Roundup

5 Tips For an Environmentally Conscious Kitchen – Cooking Sustainably with Zero Waste Food in Mind

13/09/2021

Learning to cook sustainably is not only good for your wallet, it’s better for the environment and your health, too. Here are our top 5 tips for cooking sustainably, eliminating plastic and reducing food waste in our journey towards a zero waste kitchen. 

Bags of bulk Asian ingredients.

Wandercooks HQ – An Environmentally Conscious Kitchen

At Wandercooks HQ, Laura and I live a very frugal and minimalist lifestyle. Over the years of running the blog and cooking together, we’ve become more and more environmentally conscious in the kitchen, making small steps where we can to make our processes better where possible.

We’ve achieved this so far by:

  • Minimising food waste through new recipes, techniques or appliances.
  • Shopping more sustainably with reduced plastic and plastic free purchases.
  • Reducing plastic items around the kitchen from cling wrap and utensils to food storage and rubbish bins; and
  • Shopping in bulk.

One of our biggest challenges has been shopping for Asian ingredients. It’s no secret we love cooking Asian recipes. We go through a LOT of noodles, sushi rice and dashi stock, so one of the difficulties for us has been finding plastic free ingredients for these recipes.

Then we stumbled across Naked Asian Grocer.

Finding a source for plastic free options for our Asian ingredients has been a gamechanger for us and the community. That, paired with our local Asian grocers providing fresh, local and plastic free produce – we’re now spoilt for choice for our cooking.

We felt compelled to write this post – which is completely different to our usual recipes each week – as we thought sharing the tips we’ve learnt along our zero waste journey, as well as some inspo from Jian at Naked Asian Grocer, could help you on your sustainable journey too. Enjoy!

Ingredients laid out from Naked Asian Grocer.

5 Tips For an Environmentally Conscious Kitchen

1. Use glass jars for storage 

Glass is much safer for storage. It’s thought that the chemicals in plastic can degrade over time, possibly leaching into food. So switch to glass jars where you can, but don’t throw away your existing plastic storage – look for other ways to use it or donate it instead. 

We love using glass jars with bamboo or glass lids for almost all our pantry staples. Think rice, pasta, sugar – everything! You can usually find these at Op Shops or reusing jars from items like Moccona Coffee.

Top view of miso ramen filled with toppings.
Spicy Miso Ramen using noodles from Naked Asian Grocer with plastic free packaging.

2. Adapt recipes

Recipes need only be a guide when it comes to cooking. We believe wholeheartedly in adapting a recipe to suit your tastes, diet or using up ingredients. Don’t be afraid to be creative and try something new!

Before cooking, check what you have available in the kitchen, then take note of the variations or substitutes in a recipe. You might find you’re out of strawberries for strawberry muffins, but can easily substitute them with the blueberries or raspberries in the fridge.

Recipes like soups and stews that call for a lot of vegetables are fantastic for using up the last tomato or 1/4 cabbage left at the back of the fridge. A great example is with our curried sausages recipe – our readers sometimes love to add sweetness by using up a handful of sultanas or even pineapple pieces!

If there’s a sauce you don’t have, you might be surprised how easy it is to make out of staple ingredients at the last minute, with no need to head to the shops.

2. Buy only what you need

At supermarkets especially, it can be hard to buy the specific quantity you need for a recipe. Not only that, but items such as meat are usually stored in single use plastic containers. Consider switching to buying from independent butchers or grocers, and ask if they will let you bring your own containers. If you must buy in single use plastic, look for recycling options in your local community.

A great example is with Naked Asian Grocer, we can buy their ramen noodles per serve. So knowing we go through a lot, we could buy 20 serves at once to last over a month or two. Rather than what’s available at the local supermarket, which sometimes only cater to 2-3 serves a packet!

