… and if your finances don’t — or won’t — stretch to hiring a cook (I wish, that would make my life so much more relaxing), the key tip to stop wasting fresh produce* is to make a meal plan. No, it’s not spontaneous, I’ve had friends smirk because it’s so boring, but as they like to cook, they have no idea how much of a chore food preparation can be for the unwilling.
Here are the things I do to use up what we’ve got in the food cupboard, refrigerator, and freezer:
- Take a look in your freezer. Anything been in there a while that needs to be used? We’ve been known to have kept some pizza bases — on reduced from the supermarket — for several months before actually getting around to having a pizza night. But for this real-life example, we have loads of chicken breast and a bag of Foochow fishballs (that I’ve bought).
- The next step is to look in your food cupboard or pantry. We already have cashew nuts (chicken and cashew nuts, a new recipe I’m going to try) and ba kueh noodles (ba kueh with fishballs).
- One of my other food cupboard staples is anchovies. The Child loves anything involving pasta (or rice, or noodles), and as one of the easy meals I tend to fall back on — around once a month — is pasta puttanesca, I’ve always got black olives and capers in the fridge, too.
- I’m trying to make sure we have two servings of fish a week, so we’re also going to have oil-poached fish with rice salad (using those cashews again).
- The other fall back that’s frequently used in this household is fried rice, which is used to mop up whatever ingredients are sitting in the fridge, sad and lonely. Our fridge is also chock-full of sauces and condiments, so it never tastes exactly the same. Another good stand-by is soup (invest in a stick blender if you don’t already have some sort of blender, it hides many sins — by that I mean re-using frozen, cooked vegetables, not crime scene evidence).
- Our final meal in the plan is something The Husband likes, slow cooker chicken burrito bowls.
- I like to take a night off cooking (I’d like to take forever off cooking, but needs must), so one night a week we buy a takeaway.
- So for this week, we’ve had to buy fish fillets, avocado, onion, spring onions, black beans and brown rice. Obviously, we buy fresh fruit and vegetables for juicing as well, as well as snacks, milk, that sort of thing.
Bonus tip: keep leftovers if you’ve made some rather good fried rice. Cool it quickly, then stick it in the freezer. You can pop it into the fridge to defrost at a later date and steam to re-heat.
It’s actually taken me months to figure this process out. I use a table in a word processing document to plan our meals, which also includes a table of meals that are ‘in rotation’, i.e. things we’ve cooked that I’d willingly cook (and eat) again.
Caveat: I have no idea if this actually saves us much money when grocery shopping, but it eliminates the chances of us going out for dinner or buying takeaway more than we really should. By now, however, we have a pretty well-stocked food cupboard in terms of nuts and seeds, tinned and jarred ingredients, and as previously mentioned, sauces.
* This is no guarantee that you won’t be wasting cooked food because your toddler has decided to play with it instead of putting said food into their gob. I also don’t like some recipes I try, and then I can’t eat it.