I have always been a huge fan of leftovers; when I was in school while everyone else ate sandwiches I was having lentil soup, spaghetti or vegetable stew, and I still love having a bean burrito for breakfast on the weekends. Leftovers are awesome; they are a cost effective way of enjoying delicious food whether it’s homemade or coming from a doggy-bag. It may surprise you to hear that the average family throws away approximately $600 worth of food every year, so before we look at how to get the most use out of your leftovers, let’s zero in on grocery shopping.
I love shopping for groceries, I find it very relaxing to browse the aisles and see what’s new in store and what’s on sale, I even spent 3 ½ years working part time at a local grocery store. However, these stores can be a trap for excess splurges on food items that are not so good for you. Think about it, food conglomerates spend a lot of time and resources on marketing their new products to their target audience, and it works. How many times have you gone to the store, list in hand only to leave with a shopping cart full of goodies that you really don’t need or even intended to buy in the first place because something new caught your eye? Getting the most use out of the food that you spend your hard earned dollars on is essential to not only being healthy but to also being financially better off as well. The first and most important step is to plan ahead in terms of shopping, start by checking flyers of local stores to see what’s on sale for that week, also check online for any coupons or rebates, and be sure to see if the store offers any loyalty program that can lead to even better discounts. That being said, don’t just buy something because you have a coupon for it, buy it only if you actually want it and intend to eat it; as tempting as a discount may seem, nobody needs 30 bottles of mustard at any given time. Make a list of everything that you will buy for the upcoming week and stick to that list, and it goes without saying that you should always budget ahead of time to see how much you actually can afford and be sure to stay within your limit. Although the prepackage stuff is tempting and convenient, buying the less processed stuff is way more affordable and healthy as you can control the way your meal is prepared. Always keep in mind that when you buy something already prepared, you’re not only paying for the food itself, you’re also paying for the packaging too. Aim for fresh, local produce when possible, otherwise frozen is also a great choice during winter months as the produce is picked when ripe and is frozen immediately to lock in the nutrients. In terms of buying in bulk, I suggest that you proceed with caution. You may think that you’re getting a great deal by buying 40 fresh zucchinis for $5, but if it goes bad before you’ve eaten half it, then it is a waste of your money. What I do suggest you buy in bulk is items with a long shelf life like whole grains, dried beans, nuts, and canned items. These are staple items that last and are ideal to always have in your home.
Before you do head out for groceries though, take a look at your pantry, fridge and freezer for what’s been sitting there for a while. Any items that are expired should be thrown away for safety reasons and when in doubt, if it smells even a bit little funky, then you probably shouldn’t hold on to it. Now I’m not advocating that you be wasteful and clear out your shelves, but what I am suggesting is that going forward buy food that you will actually cook with and eat, that way you ultimately end up saving money.
Now that we’ve covered how to shop smart, let’s have a look at being smart in the kitchen. After a long day, chances are you don’t really want to spend an hour cooking a gourmet, healthy meal fit for a king, so taking time to plan ahead is ideal to eat well on a busy schedule. Take a couple of hours every week to prep your food and meals for the days ahead. I typically keep a big batch of some kind of bean cooked and ready to go in my fridge at all times; buying them dried is way cheaper than the canned stuff (I soak dried beans overnight and boil them for about 1 ½ hours the following morning while I’m having breakfast). If you do eat meat or fish, you can easily grilled or bake it a few days ahead. The same goes for grains; prepare a batch of rice or quinoa or what have you and keep it in a container, make enough to last for the week. Another option is to prep your veggies as well by chopping up peppers, carrots and broccoli and keeping them in separate sealed containers; this is a huge time saver for cooking dinners and packing lunches. Otherwise you always have the option of cooking meals for the entire week ahead, like making soups, pasta sauces and roasted vegetables with some kind of lean protein. If this is what you choose, be sure to make several different meals because you may get sick of eating the same exact meal day after day. This is one of the reasons why I suggest you keep a big batch of protein, grains and veggies on hand so that you can prepare them using different flavors each day.
So let’s talk actual leftovers. Say you’ve got some grilled chicken/fish/tofu, pasta sauce, wild rice and roasted veggies sitting in your fridge, well you can easily combine them to make a rice pilaf for your lunch the following day. Or if you’ve got a bag of mixed greens why not thinly slice your protein of choice and have it on a bed of greens and maybe drizzle a little olive oil and vinegar for a nice salad instead? If you have some leftover soup, try adding some herbs, spices or hot sauce to it for a nice change of pace. There are so many ways that you can transform the food sitting in your fridge to something new and tasty each day. Take for example the photo at the start of this post; I combined wild rice with black beans spinach and peppers with oil, lemon juice and pepper for a cold rice salad and it was a delicious lunch for a typical workday. I had made a big batch of rice and beans for the week so the next day as an alternative I sautéed the beans with the rice and some onions with salsa and cumin for a Mexican flavor, it was great and completely different from the previous day’s lunch.
Cooking can be so simple and you don’t have to go all out every day for every meal. Although it can be fun to try new ingredients and recipes, for the most part you can eat delicious food that seems decadent, but is actually healthy and quick to prepare. Be sure to use what you already have before you buy a bunch of new things that can cost you a fortune. Plan ahead, budget, make lists and menus and you can not only save money, you can also save time all the while eating well and staying healthy. Always remember to keep it simple and enjoy!
Start It, Finish