and not worry too much about recipes, just try new things, some will work better than others but we may find new favourites!
Louise Mercieca is an award-winning Nutritional Therapist, Author and Presenter with her own food channel for Early Years nutrition, which you can more about here; https://www.earlyyearsfood.tv/. She’s passionate about formative nutrition and also works with adults on preventative nutrition. You can find out more about Louise and her way of working by reading her introductory article for CACHE Alumni here; https://www.cachealumni.org.uk/article/the-impact-of-food-louise-mercieca/