Zero waste cooking

12 zero waste foods you will never buy again

…because you’ll make them yourself (and save a ton of money at the same time)

When I talk to friends (or strangers) about my zero waste lifestyle, one of the most common questions I get is: “But what do you do about x?” – “x” usually being an ingredient or food item that people believe is hard to get without packaging. In 90% of the cases the answer is simple: “I don’t buy it, I make it myself.” Here I’ve put together a list of the most common ones, in order of least effort.

  1. Yogurt
  2. Salad dressing
  3. Bread crumbs
  4. Apple sauce
  5. Peanut butter
  6. Wraps
  7. Naan bread
  8. Vegetable stock
  9. Chicken stock
  10. Pesto
  11. Hummus
  12. Bread
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

My top 12 zero waste food items I make myself and never buy in the supermarket

Now, I’m not a chef or gourmet, nor do I like spending copious amounts of time in the kitchen. But when we embarked on this journey, I consulted some really useful books and blogs and quickly discovered that a lot of the pantry or fridge staples you need for cooking, the supermarkets just want to sell to you, packaging included, obviously. Even though there’s really no need to buy them from them as they’re so easy to make yourself, and taste better, and are healthier, and cost less.

1 Yogurt

Before you think I’m mad and revert to browsing Instagram instead of reading this blog post, please bear with me. I’m purposefully starting with this one because it seems to be the best kept secret that…

Yogurt is one of the easiest things to make yourself!

Bettina @

All you need is a yogurt maker like this one (technically you don’t even need that if you google how to make yogurt yourself), 1l of milk, and a small pot (250ml) of so called ‘starter yogurt’. A starter yogurt is any natural yogurt that still has its live yogurt cultures in it (most organic ones do – just check the label) which you can get from any supermarket (you can get plastic free ones from Milk & More).

Homemade yogurt zero waste
Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay

Spread the starter yogurt across the jars in the yogurt maker (or pop it all into the one pot), top up with the milk (use UHT milk for the quickest way of doing it, otherwise if using fresh milk, heat it up to 85-90 degrees Celcius and then let cool down to around 45 degrees Celcius), fire up your yogurt maker (or use the other method linked above), 6-12 hours later you have your yogurt.

Google it – there are tons of videos on YouTube about it, or just follow the instructions of your yogurt maker (pick up a second hand one on Ebay of Facebook market place, or chances are your parents or other people aged 50+ might still have one as they were big in the 70s/80s before the dairy industry’s marketing engine managed to erase this secret from western European households…).

If you want fruity yogurt, either add jam, or – what I tend to do – get seasonal fruit from the market, cook into compote and keep in the fridge to mix in with your yogurt or freeze in small portions to use at a later date.

2 Salad dressing

Oil. Vinegar. Done. Salt & pepper, other herbs & spices, yogurt, lemon juice, mustard, sugar – all optional. Shop-bought salad dressing is expensive and unhealthy. If you ever read the label of any salad dressing in the supermarket, you’ll know why. If you need it for your lunch at work, fill it in a small jar and take it with you (or the small plastic pots from the pickles that came with the poppadoms from your last curry take-away work very well, too :-)).

Oil vinegar zero waste salad dressing
Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Don’t throw away old, stale bread (unless it’s mouldy). Let it go stale, shred it in a food processor / mixer and pop it in the freezer in a suitable container. Tastes much better on your chicken goujons than the shop bought stuff, too!

4 Apple sauce

Depending on how much you need, use 1-2 cooking (Bramley) apples, or in fact, any apple will do. Cut them into small chunks, cook in a splash of water on a low heat until soft, add sugar to taste. Transfer to a jar, will keep in the fridge for a week (or freeze).

Zero waste apple sauce
Image by Taken from Pixabay

5 Peanut butter

Raw (unsalted) peanuts (get them in bulk from Zero Store or Core Wholefoods or Clean Kilo in Birmingham). Blend in a mixer until you reach your desired crunchy- or smoothness. Transfer to a clean jar. Will keep in your pantry for ages so a great product to prepare yourself for Armageddon (or the Brexit food shortage).

