I have this idea for a new Food Network show. I like Chopped because they use weird ingredients and somehow make it all work, but I thought why not do the same thing but in a person’s kitchen using only what they have on hand. Then bring in a chef and have them make a three course dinner for the family with whatever is in their fridge and pantry and that’s it! I can’t come up with a good name for it. The only thing I can think is, “Chef in my Kitchen” or “Make What You Have.” (I’ve heard Rachel Ray does a “Fridge Raiders” segment. I’ve not seen it. Is it similar?)
I like this idea because it’s what I do now. Over the years I have meal planned in different ways. Starting out, there was no plan. We went to the grocery store daily and got what we needed for dinner. I ended up with a good amount of stuff that didn’t get used all the way. Then I started planning for a month at a time… on Excel of course. I printed out a calendar and put it on the fridge and I had lunch and dinner planned for a month. The only problem was life happened and stuff needed to get moved around and I would end up with half the ingredients for a meal and too many leftovers in the fridge. Waste happened with no plan and a strict plan.
Now my meal planning is more fluid and I hold it loosely. I keep it on my phone in my Notes app. I plan only one week ahead. As soon as I know what I’m cooking today I erase and start planning next week’s meal for that day of the week. I also keep my Calendar app open and add appointments and weekly meetings right on to the menu because we have to plan a quicker meal if we’ve got something going on. I even write what meals we’re eating leftovers in order to use up everything.
I’ve got my “go-to” meals now that use stuff up. Pasta primavera or stir fry is ideal for using up vegetables. (Mom taught me a trick of adding a little crunchy peanut butter to stir fry to make it a little heartier tasting. You’ve got to try it!) A bag of cole slaw mix (cabbage and carrots) can last several meals for us. I can do cole slaw, vegetable and bean tostadas, Bierox, egg rolls, all sorts of fun stuff with that bag.
Maintaining the car you own is cheaper than buying a new car. Doing laundry is cheaper than buying new clothes. What you have will save you money every time over buying something you don’t have. Simple logic. Now I apply this to my meals I make. I use up everything I can before I go to the grocery store. This works because I hold my meal plan loosely. I can move a meal I don’t have everything for a few days later and instead make something I have everything for today. Now I’m using food so it won’t get wasted and I’m saving time and gas by not heading to the grocery store.
The fringe benefit of this is that I can clean my fridge regularly without having to empty its contents onto a counter or table. It’s pretty sparse so I can wipe shelves to my heart’s content.
How about you? How has your meal planning changed over time? Do you have favorite “use it up” recipes?