Do you know your food carbon footprint?

New year, new low carbon you! It’s 2022, and time to refocus on what we’re going to do this year to help Britain achieve Net Zero. There’s something for everyone when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint at home, and this year we’re starting at the heart of it – in the kitchen.

 

Cutting carbon and costs in the kitchen

In the UK we spend about £175 each on food every month, and according to USwitch the cost of cooking all that food amounts to about 4% of your annual energy bill. A few years ago Cass Bailey, writer of food and lifestyle blog ‘Diary of a Frugal Family’, gave us some tips on how to make low carbon, cheap meals to help everyone reduce their carbon footprint at home. With energy prices in the news we thought we’d revisit some of her tricks and share what else you could be doing to save time, money and energy in the kitchen.

The secret to low carbon, low cost meals? Plan ahead

 

Use what you’ve got

If you don’t already plan your meals for the week, it's the perfect time to start. Our top tip is to sit down on a Sunday night and make a quick list of what you’ve got in the fridge or the cupboard that needs using. You might be able to rustle up a few obvious dinners, but if you need some inspiration you could try a recipe generator.

Get a little help

Tesco have created a handy website that lets you list the ingredients you’ve already got and will suggest recipes once you’ve entered only a few items. Using a tool like this will save you money and energy by helping you use what you’ve already got, rather than letting food go to waste. You can get some great ideas for cheap recipes and seasonal meals.

Stick to the list

Knowing what you’ve already got and having a plan of meals for the week makes it much easier to create a shopping list so you only buy what you need. You’ll probably find that you spend less by sticking to a list, plus fewer trips to the shop means fewer opportunities for non-essentials to ‘fall’ into your basket!

Energy efficient cooking

Making a list and avoiding food waste are great ways to start being more conscious of your food carbon footprint. Once you’ve got that bit sorted, why not take things further and look at energy efficient cooking?

Take it slow

Slow cookers are a great option for low maintenance, low carbon cooking. Using less energy than a traditional oven makes them cheaper to run, plus all you need to do is add the ingredients in the morning and a few hours later you have a hot meal ready to serve. Need some inspiration? Here are 10 cheap slow cooker recipes to get you started.

If you don’t have a slow cooker though don’t worry – there are plenty of ways to save with a traditional oven.

Shut that door!

Your oven loses heat incredibly quickly when the door is open, and that means using more energy to get back up to the programmed temperature. Do yourself and your oven a favour and open the door as little as possible, and make sure you use the fan setting if you’ve got one.

On the topic of ovens, another trick is to turn your oven off ten minutes before the end of the cooking time – you won’t notice the difference, promise!

Batch is best

If you’ve ever cooked way too much and ended up with leftovers in the freezer then congratulations - you’ve already started batch cooking! If you’re making something you know you’ll enjoy again, why not double the portions so there’s enough left over to freeze for another meal? Things like chilli, bolognese, stews, casseroles and sauces are versatile, easy to portion and store, and great for freezing.

When the time comes, just take your portion out of the freezer the night before so it thaws in the fridge overnight. Then pop it in the microwave or on the hob while you boil some pasta or bake a potato - et voila! You’ve got a tasty low carbon meal, minus the effort.

Low carbon foods

Food production and processing is a major contributing factor to our carbon footprints – in the UK the average diet related carbon footprint is around 5kg a day. If we want to hit our carbon reduction targets by 2030, that needs to come down to 4kg. But do you really know your food carbon footprint? The BBC created a handy food carbon emissions calculator so you can see the environmental impact on some of your favourites. But what’s driving that number up, and what can you do to bring it down?

Load up on veggies

Food production accounts for almost a quarter of all greenhouse gases, and more than half of this comes from meat and animal products. The single biggest change we can make to reduce our food carbon footprint is to eat less meat – this alone could reduce your carbon footprint by two-thirds.

Ditch the dairy

It’s not just meat though – butter, cheese and milk are also driving your footprint way up. Emissions from UK dairy farms have come down by nearly 24% over the last 20 years, but the land, water and operational impact of dairy farming still emits a lot of carbon.

We’re not saying you need to give up tea and coffee though (can you imagine?!) There are plenty of dairy alternatives that will not only keep you caffeinated but reduce the emissions from your favourite cuppa.

A study by Science Focus shows that a 200ml glass of dairy milk requires 125l of water, around 1.8m2 of land and emits roughly 0.63kg of C02. By comparison, rice milk uses 54l of water, only 0.07m2 and emits 0.24kg of C02. Similarly, soy milk comes in at 5.6l of water, 0.13 m2 and emits 0.2kg of C02. Whichever dairy alternative you choose, you can be pretty sure it’ll be better for the environment than cow’s milk.

Buy seasonally

Seasonal eating simply means eating foods at the time of year they’re naturally in harvest. For example, in the UK you might load up on asparagus in June and apples in September. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, it’s harder than you might think. The globalisation of food production means you can find almost anything in the supermarket all year round, so it’s not always obvious what’s in season at home and what’s been grown overseas and imported.

There are definitely benefits to seasonal eating though. Strawberries in winter could cost twice as much as in summer, and they’ve probably travelled a long way losing nutrients and freshness on the way, as well as racking up quite the carbon footprint.

Tips for seasonal eating:

  • Make sure you know what’s in season and what’s not – this list of seasonal fruit and veg is a great start
  • Browse your local greengrocer or farmer’s market – you’re more likely to find seasonal produce from small, local growers in independent shops or markets
  • Shopping online? Check to see if your supermarket has a seasonal aisle
  • Grow it yourself! You don’t even need a garden – herbs and things like lettuce and leafy greens can easily be grown on a windowsill or in a balcony planter
  • Stock up and freeze your favourites. Love blueberries? Stock up in July when they come into season and keep them in the freezer
  • You could try canning – tomatoes are another summer staple that you can keep for the winter months

Energy efficient meals

Food for thought…


To get you started on your low carbon culinary journey we wanted to share a tasty recipe that ticks all the boxes. It’s vegan, you can make it in a slow cooker, and the ingredients are all deliciously low carbon. The best bit? There are only 3 steps!

Slow cooker vegan chilli

2 tsp. vegetable oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1/2 -1tbsp hot chilli powder, to taste

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. smoked paprika

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tbsp. tomato purée

2 celery sticks, finely sliced

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 red pepper, finely sliced

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2cm pieces

400 g tin chopped tomatoes

400 g tin kidney beans, drained and rinsed

400 g tin black eyed beans, drained and rinsed

400 ml vegan vegetable stock

25 g vegan dark chocolate

Small handful coriander leaves, roughly chopped (optional)

Cooking instructions

1) Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the chopped onion with a large pinch of salt and cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until softened. Then stir in the spices, garlic and tomato purée, and cook for 1 minute before transferring to your slow cooker

2) Add the vegetables, tinned tomatoes, beans and stock to the slow cooker. Cook on high for 4 hours, or until the sweet potato is cooked through (poke it with a fork to check)

3) Stir through the dark chocolate until it melts and sprinkle with coriander (if you’re using it). Serve with rice and guacamole in a bowl, or as a wrap

If that recipe has inspired you there are plenty more low carbon recipes to try out.

More ways to live low carbon

We've all heard the saying 'waste not, want not'. Reducing waste, whether it's food or the energy you use for cooking, is a great way to save money and lower your carbon footprint. We hope we've given you some ideas on how to start thinking about your food based emissions and ways you can live low carbon.

If you want to find out more about how to make your home truly low carbon, check out our energy efficiency home page.