Does your fridge have a vegetable crisper or a vegetable composter?
Some days I would have to admit we have the later! I rush home with the groceries whilst dealing with a young infant or after work and in my haste throw everything into the fridge as fast as I can only to neglect last weeks remaining veg. No doubt, some of you can agree. Two kilos of freshly purchased potatoes and onions squashing my delicate strawberries to jam. Oops!
We have tried various plans with our crisper. New purchases in the left hand side and last weeks in the right hand side; Leafy greens and delicates in one side with heavy root veg in the other; and finally leafy greens, delicates and cut veg in the fridge with uncut root vegetables in the pantry. Nothing has worked so safe to say we have a Vegetable Composter!
I am sick and tired of throwing wasted fruit and veg to our chooks. Whist it keeps my feathered flock happy, it is nothing but wasteful and expensive. Let face it, quality fruit and veg isn’t cheap.
I have now resorted to only buying my fruit and vegetables from a local market grower close to home. It is out in the middle of the main highway away from any other form of shop. Whilst it needs a special trip, it’s good because they sell quality fruit and vegetables at a considerably cheaper price than our local supermarket chains. I also love the fact I am supporting a local business and getting service. I don’t know how many times I have made a purchase at the local supermarket only to have the young checkout operator ask “What is this?”
It is also a bonus because I only make the trip when I need to and only purchase what I need for the week ahead. This makes me use everything I have on hand first before buying extra. This also refers back to my blog about Meal Planning. It’s so tempting to grab veg whilst at the supermarket but when I do this, I tend to have a fridge full of potatoes, onions and nothing else. I find it also costs more than grabbing at the market.
There are a few meals I make with vegetables that may not be super fresh and salad worthy. I make meals that use up all that I can. Having a Vegetarian meal once a week is a fantastic way of not only using up old veg but also cuts the food bill by reducing expensive meat. Baby Spinach is cooked and bean sprouts and cucumber become pickled Kimchi (pickled cucumber, carrot, bean sprouts and red onion). Dishes regularly include stirfries, vegetable/potato bake, pasta, risotto or soup. Don’t be afraid to throw together what you have to make a meal, you may surprise yourself. We cleaned out our fridge last night and made a great Laksa with odd vegetables such as half a capsicum, a quarter each of broccoli and cauliflower, a dozen snow peas and a handful of mushrooms.
One of the best ways to keep the weekly shopping budget lower is to pre-plan. I must confess, in our house we are divided about planning our meals. I like to be organized and know what’s happening when whilst Mr. M likes to cook whatever he feels like at the time. Making one supermarket shop per week also helps keep the budget in check.
Extra shopping trips can become expensive and can result in unexpected impulse purchases especially when shopping hungry. The extra drink or chocolate bar for the drive home can definitely add up over time and best be avoided when budgets are tight. You also run the risk of making purchases of items you already have on hand without even realizing. What is the point of buying a roll of cling wrap on “sale” when you already have two in the pantry? I have been guilty of this in the past.
Those who like to plan meals will make a menu and then shop accordingly. The best way is to plan in reverse…plan around what you already have! Future menu plans may not take into account the half a bunch of herbs or zucchini already in the vegetable crisper. Why buy extra when you already have perfectly good food on hand edging ever so closer to spoiling and reaching use by dates? You simply don’t want to waste more money by throwing away food that has spoilt before you have had a chance to use it.
When I plan, I head to my freezer first. Meat is undoubtedly the most expensive component of my grocery shop. Whilst I thought we had very little on hand, I rummaged through my freezer to find enough meat to provide 14 dinners. I was shocked as Mr. M will freely peruse the discount meat cabinet at our local supermarket and bring it home and freeze. We aim to use this all before it becomes freezer burnt and gets thrown in the rubbish.
After I make a list of meat on hand, I head to the fridge where I look at my perishable fresh ingredients. I use the more perishable items first for example herbs, berries, zucchini, lettuce and cucumbers are used first over less perishable items like potatoes, onions, cabbage and carrots. This helps my weekly shop last the week and avoid extra shopping trips.
