I hear you – using up all of your food is HARD. WORK. It requires planning and preparation and a lot of freaking creativity. If you’re an adventurous whiz in the kitchen (or even if you’re not), chances are your fridge may be stocked with a lot of one-off ingredients that you have no idea how to utilize before they expire.
To be honest, I’m no pro. I often think I have a few days left of my food only to pull out an apple and find it moldy. I toss WAY more food than I care to disclose, BUT I am making a conscious effort to be better about it. I’ve discovered there are so many little tips and tricks to freeze or re-purpose ingredients in crazy ways, and once you make them a habit, they become second nature. It’s almost like a game – how the heck can I use this remaining celery root by the end of the week? And hey, if you shave a few bucks off your grocery bill in the meantime, think of it as Mother Nature paying you back for your extra love and support. You go, Glen Coco.
So the secret to saving the world from your own kitchen, you ask? The secret is in the little things. Here’s a few of my favorite kitchen hacks to get you started.
Freeze Extra Herbs
I don’t know about you, but I used to be a major offender of the one-recipe herb purchase and then forgetting them in the fridge to rot. I HATED IT. Until I realized you could freeze your leftover herbs! Stick them in the bottom of an ice cube tray and top with a little water. They’ll thaw a little wilted but essentially good as new and can be used in the same ratio as fresh herbs. Just make sure to chop the stems off first if you don’t typically include those in your recipes and use up your frozen herbs within two months.
Pre-package Your Smoothies
This tip has gotten me through some extremely busy mornings! Toss leftover fruits or veggies in a ziploc and throw them in the freezer. When you’re running around and have no time to make eggs in the morning, throw the pre-made concoction in the blender with a splash of milk for a delicious and balanced breakfast on the go. I promise, you’ll thank me come hump day when you snoozed your alarm three times in a row.
Embrace Ugly Produce in Soups and Stir-Frys
Use leftover veggies, meats, or other remnants with chicken or vegetable broth in a homemade soup. My pantry is always stocked with extra broths for this exact scenario. Soups typically freeze like a champ so making a big batch and freezing smaller tupperware portions for work lunches later is a no-brainer. Or if soup isn’t your favorite, try a stir-fry! Use up all of your “ugly stepsister” produce, like broccoli stems, potato peels, and the last slice of onion or pepper in a nutritious jumbo pot of your favorite stir-fry. Just add sauce and seasoning, and you’ve got yourself a meal that would make PF Chang’s jealous.
Pickle Those Veggies
Fresh fruits and vegetables can easily be preserved longer with a simple pickling process. With a few simple ingredients like vinegar, water, salt, and sugar, you can preserve these veggies in an air-tight jar and pull them out for later use. Plus it’s a fun way to play around with a new cooking technique and get some global flavor exploration happening in your own kitchen, which is always a win in my book.
Bring Half a Lunch to Work
Don’t have enough for a whole lunch? That is me, five days a week. I either A) Forgot to buy a crucial ingredient at the store, or B) Was too lazy to bake chicken for my salad before work. No problem! I always bring lunches that are half put together and then supplement with more goodies from the work cafeteria. Today my concoction included a winter salad (kale/brussel mix, grapes, clementines, and nuts/seeds) and I picked up some grilled chicken from the salad bar at work for a whopping $1.29. Hassle free and used up some of my remaining groceries in the process! So much better than going out to lunch for the whole meal, just because I was missing an ingredient or two. I sometimes even walk across the street to the poke shop and buy their fresh ahi as a salad topper. A couple bucks for fresh ahi on my homemade salad and get my steps in the process? Yes, please!
When in Doubt, Donate
When you are all out of creative ideas on how to use up your leftover ingredients, try hooking up with your local food pantry or shelter and offering up leftovers as a donation. Did you know that milk is one of the most requested items at food pantries? Yet it’s a household staple many of us take for granted, and often end up tossing when we don’t use it up. Help out someone in need and don’t let that food go to waste. Check out Further with Food for more information and resources on food waste and how you can do your part to stop the trend.