The eighth part of our 14-day ‘Save Food, Save Lives’ series encourages you to plan your meals to avoid waste – and, at the same time, get fit and save money.
Are you someone who goes to a supermarket without a grocery list? Chances are when you open your fridge or your pantry today, you’ll find a lot of food that you have to throw away.
Dietitians can testify that food is often wasted when families fail to plan their meals.
Dubai-based dietitian Aahat Sajnani lamented how supermarket shoppers spend hours picking out products they don’t need, and later on, these just end up rotting in the refrigerator. “I definitely think you can avoid food waste if you plan ahead. Most of the time, we end up eating out or ordering in even though our fridges are full,” Sajnani said.
“People make a hasty decision when they are hungry, and eat the fastest available food, resulting in tonnes of food wastage.”
While meal planning is a term often used by fitness freaks, she insisted that such a routine is also important to curb food waste. It can be adapted to every lifestyle, and the best part is that it gives people the freedom to make the healthiest decision for their nutritional needs, she said.
Dr Rawan Alashkar, a dietitian at Medcare Hospital Al Safa, said that besides the health and waste reduction benefits, planning also helps people save money.
“Meal planning ensures that every grocery item you come home with will be used in a recipe. It is key to saving money. With your meal plan, the objective should be to choose recipes that share ingredients, so you use up everything you buy. You can recreate a leftover dish into something new for another night,” Dr Alashkar said.
Housewife and mother-of-two Nishi Sakhir said she sets aside Dh1,000 every month for groceries. “We do our shopping within that amount, and try not to exceed it while shopping for groceries. In a week, we use a maximum of three vegetables.
“Whenever we shop without a plan, we end up buying a lot more and the food stays in the fridge and rots. I try not to do bulk shopping since it wastes huge amounts. The leftovers from dinner are used the next morning,” Sakhir said. She also tries not to stock a lot of food in the freezer and cooks dishes in small portions, just enough for the day.
Where to start?
Sajnani said meal plans depend on individual tastes and preferences. “I would pick three to four options for breakfast, and rotate that. Individuals and families can stick to a certain grocery budget. Always know what you are going to buy,” she said.
However, one has to be aware of how long a product can be stored. Perishable goods, for example, can stay in the fridge for a maximum of five days.
She also suggested that people work on their cooking skills to avoid food waste – and all its takes is a bit of Google search and YouTube browsing.
Both Sajnani and Dr Alashkar said it is best to plan meals a week in advance, and cooking two to three days ahead maintains the freshness of food.
“I’m trying to get into the habit of prepping all the food as soon as we’re back from the grocery store. I do this by using recipes I am comfortable with,” Dr Alashkar said.