I’m not a meal planner or prepper. I know a lot of people find these strategies useful for planning purposes, eliminating food waste and preserving the brain power and energy involved with getting food to the table on a regular basis, but they just feel way too restrictive for me. What if I have chili planned for Tuesday but then when Tuesday rolls around what I really want is chicken piccata? I’m no good at following rules, recipes or scheduled menus.
That being said, I am a champion pantry stocker, larder liner and food repurposer. I detest food waste and these strategies allow me to keep good food moving through my kitchen and into the bellies that I love without winding up moldering in my fridge or relegated to the compost heap. I also have an uncanny ability to keep an accurate mental inventory of my food supplies and when they might be approaching expiration. I have a pretty good idea of what we have on hand at any one point in time, unlike others in my household who shall remain nameless, but are responsible for multiple open containers and redundant buys that clutter our fridge and cupboards. Ahem. Moving on…
I think part of the secret here is keeping a consistent stock of staples. These are the majority of my shopping (probably 80%) and are highly versatile so that I can make most of the stuff we like to eat on a regular basis. For instance, we always have carrots, onions and celery in the fridge because we make a lot of soups and other dishes that have these as a starting point. We always stock broth in a jar, noodles, rice, potatoes, olive oil, garlic and tons of spices. I’m not going to go through my whole larder, but you get the idea. I also make a point of keeping spares of frequently used items and immediately replace the spare as soon as I put it into action. For example, when I open my reserve jar of stock from my pantry, it goes right on the next shopping list so I never run out at an inconvenient time. Its smart to make most of your stock stuff that use regularly, then you always know mostly what you have. Only about 20% of the stuff I buy varies, usually seasonally but some times opportunistically. Like berries in the summer or when we are given some fish or meat or hazelnuts or we get a wild craving for something not typically on the menu. The 20% is harder to keep track of in my mental inventory and these items are at highest risk of being overlooked and rotting. The 80% comprises most of our meals and allows me to make use of the 20%. Is that too math-y?
Repurposing is another favorite strategy and has become something of a game for me. Much to my family’s amusement. Or maybe whatever the opposite of that is. But they indulge me. Leftover rice, meat, omelet, cooked, frozen or fresh veggies are fair game for fried rice. Bones and veggie tops are gathered in a Ziploc bag in my freezer for making stock. Aging, wrinkly tomatoes get roasted in the oven with olive oil and salt then blended up into sauce. Wilty greens get a second life sauteed and added to soups, frittatas or pastas. Leftover mashed potatoes become tasty “glue” for breakfast quesadillas; I made my husband one the other day that incorporated mashed potatoes, a couple of straggler spaetzles, sliced chicken schnitzel and red cabbage; it was a teutonic feast! Leftovers and scraps are culinary creativity just waiting to happen.