Let's fight food waste with a good fridge clear-out

Photo: Alamy

It may be kind on the planet and kind on your wallet – but what can you actually do with that last bit of broccoli and dried-out rind of cheese? We asked Kate Young for some food-'spiration 

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By Kate Young on

This week the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has launched a new campaign called Recipe for Disaster, which aims to highlight food waste and in turn, tackle the global hunger crisis. Every year, 1.3 billion tonnes of food – one third of the amount produced throughout the world for human consumption – is wasted or lost. While some of that waste occurs at processing or manufacturing – before the food even gets onto our shelves – about 40 percent of it happens in shops, or at home. At the same time, we are also experiencing a hunger crisis – both overseas, and here in the UK. We’re the sixth richest country in the world, but are experiencing a food crisis: The Trussell Trust, the largest food bank network in the UK, has seen use of its services rise exponentially over the past decade.

The enormity of the problem may feel insurmountable, but there are things we can all do – and the UN believes it starts by being more mindful by cutting down on our own waste at home. By encouraging people to do this with their new campaign, they hope to encourage people to donate cash to help countries where food is not so plentiful.

I have ambitious plans every time I visit the supermarket. But a couple of last minute invites to the pub, dinners with friends, leave me with food sitting unused in the vegetable drawer

In Europe, the UN estimates that we’re each throwing away between 95 and 115 kg of food a year. Without the luxury (or the money) to shop daily, most of us are shopping days, or a week, before we plan to eat. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have ambitious plans every time you visit the supermarket: to make a Moroccan tagine, or to have a weekly dinner with your flatmates. But a couple of last minute invites to the pub, dinners with friends, or a take away ordered while on the walk home after a long week, leave me with food sitting unused in the vegetable drawer.

I don’t remember my mum throwing much away. She has an almost supernatural ability to look into the fridge and pull together something delicious: an egg fried rice with the last of the previous week’s vegetables, a pasta sauce rich and thick with grated courgette, an omelette with the last skerricks of a couple of types of cheese. It’s a skill I demanded she teach me before I left Australia; it saw me through not only my early ”financially lean” years in London, but also changed the way I dealt with slightly older food in my fridge.

At the supermarket, think about:

  • Buying more frozen or tinned foods; they last much longer and you’re less likely to waste them. A tin of chopped tomatoes won’t necessarily work in a sandwich, but in sauces, curries, or stews, it’s perfect. A packet of fresh prawns will only last a couple of days in your fridge, but a bag of frozen ones defrost in moments and will be ideal for using in pasta, grilled on skewers, or in a noodle broth.
  • If you can, supporting retailers who stock fruit and vegetables that don’t meet the "aesthetic ideal". Buy wonky carrots, misshapen apples, and knobbly potatoes. They’ll taste exactly the same, and the demand will encourage shops to stock them, rather than demanding visual perfection.
  • If, despite all best intentions, you find yourself with a fridge full of wilting or near-expiration food on a Sunday afternoon, try these before you reach for the bin:
  • Keep spices stored in a cool, dark place. They’ll last longer this way, and you can employ them to turn a fridge drawer full of past-their-best vegetables into dinner. Fry an onion with ground coriander, ground cumin, ground turmeric, and some chilli, add some vegetable stock and a tin of tomatoes (or a couple of past their best fresh ones), or some coconut milk. You have a simple base for a curry. Add whatever vegetables you have languishing away: half a head of broccoli, a courgette, some slightly soft carrots, the last of a bag of spinach.
  • Embrace the sad packets of cheese sitting in the back of the fridge. Make a dish of macaroni cheese – a cheese sauce made with a mix of soft, hard, blue cheeses will be delicious. Throw some frozen peas from the freezer in too.
  • Keep a few ingredients around to perk up a bowl of raw or roasted veg: brown rice, a good egg, a dribble of soy sauce, some toasted sesame seeds, and a pile of pickled ginger will turn bog standard veg into a really lovely dinner.
  • The classic crumble fruits are really just the beginning. Turn slightly sad-looking peaches, a handful of soft berries, or some pears left to ripen too long in the fruit bowl into a delicious dessert.  
  • An overripe, nearly blackened banana will make a delicious cake. But so often, once I’ve decided that that will be its fate, I run out of time to beat up the batter. Before it goes off completely, throw it in the freezer, and defrost it when you have an hour to bake.
  • Preserving fruit and vegetables is a lovely way of extending the life of anything you find cheap in bulk, and end up having leftover. Recipes for jams, chutneys, pickles, and marmalades are easy to find online, and for the cost of a bottle of vinegar or a packet of sugar, you’ll have long-lasting fruit and veg in your cupboard.


1. Open your fridge and grab any ingredients that are close to their use by date

2. Create a meal using those ingredients (and any others you may need to create your dish)

3. Get your phone out and start snapping

4. Share your picture or video via social media using the hashtag #RecipeforDisaster and tagging three friends to create their own

5. Make a £5 donation to the World Food Programme 


Donate to Recipe For Disaster here.

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