One thing we can’t avoid in this new decade is the discussions about the environmental impact of how we live and how we eat. If I can be totally honest, and more serious than my usual tone on here, everything we’re hearing and seeing is making me anxious about the world our children will be living in and frustrated that we’ve allowed ourselves to get into this situation. But here we are, so we need to do something about it.
When we feel anxious or angry it is easy to feel overwhelmed and that nothing we can do will make a difference. But one of the best ways of stopping that helpless feeling is to take action. There are small things we can all do every day, without much effort, that will make a big difference.
How we can all make simple changes to the way we shop and eat
In this new series of posts I’m sharing some of the easy ways I’ve made changes. I hope you will make one or two, or more of them and encourage others to do the same. With all these things at first it may feel like you are losing a bit of convenience, but you’ll feel much better and we’ll all benefit in the long run.
I’m leaving out the obvious political discussions about what needs to be done on a global scale. I’ve got strong opinions on all that but on here I’m about home cooking so I’ll focus on that side of things and avoid the inevitable arguments!
The price of convenience
Over the years we’ve chosen convenience and bargain pricing more and more often without thinking of the bigger cost to the environment. I know it is another thing to add to the list of things to think about when you dash around the shops – it used to be price, calories and sugar that we scanned labels for, but now we need to decide what we buy based on the packaging too. It can feel exhausting but the tips below show you how it can become easy.
Even if you’re not doing it for the environment, the steps below can help you save money and eat more healthily.
Simple ways to change your weekly shop
Fruit and vegetables
Buying from a local grocer, market or farm shop is the best way to cut packaging, but for many of us, supermarkets are our only realistic option. Supermarkets still have a long way to go and it drives me crazy when I see the packaging on fruit and veg but the more or us who comment on it or buy differently, the quicker it will change. Here are some of the ways you can make changes…
- Buy loose rather than bagged, take your own reusable bags with you if your supermarket doesn’t offer paper or biodegradable bags.
- Try a box I dip in and out of using Riverford but most local areas will have their own veg box companies so ask around. They’ve got much better at giving you choice than when they first started years ago and you’d be left with kale and beetroot and not much else some weeks. Many of them also delivery other groceries now too.
- Buy frozen I buy frozen berries – they still come in plastic but it is much less than is required to keep fragile fresh berries protected in the fresh section.
- Ditch ready chopped fruit and veg. I used to treat myself to a plastic pot of chopped mango to go with my lunch. It felt healthy and virtuous and a better option than cake. But all that plastic mounts up. Now I spend 5 minutes chopping my own fruit up, dividing it between reusable containers to throw in my bag or my children’s lunchboxes. Most chopped fruit will last for 2 days in the fridge.
- Get social Take pictures of crazy packaging and post it on social media, tagging in the supermarket.
Every day essentials
- Yoghurt. Instead of buying individual containers of single serving yoghurts, buy one massive pot of yoghurt to last you for the week. I buy plain/natural organic yoghurt and mix in frozen berries, chopped banana or mango to individual portions. The big yoghurt pots can be re-used to store leftovers. I use empty jam jars or various plastic pots I’ve accumulated over the years when I need to transport the yoghurt as part of a packed lunch.
- Cheese. Instead of individually wrapped or ready grated/sliced cheese, buy one big block and chop it up yourself at home. It will taste better too.
- Meat and fish. If your supermarket has a butcher/fish counter, ask them to wrap what you buy in waxed paper rather than plastic. If they don’t have any, take your own container.
- Milk. Last year we switched back to having milk delivered in glass bottles. We’re not massive milk drinkers but we still always bought a big plastic jug of it every week. The local company we use, Creamline, has a really easy website so I can pop on my phone and change our order whenever I need to – not like the old days of leaving a note out. Just search online for your local milk delivery company.
- Butter we’ve gone back to buying a hard block of butter instead of spreadable butter. Block butter always comes in minimal wrapping and to ensure it can be spread easily, we cut a chunk off the block in the fridge every few days, put it in a bowl or a butter dish and leave it out.
- Bread If you have a bakery you can go to and get bread wrapped in paper then that is great. Go a couple of times a month and freeze the loaves until you are ready to use them. Otherwise if you’re buying bread wrapped in plastic, hold onto the empty bags when you’re finished and use them to take to the supermarket when you’re buying meat or fish or loose fruit and veg. Or use them to wrap other things for the fridge or freezer.
- Cereal Make the switch to oats, which can be found in paper bags in most shops, or a cereal that comes wrapped in paper – like Weetabix. The ones wrapped in paper tend to be lower in sugar and other weird ingredients so it is win win.
- Ketchup and sauces. I feel like I spent most of my childhood patiently waiting or tapping the bottle of a glass ketchup bottle. Weren’t we excited when they launched squeezy bottles? We all switched over, unaware that that convenience came at a price. We’ve gone back to glass and back to tapping bottoms and it is much more fun. If you want to go one step further and ensure the sauce inside your bottle is made from ingredients that would otherwise go to waste, try the Rubies In The Rubble range of ketchups and sauces.
This is an area where reducing plastic is a great argument for reducing buying processed foods. If my boys are moaning at me to buy something I tell them I’m not because of the wrapping and it convinces them.
- Biscuits and cakes Make your own cakes a couple of times a month, chopping them into individual pieces and freezing them. Then grab a piece from the freezer and put it into a lunchbox so it will be defrosted by lunchtime. This easy flapjack recipe, this cake and these date and chocolate slices are on regular rotation.
- Fruit juice and drinks. Every dentist tells us not to drink these as even the sugar-free versions get children into the habit of associating sweetness with quenching thirst. Individual cartons and plastic bottles of juice and water are an easy thing to stop buying. Just switch to reusable water bottles, eat fruit rather than drink it and you’ll get the benefit of all the vitamins and fibre too.
- Booze Thankfully one area where glass and cans are the norm! Switch to glass bottles of tonic water if you like a g&t and your tastebuds will thank you too. I wavered on if this is an every day essential or treat. You’ll have to be the judge.
- Crisps Ditch the multi packs and buy one big bag then divide it between lunchboxes or reusable containers.
Laundry and cleaning I’m not yet at the stage of making my own products from vinegar and baking soda so we’ve switched completely over to Method for all our cleaning products and laundry detergent. For ages I was worried they wouldn’t be tough enough on our muddy, ketchup stained clothes and a house that is full of boys but I was wrong. They also smell lovely which makes a job I hate much easier to cope with.
Toilet paper and kitchen roll
We’ve been Who Gives A Crap subscribers since the start of the year and
(a) we’ve not run out of toilet paper once – a major win in a house full of boys
(b) the paper (we buy the premium bamboo one) is delivered wrapped without a spot of plastic in gorgeous patterned papers that look fab in a basket in the bathroom
(c) the toilet paper is made from recycled materials and sustainable bamboo which is super soft
(d) it is way cheaper than buying toilet paper at the supermarket.
(e) they donate 50% of their profits to build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world. Shockingly, 40% of the global population don’t have access to a toilet so they’re working to change that. Get £5 off your first Who Gives A Crap order by using this link.
Share the ways you’re making planet-friendly changes
Share the changes you’re making on social media, tag me so I see them and help spread the word.
Waste less food and reduce plastic when you cook
Beyond what you buy, the way we cook, decide what to eat and package things up in our kitchens will make a difference. In the coming weeks, I’ll share more simple tips on how to waste less food and reduce plastic when you are cooking. I’ll also share my thoughts on how we can look at changing the way we eat meat.
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