Love food, hate waste? 10 ways to reduce leftovers this Ramadan
Reducing food loss and waste is a must to improve food security so as to reduce the environmental footprint of food systems
Estimates last year suggested that Saudis throw away between 35 and 40 percent of cooked rice a year. If this number sounds appalling, what is worse is that the amount of food wasted skyrockets during the holy month of Ramadan. Not only do lavish Iftar buffets at hotels and restaurants lead to the waste of tons of edible foods, many families prepare night-time meals as if they haven’t had anything to eat for weeks.
However, Saudi Arabia — or the Gulf region, for that matter — is not alone, and consumers are not the only ones to blame. Worldwide, around one-third of food produced is lost or wasted along the food chain, from production to consumption, according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), which released a report on the subject last year.
Reducing food loss and waste is a must to improve our food security, so as to reduce the environmental footprint of food systems. Do your part and start right now, by reducing the amount of food you waste during this month and beyond with the following 10 tips.
The freezer is your best friend when it comes to reducing food waste. It can be used to freeze leftovers, including those piles of rice you ended up with last Iftar, which are always handy to have on hand for days when there is no time to cook. However, the freezer is also a perfect solution for foods that expire quickly such as meat, chicken and fish. It is even possible to freeze grated cheese, eggs (separate the white and yolks), chopped up vegetables and fruits, or milk and yogurt. Frozen yogurt also makes a good treat!
Share food with neighbors
Isn’t Ramadan about helping those around you and especially the less fortunate? If you prepare too much food for Iftar or Sahoor every day, why not share your meal with the janitor or driver? Or give your neighbor some of that lip-smacking cake you made for your family? Of course if everyone starts giving each other meals and we do not decrease the amount of food we buy we still do not diminish waste, but sharing some food is a great way to live the spirit of Ramadan.
Buy canned or frozen products
There is this belief that canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are not as healthful as fresh produce but nothing could be further from the truth. Produce is often frozen right after harvest with all nutrients locked in, while fruits and vegetables transported thousands of miles lose a substantial part of their vitamin content. Another advantage of frozen fruits and vegetables is that they are harvested when they are ripe. Fresh products, on the other hand, are often reaped before they fully ripen, meaning they contain less nutrients and have less taste than their frozen counterparts. Canned fruits are convenient as well but make sure they are conserved in water or light syrup to avoid too many empty calories.
Organize a leftover Iftar or Sahoor every few days
If your family is like most, chances are you cook Iftar every single day, while leftovers are piling up in the fridge. Perhaps you can share (some of) these remainders with neighbors and friends but another way to finish them up is by having a leftover Iftar and Sahoor every few days. This will save you time, money, effort, and food waste. Sounds like a deal, doesn’t it?
Do not shop while being hungry
This is a tricky one, because it is hard not to shop while being hungry in Ramadan if you do your groceries during the day. So honestly ask yourself: Do you tend to buy more when shopping hungry? No need to feel ashamed, because most people do. If that is the case, consider doing your groceries at night or early in the morning, before you feel so hungry and thirsty you want to devour everything on the supermarket shelves!
Find recipes online to use leftover ingredients for
Thanks to the Internet, it is not difficult to find out what to do with leftover items in the fridge. Most websites allow you to search for recipes by ingredients. In no time you will find delicious ideas for anything in your fridge approaching its “Use By” date. And if you cannot find anything, you can always freeze products until an idea comes up.
Make a shopping list
While shopping hungry is likely to leave you with tons of purchases you did not need or want to buy, buying your groceries without a list may have the same effect. Next time, check your pantries and fridge before heading to the store and write down the stuff you need to buy. Also, plan what you would like to cook throughout the week and limit yourself to buying the things you need for these meals.
Learn how to store food correctly
Do you keep your vegetables in the fridge or outside? And what about your fruits? How do you store bread? It is important to know the answer to these and other questions about food storage to ensure a long shelf life. Did you know, for instance, that vegetables, except for onions, garlic and potatoes, are best kept in the fridge and that bananas should be kept outside the fridge but away from other fruits, as they make other fruits ripen faster? Inform yourself about food storage to reduce waste.
Use old products wisely
Have those mangoes, despite your careful storage, gone wrinkly? Are your carrots soft and limp? Do not throw them away! Instead, use ripe fruits for smoothies and old vegetables for soup, sauce, or pizza. Revive your carrots and celery by placing them in a glass of water in the fridge. Use sprouted potatoes by simply cutting off the sprouts before use. Freeze milk, yogurt, and fresh cheese until a later date, or add dairy approaching their expiry date to your smoothie.
Use your fridge
This may sound like a no brainer, but many people actually leave stuff out of the fridge for too long, something that decreases their shelf life. When drinking milk, do not keep the container with milk outside the fridge. If you have leftovers, chill them quickly, especially if they contain meat or chicken. Also, check if your fridge is cool enough. The temperature should be between 1 and 5 degrees Celsius. If it is warmer, products will expire faster.
There is so much we, as consumers, can do to reduce the amount of food wasted. Let’s begin at our homes. There are plenty of websites that offer advices to avoid food waste. One of them is www.lovefoodhatewaste.com, a website set up by a British non-governmental organization that helps households reduce food waste by giving practical tips on food storage, recipes, and how to save money.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette.