If you want to avoid food waste, start with changing the way that you shop. A few tweaks to your shopping list can make a huge difference to the amount you throw away. It can also save you a fortune.
My shopping list works out at around £20 per week, to feed two people (based on a single £40 shop to enable bulk buying) I’ve tried to do a weekly list below, in case finding £40 in one go is a challenge. It comes in a little pricier at £25.70 but you should have some store cupboard ingredients left over, and you can make over a week’s food.
I’ve assumed a basic store cupboard of sunflower oil, vinegar, spices, garlic puree and tomato puree. I’ve also assumed a small amount of foraging as apples, pears, blackberries and a lot more are available – even in urban areas – and it’s an easy way to supplement your budget while also getting lots of great vitamins. If you have a community allotment, you can save even more money, waste even less packaging and increase the variety in your diet even further.
I use Morrisons as they deliver at home, though I’ll use the Co op if I am in a car with a friend who doesn’t mind stopping, and near a store, as I like their commitment to community initiatives, and alternative/ethical approach to business. Choosing a late-night delivery slot keeps the price down (to as little as 1p!) and I always say yes if Morrisons call to say they’re in the area early, to avoid fuel waste. I also return the bags each week (which gets me my money back too).
Ideally, I’d shop on foot at bulk buying stores but my health isn’t up to travelling to the nearest bulk waste store (though I do use the wonderful Loughborough market and a shopping trolley on the occasions I’m able to – going at the end of the day to maximise bargains, and refusing packaging).
This is a basic list that can be amended to suit what you feel like eating. However, it offers a host of recipe ideas from a fairly minimal amount of ingredients. Prices are based on Morrisons though they may differ elsewhere.
1KG Oats: Opt for buying these from a bulk store if possible, to avoid packaging. If not, buy the cheapest box available: the lowest price oats are often packaged in plastic, but a box can be reused for crafting/eBay packaging. (£1.18)
Vegetable box: The Morrisons’ vegetable box contains 4 white potatoes, 4 brown onions, 5 carrots, 2 courgettes, 2 leeks, 1 savoy cabbage, 1 cauliflower & 1 swede. This provides the basis for numerous meals at a bargain price. (NB: At present, I am sourcing my vegetables from the allotment, and using frozen chopped onion, as it makes cooking easier when my energy is limited. However, this box is ideal for providing a multitude of meals.) £5
550g Cheese: As my health means I rely on food delivery, I unfortunately have to admit to a little plastic in my list. However, I am currently looking at ways to reuse wrapping. By opening it carefully and reusing the ziplock bag, I avoid it being single-use plastic. It’s good for storing small amounts of leftovers once you’ve eaten the cheese. £3
1 haggis: I buy vegetarian haggis if available but will get a meat haggis on occasion as it’s cheap, tasty and versatile. (£1.96)
2 Jars Honey: I use this for making flapjacks, puddings, chutneys, sauces and drizzling over yoghurt for breakfast (£2)
1kg Rice: Again, I have to confess to buying this in plastic packaging as I get my shopping delivered but ideally, I’d buy it from a bulk store. (42p)
2 Cans Baked Beans: I use these for a warm breakfast or adding to soup as an instant thickener (64p)
500g Butter: I get the butter ‘for farmers’ although it’s a little pricier than the budget butter, and use one packet for cooking and another as a spread for snacks. I save the wrappers in the fridge to use for greasing trays for baking, then wash and use to cover food in the fridge, as an alternative to clingfilm. (£2.96)
200g Mixed Nuts: Again, I have to opt for ones in a plastic bag. However, I’d ideally buy them from a bulk store to avoid any packaging. These are great for snacking and also add more nutrition to breakfast flapjacks (made with oats, butter and honey). (£1.75)
1KG Yogurt: This doubles as breakfast and an instant easy sauce ingredient – just add to cheese and pasta then add fresh herbs for a tasty and quick meal (£1.34).