Zero waste peanut butter
Image by Robert-Owen-Wahl from Pixabay

Also – replace peanut with any other nut including almond, pecan, brazil, macadamia etc., whatever you fancy or can get your hands on at your trusted bulk store.

6 Wraps

This is one of my favourite discoveries for making myself (here you can tell that I’m no chef or master baker, otherwise I would have known/done this anyway). I follow Bea Johnson’s recipe from here book (not available online but pretty much the same as this one) which doesn’t require any preparation other than mixing all ingredients (flour, baking powder, butter, salt) together and throwing them into a hot pan. And they taste SO MUCH BETTER than if you buy them in store.

Zero waste wraps
Photo by Ryan Concepcion on Unsplash

PS I do admit that the butter ruins the zero waste aspect, I get butter wrapped in paper from Sainsbury’s; the local zero waste stores and Clean Kilo sell baking powder.

7 Naan breads

Similar to number 6 (wraps) above, this was a real revelation. It took me a while to find the right naan bread recipe that doesn’t need yeast and proving time, or any fancy ingredients (this is where my home-made yogurt comes in very handy). And they are SO DELICIOUS! (I must admit that if we order Indian take-away, I will still order a plain naan with my curry as you can’t beat a traditional clay oven for baking them).

8 Vegetable stock

This would normally rank higher up in the list as it’s so easy to make, I just put it further down as it can take some time to collect your veg scraps that you need for making the veg stock. Oops, I’ve just given away the trick.

So…. collect any veg scraps you have from your cooking over time (like potato peels, carrot peels, onion skins, garlic skins, leek cutoffs, etc. etc. etc. – almost anything goes, but I suggest to stay away from cabbage) and just add them to a large container in your freezer as you go along. Once you have enough (e.g. 4 good handfuls), pop them into 2 litres of water, add some herbs and spices (bay leaf, pepper corns, juniper berries), bring to the boil, then simmer on a low heat for about an hour or until it reaches the desired colour.

Onion and peppercorns on chopping board
Photo by Webvilla on Unsplash

I then usually decant 500ml portions into plastic containers from the last take-away and pop them in the freezer. 500ml is the amount a shop-bought stock cube dissolves into, and it’s what most recipes require. You could add salt and pepper before freezing but I prefer to leave them quite bland to start off with and then just add salt and pepper to taste to whatever you’re using the stock for.

9 Chicken stock

Why did the chicken cross the road? Uhm… to end up in my chicken stock recipe? No idea, I’m German and don’t get these jokes. LOL. So the chicken stock is an evolution of the veg stock above. Follow the same steps as above (8), plus add a chicken carcass or leftover bones and skin from your last roast chicken dinner (you don’t necessarily need the veg, but they make it taste even nicer).

Admittedly, this was the roast chicken before its leftovers were used for chicken stock… 🙂
Photo by Webvilla on Unsplash

Cook for 2-3 hours to really get the nice juices. Discard any fat from the top before freezing, or if you’re lazy like me, freeze with the fat and take it off once you’ve defrosted it before adding it to whatever you’re cooking (it comes off easily when cool).

REAL (=home made) chicken stock or broth is so healthy, especially if you have a cold, that you should always have it in stock (pun intended). I find it so yummy that I tend to use it instead of veg stock for a lot of recipes (as you know we are omnivores so it’s ok. I wouldn’t do it to my vegetarian guests!).

10 Pesto

The classic pesto version with basil, pine nuts and parmesan is a good one to make in the summer when you can get a bunch of fresh basil at your local market or green grocer. Pine nuts in bulk are available from Clean Kilo, and for parmesan head to your trusted cheese counter. Add olive oil, some lemon juice if desired, blend in a food processor. Season to taste.

