Tips for a waste free christmas

The festive season is tough for any waste jar-ian. It’s during this time of the year that we become most aware of our waste related habits. Think about all the common phrases we say about food at this time…
“Better to have too much than too little.”
“It is the season of excess.”
“We had to have all three types of meat.”
“We have to stock up because the supermarket will be closed.”
“We ate ham for days and then had to throw the rest out.”
“Mum’s got like five trifles in the back fridge. It’s like a whole fridge dedicated just to trifle.”

… okay, maybe that last one is just my family. Maybe?

It is easy to get caught up and carried away in old habits at this time of year. So we’ve given you some tips below that may help to avoid this tradition this season.

1. Plan.
That old chestnut! (Well you wouldn’t have old chestnuts if you planned.)
This tip is about working towards having the right quantities of food in the first place – real waste jar thinking. It’s also about the fundamental methods of being waste conscious: seeing what’s already in the cupboard first, writing lists, doing more calculations and less guess work.

How many are coming? How many potatoes per person? Not everyone likes peas, so don’t get so many peas. (Who’s going to be upset they didn’t get peas anyway?) I’ve got ice cream from the weekly shop already so I won’t buy more.

2. Communicate.
How many Christmas’ have you been to where two people brought a ham? If you’re hosting and asking people to contribute, make sure they know what and how much of what they are to bring. In fact, go so far as to tell them what everyone else is bringing too. Send an email. Use the old family grapevine.

While everyone may get a little generous during the holiday season, that generosity is no good when a guest thinks they just might bring a Christmas cake, you know, just in case. Communicating who is bringing what stops these assumptions.

The flip side to this, if you’re a guest and you don’t know what to bring, ask your host. They can ensure you don’t look the fool when you rock up with yet another Christmas cake.

Or more importantly, if you’re the guest and you’ve read the email, or heard on the grape vine that Aunty Jo is bringing prawns, maybe make sure you let your partner know too, particularly if they’ve mentioned getting prawns in passing. That’s your opportunity to keep Christmas dinner waste free.

3. Open when you’re ready.
Some types of food keep for longer in their original packaging. Think red wine, cheeses, cream, dips, anything marked “must be consumed within X days of opening.”

If you have a cheese board out, don’t put all the cheese out at once. If you’re serving cream with your pudding, wait until the table has finished the first tub of cream before you open the next.

The host may be worried that they don’t appear hospitable, when on the contrary they are creating more interaction between guests. “Pass me the cream please” and “which cheese should we open next?” are conversation starters and reasons to get up and move about.

This tip is easy and if you can do any of these tips across the holiday period, it should be this one.

4. Don’t be a prepper.
This contradicts the old fashion notion that supermarkets aren’t open until January 2nd and we need to stock up. Sure, stock up on as much canned, frozen and packaged foods as you like. But if you’re concerned that you’ve not perfectly calculated all the potatoes, ham and carrots per person, don’t stress, take a breath, our supermarket giants will be ready for your purchases as soon as you’re ready to make them.

5. Stock up on freezer blocks and esky bags.
So guests can take a plate home! Share the responsibility of the leftovers. No one person or family should be challenged to eat all of the left over ham.

And if all else fails…

6. Eat trifle for breakfast.
Hey, you’re on holidays. There is food there to be eaten and, unless your diabetic or getting married next week, who cares if you’re eating dessert for breakfast.

Similarly, cheese can be dessert. Potato salad can be a meal on its own. Turkey is a snack. Who would of thought saving food waste could be so good?!



There was a time when I loved leftovers. Reliving the previous nights meal. Having something tasty for lunch at work while the girl next to me has a plain salada. Or that last slice of pizza the next morning on a weekend. No matter how they came, leftovers were a gift from the food gods, reward for a bountiful harvest.

Now they only give off the rotten stench of failure. Four days straight of coleslaw after too much cabbage being purchased. Too much cooked pasta becomes a toastie, whose ingredients in turn become a pasta dish.

Then there is the stir fry. The last refuge of leftover vegetables. How many times can we make a stir fry before one of us snaps and does something with the soy sauce or carrot we’ll regret.

But really, none of this is really leftovers, merely overs. We bought too much and must pay for it or suffer through it. Spinach was my first attempt to buy less, but no matter how much I tried, there was always too much. It was used in scrambled eggs, pasta salad, too many lunch bagels to count, not to mention the dreaded stir fry. Now, I just don’t buy spinach.

Carrots are almost on the no buy list as well. We’ve seen too many carrots go limp and almost break in half when the time came to peel them. Why did I buy three? I only needed one for the recipe, but I guess I thought they were cheap and I’d make a salad for lunch. Potatoes are a particularly evil piece of food overs. Those eyes staring at you from a dark corner of the cupboard. The longer you ignore them, the more eyes that end up staring at you.

