Reduce Food Waste With Empty Fridge Day

Does this sounds familiar to you? On a regular supermarket visit you look at neatly arranged fresh fruits and vegetables on the racks and decide eat healthy over next week. You end up buying as many fresh vegetables thinking all the health benefits of consuming them. Then you see a great deal on fresh fruits and you pick the whole crate or bag of prepacked fresh fruits. Then you go to baker’s corner or ready to eat section and the smells there are so over powering that you can’t hold your self back from picking a few things from there. Then you see ‘two for the price of one’ packs in frozen section which you happily toss in your shopping cart calculating how many dirhams you saved there. Finally after running from aisle to aisle in supermarket you come home exhausted and quickly dump your just bought fresh food in fridge. You feel good that your fridge is all stocked up for the next week now.

But after few weeks when you dig back of your fridge you find a half finished steal bread, some fruits at bottom of crate with mold on it. Wilted greens lying in vegetable drawers. Some over ripe bananas or a avocado rotten inside. Obviously all of it goes to the bin straight away, aren’t we very particular about what we eat!

Food Waste in Fridge

If any of this happens with you, then you won’t be surprised now if I tell you that 20% of the food we buy is wasted and ends up in landfill. In UAE leftover food waste is expected to go up from 2.7 kg per person daily to 4.5 kg this Ramadan. Do you know which are the most wasted food items in general? Milk, bread, vegetables and fruits which almost all of us consume.

The food waste starts right from the source at production then at catering and food processing, supermarkets and of course at consumer level. Food waste has big impact on environment because when we waste food we also waste resources invested in it like water. Plus the food waste decomposes in landfill, releases methane which adds to green house gases, which create global warming. A report from U.K. estimates that if food scraps were removed from landfills there, the level of greenhouse gas abatement would be equivalent to removing one fifth of all the cars in the country from the road.

But then how do we reduce food waste, at least at our home?

  1. Be a smart shopper
  2. Cook at home and plan meals

These are the most common guidelines you can find when it comes to reducing food waste at home. Those are great tips and very useful but not enough. Even after I shop smart and plan my meals I could reduce food waste but not completely. So I figured out a new solution to my problem which not just worked great but added so much fun element to my quest of reducing food waste at home and broke the monotony of planning meals.

 

Empty Fridge Day

Every time we go for grocery shopping and shop smart, we don’t really come home to an empty fridge and fill it up with your brand new items. There are always things lying in fridge, some are left overs or some are ingredients which we generally decide to use in next meals but then we forget about it. Those items generally end up in garbage bin.

So I decided to find a permanent solution and started a new tradition in our family, Empty Fridge Day. Like many families we do our grocery shopping weekly. So a day before grocery shopping is our Empty Fridge Day. So what I do basically is I make a dinner out of whatever ingredients left in the fridge. Does it sound like ‘mystery basket ingredients’ on the show Chopped? Actually it is exactly the same. So I gather whatever perishable items are left in the fridge, use some other essential ingredients and try to make a dinner plate out of it. Honestly it’s not always a success, won’t say much about it, I am sure my husband has a lot to say about those failed days. But I am getting better at it, I now type all my ingredients in google and type ‘recipe’ word after it.

Cucumber, chocolate cake, lettuce, milk, tomato, bell pepper, yogurt, coriander, okra, how does that sound? Some of these will be our this week’s Empty Fridge Day ingredients. But I can think of few recipes from totally different cuisines! This sounds crazy right? But actually I have discovered really cool recipes through it.

Thankfully our family likes to experiment with food, so we actually look forward to our Empty Fridge Day as fun meal and as a challenge! The meal we make on Empty Fridge Day, I call it our weekly Zero Waste Meal, which help us reducing food waste.

Here is one example of our Empty Fridge Day, zero waste meal.

Ingredients in Fridge: Leftover boiled penne pasta, cherry tomatoes, laban

Essentials: garlic, onion, whole wheat flour, fresh basil from window garden

I googled the recipe and found a very quick & easy one. After adding flour with tomatoes and then buttermilk when tomatoes were cooked. The result was fantastic! This was one the first Empty Fridge Day, zero waste meal from last year. Since then Empty Fridge Day is now our weekly ritual, sometimes we manage to empty our fridge before the day arrives thanks to my very smart shopping skills in those weeks. So then we replace our Empty Fridge Day with our old pizza nights.

