Welcome back to another edition of Frugal Food Fridays!
I’ve been soldiering through the leftovers in my fridge and freezer since Christmas. It hasn’t always been the most exciting or palate-stimulating experience, but it has certainly saved me from wasting perfectly good food and from having to brave Temptation Station (more commonly known as “the grocery store”), prematurely. Double win!
An unexpected challenge of using up holiday leftovers has been doing it in the context of a new way of eating. I mentioned in my last Summary Saturday post that I’ve started using an app called Noom to track my calories and activity in order to become more mindful of the types of foods I’m eating. Combine that with the objective of trying not to waste calorie-laden leftovers from holiday parties, and it’s like a slap in the face several times a day. A very delicious slap, mind you.
Some of you might be wondering, “Sierra, if you’re trying to eat healthier, why are you even bothering with leftovers? Just throw them out.” Believe me, I’ve considered it.
But then I remember my upbringing and the ideals that were hammered into me as a child.
Waste food bad. Save money good.
When I throw away food, I can almost see the money I could have saved by not buying it in the first place. Not to mention, a feeling of guilt washes over me for taking for granted something that so many people don’t have.
So instead, I’ve been using up just a little at a time and pairing the more calorie dense items with huge salads and steamed or roasted veggies. I want my diet to be realistic and sustainable, and this is one practice that I’m discovering works for me.
However, if there’s one thing I’m taking away from this experience, it’s that the parties I host with my husband could use a few more whole-food, plant-based options. Then, polishing of the leftovers might not be such a daunting task.
Why is this all relevant to today’s topic? Well, one of my objectives for this coming weekend is to do a bit of meal prep and batch cooking to help make my week go a little more smoothly and to pump some healthier food into my system.
So, today I’m going to focus on how I “shop” my kitchen before I make a grocery list, with the explicit intentions of cooking some healthy meals, avoiding food waste as much as possible, and not overspending on groceries.
You may have heard that making a list before you go to the grocery store can save you a ton of money. It’s so true. Not only does it help us avoid those random, impulsive purchases, but it also makes the whole process a lot more efficient and organized.
For me, a list is essential. The longer I spend in the grocery store, the more likely I am to think of just one more thing I absolutely cannot leave without. Then, the aerial view of my cart path starts to look very much like Pacman trying to eat all of the dots.
Therefore, I make a list. I base this list off a menu. And, whenever possible, I base this menu off of what’s on sale (loss leaders) or in season. Does this mean I never walk into a grocery store blind? Absolutely not. This happens on the regular, because life. But I know that the following method is a sure fire way to save money on groceries, and if you’re familiar with my new year’s resolutions, you’ll know I like to save money.
Start in the fridge. Whenever I plan my menu for the coming week, I always shop my fridge first. Perishable foods take priority in my menu for obvious reasons.
Move to the counters. I keep a fair amount of perishable foods on my counter tops as well…onions, potatoes, bananas, etc.
Peek in the freezer. I always ask myself if there’s anything I’ve been meaning to use up. If so, I try to make a place for it in my meal plan.
Finish in the pantry. Once I’ve inventoried my fridge and freezer, I look at my non-perishables. Grains, lentils, jarred tomato products, dried or canned beans, etc. Often times, these items make good bases for healthy meals. I try to keep in mind the contents of my fridge and freezer while looking at these items.
Here’s what I came up with:
- white mushrooms
- spaghetti squash
- butt loads of bread
- vegan meatballs
- dried pasta
- dried split peas
- brown lentils
- soba noodles
- brown rice/white rice
- chicken broth/veggie broth
- canned beans
- canned tomato sauce
- crushed tomatoes
- chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
- coconut milk
Once I identified what I had to work with, I formulated a meal plan from recipes I’ve found on Pinterest over time. Thankfully, this week the cognitive load of creating a meal plan was pretty low because these are fairly common food items in my kitchen. From this list of ingredients, I’ve decided on the following meals, which include primarily soups (not intentional, but also not sorry). They also all happen to be mostly plant-based (very intentional). Cells all throughout my body are doing a celebratory dance as I write this. Yay for plants!
- Taco Lentil Soup (adapted from this recipe), which uses the following ingredients from my kitchen: onions, brown lentils, brown or white rice, veg or chicken broth, canned beans, canned tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, chipotle chilies.
- Split Pea Soup (adapted from this recipe), using the following ingredients from my kitchen: carrots, onions, garlic, dried split peas, veg or chicken broth, bread.
- Spaghetti squash topped with red sauce and vegan meatballs (they’re actually quite tasty), which, no surprise, uses the following ingredients from my kitchen: spaghetti squash, meatballs.
- Thai Coconut Noodle Soup (adapted from this recipe – I plan to omit the chicken, and substitute tamari for the fish sauce), which uses the following ingredients from my kitchen: mushrooms, coconut milk, soba noodles, veg or chicken broth.
Finally, after choosing my recipes, I fill in my grocery list with any ingredients I’m missing. Which items will still make it onto my grocery list this time, you ask? A whopping 8 (or so) ingredients!
- red bell pepper x1
- fresh cilantro
- frozen corn x1 bag
- fresh parsley
- pasta sauce x1 jar
- Thai red curry paste
- limes x2
The first two recipes should make large batches, so I’ll be able to use leftovers for lunch throughout the week. I’ll fill in any gaps with pasta. We have plenty of breakfast options as well, so I’m not planning on picking up more than one or two things for those meals.
Can I make it through the next week using only the food that’s currently in my kitchen and the 8 or so ingredients I plan to pick up at the grocery store? I think I can. Check in next week for an update!
What’s the sitch in your kitch? Can you create a meal plan from the food that’s already in your house? I challenge you to try it this week and save the difference.
Until next time, happy shopping!