50 ways to reduce our ‘foodprint’

At the risk of ‘teaching grandmother to suck eggs’ here’s 50 things we can do, as consumers, to reduce the negative environmental (and health) impacts of our food choices.

Our food choices and shopping for food

  1. Remember to bring your ‘bags for life’ and re-usable produce containers when you go shopping
  2. Plan your meals, within the same timeframe that you shop (weekly if you shop weekly; fortnightly if you shop fortnightly, etc)
  3. Check what you already have at home
  4. Make a list
  5. Buy only what you need/know you will use
  6. Eat more vegetables and fruit, especially those in season and grown locally
  7. Bear in mind that meat and dairy have a high carbon and water footprint.  Beef has a very high environmental footprint (Professor Mike Berners-Lee’s books ‘There is no planet B’ and ‘How bad are bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything’ gives facts and figures on the carbon footprint of our food choices)
  8. Consider bulk buying long-life staple items that you know you use, such as pulses and rice (cheaper and less packaging).  Useful websites: www.buywholefoodsonline.co.uk  www.hodmedods.co.uk
  9. Buy items with minimal packaging and/or packaging that can easily be recycled
  10. Avoid items in black plastic – it can’t be recycled
  11. Challenge convention and tradition: for example, do you really need mince pies at Christmas?  It’s estimated that 70 million mince pies are wasted every year
  12. Support ‘food waste’ entrepreneurs eg ‘Rubies in the Rubble’ and ‘Toast Ale’ and local artisans (my favourite local artisan is Lucie who set up the Bath Culture House and makes wonderful kombucha) 
  13. Support street markets, farmers’ markets and farm shops, where possible
  14. Seek out local zero waste shops that offer refill services
  15. Support your local greengrocer – they sell fruit and veg with minimal packaging, and they tend to discount their produce at the end of each day
  16. Beware microplastics! Look out for plastic-free teabags.  Clipper make unbleached, plastic-free teabags.  Or consider using loose tea
  17. Look for Fairtrade when buying items such as coffee, tea, chocolate and bananas
  18. Organic food is preferable to that grown using chemical fertilisers and pesticides.  Also be aware of animal welfare issues and sustainability of fish stocks.  Look for the Marine Stewardship Council certification when buying fish and the RSPCA assured scheme if buying meat and eggs 

LOAF is a helpful mnemonic:

Locally produced

Organically grown

Animal friendly

Fairly traded

19.Be aware of issues around palm oil.  Unsustainable palm oil production is a major cause of global deforestation leading to habitat loss for vulnerable species and global warming.

At home – storing, preparing and cooking food (and dealing with waste food)

20.Store your food properly to avoid spoilage (follow the storage advice on the packet).  There’s helpful advice on the Love Food Hate Waste website

21. Your freezer is your friend, though beware “UFOs” – unidentified frozen objects. So, label your items before you freeze them

22. Bread freezes very well.  For ease of use, slice before freezing and ‘shake’ the sliced loaf so the slices don’t get stuck together when frozen.  You can make toast straight away from frozen bread

23. Milk also freezes well, but will expand slightly, so you may want to open the bottle and pour out a small amount (enough for a cup of tea)

24. Bulk cooking and freezing can save time, money and energy.  Dishes such as chilli, curry, lasagne, moussaka, soup and stew can be made in bulk, portioned and frozen.  Make sure you label and date the container 

25. Left-over wine can be frozen in ice cube trays, for future use, eg to add to sauces

26. Cooked jacket potatoes also freeze well, as does cheese (grate the cheese before freezing)

27. If you have too much food, how about offering your surplus to friends and neighbours, a local food surplus scheme or upload via an app such as OLIO and TOO GOOD TO GO?

28. Compost as much food waste as possible (assuming your food waste isn’t collected by your local authority)

29. Keep your fridge and freezer at the optimal temperatures (between 0 degrees and 5 degrees Celsius for the fridge, depending on the model, and minus 18 degrees Celsius for the freezer). The top shelf and top door rack are where your fridge is warmest, so ideal for dairy foods as they are less perishable than meat and fish. The coldest part of your fridge will be the lowest shelf above the fruit and veg drawers. This lowest shelf is best for storing meat and fish

30. Rotate items in the cupboard, fridge and freezer (first in, first out, rather than last in, first out)

31. Defrost the fridge and freezer on a regular basis

 32. Consider using food saver gadgets such as ‘food huggers’ and beeswax wraps (the latter are especially good for preserving cheese)

33. ‘Love your leftovers’.  There are websites and apps that can help you plan your meals around your leftovers. Love Food Hate Waste has lots of advice

34. There are parts of food items that we traditionally don’t eat but are perfectly edible – eg broccoli stalks, which would be a colourful and tasty addition to a coleslaw or stir-fry

35. Keep bananas out of the fruit bowl – they emit a gas (ethylene) that accelerates the ripening of other fruit

36. Know the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’: ‘use by’ refers to the safety of food and ‘best before’ is an indicator of the quality of the food

Growing your own

37. Grow your own – herbs on windowsills, potatoes on patios, etc

38. Encourage your local school to ‘grow their own’

39. Save some seeds for planting from veg that you’ve enjoyed eating – eg butternut squash (also, to note, butternut squash doesn’t need peeling – cut into cubes, drizzle with oil, and roast in the oven at 190 degrees Celsius for about 30 mins)

Eating out

40. Why not choose a vegetarian restaurant or a vegetarian/vegan dish, for a change?

41. Explain to the server when ordering that you don’t require certain items, eg I don’t like baked beans

42. Ask for a child-size or smaller portion if you think you won’t eat an adult-sized portion

43. Bring a ‘doggy bag’ (a Tupperware-type container)

44. When out and about, take your refillable flask with you (as well as your ‘keep cup’).  UK tap water is perfectly drinkable.  The Drinking Water Inspectorate ensures that it is safe for us to drink

45. Take part in recycle schemes for ‘hard to recycle’ items such as crisp packets, which are made from metallised plastic. (Terracycle runs recycling schemes for crisp packaging and other hard to recycle items such as empty toothpaste tubes and used beauty products)

More generally

46. Switch to a ‘green energy’ tariff for your home

47. If buying new appliances, look at their energy rating

48. Try to cook several things in the oven at the same time, to save energy

49.Could you eat more ‘raw’? eg salads, rather than cooked veg?  There are energy-saving and health benefits from eating raw food

50. Aim to nurture the next generation through the food that you serve and the thought that you give to your food choices.  Try to avoid junk food. Experience the joy and satisfaction of real food.

Useful websites:

Love Food Hate Waste



The Ethical Consumer

BBC Good Food

Food Standards Agency: best before and use by dates


Cooking on a Bootstrap (Jack Monroe)