11 lessons waste food taught me…



So after reviewing Zero waste home by Bea Johnson I said I was going to participate in Zero Waste Week which this year is focusing on food waste. Turns out that even knowing that this week was coming and therefore being more mindful about what was coming in, a lot has still gone out!

I usually have a rough menu plan for the week, however this week I was mindful of trying to use things up so as to not waste them. We often batch cook so have several meals that are quick to heat up on the three nursery nights a week. Saturday is usually wild card night to use anything up but this week it ended up being Wednesday as there were so many things about to go off.

Planned Actual
Monday Butternut squash lasagne (left over from Sunday) Butternut squash lasagne
Tuesday Quorn Pasta bake Quorn Pasta bake
Wednesday Fish Pie (Frozen) Quorn Pasta bake, tofu wiener & coleslaw
Thursday Egg Spaghetti Beetroot & Goats Cheese Salad
Friday Spaghetti Bolognese (Frozen) Spaghetti Bolognese
Saturday Sausages & Frozen Yorkshires (that had been around a while!) Sausages & Yorkshires
Sunday Tagine (made on Saturday) Tagine & Rice

In total I managed to “save” several items

  • Mini mozzarella balls – ended up in the pasta bake.
  • Pasta shells – ended up in the pasta bake.
  • Tofu wieners
  • The end of  some goats cheese.


As for the waste, I’ve decided to try and use each item that has gone as an opportunity to learn. I should be clear, I’m not counting food waste (e.g. vegetable peelings) but rather food I have wasted.  The grand total at the end of the week has been:

  • Half a (mouldy) melon.
  • Half a jar of mayonnaise that had gone funky even by my standards
  • Crackers/bread sticks/oatcakes that were stale.
  • 3 (mouldy) half lemons
  • Half a pot of hummus
  • Half a bag of funky spinach
  • 1 portion of fish pie


Lesson 1. Visibility – Don’t forget you have a melon, or for that matter fish pie in the freezer.

Lesson 2. Correct storage. After eating half a melon, don’t leave the other half covered on the side for 24 hours when it is sweltering. Put it in the fridge.  Equally breadsticks and crackers stored correctly last much longer than in open packets.

Lesson 3. More is not always cost effective. – Although the cost per gram is cheaper in a larger jar, the speed at which I consume mayonnaise would have made a small jar more economical. It’s better to use all of a small jar than half a large jar.

Lesson 4. Using waste food often takes creativity and time. Factor this in to life.  In hindsight the stale crackers & breadsticks could have been used to form the base of a savoury cheese cake, however I have no plans to make this anytime soon due to time constraints.

Lesson 5. Stock rotation 101 – Agree as a household on a where things are kept so food is used sequentially. Clear storage containers would also have helped with this, so I might employ some of Bea Johnson’s go to solution: Jam jars!

Lesson 6. Take responsibility for your own waste – While there are somethings I’m willing to eat, others are my wife’s responsibility. She went away mid week and it didn’t last until she got back. Equally the fish pie was completely my responsibility as she is a vegetarian.

Lesson 7. Pay attention to food you don’t eat as much. This again was the wife’s and while I don’t eat as much of it (she is Popeye) I would have eaten it if I had noticed it before it dissolved.

Lesson 8. If it’s been in the freezer for a year, I’m not eating it – We need a stock rotation system for the freezer for the infrequent items.

Other lessons I have learnt:

Lesson 9. Bizarre combinations of food are edible, even if they won’t make the regular meal plan. Wednesday night’s dinner was left over pasta & quorn bake, tofu wieners and coleslaw.

Lesson 10. Portion appropriately. The pasta bake was more successful this week as I halved the amount of pasta so it fed us all one night with only one portion left over for my lunch (which I had forgotten I didn’t need).

