Have you ever come home after a busy day, opened the fridge and stood there for a couple minutes before proclaiming, “There’s nothing for dinner!” even though your fridge is filled to the brim?
It happens to the best of us. Probably more often than we’d like to admit.
I’m certain we all have good intentions. We google fancy recipes, pin all sorts of dinners to our online boards and watch the Food Network. Sometimes, if we’re feeling extra inspired (or the kids allow a few minutes of opportunity) we might even search the local ads to see what’s on sale.
We fill our carts, empty our wallets and take our “good intentions” home to rot away in our fridges.
Can you believe Americans waste approximately 35 million TONS of food in a year?! That number is so huge, I can’t even comprehend what it really means. And although the thought of all that waste sickens me–especially with so many people in this world who don’t have enough to eat–I definitely contribute to the problem. So how can I reduce the amount of food my family wastes while still putting delicious, balanced and healthy dinners on my table? The answer is simple:
Great! Sounds easy enough. There’s only one problem. I absolutely loathe planning. Seriously. I hate it.
As much as I dislike meal planning, I’ve still given it a go. I even bought a special binder. Because you can’t REALLY plan things without a special binder, amiright?!
Not even my special binder and pretty rolls of washi tape could keep me committed.
I’ve just never warmed up to the idea of creating a weekly menu. And the times I’ve tried, I’ve failed. It overwhelms me. I hate feeling that I NEED to do something or I HAVE to eat fish and asparagus tonight because my binder says so, when I really just want a bowl of popcorn and a bar of chocolate (don’t judge me!).
For me, part of the joy of cooking is the spontaneity of it. I like the challenge of creating fancy Instagram-worthy meals on a whim or creating something new using whatever I have lying around. This is also why I have absolutely no interest in those meal subscription services.
The services are convenient, mostly budget-friendly and they definitely reduce food waste. Unfortunately, they also remove most of the creativity from the cooking process and that’s just not something I’m willing to give up.
Even though I’m a terrible at meal planning, I’ve learned–and successfully applied–a few good habits in all my ill-fated attempts.
Keep Extra Proteins in the Freezer/Pantry.
I always keep a few cans of chickpeas, black beans, and tuna fish in our pantry. Dried lentils are another staple. We also tend to keep chicken breasts, tilapia and salmon (from Costco) in the freezer.
I don’t remove the meat from the freezer unless I’m positive we’ll eat it. If dinner plans suddenly change, I poach the meat and either freeze the cooked chicken (diced for soups!) or turn the cooked fish into fishcakes. Delish!
Don’t Buy Food Only Because It’s on Sale.
This is something I often struggle with. I mean, who doesn’t love a good deal? But you know what? If the food spoils because it’s not something I felt like eating (I’m looking at you giant bag of kale salad mix!), that’s not really saving me anything.
Instead, I only buy sale items if they’re on my “pantry staples” list, have a long expiration, I intend to donate or my family will eat within one or two days.
Earlier this fall I found 6 cans(!) of expired pumpkin in my pantry. A few years ago I read some article that said there would be a pumpkin shortage for Thanksgiving. Impulsive as I am, I rushed to the store and hoarded as many cans as I could carry. I used one. Lesson learned.
Create a “Pantry Staples” List and Make Sure to Keep Them Stocked.
There are a few ingredients that I consider essential when I’m cooking for our family. Your list may be different, but some of my items are:
- canned diced tomatoes
- canned (unsweetened) coconut milk
- oyster sauce
- soy sauce
- garlic paste
- ginger paste
- macaroni noodles
- olive oil
- Maagi (Indian version of Ramen Noodles–for emergencies! 😉).
New is Nice, But Old is Gold.
Trying new recipes is fun and exciting. With food blogs, Pinterest and Instagram offering all sorts of inspiration, dinner ideas are easy to come up with. But don’t let yourself get too carried away.
To keep your sanity and not feel too overwhelmed, space out or limit your kitchen experiments. As much as I love to cook, I only experiment a few times a week. The rest of the week we’re eating things I can cook quickly and that I know my family loves.
A Little Prep Goes a Long Way.
Prepping veggies can be time consuming. It’s also tedious. I like to get this task out of the way ASAP. Most days when (if!) my kids are napping I’ll chop an onion to use for dinner. I might also gather all the spices I’ll need or boil a couple potatoes. I like to do as much as possible beforehand so that cooking the meal takes minimal time.
Do you love meal planning? If so, do you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share?