Image by RitaE from Pixabay

If you struggle to find unpackaged basil or can’t be bothered to make the trek to clean kilo for your pine nuts (although you could just substitute with any other nuts), here are a few alternatives:

  • Parsley and walnut pesto
  • Rocket pesto – I sometimes add sun-dried tomatoes and the oil they come in, it’s delicious (you can get sun-dried tomatoes in your own containers from the delicatessen counter in supermarkets, and there’s also a nuts and olives market stall at Warwick market that sells them)
  • Watercress and almond pesto – I use the pesto from this recipe but don’t bother with flaked, roasted almonds, I just use whole ones; almonds are easier to get in bulk, either from one of the zero waste pop up shops, or from Lidl (although they are roasted and salted, but that works quite well in the pesto)
  • Sun-dried tomato pesto – omit any of the ingredients if you don’t have them, except for the garlic, oil and parmesan, it will still taste fab

These are just the basic ones that I tend to make, there are tons more variations and possibilities if you just google ‘pesto ideas’ or ‘pesto variations’.

11 Hummus

“That should be so much further up the list!” I hear you scream… yes, you’re right, I wish, however, my issue is that any good hummus needs tahini and that usually requires buying a jar from a supermarket. This is where the Zero Waste Chef and her hummus recipe comes to the rescue yet again, as she also has a recipe for making tahini yourself, which in turn requires getting sesame seeds and sesame oil in bulk (clue: Clean Kilo in Birmingham). Hence hummus’ demotion further down the list due to the enhanced effort required, I’m sorry.

Image by Ajale from Pixabay

12 Bread

Oh bread… before starting this blog I was tempted to instead create a blog purely devoted to my love and passion for bread. Have I mentioned that I’m German? Oh ok, yes, I have, so I come from the people of bread lovers. Thus moving to the UK eight years ago came as a bit of a shock vis-a-vis the availability, variety and quality of bread (sorry guys!).

Photo by Ben Garratt on Unsplash

I don’t make my own bread as often as I should or wished, mainly due to the lack of time (hence it only just making the list…). But it really is something that has so many benefits if you make it yourself, the two main ones being

  1. Control over ingredients (have you ever looked at the label of a supermarket-bought bread? Sugar, food colouring, soy, palm oil, you name it – it’s disgusting)
  2. Cost (this is mainly true if you’re avoiding supermarket bread and instead reverting to so-called ‘artisan bread’ as it’s known here, i.e. from a so called ‘artisan bakery’ (which proper bakery isn’t artisan?) or the ones sold in butchers, at the market, etc.)

If/when I make bread, I buy strong or wholemeal flour, ideally not wheat but aim for spelt, or rye which is divine, and make it with using yeast (available from Clean Kilo, or fresh yeast from your trusted artisan bakery – or apparently the supermarket bakeries hand it out if you ask, I’ve not tried that yet). Just google a recipe based on which flour you’ve got. Including proving and baking, it still shouldn’t take more than 3 hours to make.

Bread freezes really well, too, so it’s worth making it in batches. You could also cut one up into slices and freeze, so that you can just retrieve however many slices you need from the freezer and de-frost in a toaster. Depending on how moist the bread is (the darker the flour, the more moisture it tends to hold), let it sit for a day before cutting it into slices for freezing.

I’ve not attempted to make sourdough bread but would love to one day…

Final thoughts on my top 12 zero waste foods I don’t buy anymore…

Zero waste is about being practical and taking little steps at a time. So I don’t always make all of these 12 things myself all of the time… but most times. Mainly because it doesn’t just save our planet, it also tastes better, is healthier, and saves money.

I’m still on a journey and hopefully my top 12 will become my top 15 or top 20, eventually. Like this list of top 7 foods to make not buy from the Zero Waste Chef – aside from the (pea)nut butter and the bread crumbs, it’s a completely different list. I shall certainly give the vanilla extract a try (and the booze, perhaps? :-))…

What are your favourite ingredients or pantry staples that you’ve stopped buying and now make yourself? Please share in the comments section. Cheers, Bettina

7 thoughts on “12 zero waste foods you will never buy again”

  1. I love your ideas for pesto. So far I have only made it with basil, parmesan and pine nuts but I will try other nuts too. I freeze it in ice cube trays and just use a couple or three when I need it. I buy artesan bread from our lovely Macknades food store (Google it – it’s just up the road and Wonderful!) I shall follow your blog with interest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Shelagh, thank you so much for your comment – that’s such a great idea to freeze pesto in ice cubes… because I also end up with too much! That food shop looks divine – so lucky to have something like this in your area. Thanks for following the blog! xxx


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