Making the most out of your food shop!

Eva Coutts is one of our new writers for SFYN Scotland and will be writing a monthly post full of cooking and food waste reducing tips and tricks to get you inspired in the kitchen…

With our ever-accelerating pace of life, the food industry is facing big challenges. Growing populations, increasing pollution and a society of impulsive ‘live for now’ Western citizens, are all putting a significant strain on our food production like we’ve never seen before.

Catastrophising about the scale of the problem has also proved to have little benefit other than contributing to a general sense of public hysteria. Sure, it’s easy for us to be outraged by news of scandals within our food industry, but it doesn’t necessarily leave individuals feeling empowered to make changes to their personal consumption, in fact sometimes quite the opposite.

Might the answer instead be to tackle food issues in bite-sized chunks?

One chunk I am keen to encourage consumers to focus on is their personal contribution to the global issue of food waste! 

Some of the food waste cooked up at WDSD 2017

As it stands, recent stats suggest the UK churns out 15m tonnes of food waste a year, of which 7m tonnes come from households! A 2017 research study by Sainsbury’s also suggested that those aged 18 to 34 were  less savvy about efficiency and waste in cooking than previous post-war generations were.’ according to a 2017 report. Whilst we’re not going to talk about the potential causes for this here, it seems clear that despite initiatives like the ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ campaign, there just isn’t enough focus on providing engaging content and practical tricks to incentivise the public to reduce their food waste.

We feel there should be more messaging to help individuals feel confident and creative with cooking up entire food products. It’s often simply about retraining your brain to think of ‘scraps’ as valuable ingredients. You can almost always follow your common sense – if it feels wrong to throw a food product away it probably is!


Here are a couple of ideas and tricks I use to get you thinking…

Coffee – is one of life’s luxuries and if you’re choosing ethical brands there’s no reason not to enjoy it.

Coffee cupping at Coffee Loves Milk event in 2015

Looking out for Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade certification labels can help you choose a product which has been honestly grown. More and more people are also using a reusable cup for their takeaway which is great but when you’re making it at home how often do you find there’s a little coffee left in the pot? 

Why not keep a jar in the fridge for the leftovers and use it to add zest to recipes?

Stored with a lid, coffee will keep its flavour for around five days in the fridge, to extend it further pour straight from the pot into freezer cubes for cooking with later. You can be as mellow or punchy as you like, a little coffee in chocolate brownies adds a subtle richness, or go full on coffee flavour in homemade ice cream.

Earthy black coffee grounds from your morning coffee still have a delicious smell and heavy texture so don’t be fooled into thinking humans are the only organisms to get a kick out of caffeine – throw the granules into your compost bin for rich fertiliser.

As it stands, most supermarket salad and herbs come in unnecessary plastic packaging.

The latest data collected shows that UK citizens throw away 40% of the bagged salad they buy annually, with around 37,000 tonnes, or 178m bags, going uneaten every year. There are two issues at play here, firstly flimsy packaging which can lead to delicate leaves wilting and going soggy prematurely, and secondly the pre-portioned salad quantities often being more than the consumer really wants.

WRAP have done a great study into replacing the actual packaging to a more earth-friendly film, Riverford Organics have even employed their own sustainable packaging developer, and many of Scotland’s organic producers are looking to do the same.

But what about the leaves which curl up in the packet after you’ve had a handful?

Herbs & salad leaves getting cooked up at WDSD 2017

Clearly, if you can buy salad in its loose form you get utter control of how much to buy – and what variety too – but until shops can begin to widely offer this there are a few things you can do to extend the life of your leaves – 

Stick a sheet of kitchen roll in the salad bag to soak up any moisture or run a basin of ice cold water to plunge lacklustre leaves into (Make sure you dry them well before eating)!

If leaves have gone past salad bowl freshness, try cooking them – 

For leftover baby gem lettuce, mix together the juice and zest of one orange, an inch of grated ginger and 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, heat in a pan until it begins to bubble and then lay the halved baby gems flat side down in the pan. Turn every 30 seconds for three minutes until charred and crisp.

Throw wilting rocket, spinach or chard into pasta or risotto to disguise its form and add a lovely bit of colour too.

herbs-don_t-have-to-be-fresh-to-make-an-impact-photo-by-eva-coutts.jpgHerbs suffer the same fate as salad in their bagged form and although supermarkets offer potted herbs, they are only designed to last a couple of weeks at most.

With some tender love and care and a bit of re-potting, you can extend this somewhat, but one really valuable herb tip is to use the stem too.

Whizz up stalks into pesto or salsa verde, and chuck them into smoothies or juices for extra flavour.

Talking of stalks, other veggies gets a bad rep too.

The stems of broccoli and cauliflower for example usually get tossed out but there is heaps of flavour to play with there –

  • Slice into fine discs and steam until tender,
  • shred them up into coleslaw or kimchi,
  • or make vegetable broth for the base of a meal.

The green of spring onions and leeks are similarly often chucked without a second thought but they’re just as useful as the whites –

  • Grill spring onion greens so they’re nice and charred and dip them in tomato salsa, or chop them up really finely and sprinkle over dishes.
  • Braise leek greens until very tender and then blend them with butter and seasoning for a pasta sauce, or fry them up with bacon and peas to serve with fish.
Broccoli, delicious head to toe! Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Using up every edible piece extends to what’s inside your fruit and veg too.

Pumpkins are an example of a product you can quite literally use the entirety of. The ‘meat’ is good for everything from soups to pies to pasta, but toasting the seeds is seriously underrated – 

  1. Scoop out your pumpkin, and separate the seeds from the pulp. (don’t worry about rinsing them because any pulp will crisp up in the oven)
  2. Toss the seeds in olive oil and any choice of spices – cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin and soy sauce is quite delicious.
  3. Spread the seeds out on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, giving them a few tosses throughout the cooking time.

These are just a handful of ideas for reducing food wastage whilst cooking and there are hundreds more to get creative. For great ideas check out websites like Save the Food, Sustainable Table, Zero Waste Chef and Love Food Hate Waste. We would love to hear what you do with the bits and pieces the recipe books leave out so comment below with your own tips!

If you’re keen to contribute to campaigning against food waste on an international level, join in with World Disco Soup Day on April 28th by attending an event, or putting on your own disco day event in your local area, office or your kitchen?! 

whatsapp-image-2018-03-05-at-19-31-50.jpegEva grew up in Cromarty, a wee fishing town in the Highlands of Scotland. She went on to study journalism to satisfy a love of storytelling but without fail have continuously found food to be the most effective way of sharing stories. Eva always had a real love of good food, spending time working in kitchens and catering vans as well as finding utter joy in cooking for people and learning about ingredients. Over the years she has become extremely competent at procrastinating from real work with a wooden spoon in her hand…

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