When it comes to food and drink, the best thing we can do, both environmentally and financially, is make the most of what we buy rather than throwing it away. By the time food has reached our homes, it’s taken a huge amount of energy, water, and packaging to be produced, transported, and stored. 

Harvard University Housing's Sustainable Community Leaders hosted "Harvard Hates Waste," an event to combat food waste. The Leaders focused on cooking with leftovers, while their guest speaker, Sasha Purpura, Executive Director of Food for Free, talked about her organization's work. Food for Free focuses on farm and retail supply chain waste and distributes food that would otherwise be wasted to great local causes. Read more about Food for Free's partnership with Harvard

The Leaders took some of the most common leftovers and, by combining them with store-cupboard essentials, cooked up some really easy delicious meals, proving that you don't need to be a top chef to save money, reduce waste, and cook for a crowd. 

Tactics to reduce food waste

Resource contributed by Sustainable Community Leader Tom Etheridge.

1. Planning

Planning is everything. Planning your meals is one of the most effective ways you can cut waste and food bills.

Top tips to help planning:

  • Keep a pad and pen in the kitchen (or use a note or app on your phone) and write down items when they run out so you don't buy things you already have.
  • Work out a weekly meal plan. Shopping for specific ingredients with meals in mind and taking a list helps ensure we use what we buy. 
  • Don't plan every meal! Life at Harvard is busy and there are always events that come up during the week. Just thinking about 4-5 meals allows you to be flexible with unexpected leftovers, especially if you keep some meals in the freezer as a back-up in case your plans fall through. 
  • Buying foods that can be used for several different dishes gives us flexibility to create different meals.

2. Storage

  • Make sure you store food correctly according to the label. Often, foods come with lots of packaging which seems wasteful, but is often designed to help keep the food fresh, so keep it in its original packaging when you store it. 
  • Make sure your fridge and freezer are at the correct temperature. A fridge that is too warm will lead to waste.
  • Use your freezer! It's an amazing resource to prevent waste when your plans change.
  • Food can be frozen any time before the ‘use by’ date on the label so if you buy something and don't use it straight away, you can freeze it anytime before the use by date and it will still be safe. 

3. Cooking Leftovers

  • Try to keep your store-cupboard and freezer well-stocked with a variety of canned, dried, and frozen goods. These store-cupboard essentials have a long life and can be mixed with other foods to make delicious meals. 
  • Use leftovers for lunch the next day! Find out where there is a fridge and a microwave at your department or school, make sure you remember a fork and you're all set to eat well, save money, and reduce waste! A small investment in a plastic tub to carry leftovers can pay-back very quickly.

Sustainable Community Leaders' Recipes

Matt's recipe

Sustainable Community Leader: Matt

My Common Leftovers:

  • Ciabatta Bread: Bakery is about 12% of household food waste as it can go stale quickly
  • Vegetables: These guys are an incredible one-quarter of what households throw away
  • Mozzarella: Dairy products are about another 10-15% of what people throw out and slightly unusual ingredients like mozzarella might be bought for a particular meal and forgotten about

My Store-cupboard Essentials:

  • Garlic & Onion: Garlic and onions are great and last a long time when properly stored
  • Tinned tomatoes: Tinned foods are perfect and tinned tomatoes can be used in so many dishes
  • Oregano: Herbs and spices are always great to have on hand, but can be skipped if you don’t have them

I’m cooking: Pizza!

Cooking Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 380
  • Chop vegetables, onion, garlic
  • Add the oil to a pan with the onion and cook for 2 minutes, then add the other vegetables and stir regularly for 5 minutes ensuring they are evenly cooked
  • Add the garlic, oregano, and chopped tomatoes and mix well, bring to the boil then turn down the heat, cover and simmer 3-4 minutes
  • Put the sliced ciabatta onto a baking tray and spread the vegetables evenly over the top
  • Then arrange the cheese and bake in oven for 8-10 minutes

Mariana's Recipe

Sustainable Community Leader: Mariana

My Common Leftovers:

  • Eggs: Eggs should keep for a long while and if you’re making a recipe that calls for just egg whites or yolks, save the other part for a carbonara or scrambled eggs!
  • Salad ingredients (Cucumber, Avocado, Tomatoes, Salad greens): These far too often end up going soggy and into our bins when they can be eaten so easily!

My Store-cupboard Essentials:

  • Balsamic vinegar and Olive oil: They last forever and they are delicious

I’m cooking: Simple, easy, quick, and cheap—perfect for a graduate student on the run, I’m mixing up a salad

Cooking Instructions:

  • Hard-boil the eggs, mix salad! (3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar)

Alaina's Recipe

Sustainable Community Leader: Alaina

My Common Leftovers:

  • Onion: Onion lasts a long time, but often you only want to use half. I’ll be finding a way to use the rest up
  • Zucchini: Vegetables are nearly 20% of the food we waste by cost
  • Potatoes: Potatoes are one of the most wasted vegetables!
  • Eggs: There’s more than one way to cook an egg and I’ll be beating mine

My Store-cupboard Essentials:

  • Garlic
  • Herbs

I'm cooking: Frittata!

Cooking Instructions:

  • Preheat your oven to 380
  • In a large frying pan, fry the onions and zucchini together until the onion is translucent and the zucchini are softening. Add the garlic about two minutes before you think the onions and zucchini will be ready – there’s less risk of overcooking it this way
  • In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the herbs, then stir in the cooked vegetables and sliced potatoes and mix thoroughly
  • Pour the mixture into a greased, lined baking dish and bake for 20-25 minutes until puffy and golden

Nick's Recipe

Sustainable Community Leader: Nick

My Common Leftovers:

  • Cheese: Wrap it properly so it doesn’t go hard and it’ll last longer, but if it does, don’t worry, there’s plenty of ways you can use it
  • More vegetables: As the most wasted food group, we’ve got to find as many exciting ways as possible to use these up
  • Tortilla chips: These won’t go off quickly, but there’s always a half-eaten pack lying around and they often end up in the bin when they eventually go stale

My Store-cupboard Essentials:

  • Canned beans: Go so well with so many things
  • Spices: Last forever and don’t take up much room

I’m cooking: Super Nachos!

Cooking instructions:

  • Preheat over 380
  • Add oil to a pan and cook the vegetables for 5 minutes to soften
  • Add the garlic then mix well and add the beans, cook for 2 minutes, adding a dash of water if it starts to stick
  • Spread 2/3 of the tortilla chips onto a large flat baking sheet then add 2/3 of the bean mixture, followed by the rest of the tortillas topped with the beans, arranging so it is higher in the middle than at the sides
  • Finally, sprinkle on the cheese and bake for 7-10 minutes until the cheese has melted