Do you also hate wasting food? I find letting unused ingredients going off the worst because of the guilt. The sprouting potatoes or a bunch of soggy coriander that I threw away were the hard work of some farmers and could have made a meal for the children who went to bed hungry.
So I have researched different ways to stop wasting ingredients. Try them out if you like.
1. Find-recipes-by-ingredients apps
Sometimes ingredients go to waste because you don’t know how to use them. You have two avocados, half an iceberg lettuce and some chicken thighs: which dish can you magic up? When no decent idea comes to mind, you shove them into the far corner of the fridge and eventually forget about them until it’s too late.
Luckily, there are apps you can use. Those apps help to find recipes based on the ingredients that you already have. Some have advanced searches for prioritizing the ingredients, and some have filters for the type of food, such as Asian or European, breakfast or supper.
Most of them are, however, simple to use with both browser and mobile versions. They come in very handy when your stomach is empty and your fridge is full of random bits and pieces.
2. Stocking up
This might sound the opposite to what we are trying to achieve, but let’s not be hasty.
Some ingredients last longer because they are dried, such as herbs, nuts, rice, or spaghetti. Some ingredients can be kept for a long time in the freezer. Actually it is okay to freeze most ingredients but check these tips first. Pickled or canned vegetables can also last quite long.
Keep those ingredients around because they can fill up the missing links in a good recipe that uses your fresh ingredients.
Think about Wednesday evening when you are too tired to do a supermarket run after work, and your aubergine needs using.
However, dried ingredients don’t last forever. Nuts can keep their taste for some time, but herbs do lose their flavour gradually. Do a cupboard check every month to see if you need to use certain spices sooner or even replace them. Frozen food can last for months, but it is best to keep a labeling system for the regular check.
The thumb rule: dried or frozen food is the backup plan, not the main source of nutrition. Go for fresh ingredients whenever you can.
3. Buy herb pots
I used to throw away herbs more often than not. Recipes often ask for a handful as a garnish while supermarkets sell them in packs of a few handfuls. Besides, herbs are fragile: they go off more quickly than cucumber or tomato, for example.
You can, however, buy herbs in pots. With a sunny windowsill, you can keep the plants alive for at least a week. Freshly picked leaves also taste nicer.
The herb pots that you find in supermarkets are often densely planted to give the most leaves in the smallest areas. Thus, they often don’t last every long. But you can move all plants into a bigger container or thinning out the original pot carefully. Then, you can keep, for example, a pot of basil plants going for a couple of months.
4. Master stir-fry rice
It is possible to make a good stir-fry rice from random ingredients once you master the principle. For me, it is the dish for clearing out the fridge. Some people do stews while others make noodles.
Whichever you choose, learn to master it. Experiment with different types of ingredients.
For example, when I do a stir-fry rice, I want something sweet and hardy (carrots, peas or sweet potatoes), something sour and crunchy (pickled cabbages or gherkins), and something spicy (red chillies or jalapenos). Any combination of the three main factors with an egg on top would do.
5. Make weekly food plans
This is the most pro-active “strategy” which I got from using an ingredient delivery service.
The company send you ingredients enough for three meals for two people every week together with recipes. There are also other options for the number of meals and people.
The interesting thing is that they often choose meals that share a couple of ingredients so they can send, for example, a whole pack of chives instead of 5 sprigs of chives. Thus, no awkward ingredients are left unused.
On a personal level, you and I can do the same thing. Plan the week food in advance so we can buy a big pack of certain ingredients and use them all within the week.