Sometimes food waste starts before we even pick up a carrot or set foot in the store. A lot of times, we waste food simply because we don’t have a plan (or at least a realistic plan) for all of the things that we buy. A smarter meal plan can help you stretch your grocery dollars further and help the planet by using everything we bring into our kitchens. In honor of #NewYearNoWaste, here are our top 5 tips for waste-free meal planning:
- Shop your fridge! Before you go to the store and before you even make your shopping list, take a lap of your kitchen and peek inside your fridge and pantry. Anything perishable you spot now should become the star of your upcoming meals. Think of what you’re about to buy as the supporting cast for the ingredients you already own. If you’ll be attempting new recipes that require ambitious condiments or spices, check and see if you have them now so you don’t double buy!
- Write down your “greatest hits.” A really useful exercise for meal planning is to try writing down the dishes that you and your friends/family like cooking and eating the most. By making a note of what you’re most excited to cook you’ll be able to shop for these fan favorites with less time, effort, and waste. Aim to buy “hero” ingredients that can be used in several of your favorites and avoid ingredients that can only be used in one recipe, especially if they’re perishable. You’ll also see the type of recipes and cuisines that you aren’t cooking but might want to learn more about later.
- Look at your calendar. Not only will this prevent you double booking happy hour over your kickball game (the ultimate 1st world problem), but looking at your calendar before you go into shopping mode will remind you how often you’ll actually be home with time to cook in the weeks ahead. It seems simple, but noticing that you’ve got a dinner date with a friend scheduled, or a catered lunch at work will prevent you from ambitiously shopping for meals that you don’t have time to make or guiltily forgetting about leftovers that you don’t have time to eat.
- Compile “lifeboat” recipes for straggler ingredients. Things like pizza, pasta, curries, and stir-fries are great ways to incorporate that half an onion, stray beet or jalapeño on its last legs that you have in your kitchen. The mark of a good leftover recipe its ability to take a bunch of somewhat random parts and knit them together into a coherent and delicious whole. Practicing them is a good way to master one type of dish or experiment with new spices/sauces too!
- Have a leftovers party once a week! Instead of trying to cook something different every night a week, give yourself a break and designate one night as your “use up the leftovers” night. Make it a party and invite some friends or family over for dinner! They won’t have tasted round one and will appreciate the generosity, while you’ll get extra help finishing up your food and some awesome company. When we think about using up food as a communal joy instead of a solitary chore it gets a lot easier!