I guess I never truly appreciated how much hard work and sustained effort it was going to take to get to zero food waste. Learning new recipes, finding alternatives to 1 kilogram minimums, resisting the temptation of in season fruit and veg, I never considered any of these when we started. I thought it would be easy, buy less, eat less, done. But here we are, surrounded by week old capsicum, half a lemon and some thyme who’s original purpose is from, well, another time!

But we are having some small wins changing our shopping habit. Buying half loaves of bread and smaller cartons of milk. Although if the milk gets any smaller, we’ll be buying from hotel suppliers! And in the meantime, hopefully all these small wins will keep us going in the bigger challenge towards zero food waste.


My shopping weaknesses

Hi, my name is G and I’m a food-bargain-a-holic. This week was a real struggle for me. I’ve been doing really well, I am now able to walk past the 2 for 1 bread loaf signs and not stop to wonder about all the toasties that I could make with that bread. But this week I came across a “buy 3, get them for x price” deal on my yoghurt.

Before starting this project of ours, without hesitation I would have loaded up the cart with those delicious berry or vanilla flavoured fermented milk tubs. My reasoning in the past was simple, I’m buying 3 for the price of 2, so even if I only eat 2.5 tubs before they expire, I’m still ahead. Till now. If you’ve never seen a man standing in the middle of the fridge section of Woolworths, looking for the longest expiry date and trying to calculate in his head how many days, how many breakfasts it is, it’s a bit like this.

It’s now an instinct, I knew there would be a price for not finishing all 3 tubs and it made me stop and consider my purchase. What is the expiry date, sure we look at this in dairy most times, but sometimes we know we will get through a litre of milk in a week so we don’t need to check. When it’s going to cost you more than the bargain price of the item to throw it out, you check the expiry date, believe me.

But it’s not just the basics like bakery and dairy, those sneaky net wearers at the deli get me as well. If I see a triple smoked ham at 25 or 30% off, E can look forward to toasties and rolls for at least 5 meals over the coming week. Then there is the salami, which in my mind is so cured that it never goes off, so if that’s on special, load up! And now that I’ve got the ham and salami, I better swing back by the bread isle and get those 2 for 1 loaves. Wait, E needs GF bread as well, does she have any frozen? I can’t remember, maybe, but fresh is nicer, so I’ll get her some. Better get some more cheese as well, YES, my favourite tasty cheese is on special. Oh, only for a 1kg block…. well I’ve already got the bread and ham.

In for a penny, in for a $5 donation to the jar.


The wrong bok choy

If you’ve ever had a hectic calendar, you will appreciate the need to stay on top of your health and eat right. It may take until that moment when you realise you’ve had wine for dinner every night that week, or the guy at the noodle shop knows your order, or your skin gets a little flakey and your inner  … well … let’s not go there but it’ll happen … that time of full appreciation will come and you will wish you had something normal in the fridge.

Your planning, shopping, cooking routine is an easy casualty in these frantic times.

So when our comfy city office jobs turn into ugly 60 plus hour weeks, we are more than happy to sit at home in our trackies, take a break from our spreadsheets and reports, and do an online grocery shop.  The scary thoughts of big business collecting our data aside, they’re a pretty good service. But one time, we got into a whole heap of waste jar trouble.

Now, don’t get me wrong, what we did is easy to do if you’re not paying attention, which is also easy to do if you’re tired and stressed, and a wine or two into your next client pitch presentation and “fire my assistant” is now an item on your gantt chart. But like all things we do with the waste jar, being mindful will pay off.

Particularly when buying bok choy apparently.

When the man came to our door with our online order in hand, we signed the receipt, and began to put our groceries away, noticing as we did a half supermarket bag full of very large bok choy.

Turns out there are two sizes of bok choy. Furthermore, turns out you should look closely at the item description when ordering your online groceries. Each item is very clearly described we’ve admitted in retrospect. In another shop we also bought a very small single can of corn, fortunately the life time of it was longer than a bag of fresh not-so-baby bok choy.

Like the stress of pending work deadlines wasn’t enough, urgh, we’re now faced with a waste jar dilemma of an unplanned item haunting us from our crisper. The plan had been a quick stir fry with some other greens. Surely it’ll work the same  so in it went. I was cooking so there was no recipe involved, it’s all the same, it’s all the same…

It’s not all the same. The stir fry was watery and horrible. We should have cut it smaller, down to baby size one might suggest. It tasted more boil than fry. No amount of chilli and soy was bringing this not-a-baby back.

We ate half the total cooked and stared at the rest in plastic container for a few days more before finally conceding defeat.

In our effort to be more mindful of our health, we neglected to be more mindful of what we were purchasing. We were so worried about the details in our spreadsheets and reports, and were not so worried about our attention to detail in our shopping receipts.

We are still all for an online shop in hectic times, but we’re adding this to a lesson learnt and will be more careful about our online grocery orders in the future.