What to Look For on Your Next Shop

  • Bulk Foods – A lot of the bulk food stores near us have a “weigh and pay” system, where we can bring in our jars and containers to refill with the perfect amount. We may only need a small serve of raw nuts, but 5kg of flour!
  • Plastic Free Packaging – Fresh produce, especially fruit and vegetables, are the easiest to buy without packaging. If your local supermarket has too much packaging, try a farmers market instead. You might be surprised at some of the food items available completely plastic free!
  • Organic or Local Produce – Help support the local businesses in your area when you can. This can go a long way to reducing food miles and the impact on our environment. For items that must be imported from other countries, see if you can buy in bulk to reduce plastic waste (such as for rice, noodles, spices etc) through places like Naked Asian Grocer, or make them at home with local ingredients (such as Japanese sauces).

Don’t feel like you need to make all these changes at once. It can sometimes feel overwhelming, but always remember:

“Being sustainable is all about making small, sustainable changes you can implement in your life. No action is too small!”

Jian, Naked Asian Grocer

3. Reducing plastic with your kitchen cleaning

Cleaning items can be a big source of plastic waste in the kitchen. Here are a few easy swaps you can make to avoid buying plastic bottles over and over again

  • Make your own antibacterial kitchen sprays – they’re safer for you and your family, made from easy pantry staples, and they even smell better than chemical laden store-bought sprays.  We’ve made orange, lemon and mandarin kitchen sprays – all from our families trees, which are all natural and give a use for the citrus peel.
  • Dishwashing liquid and/or dishwasher tabs – these are easy to make at home, otherwise, look for dishwasher tabs that aren’t sealed in plastic or foil.
  • Dish scrubber – use bamboo or wooden brushes where possible. If you already have a plastic brush – throw it in the dishwasher for a proper clean, so you can use it again and again instead of replacing.

4. What to do with food scraps

Food waste is a huge contributor to greenhouse emissions. Rather than throwing food scraps in your regular landfill garbage: 

  • Set up a home compost system or worm farm if you have the space.
  • Place it in your council’s green waste bin – this valuable resource can then be used as mulch for community gardens.
  • For veggie scraps, start collecting and storing them in the freezer. Once you’ve collected enough, turn it into veggie puree that you can then use to add extra nutrition into soups, stews and other recipes!
  • Old fruit can be salvaged by using in smoothies, baking into cakes or popping them in a dehydrator.
  • Don’t peel if you don’t have to! We rarely peel our carrots or potatoes any more. There’s extra nutrition in the skin anyway, so we just give it a quick wash and chop it up.
Slices of fresh zucchini on a chopping board.

5. Replace the plastic utensils

Plastic utensils are not recyclable, fall to pieces easily and can eventually start to break down into your cooking – especially items like spatulas and tongs that are left on hot surfaces too long.

We’ve now replaced all our plastic utensils with either wooden or metal. Our most popular utensils in the kitchen are Sarah’s wooden wok spatula and cooking chopsticks which are both now over 8 years old, and still going strong!

Where to buy plastic free, bulk food in Australia and beyond:

Here’s some places we recommend checking out for your next zero waste shop online:

For our overseas readers, we recommend heading to Google and searching for your closest store nearby. Use search terms like:

  • Bulk foods near me
  • Plastic free foods and products near me
  • Zero waste food near me

If you’re still unsure, ask your local supermarkets, butchers, delicatessens or shops if it’s possible to bring your own containers or bags for your next shop.

Questions and Tips with Naked Asian Grocer (NAG)

How should I store bulk ingredients?

NAG: Most definitely need to transfer to airtight glass jars or containers. A lot of spices would lose their flavour or deteriorate if kept in paper bags. No specific container as long as they are clean, airtight and then kept in a cool, dry place.

Can I reuse the packaging from receiving my ingredients?

NAG: Definitely the boxes – use it to store books, knick-knacks, whatever it is around the house! Use it to send other deliveries, wrap a present or use it to move house – the possibilities are endless. 
As for the paper bags, yes, potentially for other items but not for food storage. Otherwise, throw them in the worm farm compost or recycle them! Paper can be broken down naturally.

