This post was sponsored by Very, all thoughts my own. 

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably spending a lot of time in the kitchen right now. The beginning of the year can feel like a time to hibernate; cooking up cosy food to combat the cold outside. A time filled with hearty vegetables and comforting eats, reminding yourself that each day the sun will stay up a little longer than the one before.

Within my hibernation mode, however, I know it’s also important to check in with my kitchen habits and be intentional in my approaches to waste. 

Globally, the production of food accounts for up to 37% of greenhouse gas emissions and uses significant resources, however up to 40% is wasted. In the UK, 70% of food waste comes from households, equivalent to a value of over £14 billion a year and 20 million tonnes of emissions. According to WRAP’s most recent statistics, food waste has had a varied few years. During the pandemic, 79% of UK citizens adopted extra food management behaviours, such as batch cooking and using up leftovers. Self-reported food waste dropped by 43%, remaining low during 2020. However, as life crept back to a semblance of normality in 2021, this became hard. Habits developed during lockdown became increasingly difficult to manage, as 44% of citizens reported feeling time pressure in their daily lives, and food waste levels are now back in line with 2018 figures.

While we all know I’m an advocate of systemic change, such as the four-day workweek and universal basic income, to free up more time in the long run, it’s also worth considering what can be useful on a more immediate basis to help those who are squeezed for time.

For me, that’s the air fryer. While not the right solution for everyone, it’s been perfect for me to both prevent food waste and make DIY options at home that prevent packaging waste too. 

What is an air fryer?

Air fryers are essentially small convection ovens, rapidly circulating hot air to quickly cook crispy foods at the push of a button. As well as being versatile and convenient they use minimal oil, using up to 75% less fat than traditional frying methods (FYI I’m not anti-oil in cooking, but excess oil has to go in the bin rather than down the sink, so preventing unnecessary waste is a plus for me!). They’re also 75% faster at cooking food when compared to a fan oven.

I have the Ninja Kitchen Dual Zone Air Fryer. It comes with six different cooking options: Max Crisp, Roast, Bake, Reheat, Dehydrate, and Air Fry.

Reducing waste

Honestly, before we even get to food, the air fryer has been perfect for reducing my packaging waste. As much as I try to keep waste minimal at home, I also have a sweet tooth, and even the most sustainable treats often come packaged. Using the air fryer to make speed cookies has been a game-changer; simply pre-make balls of dough and keep them on hand in the freezer, and I can have a few biscuits in a matter of minutes. No more popping to the shop for a quick snack, instead I’m doing future me a favour and cutting out waste. I’ve even found doughnut recipes online, which I am very excited to try in future!

When it comes to food waste itself, there are a few options that are also particularly exciting. I can throw in potato peels and other veggie slices to make crisps (which also helps reduce crisp packet waste), toast my own nuts quickly and easily, and soon I’ll be able to use the dehydrate option for the excess fruit that comes in the summertime. Dried fruit, fruit leather and fruit chips are incredibly easy to make, as are dried seeds, citrus rings for cocktails, and foraged items such as seaweed, nettles or herbs. 

And when it comes to meals, air frying can also take reheating to a whole new level. While you don’t want to put anything too wet in there as a general rule, aka no stew or pasta, it’s great for options that tend to go soggy in a traditional microwave. Roast potatoes, tacos, even pizza – the air fryer brings them all back to life and crispy goodness! There are definitely people I know who have thrown away leftovers because they don’t reheat well, I think this option could make a real difference for those sad, unloved extra portions.

And finally, here’s a genius waste saving tip I recently came across:

Environmentally conscious air fryer owners can actually swap aluminum-foil liners for a slice of 100% compostable bread.

“Put a slice of bread on the bottom of your air fryer,” said Kang. “It’s a green alternative to foil for catching grease and drips for easier clean-up.”

In order to minimize food waste, you may want to only use this technique when cooking especially greasy foods (like bacon), and also use bread slices that are stale.

The time benefits of air frying 

Based off WRAP’s reporting, I feel like an air fryer is a good option for those who really struggle with time, as I often do. Here are a few of the best features for those who just need the speed.

  • Faster cooking

Compared to a traditional oven, air fryers are significantly faster. One example I read that really hit this home: it would take around 45 minutes to cook fried chicken in an oven, in an air fryer it takes roughly 15 minutes. While I won’t be using mine to cook chicken anytime soon, this really shows how, for those with limited time, it can make a huge difference.

  • Dual zones  

My air fryer has two zones, meaning you can cook two separate things on different settings at the same time. Plus, there’s a sync option so everything finishes together.

  • Quick clean

Things don’t stick to the sides of an air fryer like they would in an oven or microwave. While you do need to clean between each use, you can easily pull out each compartment and give it a quick wash in the sink or dishwasher. With significantly less oil used, it’s also much easier to clean.

Top air fryer tips

If you are considering getting an air fryer, here are some other handy tips I found:

  • Air fryers rely on a constant flow of air to move heat around the food, so make sure to give them some space. Allow around 5 inches of clearance on all sides (don’t push it right up to the wall) and keep it on a stable heat-proof surface. You can also place it under your extractor fan when it’s on to keep kitchen air clear.
  • On the plus side, air fryers are perfect on hot days, as they won’t heat up your entire kitchen like an oven would.
  • Don’t overcrowd the air-fryer, as you need to give room for the hot air to reach each ingredient.
  • Though air fryers need far less oil, it’s still a good idea to use a small amount for extra crispness. Always remove food from the fryer if you want to spray it, and be aware that many nonstick cooking sprays contain additives that can damage air fryer baskets, so it’s better to place regular oil in an empty spray bottle. Oils with higher smoking points, like safflower or soybean, are perfect oil options and, if you do want to use olive oil, avoid extra-virgin and go with regular or light tasting varieties, which also have higher smoke points.
  • Light spices can also be blown off food by the fast-moving air. Mixing your spices in with a little oil and coating your items in the mixture can really help.
  • To keep items cooking evenly, remove the basket and give it a couple of shakes during cooking. This is especially handy for small vegetables or potato wedges, for example.

Getting a fryer

As a general rule for anything you bring into your life, you need to find what suits your needs. If you live in a small household a smaller option is ideal, if you’re a large family your needs will be different. Take time to consider what will work well and if you have a lifestyle where an air fryer will help you. For me, it’s massively useful, and I’m grateful to have the ability to reduce waste in my home through such a nifty device. 

You can find Ninja’s products here to learn more. Plus, join the wider fight against food waste by joining WRAP’s Food Waste Action Week in March!