It’s hard being stuck at home, no doubt about it. Every night, we face the kitchen, often with a heavy heart and culinary dread. So, on top of striving to be frugal and not waste anything, how do you face making meals every single day while still using everything up?
My strategy is to go big and go small:
- During the week, when I am working and busy, I only take on small food projects. On the weekends or a three-day holiday, I often tackle a bigger cooking project. As an example, I have all these lemons to use up. Sigh. Why is it always the lemons? Anyway, instead of facing huge cooking projects in what feels like drudgery every day, I divide and conquer, going big then small. For example, for the lemons I will cook a meal that uses up lemons and then I bake off a few more items on the weekend. Big and small.
- On days I just cannot face the kitchen, I simply pull a meal from the freezer while adding something, usually from the crisper, to toss into the hot oven for the next night’s meal. Both are small cooking tasks that save me time and hassle.
- I also rely heavily on my minor appliances. A lot. I use my slow cooker three to four times a week. I use my air fryer and my Instapot nearly as often. And I am forever finding new ways to use each. There was a sale on milk so I recently found out that my Instapot makes great yogurt, something I can easily prep while dinner is cooking. I leave it to make yogurt overnight and, in the morning, I have great homemade yogurt. Small effort, big return.
- I do at least one ‘use it up’ dinner a week. My chow mien recipe is great for this because it is essentially a stir-fry that uses up vegetables. This way I know that by the end of the week, I will use up all my veggies and nothing will go to waste.
- I do veggie meal prep, without fail. While Sunday dinner is cooking, I chop and dice up vegetables for the week. It only takes a few minutes (because I rely on my vegetable chopper as much as possible) and saves me a lot of time during the week so while it has big impact, it is actually a small effort. It also means I can quickly pull together meals like tacos which, while frugal and simple, tend to have a lot of ingredients and a lot of moving parts. If the veggies are already prepped, I am far more likely to approach mealtime with a positive attitude.
- I use up at least one ‘I have too much of this’ every week. This week it was little purple potatoes that had been languishing. I sliced them in half, lay them in a cast iron skillet that had been coated with some olive oil and let them crisp up in the oven while dinner cooked off.
- I do one big food project every couple of weeks. My daughter had this giant pumpkin. It had hardened off in the frost, but it was still time to harvest its contents. I took it for her, sliced it into large chunks and roasted them in a hot oven on cookie sheets for about an hour, until the pumpkin flesh was tender. I then broke up the soft and cooled slices into my food processor, added water and zapped it all into a smooth pumpkin puree. Because I did the all the work on this, my daughter and I will split the puree which I use for pumpkin-peanut butter doggy treats, doughnuts, breads and more. I did the same thing with a couple of giant butternut squash my BFF had gifted me. Don’t worry, I am still plotting on getting even when I visit her next time because I still have a lot of lemons. Anyway, I simply took the time one weekend to peel, chop and freeze the cubes of delicious nutty squash goodness. I don’t do this every single weekend because I do not have the time or patience every weekend, but I do get around to these prep projects every few weeks. The food I prep is often free and from someone’s garden, so it saves me money in the long run.
- Canned creativity. I have a dwindling pile of canned foods that need using up prior to their, ‘use by’ date. I keep an eye on these and try and use one or two for lunches every week.
- Two-for-one side dishes. When cooking dinner or even making lunch, I try and think ahead and make extra of something I know I will need later in the week. For example, I will make extra rice along with Taco Tuesday’s Spanish rice, so I have enough for Friday’s fried rice (because freshly made rice just won’t work for this application). I will make more pasta than I need for another meal or extra polenta for cubing and making crispy via the air fryer. I will steam up extra vegetables for another meal, etc.
So, as we all are still mostly working from home and facing the Big K(itchen) meal prep every night, try staying frugal by going big and then going small.