Meal Planning to Stretch Your Groceries & Waste Less Food
Meal Planning to Stretch Your Groceries & Waste Less Food
Many of us love the idea of making our food from scratch.
We know the benefits:
knowing what’s in our food
catering to our own dietary needs and preferences
eating seasonally, if that’s a priority
eating organically, if that’s a priority
eating locally, if that’s a priority
saving money by not buying convenience foods
feeling better from eating real food
But part of the challenge is not wasting food.
I’ve been there! Wasting food makes me feel so guilty. I spent my hard-earned money on it, took the time to buy it at the store, unpacked it, tucked it away in the fridge, and then somewhere along the line, I forgot about it until it started growing some fuzz, wrinkling up, or becoming some unidentifiable version of its previous self.
It would be easy to take that as a deterrent to buying real foods (especially produce) and cooking meals from scratch.
But if you’re like me, you really do want to feed yourself and your people well, and you want to push through the obstacle of wasting food.
So the answer is learning to plan better to use the food you buy (and organize it in a way that keeps it where you can see it).
Meal planning is simply the practice of sitting down and being intentional about deciding what you’re going to make for the next defined period of time. Many people plan a week at a time, but you could plan for a couple weeks, a month, or even a quarter!
The beauty of meal planning is its flexibility and the ways it can be personalized to fit you, your family, your lifestyle, and your food preferences.
It’s not a diet or specific plan for what to eat, but rather how to cook. You can cook whatever you’d like; the idea is simply to have a plan.
Having a plan for your meals helps you:
save time in the kitchen because you have a plan already
avoid the “what’s for dinner?” question and panic every afternoon
grocery shop faster and more efficiently
prep ahead to save cooking time during the week
You can save yourself from wasting food by not just meal planning, but companion planning. I don’t know if that’s a real term, but if it’s not, I’m deciding now to make it a real thing.
Companion planning is next-level meal planning that gives you a more cohesive plan instead of just picking out whatever sounds good to make for the week (or two weeks, or month, or three months, whatever works for you).
By planning your meals together, you can ensure that you’re using all the parts of the foods you’re buying so you don’t wind up with half a head of lettuce, half a container of strawberries, or an open but unfinished bag of spinach.
Cooking from scratch is great, but wasting food (or simply forgetting about it and lamenting its loss once you discover it’s gone mushy and moldy) is not so great.
The answer is picking out recipes that together create a complete plan to use up all the perishable ingredients you’ll need to make them.
If you find one recipe that requires half an onion, you’d look for another recipe that could use the other half.
Companion planning also means looking at what you have left over from various recipes at the end of the week and creating a plan to use them (either as originally made or in new ways) the next week before they go bad.
If you make shredded chicken in the crockpot for tacos, but you use up all the taco fixings and still somehow have chicken left, you could put it into some enchiladas or make soup with it.
It’s simply a matter of paying more attention to your plan so you use up what you have instead of letting it go to waste.
No matter how careful we are with our planning, however, sometimes we can’t use everything up before it goes bad.
Maybe it’s when we’re extra busy (though that’s when meal planning really is necessary in my life to help me get in good food while life is crazy), when we’re traveling, when we eat out unexpectedly, or when a recipe makes more than we expected.
For whatever reason, sometimes we just end up with extra food.
One of my favorite ways to handle this not-so-bad problem is to freeze my extras!
I don’t leave food in the freezer indefinitely, but it can be nice to have some back-up food in the freezer for days when I’ve been too busy to cook more food (though with appropriate meal planning, that doesn’t really happen anymore).
Freezing ingredients that you have extras of can save you from having to run out to the store for just one item, too.
I like to buy several jalapeños at once and chop them up and store them in the freezer for all the recipes I find for things like tacos, enchiladas, and soups that call for chopped jalapeño so I don’t have to run out to the store for them all the time.
I also buy a few inches of ginger root and peel and chop it once to store it in the freezer for when I need just a little bit. It’s more economical and saves more time and effort to buy and prep it once every few months than to have to do it every time I want to put ginger in a dish.
If I make more rice, pita, quinoa, or other ingredient like those in the course of making a recipe, I’ll store the rest in the freezer for a day when I’m making a new recipe that could use a little something (like the rice, pita, quinoa, etc)— and then I already have it ready to go once I warm it back up!
To get you started, here are some good companion recipes:
-Homemade Baked Chicken Nuggets from Budget Bytes (not Paleo, so use the second recipe for the chicken if you want it to be Paleo)
To use up the chicken…
-Crispy Buffalo Chicken Salad from Paleo Running Momma
To use up the greens, carrots, avocado, cabbage…
And here are some of my favorite food storage containers to keep your food fresh:
Multi-pack of varied sizes of glass storage containers— great for storing different quantities of food, from large batches to single-serve portions, it’s a great mix!
Glass storage containers with dividers— perfect for dishes with a couple different parts!
Reusable storage bags— like our old-school Ziploc bags, but reusable!
Glass jars with hinged lids and seals— great for storing things like nuts or grains!
Cereal containers with tight-fitting lids, labels, and scoops— perfect for keeping your cereal fresh!