What’s your favourite ways to reduce waste in your kitchen?

NAG: 1.Plan, plan, plan. Always shop with a list so you don’t end up buying things you don’t need.
2. Eat things that are going bad first, so you don’t throw them out.
3. We love some good old “fridge-clearing” recipes, like fried rice or noodles, stew and soups!

Plastic free packaging and bulk food from Naked Asian Grocer.

Use up what’s in your fridge with these veggie-full and adaptable Asian dinner recipes:

Indonesian crazy rice with cucumber and tomato in blue bowl.
10 Minute Nasi Gila – Indonesian Crazy Rice
Move aside Nasi Goreng – it’s time to meet Jakarta’s Nasi Gila – Indonesian Crazy Rice! A super quick 10 minute stir fry with sausage, chicken, veggies and epic spicy homemade sauce.
Click for 10 Minute Nasi Gila – Indonesian Crazy Rice
Close up of chao go - Vietnamese style chicken porridge.
Vietnamese Chicken Rice Porridge – Chao Ga
Chao Ga is classic Vietnamese comfort food ready in 20 minutes. Pressure cooked to perfection, this chicken rice porridge (chicken congee) is ready to warm up your soul.
Click for Vietnamese Chicken Rice Porridge – Chao Ga
Large bowl of spicy miso ramen with nori sheets sticking out.
Quick 15 Minute Spicy Miso Ramen
No need to slave all day for this ramen. One of the quickest, tastiest noodle dishes around – get this quick Spicy Miso Ramen on the table in 15 minutes. Full of topping ideas and the easiest miso tare soup base!
Click for Quick 15 Minute Spicy Miso Ramen
Close up shot of tantanmen noodles in broth topped with pork and wilted greens.
Tantanmen Ramen – Japanese Tantan Noodles
Creamy Tantanmen Ramen is a Japanese take on a classic Sichuan noodle dish. Chewy ramen noodles meet a nutty sesame broth and spicy pork, ready to eat in just 10 minutes. Now there's a quick lunch!
Click for Tantanmen Ramen – Japanese Tantan Noodles
Bowl of stir fried Japanese noodles.
Yakisoba – Japanese Stir Fried Noodles
Stir fried to perfection in just one pan, Yakisoba noodles are the easiest Japanese street food to make. Ready in 25 minutes and loaded with pork and veggies smothered in a homemade yakisoba sauce for the most authentic flavour.
Click for Yakisoba – Japanese Stir Fried Noodles
Top view of budae jjigae heated up and ready to eat.
Korean Army Stew (Budae Jjigae)
Learn how to cook this easy Korean-American hot pot recipe. Korean Army Stew (Budae Jjigae) transforms simple everyday ingredients like spam, noodles, mushroom and veggies into a mouth-watering spicy stew. Budae Jjigae is perfect for sharing and entertaining too – if you have a table top cooker, why not cook it all together with friends!
Click for Korean Army Stew (Budae Jjigae)
Bowl of Japanese miso soup with pumpkin and tofu.
Quick Japanese Miso Soup Recipe
Move aside udon, this homemade Japanese Miso Soup recipe is ready to warm you up. Filled with dashi, tofu, onion and pumpkin, it's bursting with goodness and ready in 10 minutes.
Click for Quick Japanese Miso Soup Recipe
Beef meatballs in a soup broth with noodles and bok choy.
Bakso – Indonesian Meatball Soup (Best Street Food!)
Get ready for Bakso! A flavour packed meatball soup from the streets of Indonesia, with the chewy texture we know and love. Complete with sambal and kecap manis for a sweet and spicy zing!
Click for Bakso – Indonesian Meatball Soup (Best Street Food!)

Keep the conversation going. Drop your favourite tips in the comments below!

5 Tips For an Environmentally Conscious Kitchen - Cooking Sustainably with Zero Waste Food in Mind

Miso E-cookbook

Image of laptop and ipad with text overlay.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.