Hale March 18 Masthead

Sustainable life: Refresh my food

Mia Swainson

My cupboards are full of food, but I can’t find a whole meal to cook.

There’s a half finished packet of rice paper, but no noodles or sauce ingredients. There’s dried peas ready for vegetable soup I’ve avoided because of suspected, but unconfirmed case of weevils. Oh, and there’s also the limp pieces of broccoli, radishes and some mouldy peaches in the fridge. Time to refresh my food!

I’m not alone with my cupboard full of unused and out of date food that’s heading for the garbage bin. The not-for-profit group DoSomething is running a FoodWise campaign and they claim that Australians throw out 20% of the food that they buy.

That’s one in every five shopping bags thrown straight into the bin. Pretty wasteful for the home budget and also really wasteful for the country. Foodwise and OzHarvest estimate that the value of food wasted each year in Australia is a staggering $8 billion.

I’ve made a start at reducing my food waste and here’s what I’ve done:

Plan meals and go shopping with a list

I love the process of planning meals, then hunting for the right ingredients at the farmer’s markets or the grocery store. It took me a little while to know what quantities the family would eat in a meal – one or two heads of broccoli? Now I’ve got the hang of it, it’s quicker to translate meal plans into an ingredient list.

Eat from the back of the cupboard

I’m trying to use up at least one of the ingredients from the back of the cupboard each week. My first target was the half open packet of rice paper. By buying some extra rice papers, I had enough to supply the whole family with fresh rice paper rolls. Success – they are a perfect autumn meal and now feature regularly in our home cooking.

Time to tackle the weevils and split peas. There are definitely a few weevils in the package, but not so many that I can’t pick them out. I make a hearty vegetable soup and it’s another success. Buoyed by these early successes, I’m going to continue with a weekly ‘meal from the back of the cupboard’.

Use everything fresh in the fridge before going shopping.

I’m addicted to the quality and freshness of fruit and veggies at EPIC farmer’s market. This means that I need to use everything before going shopping on a Saturday morning. Excess fruit is poached on Fridays and either eaten on breakfasts or frozen for later. By Wednesday or Thursday I can tell if there’ll be excess veggies.

Then I’ll either roast or steam them for work lunches and quick dinnertime sides. Cleaning out the fridge each week also helps to prevent things getting mushy, slimy and lost in the back of the fridge.

Using leftovers is the new black

Last year two popular chefs published uber cool cook books about leftovers. Hugh Fernley-Wittingstall’s, River Cottage Love your Leftovers and Sarah Wilson’s I quit sugar Simplicious both help us to be creative with what we’ve got.

The biggest crime with leftovers in my fridge is to push them to the back, so that they can’t be seen and used. Extra soup? Frozen for a quick dinner. Left over roast vegetables and meats are chopped and laid out on top of baby spinach as a lunch time salad.

I’m loving my food refresh.

It’s inserted a bit of creativity to meal planning and it’s helping me to feel like I’m making a positive start to the year.

I’m also loving the extra space that’s appearing in the back of the cupboard. Soon I’ll be able to say that I’m using all of the food that I buy…most weeks.


Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp). More about the Author

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