This is one more Empty Fridge Day meal, table setting included a fresh basil plant inspired by world’s best tomato soup I had in a farm to table restaurant in Iceland (read here)

Tomato soup with fresh basil, garlic bread with cheese out of left over ingredients

Essential Ingredients

Here are some of my top essential ingredients in pantry I use on Empty Fridge Days to transform left overs from fridge into a decent meal. These ingredients basically can go with most of the perishables ingredients left in fridge.

  1. Eggs
  2. Pasta
  3. Olive oil, coconut oil, butter
  4. Garlic
  5. Onions
  6. Ginger
  7. Tomato
  8. Potato
  9. Rice
  10. Pulses
  11. Wheat flour

Onion & ginger are useful to make Indian curries with pulses or vegetables and can be served with rice or bread.

Proper Food Storage

Now after empty fridge day, I get a clean slate to stock up my perishables and essential pantry items after every weekly grocery shopping trip. I shop plastic free and zero waste so I basically buy my groceries in reusable containers and cotton produce bags. You might think without plastic bags it can be difficult to store food in fridge but that is not the case. I use airtight glass jars, cloth napkins and some old plastic breathable boxes to store my vegetables and make it last longer.

Zero waste grocery shopping

My essentials like onion, potato, garlic, ginger and even most of the fruits I don’t store in fridge instead I use traditional ways to store them.

Onions, garlic and ginger can be stored together in one basket, but potatoes need to be separated to avoid sprouting. All of these root vegetables need cool, dry and dark place for storage. So I have two dedicated bamboo baskets in my bottom kitchen cabinet.

I prefer to store tomatoes on the counter, if I can find unripe tomatoes, ripening tomatoes smell great. But if I bough ripe tomatoes I store them in fridge. Fruits I prefer to buy little unripe, not ready to eat if I am buying for the coming week and let them ripe in my fruit tray on the counter. Make sure you are storing apples separately to avoid over-ripening other fruits. But berries, grapes need to go in fridge.

Fruit storage on counter

For greens like coriander, spinach, fenugreek leaves, mint I cut the roots and ends, remove dirty leaves and store in plastic box with breathable opening. For leaves like lettuce, kale I separate leaves from the bunch, clean them and wrap them in a cotton tea towel and store in fridge.

I generally don’t buy herbs and prefer to grow them in my window garden so that I have access to them when I need the fresh herbs. Generally we buy bunch of any herb and use up only little, you can consider to dry the herbs and store it in freezer. I also store spices and curry powders in freezer, so that it can last longer.  I don’t really buy much of frozen food regularly.

To store leftover cooked food, I use airtight glass containers. But I always try to cook food just enough so that not much food will be left to store in fridge. Controlling cooking portions is important to reduce food waste. If our family doesn’t want to eat the same preparation again and again, there is a big probability of wasting that food. Plus it’s healthy to eat freshly prepared food as much as possible. Also it’s great to include your kids in food buying, preparation, storing so that from early on they get aware about food waste issue. When we tell our kids ’empty your plate, do not waste food it’s bad manners!’, they also need to learn about food waste even before it comes to our plates.

United Nations SDG 2 and Zero Hunger Challenge

As part of United Nations sustainable goals for 2030, second sustainable development goal is Zero Hunger. in 2012, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon created a zero hunger challenge which can end hunger, eliminate all forms of malnutrition, and build inclusive and sustainable food systems.

One of the important element of this zero hunger challenge is Eliminate loss and waste of food. If we follow Empty Fridge Day along with other tips on reducing waste we can eliminate food waste on consumer side. Let me know how many of you are starting your Empty Fridge Day at home and how effectively you can avoid food waste through it?

Join ‘Empty Fridge Day’

1 in 7 people in the world go to bed hungry, so we all should respect the food to which we have access to. Stay tuned for more tips on reducing food waste, subscribe here to get the notification of new posts.

 

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Thanks for the tips! I try to use as much of our produce as we can.

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I am a Sustainability Professional. I have worked on many green building projects in the

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