We’ve all been there…starring into the fridge looking at leftovers that were cooked days ago, wondering if it’s edible now. Should you try it? Maybe it’s not that old. What day was is actually made? I can’t remember! So, you move on to the next container, asking yourself the same questions, or you pull together some ingredients to cook a new dish.
I am personally the worst with leftovers! And if you’re anything like me, then you let those leftovers sit in there for days, possibly even weeks, pushing them to the back of the fridge with newer, fresher containers. After all, the saying “out of sight, out of mind” stands true. I have definitely been guilty of throwing away baking dishes and containers that had leftovers in them that were growing their own cities populated by a sea of bacteria (yes, I know what you’re thinking “ew, that’s super gross! How could she?!”; but don’t deny that you have not seen this in your fridge, at least at one point or another).
What is it about leftovers that makes this happen? For me, it has a lot to do with the thought of how much bacteria grows on the food and how long it takes to get there from the time that I cooked the dish. By no means do I feel that I have a phobia of bacteria. Bacteria is everywhere and unavoidable. But when it comes to food, I feel bacteria grows faster, especially when it has been cooked and sitting out for some length of time, like at a buffet. Another part of it is that after day one of being a leftover, I don’t want to keep eating the same thing over, and over again. By day two, my palette craves other flavors that are just not there in that dish that was prepared a few days before.
This doesn’t just happen with leftovers either. You open your refrigerator, gunning for that container of strawberries or that bag of lettuce to make a salad with, both of which you have only purchased a few days ago; all of which are molding, rotting away, and are no longer in any condition to be consumed.
So, what can be done about this? Is there anything you can do to find a balance between how much you consume versus what you throw away, uneaten? Keep reading to find some tips that I have found that have helped me get over this problem and hopefully you will find something that works for you too!
Tip 1: Don’t Overbuy!
One of the best ways to not stick to your budget when buying food is creating a grocery list of all the things you need for the week. Creating a grocery list is easy; it’s sticking to what you wrote on that list that can be the hard part.
What has helped me not “over-list” is writing in the essentials first: your bread, milk, eggs, products you and your family use on a daily basis that don’t change that often. Next, look at what special items you may need that week. Right now, it’s summer and although kiddos are not school, they may be going to camp everyday where mom and/or dad are packing their lunch. What do your kiddos like for lunch? Maybe it’s sandwiches that require lunch meat and cheese; add those items to your list to grab in the deli section! Add a pack of juice boxes that have at least 5 containers in them so your kiddo is getting a juice box every day (of course buy more if you have more than one kiddo). Look in your newspaper or grocery store flyer for sales upcoming that week. See something you like that can be used in lunches (i.e. snacks) that’s on sale? Add it to your list!
Next, ask yourself what you need for your lunches if you leave the house during the day to go to work, etc. Are you able to eat sandwiches? Get extra lunch meat when you buy for the kiddos so there’s some in there for you. Maybe make a few salads, so put on the list only what you enjoy to put in your salads, and don’t add any extras!
Then, think about what you and your family are going to eat for dinner throughout the week. This is where meal planning comes into play. Pick out quick, easy, and HEALTHY recipes you can make each night of the week, and add only the ingredients you know you will use for that dish onto your list.
When you get to the store with your list:
- Get in, get out, and stick to what’s written on that list! One of the hardest parts to get around at grocery stores is their last-minute marketing. Stores strategically place items in various spots that are eye catching to the shopper as they are walking by. Maybe it’s a taco display and they have put everything you need to make tacos right there, easy to grab, some of it is on sale. It looks yummy, you want to buy, but IT’S NOT ON YOUR LIST THIS WEEK! Don’t buy it! If you get home and you’re still thinking about those tacos, add it to your meal plan for next week. Call the store and ask how long they will be running the sale on those ingredients so that you can plan accordingly and not miss the sale.
At the end of the day (and week), you will be proud of yourself to not only sticking to your list, but sticking to your budget. Simply buying only the products you wrote on that list will also leave you feeling ensured that you won’t be throwing anything away at the end of the week because you haven’t overstocked your kitchen.
- Don’t go to the grocery store hungry. This too is something we have all done and every time it happens you always wind up leaving with way more food than you needed and you’ve burned a much larger hole in your pocket than you intended. What happens to all that extra food you bought? Have you ever noticed that half of it doesn’t ever make into your stomach but winds up in the trash? Or it gets pushed to the back of the pantry, never to see the light of day until your pantry is full and you’re forced to clean it out.
Of course, there are going to be times where we can’t help but go to the store hungry. Your day may have slipped away and you didn’t have time to eat lunch. Or maybe you’re going to the store right after work and you haven’t eaten since lunch. Solution? Carry grab and go snacks with you so that you can be munching on something on your way to the store. Keep a few snacks in your desk drawers and grab one on the way out the door at the end of the day. Make sure your snacks are healthy though! Don’t go for the convenient chips and candy bars. Stick with protein bars, granola bars, seed packs, or trail mixes; snacks that have nutritional value that will make you feel full and give you sustained energy.
