If you’re like me, you’ve done some serious baking, snacking and a bit of pantry stocking in the past month; now things have started to settle in (aka, you’ve eaten all of your impulse snack buys). So, what happens when you’re left with a pantry of essentials but nothing obvious to make all your meals and perhaps starting to get hangry like me?
The truth is, when you have limited access to the grocery store or aren’t able to get every item you normally pick up, it takes a little bit of planning and creativity to stretch what you have. We’re all shopping a little differently right now, to help stay home for longer stretches of time. Never fear, we’re here to help talk through some simple things you can do to stretch your ingredients and set you up for a bit more kitchen confidence in these challenging times.
Make a grocery list.
My number one tip that I know so many of us already do is to make a grocery list. This past week I went so far as to organize my list based on where everything is in the store. I grouped all the fruit and produce together, all the meat, canned goods and nonperishables, then dry goods, and finally dairy and eggs. Read through your list before you walk into the store, but don’t get held up checking every single item off of it. Your local store may be out of potatoes or eggs but it’s okay. Pick up what you know you and your family will eat, and maybe try to snag something similar. The point is you’re opening yourself up to meal option ingredients that give you options to work with.
Once you’re home, it’s time to take stock of what you purchased and make a meal plan that maximizes ingredient efficiency. The process is sort of like threading meals together – it’s not a new idea, chefs and home cooks do it on the regular to make food stretch, move through their produce in a timely fashion, and keep waste minimal. Basically, you take one or a few items from one meal and use it in part of your next meal. I highly recommend following Lucinda Scala Quinn’s Instagram page because she is a master at cooking in this efficient way and the more examples you see of this, the more intuitive it will become in your own cooking.
Here’s an example of the meal prep we did in my house last week: I made bibimbap on Sunday for dinner last week, which is basically a bowl of rice, topped with assorted and seasoned sautéed vegetables, a bit of ground beef and a soft cooked egg with some gochujang. I like doing the biggest and most complicated dinner on Sunday because it’s when I have the most time and energy to cook, I made extra rice, prepped a few extra vegetables and reserved two portions of the cooked beef. For Monday night's dinner, I made a quick veggie fried rice from the leftover rice and precooked vegetables. Tuesday night was taco bowls with black beans, leftover rice and beef, and sautéed peppers and onions. On Wednesday night, I made quesadillas from the last of the black beans and beef, extra peppers and onions from Tuesday night. In total we had four generous dinners for three people from one batch of rice, one pound of beef, and some veggies. The prep was primarily on Sunday, and the three weeknight dinners came together in under 10-15 minutes.
This method of cooking mostly relies on a bit of extra food prep and planning at the start of your week but can be really helpful on weeknights when energy is low and time is tight – I see you parents who are working all day AND taking care of kids.
Reduce food waste.
We’re also taking a page right out of the way restaurants approach and handle their resources, recommending that you always eat the oldest thing in your kitchen first, it reduces food waste and limits excess trips to the store. It’s not always the most glamorous reheat, but sometimes you can tweak something old and make it feel a bit newer. I think my favorite thing to do with old veggies that were in something else is to turn it into fried rice or a taco bowl – which are always a delicious treat. If you have leftover ends of bread from all that sourdough bread baking you did, turn it into croutons for soup/salad/snacking or breadcrumbs, or toast thin slices of it and make a bit of bruschetta.
Now is a wonderful time to experiment and get creative in the kitchen. Who knows what new tastes and combinations you’ll come up with that will become the new family fave? And if you ever get stuck, hit me up for some food ideas – “what’s for dinner” is my favorite game to play.