Meal Plan Primer: Shopping the Refrigerator

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Heather says:

Last week, my friend Jen at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam wrote about food waste. Her post was a good reminder that we all need to put the brakes on food waste.

Shop the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry before creating this week’s meal plan.

For experienced cooks, this process only takes a few minutes, but for those of you who are still finding your kitchen legs, I’ll break down the process a bit further.

Gather your supplies:

  • cleared counter or table space
  • pen and paper
  • sharpie + masking tape
  • garbage receptacle + compost bowl¹
  • dilute white vinegar in a spray bottle
  • soapy water
  • clean rags

Do not just stand there with the fridge hanging open while you do your business.

Open the fridge, empty the top shelf onto your cleared counter space, and remove the rack or shelf. Spritz the exposed walls of the refrigerator and wipe down with the dilute vinegar. Then CLOSE the door.

Wash the shelf/rack in soapy water, rinse, and allow to dry while doing the next step.

Work quickly and sort the items from the shelf. Accidental science projects go to the trashcan or compost bowl immediately. If something is approaching its use it or lose it time frame. If it’s in a disposable container, use your sharpie to boldly write the use by date on the container. Use masking tape if the item is in your good plastic or glassware.

Write down the items and make sure to call attention to those ingredients approaching the end of their lifespan.

Finally, return the usable items to their shelf, keeping the need to use items as close to the front as possible. You want these items in your face, a visual reminder each time you open the door.

Continue working your way down the fridge, and please don’t forget to wipe out the very bottom of the fridge underneath the drawers. It is disturbing what finds its way into the refrigerator².

Create your menu from the list of items that need to be used immediately.

What can you make from odds and ends that aren’t enough for a recipe of their own? Items like:

  • a few green onions
  • half a bell pepper
  • half a tomato etc?

Have you ever made Mustgo Soup? It’s a great technique for using up the little odds and ends.

Many recipes are great techniques for using up leftover odds and ends.

There are two things to keep in mind. Watch out for freaky flavor combinations – in less PC terms segregate your leftovers by their ethnicity. It sounds harsh, but if you aren’t super familiar with what spice combinations work well together, don’t just throw it in the same dish and hope.

Once you have your menu planned from the items that must be used, create your shopping list to fill in the gaps. Do not buy any extra food this week, unless there’s a great sale on items for your emergency pantry.  Just be sure those items are stored with FiFo in mind – First In, First Out. This helps keeps your food rotated.

Got it? Questions?

How do you put a stop to food waste?

¹We have a passive compost pile. Rather than walking out into the backyard every time I have scraps for the pile, I keep a covered bowl in the kitchen for all the vegetable waste and egg shells.
²One would think our basset hound pulls out the drawers and takes a nap in there.

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10 thoughts on “Meal Plan Primer: Shopping the Refrigerator”

  1. I loved that post by Jen. And I agree fried rice, omelets, and frittatas are a great way to use up those odds and ends that we often end up having.

  2. One thing I started to do (after finding a small dry erase board at a recycling bin and decided to reuse it) is to post what is in the frig on the frig door.

    This acts as a reminder what needs to be used right away or what veggies are in the crisper so I don't forget to use them – something I'm notorious for.

    It's helped cut down on the number of times the door gets open just to see what's to eat. And reminds me at a glance what needs to be used.
    My recent post Been there – doing that

  3. This is a great article! Love the fritatta recipe especially. I always buy huge packages of eggs (because they are the cheapest per pound) but have trouble using them up. Will definitely try that.

  4. Use leftovers for a quick and easy lunch that generally tastes better than coldcuts. Almost anything can be combined with a few other staples (cheeses, veggies, it depends on what you're using up) in a tortilla for a great wrap.

  5. Usually, leftovers are recycled into lunches during the week, but when the "stuff" starts getting a little out of hand, I have been known to make an "EAT ME" list – I tried putting post-its on containers in the fridge (old habits die hard!), but they tended to fall off.

    • Your EAT ME list has me cracking up. Mostly because I have the sense of humor of a 12 yo, but there you go.

      Humidity and post-its don't like each other very much.

      There you go, you should invent a glue that doesn't care about condensation, but is still easily removed. Have fun. 😉

  6. I do a lot of awesome salads for lunches (leftover sauce worked into some kind of vinaigrette) but we also do a LOT of quiches in our house. I've found that the store brand pie crusts are actually better than the name-brand one. When they go on sale I buy a few boxes and then when I have a small knob of cheese, half a chicken breast or a handfull of random veggies, I throw together some kind of quiche and it's amazing.


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