A group of us volunteers at Reading Sustainability Centre have decided to challenge each other to share and improve our sustainable food habits.
To start us off, I’ve had the easier job of simply sharing two of my habits which I’ve adopted in recent years.
For the past two years or so, my partner and I have been making weekly menu plans, to help reduce our food waste and trips to the supermarket. On a Sunday, I will look in the fridge and cupboards and take a note of any foods that need using up (for example, lettuce and an open tub of soured cream). We’ll then decide on 6 meals for the upcoming week, one or more of which will allow us to use up our open ingredients. We always leave one meal undecided and don’t designate meals to specific days. This way it’s not too restrictive and we can cook what we’re in the mood for on a particular day.
Two of our 6 meals will contain meat (normally chicken), and the remaining will be either vegetarian or vegan. We recognise the importance of a plant-based diet, but we’re both big foodies and would struggle to give up meat altogether. Limiting our intake of meat to 2-3 times a week is a compromise we’ve agreed to.
We also try to cook 4 portions of most of our meals, so that we’re sorted for the lunch the following day.
Here’s our menu plan from a previous week:
- Halloumi salad
Couscous, sweet potato, halloumi, lettuce, tomato and avocado.
Veggie, low effort, easy leftovers
- Butternut squash soup
Carrots, butternut squash, onion, garlic, stock powder, coconut milk, croutons, spices
Veggie (vegan if not for the stock powder), medium effort, easy leftovers, used previously made croutons from stale homemade bread
- Thai green chicken curry
Chicken, thai curry jar, rice
Meat, low effort (always good to have curry jars in the cupboard for when you want a quick meal), easy leftovers
- Lentil and Vegetable Hotpot (we follow a Hello Fresh recipe)
Potato, onion, carrot, mushroom, lentils, spinach, stock, spices, tomato puree, cheese
Veggie (vegan with different cheese and stock0, high effort, makes lots of leftovers
- Sausage and mash
Potato, sausages, vegetables, gravy
Meat, medium effort, one of my all time favourite meals
- Vegetable orzo
Orzo, onion, garlic, pepper, courgette, tinned tomatoes, stock, single cream, spices
Veggie (vegan if using Elmlea plant cream and a different stock), medium effort, easy leftovers
That week we had takeaway pizza, other times it could be a high effort meal we really fancy or an easy meal from the freezer if we’re feeling lazy
By no means is our system perfect, there are weeks where we don’t cook one of our listed meals, but we’ll always try to use up the fresh ingredients we bought for that recipe in an alternative meal, saving them for the following week, or freezing them if possible.
Inevitably, some food does still get wasted, but this is much less compared to when we would decide every day what we were going to eat. We’re also now in the habit of freezing foods or leftovers if we’re not planning on eating them over the next couple of days. It’s always satisfying to open the freezer drawer and be presented with several easy leftover options.
Eating less meat has also reduced the amount of food we waste. Most of the fresh foods we buy are vegetables, and they have a much longer shelf life compared to meat. There’s also fewer health risks with eating old vegetables compared to old meat. I normally find it easy to incorporate random veg into meals to use them up. The other week we had a single carrot in the salad drawer, looking very sorry for itself. There was no meal planned for it, so when we had a risotto that evening, I just added it in.
Having a menu plan does require forward planning and will not be to everyone’s taste. It took several months of me convincing my partner it was worth the effort every Sunday. In my experience it actually saves time, because I now don’t have to spend every evening staring into the cupboard working out what meal to make with the food we have.
Menu planning and a ‘flexitarian’ diet has just become part of our routine now. It’s made me enjoy cooking more. We’re discovering loads of interesting vegetarian recipes and still get to enjoy our meat meals when we fancy them.
As I’m sure you’re already aware, reducing food waste and animal produce intake are important ways to help reduce your impact on the planet. Take it from me, both behaviours are easier to implement than you might think.