Food Waste Prevention Tip: Plan Healthy Meals
CalRecycle has partnered with the Public Health Alliance of Southern California and other state agencies to celebrate March 5-9, 2018, as California’s first Food Waste Prevention Week. As CalRecycle’s Executive Fellow and a former restaurant cook, I plan to use this week to share some of my own ideas and strategies to reduce food waste at home.
Meal planning is basically just organizing to prepare a meal. With my restaurant background, I have an insider’s perspective to the process. Meal planning makes cooking efficient and effective, and it prevents food waste. Food waste can negatively impact a restaurant’s economic viability, which is why successful chefs maximize the products they use.
The lifecycle of prepared food doesn’t have to end after one meal! Planning meals that build upon each other minimizes food waste and creates more appetizing leftovers. Leftover roast chicken for dinner can be served with salads, baked into enchiladas, or made into soup. The chicken bones and leftover vegetable peelings can be made into stock, which can then be made into soups or sauces. With a little planning and creativity, an inexpensive roast chicken can be made into three or four different meals.
Next time you go out to eat, check out the restaurant’s soup of the day. A little restaurant insider knowledge for you: The soup of the day is where the leftovers from last night end up. Instead of throwing food away, smart chefs maximize their profits and sell as much product as possible. Repurposing food can be both efficient and delicious!
The same principals of creative reuse can be applied by the home cook. Planning your meals for the week can help you avoid eating out, saving you money, enabling you to eat healthier meals, and avoiding food waste. I find meal planning also saves me time during the work week. The last thing I want to do when I get home is figure out what to eat for dinner.
I’m going to walk you through the meal planning process with the steps below.
If you’re new to meal planning, start small.
Planning and preparing your lunches for the work week is a great place to start. Investing a few hours on a Sunday afternoon yields a week’s worth of healthy, affordable, and delicious lunches. Bringing my lunch to work has not only saved me a tremendous amount of money, but also prevented packaging waste like plastic bags, utensils, and Styrofoam containers.
Make a plan
When I conceptualize meals, I follow a simple formula that is easy to get creative with. I always prepare meals that include some type of grain or starch, some kind of vegetable, and a protein. This basic meal formula is easy to replicate and interchange with different ingredients based on my mood or craving. For example, later this week I’m going to share with you my recipe to prepare Soy Marinated Crispy Tofu Bowls with Garlic Kale and Brown Rice.
Survey your supplies and cook components of your meals
When planning my meals, I also consider what kind of product I have already prepared on hand. Creating dishes around what you already have uses up your supplies, saving you money and preventing food waste. Cooked grains like rice or quinoa keep well in the fridge and are simple enough to be used throughout the week without you getting tired of the flavors.
Make friends with your freezer!
The best way to divert food waste from the waste stream is to save it for later. Consider your freezer. Make a double batch of sauces, stews, beans, and casseroles, and save the extra in the freezer for a future weeknight dinner with zero cooking. I love using the freezer for food storage, and I’m going to share more of my favorite freezer ideas later this week.
Make a shopping list
Grocery shopping is a crucial component to successful meal planning. Yet another benefit of meal planning is that you save money at the grocery store by only shopping for exactly what you need. Try to plan multiple meals during the week that utilize the same ingredients to prevent that ingredient from expiring and becoming food waste. I also consult my grocery store’s circular ad and consider what is on sale when meal planning. I build my meals around deals.
There you have it! One important thing to keep in mind is that meal planning is personal—some of the tips I discussed may not work for you. Think of these ideas as a starting point. Once you start meal planning, it becomes second nature. There’s no right or wrong way to meal plan, as long as it’s efficient for you and minimizes food waste.
Later this week I’ll share my recipe for Soy Marinated Crispy Tofu Bowls with Garlic Kale and Brown Rice. Stay tuned for more resources, tips, and ideas. To learn more, please visit Save The Food. Interested in other ways to reduce food waste? Check out the Public Health Alliance of Southern California’s Resource Library and CalRecycle’s Resource Directory.