The unexpected New Year's resolution that delivers wealth and health
One in six people resolved to reduce their impact on the environment in 2021, according to environmental charity HubBub. This new player on the resolution scene joins old favourites such as healthy eating and saving money. The good news is that eating more sustainably can help you achieve all these things, while benefiting everyone on the planet.
Miguel Barclay, also known as the One Pound Chef has written hundreds of budget recipes and knows his way to a bargain. In his new book, Green One Pound Meals, he shares his approach to eating sustainably while still sticking to his signature budget.
Food production is said to be responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, contributing significantly to global warming, although the environmental impact of food and cooking practices varies hugely. It's hard to know where to start calculating your own carbon footprint. Miguel's tips below are a simple starting point for a journey to a lifetime of sustainable eating, long after January is over.
Plan your meals
It has been estimated that if food waste was a country, it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. When it comes to reducing your food waste, failing to plan is like planning to fail.
“It’s terrible for the environment to be throwing food away, but I’m first and foremost a budget chef and if you throw half of something away, then really, it's like you bought it for double the price,” says Miguel. By writing a clear shopping list for your weekly meals, specifying how much of each ingredient you need, you’ll be able to see whether that big bag of potatoes or salad really is good value or not.
By reducing food waste, a family of four could save £60 a month, according to the Love Food Hate Waste campaign’s calculations.
Miguel's top three tips to use up all the food you buy:
- Pick your first meal, then work in chronological order to plan the rest of the week using any leftover ingredients from the previous recipes.
- Plan to use perishable produce first and move towards tins, frozen and long life produce by the end of the week.
- If a recipe doesn't use up a whole vegetable you can also double up and batch cook the meal, then freeze the cooked meal in portions to eat later.
Make Miguel's one-pan gnocchi and veg bake using many frozen and long-life ingredients.
Changing meat-free Mondays
Reducing your carbon footprint and weekly shopping spend are two motivations for eating less meat. One comprehensive study found meat and other animal products are responsible for over half the food-related greenhouse gas emissions, despite providing only a fifth of the calories we eat and drink.
But switching out meat for more high-fibre vegetables and pulses can also benefit your health. Even without giving up meat entirely, sticking to the healthy diet recommended by the NHS, which emphasises eating five fruits and vegetetables a day, while limiting red meat and processed food intake, would reduce the UK's food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 17%.
Meat-free Mondays became a popular way to remind people to eat vegetarian food on at least one day per week. But Miguel suggests that we swap it around so that you only eat meat on one day of the week instead. Any move toward a more flexitarian diet will have some environmental benefits.
If you eat meat more regularly, Miguel suggests using recipes where it isn’t a large part of the dinner, but plays a role in adding flavour instead. Adding more beans than meat to tacos, or using a small amount of bacon in a lentil soup or chorizo in a bean stew gives a lot of flavour with a lot less meat than a steak or chop.
Some meats can have a higher carbon footprint than others, so look at including more environmentally-friendly options. Of all the products analysed in one study, beef and lamb were found to have the most damaging effect on the environment, but there are also other considerations, such as farming methods to take into account when deciding on what to purchase.
Use the BBC's carbon calculator to see which foods you eat have high carbon emissions, as meat is not the only food where the choices you make can make a big difference.
Get personal about food waste
Food waste comes in many forms and by getting to know your habits, you can make a personalised game plan to tackle your food waste.
Some chefs use clear bin liners to find out what the kitchen is not using up, and you can do this at home too, says Miguel. You might be consistently making too much rice or pasta than you need or want to eat. Or you may not know what to do with cooked leftovers or unused fresh food until it is past its best.
Once you've noted where your common problem areas are you can take action to address them. Get in the habit of measuring before you cook so you know exactly how much you need. You don't always need scales - just a mug can be better than eye-balling quantities. If you regularly throw out mouldy bread, consider slicing and freezing your loaf so you can toast it as you need.
If you are finding that food goes off before you use it, check the temperature of your fridge. The Love Food Hate Waste campaign from WRAP has great tips for maximising your fridge efficiency to keep food fresh for longer. Or perhaps you're better off buying loose vegetables, if you're chucking half the raw potatoes you buy from a bulk bag every week.
Watch our Cook the Imperfect series to fight food waste
Food with extra ap-peel
There are bits of fruits and vegetables we often throw away for no reason other than habit. The leaves, skins, stalks and peels of fruits, herbs and vegetables can often be used as a "free" flavouring or to add extra nutrition to your diet.
Stop throwing away soft herb stalks, says Miguel. Most stalks on supermarket herbs like parsley and coriander are soft enough to be chopped and used in any dish. Miguel uses them to make flavour-packed fritter. Parsley stalks are excellent for flavouring stock. Save them in a freezer bag until you need them, along with carrot peelings and trimmings, mushroom stalks, celery leaves and leek tops.
You don't always need to peel vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes when you can just give them a scrub with a brush. The extra fibre and nutrients in the skin is better for your gut health. If you must peel, use squash or potato peelings to make crisps as a pre-dinner nibble or crispy garnish.
Broccoli and cauliflower stalks are just as delicious as the florets. They may need peeling if the stalks have a tough skin, but the inside will chop up for use in vegetable stir-fry, or grate them to make cauliflower "rice". The tender leaves are also excellent and still an edible part of the plant.
If you’ve got to the point where you’re not throwing away peel, you’re probably doing quite well with your food waste already. And remember that inedible food waste like banana peels, egg shells and onions skins can be composted or put into local food recycling bins.