Monday 20 April 2020

The spreadsheet that is helping me keep sane (and helping reduce food waste)

Now is as important a time as any to not buy more food than necessary and not to waste food. I have always prided myself on using every last scrap of food, but the added pressures of covid-19 and not knowing what ingredients I can get or when I can next get a home delivery slot, means that I am working extra hard to make food supplies stretch and work that little bit harder.

As lucky as I am to have a fridge and a freezer, I am not blessed with space, so cannot fit much in either of them. Whenever I get a food shop, I don't want to go crazy and deprive others of supplies, and the fact that I cannot store much is great in that aspect as it really helps me rein back and carefully consider what I do (and don't) need.

Working from home

The current strategy that has been working for me is keeping fresh ingredients in the fridge (or in some cases, the cupboard) and aiming to cook / eat everything by its use by date to reduce the need for freezing. Because frankly my freezer is tiny and I just don't have the space. And to keep tabs on use by dates, say hello to my geeky spreadsheet that is helping keep me sane

Food expiry dates spreadsheet - Curiouser and Curiouser

As you can see, I list out my ingredients, where they are currently stored, and their expiry dates. I've noticed that many stores have stopped putting expiry dates on vegetables (hence the * in my spreadsheet) which I think is great as many people swear by end dates and bin food when in reality, veg lasts a lot longer than you think it does! (the items marked in red are still perfectly fine)

I have conditional formatting and sorting on the end dates, meaning it's listed in date order. Items within their final week are colour coded (light orange) and the gradient darkens as they get nearer to their best before (red). Doing this allows me to assess which items need prioritising first, and helps me to plan meals. I really recommend planning meals in advance as that way when you do a shop, it will prevent random ingredients that don't belong together, and food waste.

Example food planner based on this spreadsheet method


Ingredients expiring: pork steaks, various veg
Meal plan: cut the pork into strips - stir-fry with the veg and spices (fajitas)


Ingredients expiring: beef pieces, various veg
Meal plan: slow cook with carrots, onions, mushrooms, bacon and red wine (beef bourguignon)


Ingredients expiring: beef mince
Meal plan: combine with remaining veg and add tinned tomatoes and spices (chilli con carne)


Ingredients expiring: chicken, various veg
Meal plan: slow cook with tomatoes and herbs (Italian chicken) - serve with crispy potatoes


Ingredients expiring: cauliflower
Meal plan: cauliflower curry (here) using tinned tomatoes, nuts, chickpeas, coconut milk and spices


Ingredients expiring: cauliflower, sausages, potatoes
Meal plan: use the last of the potatoes for bangers and mash - serve with spiced grilled cauliflower


Ingredients expiring: last remaining veg
Meal plan: I alternate between veggie curries, homemade pizzas and vegetarian pasta bakes

As soon as I use an ingredient that has been flagged up in the spreadsheet, I change "used - no" to "used - yes" and the filter in place means the ingredient in question is filtered out of sight. Another option I have under "used" is "frozen" - so if I don't have the necessary other cupboard basics to form a particular meal - or when I cook in bulk and have leftovers - I will pop it into the freezer and mark it as frozen (which the spreadsheet also filters out of view).

This may sound like a long winded method, but it's helped me be a lot more organised at this uncertain time, helps reduce food waste, and it means I can go through 2-3 weeks before needing another shop, which is great as it means that I am not depriving the elderly, healthcare workers and others in need of food or those highly sought after home delivery slots.

Have you changed the way you shop and think about food?

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