Preparing meals for the family and figuring out the perfect way to repurpose leftovers has never been easy. However, more challenges present themselves when we are faced with the task of cooking just for one.
Many consumers every day are frustrated with the money wasted on fresh produce that was not able to be eaten in time, and instead it just ends up in the trash.
It’s tough to think about the effort and time you’ve put into cooking a great meal just to end up throwing it away. It can be a big undertaking to think about how you could possibly eat an entire crock pot of chili by yourself, or reflecting on how you end up wasting perfectly delicious meals you’ve left in the fridge to spoil. No one likes wasting food.
Here are some strategies and tips that can help ease worries and make cooking for yourself a bit more approachable:
Plan your meals for the week.
If you go to the grocery store with your week’s exact meals in mind, limit yourself to only buying foods for these meals so you don’t end up with any extra food that could go to waste.
If you feel tempted to buy additional groceries or items that you do not need, consider doing online order grocery pick-up. Pick up is free at most grocery stores, but some require a $35 purchase minimum.
Utilize your freezer!
Make sure you’re not getting rid of any tasty dishes you may have cooked in bulk. If the food has been prepared within the last 7 days, it is safe to freeze.
From a food safety standpoint, there is no limit to how long you can keep leftovers in the freezer. You may notice that the foods lose some of their quality if kept frozen longer than four months.
Consider planning a few days each month to use those frozen meals for microwave lunches or quick dinners. The more leftovers you freeze, the more variety you will have to pick from in the future!
Purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables can be helpful because they are cost-effective and don’t spoil as quickly. If you know you may be traveling or won’t be cooking for a while, it’s a great idea to consider picking up some frozen vegetables or a mixed-veggie blend on your next grocery store run. These options can be equally as nutritious as fresh produce!
Limit trips to bulk-purchasing stores and warehouse clubs like Sam’s Club, Costco, and BJ’s.
The prices might be great from a price-per-unit standpoint but buying fresh food in bulk means paying a higher initial cost to get the groceries in your cart. This is important to consider if you routinely never finish the item and end up having to toss it.
Be cautious when buying fresh produce from warehouse stores if you do not plan on sharing it with others. They may spoil quicker than you’re able to eat them.
Unless you plan on freezing some of your groceries, it may be smart to limit buying groceries at these warehouse clubs.
Keep your product’s shelf life in mind when shopping.
It may be tempting to purchase a 10-lb bag of potatoes since they are only $3.99, compared to the $0.99 it costs to just get one potato. However, if you know you realistically won’t use 10 pounds of potatoes within one month, you’re saving yourself from wasting money and food by only buying what your recipe calls for.
Invest in reusable containers.
Make sure your Tupperware is airtight and good quality, so when freezing your leftovers, they can be eaten and enjoyed in the same tasty condition you packed them in.
Buy freezer-grade Ziploc bags. You never know if you’re going to unexpectedly need to freeze leftovers, so it’s best to make sure you have the proper tools to avoid food leakage and freezer burn. Your freezer will thank you for avoiding the mess!
Be sure to read our blog post about best practices for safely and effectively freezing foods.
Take inventory of your fridge, freezer, and pantry regularly.
Before making trips to the store, it’s good to take note of the staple items you already have at home, then build your upcoming meals based off of the foods you already have. This may require fewer trips to the grocery store throughout the week.
Apps like FridgeBuddy and KitchenPal can be useful to keep a running tab on the foods in your refrigerator and pantry. You can add an expiration date to your fridge and pantry items within the app, which will help with meal planning and eliminating food waste.
Invest in versatile ingredients.
Certain pantry staples can be used to create dozens of different meals. Consider purchasing these inexpensive and shelf-stable items to reduce your trips to the grocery store:
- Tortilla wraps
- Canned vegetables
These can be used to make several different recipes and are generally cheap to keep in stock year-round.
When trying new recipes, be comfortable with scaling down.
There are websites that you can use to help increase or decrease the scale of certain recipes, if you feel like the yield will be too much for you to consume on your own in a timely manner.
You can find a downloadable conversion chart online to help convert units when cooking. Print this out and hang it on your refrigerator or tape to the inside of your pantry for quick conversions when scaling down recipes.
If you are a person who likes taking leftovers as the next day’s lunch, consider adjusting the recipe to yield two or three servings instead of one.
Share with friends, neighbors, and coworkers!
If you know you have baked goods or prepared food items that are getting close to their final days, be sure to offer them to those around you.
Try to offer unused or unopened pantry staples and produce to your friends, neighbors, and coworkers if you do not plan on using them before they go bad, or maybe if you purchased them by mistake. Seeing these ingredients go to use is much better than throwing them away.
Consider donating unused pantry items to local charities and non-profit organizations in your community.
Get creative with recipes.
If you have several items that are going to expire soon, see if you can fit each ingredient into one or two recipes to maximize the use of your groceries and minimize food waste.
Certain recipes like chili, gumbo, vegetable stir-fry, vegetable soup, chef’s salad, and smoothies are good ways to use up the rest of your fresh produce quickly and effectively.
Websites like SuperCook and My Fridge Food help find recipes based on the ingredients you have available to you at home.
Get creative with leftovers.
Whether or not you’re a person who likes eating leftovers, putting them to use in creative ways helps save money and keep meals interesting.
If you feel like you may get bored of eating the same leftovers time and time again, be sure to check out our blog post on repurposing leftovers to help eliminate food waste and keep groceries costs down.
To get assistance with meal planning and achieving your health and nutrition goals, it is best to work with a registered dietitian who can give you individualized advice on what works best for you and your lifestyle. Avance Care has a handful of dietitians- all with diverse backgrounds and interests- who are ready to help you achieve your goals.
Call 919.237.1337 option 4 or visit avancenutrition.com to learn more about our services and schedule an appointment.