Malou Herkes is a food writer and editor, with a passion for good food—and enjoying it in the most sustainable possible way. She shares her tips for keeping wastage to a minimum this festive season
It almost goes without saying that an awful lot of the food we buy gets wasted, and at no point is this more obvious than at Christmas. Research has shown that a collective 64 million pounds worth of festive food gets chucked in the UK, including millions of Christmas dinners, thousands of turkeys and tonnes of mince pies. The reason? We panic-buy, overspend and fail to use our leftovers.
Which leads to one simple conclusion: with a bit of foresight, it’s quite possible to plan a Christmas where leftovers are used, ingredients are stretched, and money is saved—and those extra pennies, whether spent on better meat, a few quality staples or pocketed for later, can be put to more valuable use.
The trick is to plan your meals so that they can easily topple one into the next, starting off where the last one left off. That way, you’re not approaching the holidays with the trepidation of having to cook countless roasts and breakfasts, dinners and sweet things, or in panic, falling back on a trolley-full of BOGOF deals. Here are a few basic ideas to for a more conscious approach to buying and planning:
Avoid BOGOF deals, in favour of a few quality ingredients
Packets of ready-made sausage rolls or heaps of cakes can be a hindrance rather than a help. Rather, keep it simple and spend your money on a few good staples that can revive leftovers into something brighter: decent olive oil, a few loaves of quality bread, a hunk of parmesan or a healthy bunch of fresh herbs can transform yesterday’s vegetables, a turkey sandwich or day-old broth into something much more satisfying.
Buy it whole
Use root vegetables in their entirety, including roots and shoots. Greengrocers and markets are a good place to start, and are more likely to have bunches of carrots or beets, turnips or even parsley roots with their green tops attached. Sauté carrot tops with butter and cumin seeds and fold into an omelette for breakfast, wilt beet leaves with plenty of garlic and toss through pasta, or pound and chop whatever green things you have (including any leftover herbs) with plenty of parmesan and blitzed chestnuts for a seasonal pesto to be smothered on hot toast. Chucking citrus rinds is also an opportunity wasted: use that flavour to infuse vodka, or steep rinds in sugar to make a sweet citrus syrup—both delicious additions to New Year’s cocktails.
A lot of waste happens in the home, but it also happens far before it reaches our baskets. Do your research on what and where you buy. Opt for wonky fruit and veg that are often otherwise discarded (Rubies in the Rubble sell relishes and chutneys that do exactly that), or think about swapping your smoked salmon starter for lesser-known, local species of fish (Nigel Slater makes a great herring rillettes). Ellie’s Dairy sell wonderful goats’ cheeses, and uses the leftover goat hides for rugs and throws, while Cannon & Cannon’s Great Glen Charcuterie venison salami uses a surplus of wild deer from the Scottish Highlands, the meat of which is often wasted.
Stretch the offcuts
Christmas Day dinner is, of course, the best chance you’ve got to kick off your meals for the ensuing week. Think creatively about the offcuts from kitchen prep: save vegetable peelings to make a stock, along with the leftover carcass from your Christmas bird. Nicole Pisani wrote a great article for Borough Market on using stock as the basis of mindful eating at Christmas, with tips on adding spices and herbs, vinegars and alcohol, and using the stock as the fragrant base for many a meal (turkey risottos and hearty veg soups, slow-cooked stews and spicy noodle broths come to mind). Save pastry offcuts and use them to make scrap biscuits or little pies filled with fruit compote, and fruit peelings can be transformed into homemade vinegar extremely easily.
Love your leftovers
Christmas Day leftovers can last for days, so keep them interesting. Shredding your roast meat and using it in soups and sandwiches, curries and stir-fries is an obvious one, but what about using gratings of leftover rinds from your cheeseboard in root-veg croquettes, or for adding umami-depth to a simple broth? Make bread pudding with that leftover panettone, or save yesterday’s yorkshire pudding batter for mini toad-in-the-holes, with leftover stuffing for good measure. Freeze surplus gravy in individual ice trays to add depth and flavour to soups and stews, and crumble up the remainder of a Christmas pudding, and layer it up with decent ice cream and chocolate sauce for a Boxing Day sundae.
The best advice, though, is to be mindful of how you cook and eat. Avoid over-crowding plates, think creatively about offcuts and leftovers, and take note of what you do end up wasting. It’s a start to planning for next year.