Meal prepping and fighting food waste are both noble, rewarding pursuits in the kitchen—combining them is even better. So check out these tips to help you meal prep with minimal waste (which also saves you money).
Have you ever had a fridge full of food that’s gone bad and nothing to eat? Yeah, me too. It’s frustrating in so many ways as it’s a waste of your money, you don’t have a meal on the table, and, of course, it’s a waste of food. Nearly 40 percent of food in America ends up being wasted, which ultimately emits methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. A bummer on all accounts!
Avoid the waste by opting into meal prepping instead. It doesn’t have to be hard or intimidating, and it can help ensure you have healthy meals when you need them with less money and food wasted. Here’s how to dive into a minimal food waste meal prep.
1. Plan Ahead
First thing’s first: Check what’s already in your fridge. A good place to start in food waste reduction is to make sure you use what you have, and not let the produce and other perishables in your fridge go to waste! Then calculate how many meals you want to prep for that week, taking into account any social plans, work events, or other meals you do not need to plan for or want to leave open to what you’re craving that day. I like to prep for about 75 percent of the meals I know I will need to make myself, leaving the rest up to what I am feeling that day or the possibility a social opportunity pops up.
From there, you can decide the main dishes you want to make in your meal prep utilizing what you already have, and make a list of additional ingredients you need before going to the store. Consider using tools like Meal Prep Mate which help you find low waste recipes and determine how much food you need depending on how many mouths you are looking to feed.
Keep in mind you don’t need to completely plan everything! I love to go to the local farmer’s market and see what looks fresh and seasonal. If you do too, you may want to consider planning for dishes that allow for variation in fresh produce like a roasted veggie bowl or a curry.
Related Reading: 7 Produce Delivery Services You Should Know About
2. Cook Extras to Use in Unplanned Meals and to Freeze
While you’re cooking up your meal prep, consider doubling some of the grains, beans, and veggies to use in veggie bowls and extra meals throughout the week. You can throw extra roasted vegetables into an omelet or on top of quinoa, and an extra few servings of rice may serve as an easy base for a dinner throughout the week. You can also freeze extra grains or beans to use in future meals or meal preps, preventing them from going bad and simplifying for future use.
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Related Reading: The Best Way to Store Food in the Freezer
3. Use the Same Ingredients in Multiple Recipes
Similar to cooking extras to use throughout the week, consider finding and utilizing multiple recipes in your meal preps that have the same ingredients. For example, I often make sweet potato black bean burgers, which call for roasted sweet potatoes and quinoa. So when I make the burgers, part of my meal planning will include finding other recipes with roasted sweet potatoes and quinoa so I can make double batches, reducing my time and ensuring I am properly using what I have.
Another way to practice this is to look at the reverse—what will be leftover from this recipe? For example, the burger recipe calls for half of a red onion, so I’ll look for ways to use the other half of the red onion in either a recipe or roasting it up to include in salads, dressing, or grain bowls.
Related Reading: 7 Instant Pot Meal Prep Tips
4. Find Your Go-To Extras Recipe
More likely than not you will have some odds and ends in your meal prep— the random container of roasted vegetables or leftover beans or tomato sauce. For these extras, I recommend finding one or two recipes that are versatile enough to work with whatever you have. One such recipe might be an extra frittata, or, if the ingredients are right, a smoothie that you can blend fruits and veggies into.
5. Audit Your Waste at the End of the Week
Despite all your planning and tricks, you may end up with some leftovers that have gone bad at the end of the week, or something you forgot to eat. Fret not—this is a learning opportunity!
Take inventory of what ended up needing to be discarded and what you could have done differently. Did you make too much of one recipe? Did something get forgotten in the back of the fridge? Did you get bored of eating the same thing over and over? Could you have frozen something instead of keeping it in the fridge?
This is all useful data in planning for next week, so take note and course correct. After a few weeks, you will find the right amount and variety of food to make!
Related Reading: 8 Ways to Cook with Food Scraps
For the odd and ends that you have nothing to do with, or the leftovers that go bad (we’re all human, after all), add them to your compost pile. Composting is one of the easiest and most important things you can do for the environment, and you may even have a local drop off in your town or city that will process it for you. Before I had my home compost, I left my compost in the freezer so it doesn’t smell or leak and I could drop it off at the local farmer’s market whenever I wanted!
Header image courtesy of Ella Olsson / Unsplash