The food challenge that will help you cut down on your grocery bill.

Sustainability Victoria
Thanks to our brand partner, Sustainability Victoria

Last week I spent two hours preparing a casserole.

Slow cooked beef and veggies.

Pumpkin, parsnip, carrots, potatoes, garlic, onion, celery and cabbage. All lovingly chopped and diced, all combined and slow cooked for just the right amount of time.

It tasted as delicious as it looked.

And I eagerly anticipated the reaction from my kids when I ladled it into bowls after a cool late evening soccer practise.

What will they think?

Will they realise how much time and effort I put in to it?

I’m winning at parenting today. All that goodness and nutrition.

"I eagerly anticipated the reaction from my kids." Image: iStock.

So I was shocked to get THIS reaction:

Er. Yuck.

I don’t like it.

I want something else.

It’s too mushy.

It looks like vomit.

I’m not eating THIS.

There it was, a pot of nutritional goodness, rejected. Wasted. Never to be consumed by my children.


It was the icing on the cake (though I bet they’d eat that, wouldn’t they). Just the latest in a line of rejected dinners and breakfasts, of school lunch boxes coming home with uneaten portions.

Such a waste.

Our family isn’t alone. In fact, Sustainability Victoria say that 25 per cent of the contents of our garbage bins are made up of avoidable food waste. On average, it adds up to $2,200 a year in wasted food.

And at least $30 of that was in my casserole alone.

(Luckily a set of hungry grandparents took it home to freeze and eat. They reported that it was delicious.)

It was time to tackle the food wastage in our home and in order to do so we set out a challenge for the whole family: to devote one week to changing our habits and cutting down on our wasted food.

Day 1: Eat from the cupboard day.

 We started the challenge on a Saturday, which really is an absurd day in any busy family to start something new.

What with the back-to-back sports and activities, the idea of shopping was near impossible, thus, “eat from the cupboard” day was born.

Breakfast was a cinch – there was plenty of cereal to go around and due to a mix up in our shopping the day before (I thought I was meant to get the milk) there were several litres of milk to get through, and some browning bananas in the fruit bowl. So smoothies it was.

Lunch was at the boys’ soccer – sausage sangers. What else?

And dinner consisted of a pantry raid and a defrost from the freezer. There was plenty of pasta; plenty of just-about-to-go-off veggies in the fridge that combined really well with a tin of tomatoes and some defrosted mince. Every kid likes spag bol right?


Always check the freezer in the morning for any meals you can defrost in the day. Image: iStock.

I calculated as I fell into bed that the only food we bought today was three slices of bread, three sausages, three squirts of sauce and a large coffee for me.

Day 2: Get prepared.

The key change we attempted today was preparing for the week ahead. Last night’s left over spag bol went into containers for lunch and a list was made.

What I learned through my research was that over-shopping is a key contributor to food waste. You really only need to buy as much as you need for each recipe, so it’s best to be prepared.

It’s all very well to try and buy in bulk but there is no point buying a family-sized bag of carrots when the recipe will only call for two and the rest will wither, forgotten, at the back of the fridge. Together, we all sat down and planned meals for the week ahead.

We then wrote a detailed list and went shopping, ensuring we bought just the right amount for the lunches and dinners we set out. When we returned from the supermarket it was time to prepare it all and pack the fridge.

We applied the FIFO method – first in, first out – and put all new products at the back when unpacking shopping. My downfall today was that I took the kids shopping with me so the bags contained a few extras that I had not anticipated.


Stick to your shopping list, do not stray. Image: iStock.

My eight-year-old told me he was joining in the challenge by eating his choccie bar straight away rather than wasting it! As if he ever would.

Some of the fruit we left in its packaging – like the berries in order to help them last longer.  I also made sure that the fruit was put away correctly. Sustainability Victoria suggests you put fruit and vegetables in separate fridge crisper drawers as the ripening gases from the fruit will make the veggies go bad. Apples and oranges went in the fridge and bananas in a fruit bowl. Tomatoes were put in a separate bowl on the bench so the bananas don’t make them over-ripen.

 Day 3: Put the meal plans into gear.

Today I had some time so I made two meals – roast lamb for today and a batch of bolognese that I divided into portions and froze. When you want to reduce food wastage, your freezer is your best friend. Frozen veggies are often just as nutritionally good for you and save wastage as they don’t go off as quickly.Nothing is easier after a long day at work than grabbing a delicious home-cooked meal from the freezer and having it ready to go.

 Day 4: It was leftover day.

Today the kids got involved in working out how to use up all that yummy leftover lamb from last night. My daughter wanted “lamb and butter” sandwiches for her pre-school lunch. Easily done.

My two school-aged boys wanted lamb wraps and luckily, we had some frozen pita bread in the freezer, so lunch was sorted. By dinnertime they still weren’t lambed-out so it was lamb and rice.

The kids even want to have it tomorrow.


Diced or shredded leftover meat can be re-flavoured to make a whole new meal. Image: iStock.

Day 5:  Check our portions.

I’ve learnt that one of the reasons we waste so much food is because we cook too much, and anyone who has kids will know what I am talking about.

Today we were having pasta for dinner so I stuck to the suggested portion size of 75-100g of uncooked dried pasta per person. It turned out to be exactly the right amount.

One tip I’ll definitely be using more often is to get a dinner plate or bowl out when I’m chopping and prepping so I can visualise how much I need to make for each person.

Day 6: Re-use the lunch box leftovers.

I actually started at breakfast. The first one down the stairs didn’t finish his Weetbix so, in the interests of avoiding wastage I just poured it into a clean bowl for his little brother. No one complained, as no one knew.


Snack items have extensive use by dates, so don't throw them away. Image: iStock.

I then set about preparing their lunch boxes for school but I had already packed a lot of it the day before. If your kids are anything like mine, you will know what I mean when I describe the infuriating daily torment of lunch boxes coming home half eaten. My solution now is to pack a range of durable snacks – sultanas, crackers in sealed packets, along with the fruits and fresh sandwiches. If they don’t get to them that day they just get transferred into the lunch box the next day.

Day 7: Clean out the fridge day.

The last day of our challenge and I think we’d done pretty well – although there were a few bits and pieces that needed using up. The left over bread was whizzed up for breadcrumbs and frozen for use later. The old bananas were stripped of their skins and frozen as well, to be used in smoothies and cakes. A few yoghurts just on their use-by dates were popped in ice cube trays to be eaten as desserts by the kids.

It's amazing the meals you come up with when cleaning out the fridge. Image: iStock.

All in all, I was surprised by how successful our week of reducing food wastage was - we all learnt some valuable lessons that we’ll apply in the future. Including the fact that casserole will stay off the menu for a little while longer.

What are some useful tips you use to help reduce food waste at home?