A great opportunity for cutting expenses lies in the fact that the average home throws away $500 worth of food every year.
In a previous Savvy Shopper article, we covered methods to eliminate some of this through proper food storage. While sound preservation principles should always be used, they can require substantial effort. Since Savvy Shopping is all about efficiency, this article will cover ways to minimize the need for storage and reduce this effort.
As most spoilage comes from leftovers, reducing leftovers is the single best way to lower storage requirements. In turn, the best way to minimize leftovers is effective menu planning. For dishes that require refrigeration after a meal, the ideal is to make just enough food but no more.
Obviously, one problem with this is you don’t want anyone going away hungry. Another is when the amount of food your family needs doesn’t match the quantity in a package. For example, if your loved ones typically eat 1 ½ cans of green beans or a ½ can of peas during a meal, you are left with excess. Making this even worse is the fact that many leftovers are not the first thing people want for a snack. Below are methods to avoid or work around these problems:
Savvy Shopping is fun but it is never spontaneous. Just as you must prepare for shopping trips, you must plan meals to minimize leftovers. If you insist on being a free spirit about it, you will be disappointed. Fortunately, this planning does not have to be lengthy or complicated. The first step to menu planning is to establish a time window. Since most refrigerated foods will last at least four days after refrigerating, I recommend planning three-to-four days. Once you have decided your time horizon, create a menu planner like the four day planner on page D2.
When planning a menu, use the below principles to reuse leftovers efficiently or prevent them entirely. To illustrate these ideas, the menu planner will be updated with the newly added foods shown in bold and italics.
Within the meal planning window, pair complementary food as much as possible. For example, fried rice needs refrigeration prior to preparation. This is the perfect opportunity to prepare an earlier meal using rice and refrigerating what remains for the fried rice. Place the dish that requires advance preparation toward the latter part of your planning window. Other examples of complementary foods are spaghetti with meat sauce and stir fry spaghetti, chicken breasts and chicken soft tacos, baked potatoes and hash browns, roast and chopped beef sandwiches, and bread and bread pudding. The possibilities are limitless.
When you open canned foods and the can is too large for your meal, you have to refrigerate what’s left. This excess that was safe and sound in the can has now been exposed to spoilage. In other words, you have created a chance that your food will expire where no chance for spoilage existed before. By contrast, foods like pasta and grains don’t have this problem and, as a result, you should try to use them as much as possible. By doing this, you can cook just what you need. What is left in the package is no more likely to spoil than it was before you opened it.
Make enough for later in the week
When you must use foods where the package size doesn’t match your family’s appetite and the contents are compromised after opening (e.g.: canned foods), use least common multiples. Intentionally make enough of an item so that you can accommodate an exact number of meals. In the example of green beans and corn given earlier, you might use one can of peas and three cans of green beans to supply two meals.
Anchor your meal
Anchor your meals with nonperishable, long life, or highly reusable foods. Some examples of these that are wholesome and filling include breads, crackers, fresh vegetables, and pickled items.
E) There will be times when it will be impossible to create the perfect plan and any scheme you come up with results in excess food. For example, if your family is the kind that hates to eat the same thing more than twice in a four-day period, the above menu plans would have excess peas and green beans. In those cases, be sure and enter the excess in the “Left Over” column and try to use them for the next four-day period. Try to use the items that will be left over as late as possible in your planning period.
Of course, every family is different but the principles that underlie menu planning are universal. Your ingenuity and determination will be the decisive factor in your success. Hopefully, these principles will simply make things easier. Remember that the most important principle of all is to plan your meals. That alone will work wonders. If you haven’t used some of these techniques, I urge you to put them into action and let us know how it worked. In addition, we would love to hear any ideas you have on this topic. Please visit our Facebook site (Log on to Facebook and enter “Lubbock Savvy Shopper” in the search tool) and let us hear about it. Our community keeps growing and we are hearing great things from readers. Don’t miss out!