- Remember, an overstocked kitchen = food in the trash. If you’ve never meal planned or made grocery lists before, getting used to the idea and routine of it could deem itself as challenging. A simple way to get over this is to go grocery shopping once a week. Don’t buy for the next two or three weeks. Sure, this may save you time in the grocery store, but what about all that fresh food that won’t get eaten for two weeks and is now sitting in your fridge rotting away? Simplicity is key!
Tip 2: Wash and Cut Fruits and Veggies When You Buy Them!
I know what you’re thinking: “Ugh, more time prepping…I just want to get home, put it away, and move on with my day!” But, take it from me, this little bit of extra time you put towards prepping your food, will save you thousands of minutes throughout the week. Think about what your week looks like; are you constantly in and out? Always on the go? Or maybe you have kiddos you’re taking from one place to the next. Being able to open your fridge and pull out a veggie pack that is already cut up and ready to be eaten with your favorite hummus or ranch for dipping is so much easier (and takes seconds to prepare at that time), than it is to open the fridge look at all those carrots and celery and think to yourself: “damn, I really want that right now, but I don’t have time to cut it up and get it ready. Oh well, I’ll just grab something one the way”.
When you go to a restaurant, how do you think all your meals are being prepared and cooked so quickly, that they make it to your table ready to eat, piping hot, in 10-14 minutes? If you have ever worked in a kitchen or served in a restaurant, then you know the secret. For those of you have not, and believe that everyone in that kitchen can speed chop veggies and ingredients in 30 seconds flat, then I’m sorry to say, but you are poorly mistaken. In an industrial kitchen, there is something called “the line”, and on that line, are not just cooks preparing your food, but there are containers sitting over ice full of already cut up veggies and other ingredients that are used for all the meals you see on the menu. Start considering about applying this same method at home.
- Dice, slice, and chop away! What are you planning on cooking for dinners this week? Look at each day, each meal, and ask yourself: “what veggies are going into this dish? How do they need to be prepped?” For example, are you making a hearty soup that requires chopped carrots, onions, and celery to be put in it? Start chopping! When you’re done, put each veggie in a separate container so you can keep adding to it as you continue to go through your meals, investigating what all goes into them. When you’re cooking that meal later that day or later in the week, all you need to do is grab that container, use what you need, and half the job of cooking a meal is already done for you!
Look at your snacks for that week. Are you making veggie stick packs for the kids’ lunches? Slice up those veggies accordingly and put them in Ziploc bags so they are easy to grab and throw in their lunchboxes the night before or the morning of, whenever it is that you’re putting their lunch together. Did you buy some strawberries? Wash and cut them up to your liking, put them in a container and have them ready to go when you want them throughout the week. Did you buy other berries? Take them out of their containers, wash and dry them and put them in glass or Tupperware containers so they too are ready for when you want them.
Once you get into the habit of doing this every time you go grocery shopping, it will become not only second nature, but it will save you time, money, and you won’t be throwing uneaten, rotting food away because you’ve made it easy for yourself to eat!
Tip 3: Portion Out Leftovers!
Got leftovers? Instead of keeping all the leftovers in the dish they were prepared in, or putting all of them in one big container to stick in the fridge, portion them out! Made lasagna for dinner last night and have a quarter of a pan left? Cut the lasagna into appropriate sized squares, put them in their own containers, and grab one to take for lunch the next day. Don’t feel like cooking that night? Heat up one of your already portioned out lasagna pieces!
If you don’t think you’re going to be using those particular leftovers that week, taking the time to portion them out that night will make it easier for you to freeze for the future. For those days that you don’t feel like cooking but your budget is too tight to go out or order delivery, look in the freezer and heat up what you’ve already sized out. This way, you’re not heating up extra food that you won’t eat, but just enough for you and/or your family.
If you notice you’re now stockpiling leftovers and your refrigerator is getting full with nothing but containers of meals past, then consider this to be an issue of overcooking and not under consuming. For example, if you are a family of 2, but you’re cooking recipes that can feed 4 or 6, then change the amount of ingredients that are going into those dishes so that you making enough for the people who are eating it. Sometimes the thought is: “well if I make this dish the way the recipe says, even though just me and the hubby are eating it, we’ll have leftovers and I won’t have to cook tomorrow”. Yes, this is a fantastic thought in an ideal world, but what if your plans change and you go out to dinner the next night? Or you decide to cook something else because you don’t want to eat the same thing two nights in a row. Now that dish from Monday night is still sitting in the fridge come Wednesday or Thursday night, and are more likely to be forgotten at this point.
If you take anything away from this post, take away simplicity. Think of ways to simplify your life. Think smarter, not harder so you can make your life easier during busy weeks of the year. Adding a little bit of extra time over the weekend will save you hundreds in time, money, and sanity over the week. If you’ve tried some of my tips but they aren’t working for your life, make adjustments so they fit your lifestyle. Maybe your weekend is your work week, that’s okay! Adjust to what fits you.
For more information, to chat with me, or find out more about what I do, please visit my website at Bella Gaia Healthy Living. Be sure to comment below if you see fit to, and don’t forget to like and share this post.
“If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing and shelter to protect yourself from the elements.” ~ The Dalai Lama