Wednesday 7 January 2015

More meals, less waste

January is a month of being lean, whether you're watching your waistline as you count the calories or your bank account as you count the days until pay day rolls around (damn the early December pay day!). 

For us, we're thinking lean when it comes to our food shopping with a bit of both in mind. We want to be healthier and continue to adopt some healthier habits, rather than going on a complete overhaul, and we're also conscious of how much we have come to spend on food - and what we seem to be wasting.

I'm a fan of online shopping as I like being able to create lists and save favourites to come back to and to make my life easier in the future. I also find that it helps me keep to a budget, rather than just throwing things willy nilly into my shopping trolley and closing my eyes just before the final total pops up on the till.

However, I do still enjoy going out to do the food shop and find I am more inspired to try new things or pick up different products when I can see them. Our main problem is planning ahead and making sure that food doesn't go to waste.

We want to be leaner in what we buy to save some pennies but also we want to make sure that we use everything we do, rather than let things go out of date or throw things away because there's not a lot left or we don't know what to make with it.

The first step to making more meals but with less waste is to plan ahead. I have a weekly meal planner from Paperchase (of course I do, I'm a stationery addict) and I am going to use this to plan what meals we need for the week, what we would like to eat and what we need, trying to make sure we use up any fresh fruit and vegetables across a variety of dishes.

The second step is to get creative. The Central England Co-operative got in touch to tell me they were taking part in the Love Food Hate Waste 2015 campaign because apparently people in Birmingham, such as myself, could save £200 a year by being more mindful about their meals.

I was keen to know more because, as I've said, we love to eat but feel guilty about being wasteful and feeling inspired, I started thinking about the things we regularly buy, the things we often throw away and ideas on how we can change our habits.

According to Love Food Hate Waste, the following items are the most often thrown away:
  • Meat : turkey, chicken, sliced meats
  • Fruit:  all fruit, in particular bananas, strawberries, apples
  • Vegetables: all veg, in particular carrots, sprouts
  • Dairy: milk, cheese
  • Other: breads, crackers, biscuits

With Christmas having just been and gone, I know that we've had too much of some of these items, or leftovers we haven't made the most of, so I've put my thinking cap on and in a bid to change our wasteful ways (*hangs head in shame*), I've tried some new things in the kitchen and put together some top tips for making the most of your leftovers.

Use leftover vegetables such as onions, peppers, mushrooms and peas, along with sliced ham, the last rashers of bacon or that small chunk of cheese to make a really filling and rather healthy brunch / lunch / dinner in the form of an omelette.

Adding eggs to your hodge podge mix of leftovers instantly makes a meal that your little ones will love too and if you have any potatoes knocking around, boil them (if they haven't already been cooked), slice them and add them to the pan first with the rest of your veg to turn your omelette into a frittata.

Honestly, anything goes, just cook whatever you've got on a low to medium heat in a non-stick pan, add the eggs and cook through for around 6-8 minutes before finishing off under the grill for a few minutes to make sure the top is cooked, and allow around two eggs per person.

Serve on it's own or with a side salad (again, using whatever you have available). This also makes a great lunch option you can make the day before, if you're feeling super organised.

Stir it up:
Another simple meal that can really been thrown together using whatever you have to hand is stir fry. This is a regular meal in our house and is as easy as ABC to make. Broccoli, carrots (slice into ribbons), cabbage (shredded), onion and peppers (sliced or diced)... they all work, just add them to a hot pan with a little oil and away you go.

Then, if you have some rice or noodles in your cupboard, put these onto boil or pop in the microwave as the packet advises.

If you have some leftover chicken or a fillet of salmon, say, that's feeling a bit lonely and needs to be used, these are great additions to your stir fry and can help to bulk things up to make a) a more filling meal, either on the side or mixed in, or b) more meal to go around, or to have for lunch the next day.

All you need to do when everything has been cooked (remember to cook your meat / fish through and try to time your cooking to keep your veg crunchy) is add some flavour. Soy sauce, ginger, chilli, garlic... add it all if you have it all in your store cupboard or do what you like according to taste. You can pick up some simple stir fry sauces for less than £1 too,

My top tip is adding some cashews or peanuts to your dish, about two minutes before you serve, for added flavour, nutrients and to make more of your meal.

Potato power:
Why have a plain baked potato when you can have a super potato? OK, I may be exaggerating this slightly, but one of my favourite meals is also one of the easiest and involves the humble baked potato.

