Portioning when cooking


It’s nearly pancake day!!! I LOVE holidays that are all about food…which in my house is basically all of them! So how can we make an impact on our waste levels around pancake day?

One of the key aspects of reducing waste when it comes to cooking is portion control. Portioning matters as much when it comes to what we put in to the saucepan as what we take out. How many of us are guilty of making about four potatoes worth of mashed potato per person when if we make roast potatoes we know we can only manage two-ish? It’s harder when things are liquid (like batter) or squishy (like mashed potatoes). So, pro tip number one here: don’t let your eyes be bigger than your belly! As much as we all love pancakes if you’re cooking for two you probably don’t need to use an entire bag of flour and 30 eggs!

But what do you do if you do have batter left over? Well, you look at The Food Waste Doctors recipes to see what to do with it of course! One of my favourite things to do with pancake batter is to add a few more ingredients, scoop the remains into mini muffin tins and stuff it with blueberries (Check the Waste-less recipe section for the recipe). So yummy and convenient, plus they’re half the size of normal muffins so you can afford to have twice as many!

But moving away from pancakes, making the right portion is really difficult when you’re cooking, especially with dishes like curries. People have a tendency to adhere to the principle of ‘Better too much, than too little!’ But this is definitely not the case when it comes to food waste! So how can we aim to avoid cooking too much and wasting? There are a few tried and tested ways we live by in our house:

1. Trial and error – Once you know a recipe well, you’ll know how much you need to make

2. Steer into the curve – while you’re figuring out how much a new recipe makes just double it and box it up for workplace lunches! This way you’re not left with the awkward half portion after serving which gets stuck in Tupperware and hidden in the fridge! Plus, double virtue points for food waste reduction and meal prep so you’re not buying lunch out!

3. If you make too much but it’s not enough for a whole extra portion have a day of mini meals – We’ve all heard the gym bods talk about how they have 6 small meals a day, give it a try when you’ve got leftovers that need eating!

4. Too little is better than too much…because it gives you an excuse for dessert! – If you’re not sure amount volumes, err on the side of caution and if you find you’re still hungry reach for the fruit (or, let’s be serious, the chocolate)!

5. Your freezer is your friend – I have yet to find a meal you can’t freeze and defrost in a couple of weeks when you have a night where you just can’t be bothered to cook.

A final thing to bear in mind, which is particularly fitting with Valentine’s day coming up, is that food is not the only way to show love! There was some really interesting research from Cornell Food lab about 3 years ago which suggested that in developed countries a proportion of food waste in family homes comes from a place of love. According to the findings maternal figures in households associated preparing large amounts and varieties of food at meal and snack times with displaying their love and taking care of their dependents.

I was really interested to read this because I distinctly remember when I was younger whenever we went to my Nans house there would always be huge spreads of curries, naans, tandoori chicken, samosas (in case I’m being too subtle here we’re Indian in heritage) and more. And she was forever trying to feed my brothers and I sweet treats after dinner too. The interesting thing about this is I have a really clear memory of the first time my Dad brought my Nan over to my place. The day before I was talking to my housemate and said ‘My Nan always goes all out when we visit so I want to make her feel that special too’ *pause to look at 60 odd kilos of food on my kitchen side* ‘I really hope it’s enough!’

I spent most of the next day running around my kitchen like a madwoman making seven different dishes and some ridiculously fancy dessert (which did not go well by the way!) so she could try loads of different things. When I was finally done we sat down and ate for an hour before she had to leave and it hit me that I’d spent more time in the kitchen then I had with her! So as much as I get where you’re coming from with this one folks, just remember, love the people and love the food by cutting back. Spend more time with them and waste less while you’re at it!


Porpino, G., Wansink, B., & Parente, J. (2016). Wasted positive intentions: the role of affection and abundance on household food waste. Journal of food products marketing, 22(7), 733-751.

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