1KG Self-raising Flour: I use this for cakes, pancakes, quiche, jam tarts and crumbles to keep the topping light (or use oats for a gluten-free topping) (45p)
1KG Bread Flour: Unsurprisingly, I use this to make bread. I bought a large tub of yeast a while back but add yeast to the list if you don’t have any) (95p)
2kg Sugar: I use this for jam and cordial making (88p)
500g pasta: An easy way to bulk up almost anything – if you can’t eat gluten, opt for rice noodles instead, as they’re much cheaper than gluten-free pasta and can be used to bulk up vegetables in a similar way (55p)
12 free range eggs: With eggs, you can have fridgetata, cakes, juevos rancheros and a host of other meals in minutes(£1.77)
326g Tin Sweetcorn: I use this for sweetcorn fritters, or to add to pasta salads (35p)
2 Tins Tomatoes: Great for soups, pasta sauces and salsa, among other things. (50p)
Here’s a sample menu:
- Porridge with fruit compote/jam/honey
- Flapjacks (oats, butter, honey, nuts)
- Yogurt with fruit compote (made from foraged fruit: there are apples, pears, damsons, plums and the last few blackberries available for free at the moment, among many other things.)
- Potato rosti with haggis and beans.
- Scones/apple scones/cheese scones with jam or relish.
- Juevos Rancheros
- Fridgetata (potato, onions and any suitable leftovers, covered in beaten egg and fried/grilled with cheese on top)
- Arancheapni with cheddar (mix rice and egg, shape into a ball, poke a hole in the middle for a cube of cheddar then seal and roll in egg/breadcrubs. Fry until golden brown. Serve with a leaf salad/spinach/tomato and onion from your local allotment, if available)
- Potato rosti with cheese
- Cheese and onion toastie
- Pasta salad (pasta plus sweetcorn, onion, cheese and home made mayonnaise, or tomato and vegetable sauce)
- Beans on toast.
- Sweetcorn fritters and beans
- Vegetable soup (courgettes, leek, onion, 1 tin tomatoes, squeeze of tomato and garlic puree fried until sizzling and darker in colour, 2 cans water. Add chilli puree and a can of beans to turn this into vegetable chilli)
- Cheese Ploughman’s with home made bread and chutney (using courgette, onion and any foraged apples you can find, plus vinegar and honey) and a savoy cabbage and carrot coleslaw.
- Jacket potato with cheese followed by blackberry and apple crumble (I’ll often opt for two light courses rather than one large one).
- Haggis, neeps and tatties with cabbage.
- Low-budget Paella: Cook the rice with a tin of tomatoes, onions and any suitable veg or leftovers. You can eat this cold for lunch too, or make flatbread wraps and create a burrito.
- Haggis Bolognese (make as you’d make a normal Bolognese but add haggis/vegetarian haggis rather than mince)
- Pasta with courgette strips, onion and cheese sauce (either a light option with yoghurt and cheese or a heavier one with cheese sauce)
- Pasta with tomato and vegetable sauce
- Cauliflower cheese with swede and potato mash.
- Winter vegetable stew (carrots, swede, leeks and cabbage) or pie (the same, in pastry, with cheese sprinkled on top)
- Vegetable bake: Leftover stew topped with grated or mashed potatoes and swede, along with any remaining cheese.
None of the above is complicated to cook, and there are plenty of recipes available online. You can also add meat to all the above, but it keeps costs down and is better for the planet if you don’t.
These are only a few ideas for ways to use this shopping list. Add cream and foraged berries to give yourself cranachan as a pudding option. Use the oats to make oatcakes or oaty bread. Forage for apples to make apple pie, or apple sauce to eat with pancakes. Make batter pudding with haggis in place of sausages, served with onion gravy (add a little whisky to it if you have any). And you can make quiche with eggs, cheese and home made pastry, adding any suitable leftovers to make it tasty. There are so many options, for food that takes under half an hour to make (and often only a few minutes, particularly if you batch-cook sauces/stews and freeze them in single portions to create your own ready-meals).
With a little imagination, it’s possible to eat well on a limited budget – and cooking for yourself is an excellent way to reduce waste. Even if you can afford to eat less frugally, if you change the way you shop you can save the money for an experience you’ve always wanted to have. This can provide an incentive to cook, if it’s not something you enjoy – and means eating a minimal-waste diet can help you make your dreams come true!