Managing inventory when eating fresh foods can feel like a full-time job. Do we have enough for lunches this week? How long does chicken last? When did I buy that basil? It's stressful because we want to eat a variety of fresh foods but we hate wasting money and time on things we don't use.
The secret to ensuring there's always something for dinner but you're never wasting food is twofold:
1. Memorize Meal Formulas That Work With Any Ingredients
Last week I shared three meal formulas that work well with any ingredients. These formulas as well as the 5 Master Meals featured in Improv Cooking, turn basic ingredients into delicious, healthy meals.
But shouldn't I create a detailed meal plan so I know exactly what I need instead?
Meal plans are great tools and if they're working for you, don't change a thing. For me, detailed meal plans are hard to sustain. Partly because they require a consistent commitment to planning and often I'd rather do something else on Sunday. And partly because even our best meal plans go awry when someone works late, a friend comes for dinner, or a kid gets a cold. Instead of relying on meal plans, buy foods that are versatile (like the ones on this list), sketch out the week and be prepared to improv as you go.
For example, you planned to make a turkey meatloaf but your meeting ran late and you don't have time for all that effort so you put the ground turkey in a skillet with some spices, you heat tortillas, chop some lettuce and avocado, and in less than 20 minutes you have what you need for turkey tacos. If you've taken Improv Cooking or you're following @realfoodhouse on Instagram you'll know that I believe every ingredient is waiting for its chance to become a taco :)
2. Shop for your real life, not your aspirational life.
To avoid waste, it's critical to buy foods that fit with your real life not your aspirational life.
Let me explain by giving a few examples of when I've failed to follow this advice.
- I bought 2 bunches of collard greens for my aspirational life in which I pre-make collard green wraps and eat them for lunch stuffed with various fresh finds. In real life I made them once, they were amazing and then 1 bunch went bad because blanching collard greens (although not hard) is an extra step that doesn't fit with my normal week. In the future, I'll buy these if I have extra time on the weekend to blanch and wrap.
- I used to make extra fish with the intention of using leftovers the next day. I'd make twice as much salmon and think, "we'll eat this again tomorrow." Five days later I'd throw it away. In my aspirational life, my family likes to eat leftover salmon. In my real life, we prefer fish the first day it's made. I know there are 100 ways to turn leftover salmon into something amazing but for right now I buy less salmon or keep an extra pre-cooked portion in the freezer for another day.
- I routinely break my own rules and buy too much basil telling myself I'll use extras to make a pesto for my aspirational life in which we drizzle yummy bright green pesto on everything and pretend we're in Italy. In my real life, I throw away 1/2 the basil because I don't like washing the food processor and I don't like chopping and freezing basil. I'm sure I will continue to do this anyway and maybe soon show you some examples of all the ways I'm using extra basil and bright green pesto.
Cooking more often is dependent upon breaking down barriers and the fear of wasting time and money on food we don't use is a significant barrier. Get to know a few meal formulas and shop for your real life and you'll be well on your way to knocking down that barrier and making delicious food.