The benefits of reducing food waste

Emma Brown - Nutritionist | 06 Jan, 2022

As well as being more mindful about what we eat to achieve our weight and health goals, we should try to be more conscious of how much food we throw away. This is where meal planning is key. It will not only benefit your healthy eating goals – it shows responsibility for the environment too. I’ll discuss how.

Weight benefits

If we are throwing away food, it means we bought more than we needed or cooked too much. Both are habits that lead us to eat more than necessary – which affects our weight. Making the time and effort to plan your week's meals in advance and only buy the food you need will reduce the chances of having to throw food away, as well as saving you money.

Meal planning is associated with a healthier diet and reduced chance of obesity. A study which looked at the diets of over 40,000 French men and women, found that those who planned their meals in advance had a better quality diet, more adherence to nutritional guidelines and were less likely to be overweight (Ducrot et al., 2017).

This just shows the overarching benefits of planning what you're going to eat in advance – you'll have better control over your meals, leading to healthier choices, while reducing the need to throw away excess food. Win, win!

Nutrition benefits

If we stay on top of the fresh produce in our refrigerator to prevent food going off and getting thrown away, we SHOULD be eating more nutritiously. How often do you throw away fruit or vegetables because it's wilted and gone soft? Think about this – better meal planning would mean all that healthy nutritious food ends up in your body – rather than at the dump!

So make a conscious effort to use up fruit and vegetables before it goes past its best – you'll be hitting your 5-a-day! If you have a banana that's looking overripe, add it to a smoothie or mix it with an egg and make banana pancakes. Carrots less than crunchy? Peel, chop and add to a pie rather than eating as a side vegetable. Make a habit of doing a refrigerator (and freezer) check at start of the week. Tie it in with your meal planning and ensure fresh produce gets used according to its best before date.

Another important finding of the French study mentioned above was that meal planning also led to better diet quality. The meal-planners ate more fruits, vegetables and fish than those who didn't – notably all super nutritious fresh foods, but also the type with a short shelf life. So if you buy them, you need to plan when you're eating them to avoid the food going off.

Environmental benefits

Did you know that around one third of the food produced each year is wasted?! That's an appalling statistic. It required energy and resources to produce all this food in the first place – so to throw it away is wasting that energy too. It is unnecessarily contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, made worse by the fact food waste often ends up at the dump where it decomposes and releases methane – another harmful greenhouse gas.

When it comes to food production, it's all about supply and demand. The more we buy, we increase demand so supply increases too. If we only buy the food we really need, then demand will reduce and so will supply. We can all play our part in helping the environment by avoiding unnecessary food waste, and every small effort adds up to make a collective difference.

Top tips

Aside from my best advice – to plan your meals – here are a few extra tips on avoiding food waste to help your diet and benefit the wider environment:

  • Try a meal box – these are very popular as they are so convenient and take the effort out of food shopping by providing the exact quantity of ingredients you need for your meal. You can also order bigger boxes that ensure you have enough left over for lunch the next day. HelloFresh is a well-known choice and there are good deals to be had, especially this time of year.
  • Freeze leftovers – if you make too much, rather than eating seconds or throwing out the extras, put it in a container and freeze it. There's bound to be a time you need a quick easy meal and it will be a welcome find in the freezer!
  • Make soups and smoothies – when fruits and vegetables are past their best to eat fresh, they can be blended in a smoothie or cooked in a soup. Freeze if you don't need to eat it right away.
  • Get creative – go through your refrigerator and see what needs using up that day. Make one tasty, nutritious meal – no matter how random! Can you eat a side salad with a bowl of spaghetti? Yes you absolutely can, and it's a 5-a-day portion ticked off too!
  • Do regular date checks – have a quick look through your perishables every few days to make sure you're not forgetting about those carrots or potatoes you shoved to the back of your vegetable basket.
  • Donate unopened, in date food to your local food bank – if you have too much in the cupboard, or long-life food nearing its sell-by date that you know you won't eat, give it away. It can help someone else rather than end up in the trash.

Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.