Lesson 11. Don’t stockpile items as whims can change like the wind blows. We currently have 13 tins of chickpeas and 3 packs of cod pieces (plus various other fish in the freezer from when my daughter was eating fish). My action plan at the end of Zero Waste week is to identify oven baked cod recipes I can do easily.


So how have you been doing with reducing your food waste? What are your top tips? Do you have regular offenders that get wasted?




If you are in the mood for a different minimalist challenge, Anne over at Minimalist Sometimes is doing a 21 day declutter challenge getting rid of 231 items in 21 days (Day 1 = 1 item, Day 2 = 2 etc). Current circumstances mean I’m not going to join, however if you need the motivation…

Book Review: Zero waste home by Bea Johnson

zero waste home

As I journey along the path of minimalism, related ideas have caught my attention. In recent months I have become frustrated by the amount of rubbish we throw away. Our main source of waste is seemingly food and nappies. While I have reduced the total partly by savvy shopping, having a wild card night on the menu plan and taking compostables to a friends allotment, I have not made nearly the dent I would like.

It was in this frustrated and disheartened state that I read Bea Johnson’s Zero waste home. Her family doesn’t actually produce zero waste, but last year they were down to a pint. Yes, you read that correctly, a pint. Her book is a straight forward guide to reducing waste by following the 5 Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. She applies these golden rules religiously and in that order. (Decluttering fits within reduce).

The 5Rs have an intuitive appeal and she explores each of them in detail before applying them to:

  • Kitchen & Grocery Shopping
  • Bathroom, Toiletries, and wellness
  • Housekeeping & maintenance
  • Work space and junk mail.
  • Kids & school
  • Holidays & gifts
  • Out and about

Application can be somewhat harder. Refusing, for example, is not always straightforward. Recently I purchased some hair accessories and the shop had a buy 3, get 3 free offer. I only needed 4 and it caused the cashier no end of confusion when she repeatedly told me that I could have 2 more free… “They’re free!” “I only need these”, “But they’re free”, “and I have all that I need” and so on. In the end I told her I was a minimalist and I really did understand that they were “free” however I still wouldn’t be getting any more. Under normal circumstances I have found that a cheery “No thank you” will suffice, but some people are tenacious with the desire to give you things.

Johnson’s book is thought provoking and I have already implemented some straightforward, easy swaps, like making my own liquid castille soap and using a compostable bamboo toothbrush.  I also hadn’t realised/thought about the variety of personal hygiene products that can be composted including hair from a brush and silk floss .I’ll never need to experiment with her homemade make up (I choose the zero waste option of not wearing any), but she includes handy recipes along the way from refillable oil votive, water colour dyes, pancakes and cleaning products.

However the phrase I found most annoying throughout the book was “available in bulk”. Well not where I am! I assume stores with bulk aisles are more readily available in the US and she does have a BULK app that indicates Glasgow and Edinburgh are hot spots in the UK . The phrase popped up with such regularity I nearly stopped reading. I stuck with it and in the penultimate chapter, Johnson encourages you to “get involved” and even offers an A to Z of possible ways.

I also struggle with extremes (of anything). Zero waste is an ideal. It needs to be taken in balance with other choices. The book is selling Zero waste, and Johnson’s typical grocery run involves her visiting both a farmer’s market and a health food store in the car (in addition to other errands that day). She aims for optimum fuel efficiency by maximising right turns (in the UK it would be left turns) AND she is still using a car. Similarly her recipe for dryer lint putty would not even hit our radar as we don’t have a tumble dryer. Perfectionism doesn’t help anyone and can result in crippling indecision: is it better to buy the fairtrade bananas in packaging or the non-fairtrade ones without packaging?


While there are many great ideas, Zero waste home is going back to the library tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll revisit it at some point, however if you’d like a taste for zero waste I’d recommend starting with Janie Baran’s post over at Simple not plain.If you work well with motivation from others or a target, the 5th -9th September 2016 is Zero Waste Week and this year it is focusing on food waste. I’m in. Are you?