I firmly believe we home cooks fall into two kitchen camps: meal planners and those opening the fridge nightly like they're contestants on the next episode of Food Network's "Chopped."
You can probably guess which one I fall into; "Lindsey, open your basket: What can you make with half a link of leftover kielbasa, slightly slimy spinach and a frozen chicken nugget? Go!" (Also, it's 2021, why does the "Chopped" kitchen still only have one ice-cream maker? I've got more gadgets in my basement to get me across the dinner finish line than these poor chefs.)
In this month of spring, hope and returning to whatever our new "new normal" is these days, I'm trying to move forward with some lessons learned from the height of the pandemic. Last summer, my weekly shopping trips were cut to bi-weekly, and usually pre-ordered for curbside pickup. I couldn't just decide on a whim to try a new recipe and run to the store after work. I needed to be more purposeful with my pantry staples and what I kept in the fridge. In the end, I somehow trimmed money off my monthly grocery bill.
But about a month ago, I started to feel slightly more comfortable running into the store to grab that quart of buttermilk I just had to have to make buttermilk biscuits on a Tuesday afternoon. Mask and hand sanitizer in hand, I returned to my aisle frolics, wandering aimlessly through the middle aisles where no good can come from scanning bottles of sauces, vinegars and jarred compotes. Why yes, Big Y, I will buy that jar of tahini sauce I've never used before because it's on sale ...
My grocery bill has started creeping back up, and so has our food waste.
So, every week, before I go to the grocery store, I've been trying write down on my dry-erase board at least an outline of what I think I might cook that week, with consideration for what I've already got in my house. So far, it's been pretty hit-or-miss — I'd say I've stuck with it 50 percent of the time. But often, I have to make room for more leftover days or using up ingredients I forgot I had. I'm also trying to work through my basement chest freezer that has somehow become the Bermuda Triangle of perishable goods — it's gotten so bad that when I go down to dig through it, I make sure to let someone in my family know where I am just in case I don't resurface within a reasonable amount of time — you can probably find me wedged between the fish sticks, slabs of mystery meat from Christmas dinner and ice pops that have been in there since David got his first stomach bug four years ago. Wait, is that a bag of breast milk? *Yikes*
My friend and colleague Jennifer Huberdeau has a really smart freezer hack that I'm going to attempt as soon as I get to the half-way point of emptying my freezer; she and her husband keep an inventory written on a piece of paper that they tape to the front of the freezer and cross off items as they're used. I've also got to get my act together, because before you know it, we'll be talking about how to freeze all those garden tomatoes I always overzealously plant ever summer.
Are you a meal planner? What are your tips/tricks for cutting down food waste and staring into the abyss of the unknown dinner hour? Share your thoughts and ideas with me, and our readers, by emailing me at email@example.com.