It’s a story familiar to many of us: a fridge full of long forgotten food and ingredients in the cupboards gathering dust. You plan to use it all, but sometimes life gets in the way and you end up throwing much of it away.
Until recently, this was the case for 25-year-old Madeline. Fed up of throwing away food and wanting to cut down on waste, she decided to take on a 30-day no-buy challenge. No more weekly supermarket shops. Instead, she prepared all her meals using up what she had in her fridge, freezer and cupboards.
And it was a complete success. Other than buying one head of lettuce and treating herself to a chocolate bar, she went the entire month without going to the shops. She estimates it saved her £250 and believes it made her a more creative and resourceful cook.
Her challenge also got people on TikTok talking about their own shopping habits and what they can do to cut down on food waste. I caught up with her to find out how she managed it, what advice she has for those wanting to cut down on supermarket trips, and what else she learned from the experience.
What made you decide to do the 30 days?
It was sort of on a on a whim, really. I went food shopping one day and I was like: “I literally don’t have anywhere to put this stuff.” I have so much stuff in my fridge and my cupboards. Why do I keep on buying stuff? So I just thought: “let’s try and just use what I have.
And that’s where it all started. I was posting on TikTok before, but I just thought this might be a fun thing to do, to have somewhere to capture that journey. I thought TikTok would be the best place to do that.
Have you always enjoyed cooking?
I’ve always loved cooking. I started cooking with my mum when I was about 10 and was always watching her do stuff.
And especially during the first lockdown, I was cooking all sorts every day. It’s always been a passion of mine. I’ve always used it as a way to de-stress. So I think over the years I’ve just learned different recipes, different methods of cooking. And so all that experience helped me to come up with new ideas during the challenge.
Did you do your last shop knowing you were going to avoid supermarket trips for 30 days?
No, not at all. If I did, I definitely would have bought some more fruit and veg. But no, it was just an on-a-whim sort of thing.
Which week was most challenging?
I would say maybe week three, when I literally had no fruit and veg. I’m someone who eats fruit and veg every day, me and fruit are like best friends. So after that it was a bit of a struggle. And I was really having to rack my brain for things to make. And I’d run out of meat at that point too. So that’s when the tofu idea came, just to get some protein in.
What were the benefits of the challenge?
For me, it helped me analyse where I spend a lot of money on other things outside of food shops, and it made me kind of re-evaluate what I am spending money on.
Also, it made me realise there are so many things you can make with not much food in. It helped me explore my creativity when it comes to food because usually I’m the kind of person where if I fancy something for dinner, I will just go and buy it. But I don’t think that’s the best attitude to have, and it means I end up wasting a lot of food.
So I definitely think it’s helped me to be more creative, and it’s also helped me realise that I don’t need to be buying as much as I used to.
What were the biggest benefits of saving money?
The money saving aspect was huge for me, and it means that where I’m saving money, I can spend it on other things I enjoy.
I know that every week I usually do about a £30 shop, then between those I might spend a bit here and there to restock little bits, so I’d say taking into account all that, I saved about £250-£300.
What was your favourite meal you made?
It was probably a sort of pie with a scallion pancake as the crust. I really liked that, and I was quite impressed with myself on the creativity front.
And your least favourite meal?
I made some noodles with this leftover curry sauce that I had. And that was like: “we’re not making this again.”
Would you challenge yourself to do it again?
I think now it’s not really a challenge for me. It’s just sort of the way I live my life, which is to make sure I see what I’ve got in and then buy stuff around that.
What will you do differently in future?
I think I’d give myself a £5-£10 allowance every week to buy just fresh fruit and veg, like lettuce and some fruit and stuff like that.
I’d also say stock up on some of the things that are your favourites and that you can’t go without. Make sure you stock up on basics too, like flour, milk, eggs.
Also, just keep looking at YouTube or even TikTok because there are so many recipes out there that you wouldn’t have thought of.
And just go for it. Say if you’re from the UK, don’t be limited to just British cuisine. Expand your taste buds because there’s a lot of stuff that you can make with limited ingredients.
Did anything surprise you during the experience?
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it so much to be honest, and it was surprising how much I could actually make with the perceived little that I had.
And I didn’t expect so many people to be interested. It was sort of just like a food diary for myself, and I didn’t really think many people would care to be honest.
What was it like to suddenly get that attention on TikTok?
It did motivate me to make better food and new recipes and stuff like that. But at the same time, in the beginning, it was a bit intimidating because I felt like some sort of pressure that I need to impress people, or I need to make the nicest stuff, all of that. But that quickly went away because everyone was just really nice in the comments.
And I like the idea that I was introducing people to foods that they’d never heard of or thought to try before.
Take home message
Though it definitely wasn’t easy, Madeline did a great job of putting her chef’s hat on and thinking up new and creative meals to cook during the challenge. Keep an eye on Madeline’s TikTok for more food waste tips and cost-effective recipes that still hit the spot.