I bake mine in the microwave because I'm too lazy to wait for it to cook in the oven (although crisping them up for 20 minutes to finish them off nicely is a great idea), then I get creative. I cook some veg - say, any carrots, cauliflower and brocolli I have left to use up - then scoop out two thirds of the inside of the potato, mix it all together and add whatever cheese I have left at the back of the fridge, then pop it all back inside the potato skin.

If you add a chicken breast or piece of fish, you have a really fulfilling meal that uses up lots of bits and pieces and I like to add a dash of hot sauce (Franks being my fave) for a bit of a kick. Mmm!

Bubble and eek:
A classic leftover dish but one that can be really tasty, very filling and can be made more substantial depending on what you have at your disposal. I used to love bubble and squeak the day after a big roast so if you often cook too many veg, then this is a great way to use them up.

I like potato, sprouts or cabbage, carrots and brocolli as staples of my squeak and cook these in a frying pan with a squirt of oil or a small knob of butter. I mash down the potatoes and the veg and like to over cook it slightly, so the potato goes lovely and brown around the edges.

To make your squeak super, you could add some chopped sausage, chorizo or diced bacon for added flavour and substance and a sprinkling of paprika or a dollup of mustard would also transform this into a really delicious meal you'll look forward to when you get home and that will take just five minutes to make.

Pep up your pasta:
Again, you can add anything to pasta with a splash of sauce and voilĂ , you have a meal. If you have a couple of unclaimed sausages, lonely rashers of bacon or a few slices of solitary ham, just cook / slice these up, add a simple tomato sauce (either shop bought or use passata / a tin of tomatoes mixed with some fresh garlic or a hint of chilli) and of course, some pasta, and dinner is served. Add in any vegetables you have handy and you can make a meal packed full of good things that will feed you and your family for the next couple of days, particularly if you add some salad and garlic bread.

I used to make something similar all the time when I was a student, when my funds were limited and I wanted to make my food go further. I'd chop up a red onion, a pepper, a handful of mushrooms, a courgette and anything else and add this to a tomato based sauce and a pack of pasta to feed me for a few days on end. It never fails.

Bake a difference:
I'm no Mary Berry and my baking skills are very limited but even a simple muffin recipe can make good use of those ripe bananas or must-be-eaten-now-or-never strawberries. One thing I would like to try to make use out of the leftover slices of bread we often throw away (again, the shame!) is to make bread and butter pudding.

Throw in some sliced banana, as we always seem to have more than we need hanging around, and you could have a really nice pudding for Sunday lunch.

I came up with the idea myself but if you want a proper recipe to follow, this looks great and it can even be made in the microwave as a quick treat for one.

Make juice:
As you may know, last year I really got into the whole 'green juicing thing' as I wanted to make sure I was getting lots of nutriants and really enjoyed the freedom that juicing at home offers as really, any fruit and veg (yes, veg!) can be turned into a delicious drink.

You'll need a juicer or blender but you can make all kinds of fruity concoctions. Oranges, apples and pineapple are often staple additions and to make sure you're not having too much sugar and you're 'keeping it green', add some veg in there too, anything like cucumber, carrots, brocolli, a handful of spinach or kale plus some ginger, honey, lemon or coconut milk to add flavour and take away any bitterness. (Read more about my juicing tips here).

Worth the wait:
I love my slow cooker because so many dishes can be made in it, it's super easy to use and you can make loads in advance and to store for future enjoyment too. My super mince recipe (nabbed from a friend, incredibly versatile, great to freeze and can be made from pretty much anything you like) is a go to staple to use things up. I just buy some mince (obvs) then chuck in chopped carrot, onions, courgette, muchrooms, peppers, celery, aubergine... anything I like, add some sauce and let the slow cooker do the rest.

Ethan loves this and for some added kick, I add some chilli and kidney beans for a chilli con carne twist. Likewise, a good ol' chicken casserole is a great slow cooker meal that makes your chicken and veg go far and is great served with some mash or crusty rolls.

I'm quite excited about our meal tonight - who knows what I could be whipping up?! It feels really good to have sat down and thought about new ways I can use familiar and sometimes wasted ingredients and I'm certainly going to make it a resolution to love food and hate waste more this year and I hope I've given you some inspiration to do the same.

I'd love to hear your leftover recipe suggestions too, so leave a comment or tweet me with the hashtag #LFHW to share your ideas or follow The Central England Co-operative on Twitter or Pinterest for further inspiration.  

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