I then make a meal plan using items I already have, look at what is handy in the pantry and shop accordingly. A little bit of effort at the start of the week will not only save you money but time also. It saves time by avoiding extra trips to the supermarket, standing at the fridge wondering what to cook, and saves time defrosting once you get home. Writing it down and keeping it visible can keep you on track and informs all members of the house. It saves being asked “What’s for Dinner” six times a day.
Meal planning is not for everyone, but it really does work. Check out my printable Meal Plan PDF with added space for shopping items. Give it a go.
For most people, salad means summer with crisp lettuce, tomato, cucumbers and capsicum. We tend to have multiple heavy meals in winter and therefore sometimes need a lighter meal to offset the hearty comfort foods we eat. We will also happily entertain or visit friends for barbeque dinners in winter and we normally take the obligatory salad or dessert.
If you have ever eaten a tomato in winter you could have experienced a flavourless, firm fruit, pale in it’s orange appearance. Winter tomatoes simply don’t have the rich, ripe flavour and beautiful colour that local summer tomatoes have. Not to mention the huge price tag that comes with it.
The best way to eating cheaply is to eat fruit and vegetables that are in season. “In Season” means it is the current growing season for that particular fruit or vegetable. Apples and citrus fruit love the winter chill whilst berries and stone fruit thrive in warmer conditions. When you buy something in season, it is normally available in abundance, which means lower cost to you. Check out a very useful Australian guide at Seasonal Food Guide to see what is seasonal in your area.
So what happens when you want a great tasting salad in winter but do not have average tasting, expensive tomatoes and cucumber in the fridge? Time to look at our winter crops for inspiration. Beetroot, Pumpkin, Sweet Potato, Fennel and Spinach are always at their best this time of year and make great salads. Other ingredients that make great unconventional salad include broccolini, or fruit such as orange, mandarin or pear.
Coleslaw can be transformed from your average carrot and cabbage to spectacular with the addition of fennel, red onion and apple. I also turn to my pantry for inspiration when the unexpected guests arrive. Changing the base ingredient from salad leaves to pasta, rice, lentils or potato means you can use pantry staples and always have something on hand. I will grab a can each of beetroot and lentil to whip up a Beetroot and Lentil Salad. Another favourite of ours is a Roasted Pumpkin & Sweet Potato Salad that makes use of seasonal root vegetables in the pantry and Spinach from the garden. Experiment and don’t be afraid to try something different.
If you are anything like me, you will tend to cook enough for a small army. Maybe, it is the way I was raised but I always make sure there is always plenty to go around. There is nothing worse than leaving dinner guests hungry.
In saying that, two things happen in our house and I would say most people would have to agree.
Firstly, the leftovers are taken the next day for lunch. My other half will take the leftovers for his workday lunch. This uses our leftovers and prevents temptation when the Chuck Truck arrives and ultimately saves some money. Although, there does come a limit to how many days he is willing to eat the same thing. I dislike eating the same thing two times in a row and have a diversion to eating them so it’s left to Mr. M.
Secondly and more commonly, the leftovers are wrapped in clingwrap, stored in the fridge until they are unrecognisable and then thrown away when we need to create fridge space.
It seems most of us have a conscience when it comes to throwing away perfectly good food. We wouldn’t even contemplate emptying purses and wallets into the rubbish bin but yet by throwing away excess food, this is what we are doing.
I can hear you asking, “Why don’t you simply cook less?” This is well and true but meat items such as whole chickens and legs of lamb cannot be segmented when you want a lovely roast dinner. The goal is to make use of these leftovers in a creative way to not only save time and money but also to create variety and interest. This makes for a quicker and easier dinner the next night without having to eat roast meat sandwiches for the next week.
We regularly have meat remaining when we do a roast. Chicken is turned into Risotto, Pasta, Soup or Wraps. Lamb is turned into fantastic Yiros or Shepherds Pie and our Roast Pork or always turned into succulent Pork Sliders or refried for Vietnamese Meat Rolls. Bolognaise sauce can be used for Mexican Tacos with the inclusion of kidney beans and topped with Guacamole and cheese or used for a Parmagiana sauce on Schnitzel. Leftover rice is always used the very next day as Fried Rice. Cold cooked rice is the only way to make successful fried rice and I will deliberately cook extra for the next nights dinner.
So next time you have leftovers, think how can you use them again and save time and money.