Whether it's just to save money or you want to be a more conscious consumer, Nicole Lutze says it's time to re-look at how we buy, cook, eat and store food.
Right up there with the cost of housing, food is the second largest expense for families. Our food also comes with a large resources footprint, accumulated through the clearing of land, water use, fertilisers, processing and transportation required in food production.
While we spend an awful lot of money on food, we also waste a considerable portion of it. On average, Australians throw out 4 million tonnes of edible food each year, which equates to 20% of a household’s annual food purchases (or about $1,036). Not only is that a waste of money and food, but it is also a waste of those valuable resources which went into producing the items. Worse still, if those food scraps are placed into landfill they emit the greenhouse gas methane and contribute to climate change.
In the name of saving money and/or lessening our environmental impact, let’s explore some key steps to eating for less.
Don’t cook? Time to learn!
The very first rule to saving money on your food bill and treading lighter on the earth is to learn to cook at home – cheaper, less food waste, and less excess packaging waste from takeaway foods.
You needn’t embark on adventurous cooking courses (though, cooking classes can be a fun gift). Learning is a simple matter of trial and error. The internet is awash with simple and free recipes, or check out the cooking section of your library for those who prefer a physical book.
- Cooking is crucial to minimising food wastage. Learn how to turn a bunch of over-ripe bananas into muffins, some limp greens into a pesto, or throw together a frittata with the scraps from inside your fridge.
- For time-poor families, I recommend the convenience of a slow cooker. Look for one with a timer and you’ll be waking to slow-cooked oats and coming home to a cracking curry. They’re also very handy for making your own cheap and cheerful stocks (we’ll get to the how-to on that topic shortly).
- Don’t forget to cook more than you need for each meal. Cooking in bulk means you will have leftovers for lunch, saving you money on the more expensive option of takeaways.
Keep a well-stocked pantry
Once you master the basics of cooking, or if you already have, stocking up on items with a long shelf-life is a no-brainer when it comes to saving money. Just be sure to only buy items you actually use regularly.
If in doubt try jotting down the meals you’ve made over the last week, and look for common ingredients. Also, consider where you can save time. While it’s nice to cook from scratch, I’ve personally never found my home-made curry pastes to be any better than the store bought. So why not grab a few jars when they’re going cheap and keep them on hand.
- Tinned items, packets of crackers or biscuits, bottles of sauces and pestos, as well as legumes, dried fruit, cereals and pasta can all be stored in a pantry for months. Place bay leaves on the shelves in your pantry, or even inside flour canisters to prevent pantry moths.
- Utilise apps such as Frugl to compare supermarket prices.
- Head to your local op shop to stock up on glass jars and second-hand Tupperware which will help with storing food properly.
Make the most of your freezer
A freezer has to be one of the greatest conveniences we have when it comes to saving money and preventing food wastage. Full freezers run more efficiently than empty ones, so consider that additional encouragement to stock up on items nearing their expiration date and pop them in the freezer. Think meat, milk, cream, yoghurt, bread and pre-packaged fresh meals like soups and lasagnes.
Storing some pantry items in the freezer until they are needed will also extend their shelf life and help prevent weevils. Place flours, nuts, seeds and spices into airtight containers before freezing.
Also, think about making our own stock. Keep a snap-lock bag or container in the freezer for scrap vegetables to use for stock in the future. Onion skins, vegetable peelings, limp celery, broccoli stalks, old herbs and even the rind from your Parmesan will do great things for the flavour of your stock. Leftover bones or prawn shells can also be used to make meat or fish stocks. Again just whack them in a bag in the freezer and toss them all into your slow cooker when you have enough of hand. The stock can then be frozen to use later, and the leftover veggies can be composted. You’ll never buy a stock cube again!
Shop local and/or grow your own
Going local is a subject we’ve spoken of lots at Live for Less because it is both simple and true. Minimise your food miles and you automatically reduce your environmental impact. Choose to shop from local farmers markets or partake in a local fruit and vegetable subscription service. You’re likely to save money by eating only what’s in season and abundant.
Growing a small variety of herbs on your window sill will also save you money, or try your hand at low-fuss vegetables like beans and spinach in your backyard or in post. Check out some of Claire Bickle’s Live for Less articles such as Grow Food, Save Money, Be Happy. For extra frugal points, learn to save seeds for future crops and connect with your local Seed Savers Network.
Visit Brisbane City Council’s Love Food Hate Waste pages to learn about food waste in Brisbane and simple changes you can make for a cleaner, greener city with less landfill.