02 August 2013

Would You Just Put $500 in the Rubbish Bin?

I'd no more take $500 from the bank and put it in the rubbish than I would fly. But on average Australians put $500 in the bin each year, in the form of wasted food. Food that was bought to eat but then is either left to go bad, or is poorly cooked, or too much is bought or prepared, or it's left in the freezer too long and ends up with freezer burn.

We try really, really hard to have a no waste kitchen and we very rarely throw out anything we could eat, and even the scraps are composted in the bokashi bucket, then added to the compost pile or straight into the garden.

I have a lot of food in our house. I keep full freezers, pantry and store cupboard. I try to keep a 3 month supply of food. That doesn't mean I don't do the grocery shopping each month, I do. It means I am replacing what we've used, rotating through the stock so nothing gets too old, stale or rotten.

I've mentioned before that dry goods go into the freezer for at least a week. This kills any weevils that may be in them.  And tinned goods are fine, they just need to be stacked on the shelves and rotated.

But fresh food is a different story. If you are buying truly fresh fruit and veg it will keep at least 10 days - three weeks depending on what it is. It may be a little limp by then but still perfectly usable.

We are so used to the supermarket fruit and veg that has been in cold storage, sometimes for many months, that we believe produce doesn't keep longer than a week.

Truly fresh produce does, if it is stored properly.

You'll find a variety of containers for storing fresh food in my kitchen cupboards. There are Tupperware veggie containers, Rubbermaid containers, Lock'n'Lock containers (I just love these, they are so easy for arthritic fingers to open and close) and of course the wonderful gel bags.

Over the years a lot of fruit and veg have passed through my kitchen. I've found the easiest and most time and cost efficient way for me is to prep the veggies for use before they go into the fridge; it saves a lot of time and effort in meal preparation.

On shopping day it takes about half an hour to get the fruit and vegetables organized and into the fridge or fruit bowl and then it's done.

Only buying or growing what you will eat makes a huge difference to the amount of food you waste.

The bad cooking - well there's not much I can do about that, my kids still tease me about a particularly awful dish I made. They say it was so bad not even the dog would eat it and even adding it to the compost bin was cruel.

I can however tell you how fruit and veg are stored in our house so they last.

Here's how I deal with different veggies:

Bok choy, pak choy - we grow in the garden so they are pulled as we need them. If there are a few plants ready at once they are wiped over with a damp cloth and stored in gel bags.

Broccoli and cauliflower - cut up into florets and put into gel bags or if there is a lot, it is flash frozen and then put into freezer containers for long term storage.

Carrots - top and tailed and into a gel bag, they keep at least 3 weeks although it's not often

Celery - top and tailed. Leaves are put into a freezer bag and frozen to use in soups.  The stalks are cut into sections and stored in a Tupperware container.

Lettuce - I take the core out and pull the leaves apart and put them into gel bag (I don't buy lettuce, we grow it). I don't wash it until I am ready to use it - even the tiniest drop of water will cause it to go slimy and blerk.

Melons - cantaloupe and honeydew is peeled, seeded and cut up and stored in a sealed bowl. Watermelon is cut into wedges and kept in a bowl with a lid.

Mushrooms - brown paper bag keeps them dry. Storing them in plastic bags or containers they go slimy very quickly.

Onions and potatoes -stored in a wooden veggie box in the bottom of the pantry, where it is dark and cool.

Peas and beans - picked as we need them straight from the bushes or if there is a glut, they are flash frozen in 2 cup lots in ziplock bags for the future.

Pumpkin - is cut up, seeds scraped out, some is peeled for steaming and soups, some is left with peel intact for roasting. It is then dusted lightly with cornflour and goes into a gel bag on it's own.

Silverbeet, cabbages, cucumbers, capsicums - get picked fresh from the garden and are stored in Tupperware containers or gel bags, depending on how much there is.

Spring onions - Bottoms are cut off and then I use kitchen scissors to cut them up. I bag them in 1/4 cup amounts in small ziplock bags and freeze them. They are good for fried rice, casseroles, dips etc. once thawed.

Strawberries - like mushrooms they last better in paper bags or are flash frozen and transferred to Tupperware containers for long term storage in the freezer.

Sweet potato - peeled, cut and into a gel bag.

Tomatoes - are usually picked fresh from our garden, I very rarely buy fresh tomatoes out of our season, they are too expensive and rather flavourless. If there are a few ripening all at once they go into a large Tupperware container, stem side down. This stops any condensation that may gather on the seal dripping into the little dip from the stem and rotting the tomato. It may sound a little over the top but I stack them carefully so there is a little space between each fruit. I take as many as we need for two or three days out of the fridge at a time and sit them in a dish on the kitchen bench. Tomatoes taste so much better at room temperature than they do straight from the fridge.

Turnips, swedes, parsnips, beetroot, corn - if the garden runs out then I buy them from the market and wipe, peel, chop and store in a gel bag.

Zucchini, cucumbers and squash - straight into a gel bag or Tupperware container.

Apples, oranges, mandarins, lemons, grapefruit, kiwi fruit go straight into the fruit bowl.

Plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, grapes and mangoes I store in the fridge, taking out only what we need for each day.

Right now off the top of my head I can't think of any other fresh fruit or vegetables we have in the house on a regular basis. Although looking at that list, it's no wonder the fridge is always full!

We grow most of our veggies in our backyard veggie garden, so I know they are really fresh when they are processed. You can't get much fresher than straight from the dirt to the table.

Putting food away properly goes a long, long way to reducing waste and saves a lot of money - at least $500 a year!


  1. Thank you for inspiring me - I was given a whole pumpkin recently and I don't particularly like pumpkin - unless it is in pumpkin soup! Reading this inspired me to cut and peel the entire pumpkin and freeze it - enough for pumpkin soup and individual pieces for roasting for my husband and daughter who do like pumpkin! Therefore saving us money and time. You are doing a great job Cath and I thank you!

  2. Thanks for the information Cath.
    I was just wondering what are gel bags? As I've not heard of them before.
    cheers Janine

    1. Gel bags are bags that keep your fruit and veg fresh in the crisper for up to three weeks (according to the company that makes them, I've kept veg much longer).

      You can read all about them in this post: WHAT ARE GEL BAGS http://www.debtfreecashedupandlaughing.com.au/2013/09/what-are-gel-bags.html

  3. Yeah, I am also unclear about what gel bags are. Also I find as soon as you peel sweet potato (kumera) it develops black spots, literally within a minute, so I wouldn't like to prepare it in advance.

    1. Try dusting your sweet potato with a very light coat of cornflour.

  4. Cath, thanks for the cornflour tip. I will no longer have slimy pumpkin. The tomatoes tip is also a great one. I think that a lot of food is wasted because people don't know how to store it properly. I am truly grateful for the hints, emails and all the knowledge that you pass onto myself, c.s members and the public. Thanks once again. Your time and effort is sincerely appreciated. Christine B.


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