Katie, a passionate conservationist, crafter and writer, who loves to try new things has volunteered to write a few blog posts for our members to help during this period of isolation. She has to self-isolate for 12 weeks too, so she appreciates what this means.

This one is all about using up items from the store cupboard...

We are fortunate to live in a society where food is easily available and relatively cheap. However, because of this many of us have become less careful when it comes to not wasting it. In the UK a third of food is estimated to end up in the bin, with the figure rising even higher for certain products such as pre-bagged salads. Now as Covid-19 has everyone stripping the shelves and restricted in their access to shops we find ourselves looking at sparse cupboards and wondering what we’re going to make for dinner out of tinned pineapple and a sprouting potato. Yet perhaps this time of lean pickings could be made into an opportunity rather than a problem. A chance to reconnect with our food, to experiment, waste less and enjoy more. So with that in mind here’s a guide to what you can do with some items you might normally throw away.

Brown bananas

I like my bananas very nearly green. Once there’s a hint of brown I consider them inedible. This might lead you to believe I’m forever throwing out bunches at a time, yet I never waste a brown banana. Brown bananas are great for cooking; they are high in sugar, rich in potassium and wonderfully easy to mix into cakes, smoothies and even savoury dishes like curries. The best thing of all is that if your banana is suitably overripe but you’ve not got time to use it, you can just stick it in the freezer ‘till you need it. Once you’re ready to make those banana pancakes or that cinnamon banana bread, just take it out of the freezer and allow it to defrost. Then just scoop the banana body out of its jacket and bake away.

Stale bread

In the bottom of my freezer I have a little bag full of stale bits of bread. The bread currently in there is chunks of tiger loaf which we’d cut up to dunk in cheese. Having overestimated our need for bread chunks the remains went hard and stale, unsuitable to be eaten fresh. Now they live out their days in the freezer, and whenever we need bread crumbs for a recipe, out a handful come to be blitzed in the blender. Beyond breadcrumbs, stale bread is an excellent resource for recipes which require bread to be soaked before use, such as bread and butter or a summer pudding. The dryness of the bread allows it to soak up the moisture. Once cooked you’ll never know the difference.

Cut herbs

Fresh herbs are a lovely addition to a meal, but the fact is a recipe will often only require a handful of sprigs, leaving you with a bushel of basil which you don’t know what to do with. An easy answer is freezing. Stick the bundle straight in the freezer and just break off pieces as and when you need them. And if you like to be super organised you can chop up your herbs and place small amounts in an ice cube tray, topping up with a little oil, creating a bite-sized flavour cube, ready to cook with.

Other fruits

As with the banana I like my fruit slightly under ripe, yet I never worry about wasting any. Whether apples, raspberries, pears, plums or strawberries I know that once they’re no good for me to eat fresh I can happily boil them up with a little water (and sugar if they’re a tart fruit) to make a fruit compote. There’s so many things you can do with this mixture once it’s made; you can use it in cake mixture to add sweetness and keep the cake moist, you can add it to yogurt or ice-cream for a tasty pudding, or you can make it into a pie or crumble. It doesn’t even matter if you have an odd mixture of fruits, putting them in together can be great. And if you want to get really fancy you can always turn your hand to making jam or fruit roll ups.

Leftover roast

Shame on me but I don’t actually like a roast. Still I know it is one of the UK’s most popular meals, so it’s worth a mention. You’ve had your lovely meal and everyone is stuffed, but here are a bunch of perfectly good potatoes, carrots and bits of beef just ready to go to waste. Well the easiest thing to do is to reach for your stock cubes and your blender and make yourself some tasty roast dinner soup. You’d be surprised how well it works. You can actually apply this method to lots of other meals, from steaks to chillis. And if you don’t fancy it right away (guess what) stick it in the freezer.

Vegetable peelings

When I was a child my mum taught me to break the stem off mushrooms and peel the caps before chopping and adding them to my meal. When I grew up I learnt that actually you can eat the mushroom stems, and now I think they’re my favourite bit of the mushroom. As a wealthy nation we’re terrible at throwing away bits of fruits of vegetables that we could actually eat; such as broccoli stems or the green parts of a leak (how many recipes tell you only to use the white part). Even passing beyond the obvious did you know there are recipes which use banana peel, carrot tops and even avocado stones. OK not all of these things might be to your taste but have a quick look next time at what’s left on your chopping board, and see what you might considered saving from the bin, you’d be surprised what a quick google might result in.

Bakery goods

OK perhaps it’s the least likely to be wasted but I thought I’d include it all the same. Ever have a stale slice of cake, croissant or hot crossed bun lying around? Not in our household, but I hear it happens. Well cake pops were invented exactly to use up old stale cake. You simply mix your cake with some icing and press it into a circular mould, ending up with a kind of cake lollipop. As for croissants and hot cross buns here you can see my segment on stale bread, because these can make excellent substitutes in almost any recipe, from hot cross bun French toast to croissant bread and butter pudding.

Dairy products

Once it’s turned it’s turned, and there’s nothing much you can do about that, but if you’ve got there before that tragic point, dairy products are very easy to use up quickly. If you’ve got a bit of leftover cream, sour cream or yogurt, the easiest solution is to add it to whatever you’re cooking. From curries to peppercorn sauces to pasta dishes a little dairy is never such a bad thing. Alternatively save it till pudding and you’d be surprised how well sour cream goes with an apple pie or sticky toffee pudding. Alternatively you can once again freeze, however dairy products will often separate, not a big problem if you’re mixing them into a sauce once they defrost, but not appealing to pour onto your fruit salad.     

It’s amazing how quickly you can slim your bin once you get in the habit of finding a use for foods which are passed their best. Of course not everything can be saved, but this is where careful planning can prevent even this waste. Wasting food is more harmful than it first appears, with fossil fuels, water and chemicals going into the production of every salad leaf we let go limp. But beyond the waste, rethinking how we cook can be a great way to get new ideas and recipes, and to find new respect for something which we often take for granted.