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Success story: Family-friendly cookbook

Taking aim at food waste

Canadians have lots of good intentions when they do their grocery shopping, stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables to make nutritious meals throughout the week. However, when life gets busy, it’s easy to grab takeout instead and leave that fresh produce to wilt in the fridge. 

According to recent research from the Guelph Food Waste Research Group and the Guelph Family Health Study (GFHS), families with young kids throw out almost three kilograms of edible food each week—costing them about $1,000 annually. More than half what they toss is fruits and vegetables. 

To help change those stats, GFHS created Rock What You’ve Got: Recipes for Preventing Food Waste with funding from the Helderleigh Foundation. The researchers teamed up with chefs and culinary arts students at Toronto’s George Brown College to develop 31 nutritious, tasty recipes that would be easy for busy families to whip up—and help reduce how much food ends up in the compost bin. 

In the cookbook’s “2-in-1 Recipes” section, leftovers from the first recipe become ingredients for the second. Sweet potato enchiladas become enchilada soup, for example, while banana bread becomes banana bread French toast. “Fridge Clean Out” recipes help families take advantage of whatever’s on hand, turning overripe berries into jam or transforming bits of broccoli, peppers and asparagus into a coconut vegetable one pot wonder. 

The “Zero-Waste” section features creative uses for ingredients that are often hard to get through—whether it’s a loaf of stale bread, a half-bunch of cilantro or the green parts of the leek that often get discarded. The cookbook also includes plenty of practical tips on planning meals and storing food.

As of August 2020, the free cookbook had attracted more than 10,000 views. However, does it actually help families reduce food waste and increase their fruit and vegetable intake? To find out, GFHS recruited 27 Guelph-area families in January 2020 for a pilot program called Weeknight Supper Savers, funded by Danone Institute North America. 

To determine the baseline habits of those families, GFHS collects and analyses their food waste for five weeks. After that, parents will attend an online cooking session with their children to try out some of the cookbook’s recipes. They will also receive text messages four times a week reinforcing key messages. A month later, each family’s food waste will be assessed to see if there’s been any drop. Meanwhile, surveys at the beginning and end of the study measure changes in attitudes and food literacy. 

If the pilot shows promising results, GFHS codirector Jess Haines hopes to expand it into a larger-scale trial. “It’s really exciting that we can engage people around healthy eating and help make a difference around the environmental impact of food waste,” she says.

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