With coronavirus putting us in lockdown we are to stay at home and mustn’t visit the shops too often. This provides a perfect opportunity to learn how to make the food which you’ve already got in your kitchen go further. Without making any drastic changes a tweak here and there can eke out another few days from your ingredients. It’ll save you time, money and help you and your family to stay safe. Here’s how:
- Check your fridge, freezer and store cupboards before you shop. It might sound obvious but hand on your heart, do you always do it? Count food that is already in your home as free food and use what you’ve got.
- Use your common sense. By law, food producers have to offer a sell-by and a use-by date. These can be useful if you are buying items which will go off such as eggs, fish, meat or dairy however for the majority of items it is best to simply use your common sense to see if an ingredient is still good to use. Dry ingredients such as spices, flour, pasta, rice, lentils and tinned tomatoes have long sell-buy dates and may well last much longer than it says on the packet. Open them up – do they smell okay and look okay? If it’s a yes then the chances are that they probably taste just fine too. The same goes for fresh ingredients. According to the label blueberries, for example, seem to have a short shelf life. But if they look like a normal blueberry still and smell like a normal blueberry two weeks after they are meant to have ‘gone off’ then they are still good to eat. With blueberries, the way to tell if they are okay to eat or not is by seeing if they have gone squishy and mouldy and the same goes for most fresh food. The food items which I am strict with the sell-buy / best before dates are fish and meat. But before I get a chance to chuck them away I will be sure to cook them up in a freezable format and pop them into the freezer. This way food is very rarely wasted.
- Only use as much as you need. It may sound obvious but when a fellow chef highlighted this to me many years ago I saw a substantial impact on how often I had to shop and how much I spent. If you only need half a carrot, only use half the carrot and save the rest for another meal. Likewise, if you only need half a tin of coconut milk, only use half a tin and decanter the other half into a plastic container for another day. This way you are doubling the amount of meals you make from the same number of ingredients.
- Keep all leftovers. It’s been said before that leftovers can often be the tastiest meals as the flavours have had time to infuse and tenderise. Leftover main meals can be kept in the fridge for another meal 2-3 days later or bagged up, labelled and put in the freezer. Keep even the smallest amounts of vegetables, rice, meat or fish as these are free ready-cooked meals which can be added to and turned into something new.
- Find a system for your leftovers which works for you. Are you a list person and need a fridge and freezer inventory? Does an immaculate Tupperware cupboard make you happy? Or would you rather just keep a mental note of what you’ve got and use old yoghurt pots and ice cream tubs for storage? There are no right or wrongs – just find a system which works for you and measure your success on how many leftovers you keep and use up.
- Be sure to label your leftover food with what it is, how many it’s for and when you made it. This helps you decipher what’s in your freezer and minimizes the risk of using it as a dumping ground. A well-rotated fridge, freezer or store cupboard is what you are aiming for here. One that you can go into and instantly recognise what is what. Frozen food especially can become disconcerting. Don’t follow my mistake and take out gravy that I thought was toffee sauce when I was serving up a sticky toffee pudding. You’ll be far more likely to use your leftovers if you know exactly what it is and how it can help you.
- Try to eat smaller portions. I’m not meaning go on a diet here, I am simply meaning that for those of you who tend to pile food to your plate try and keep it within the rim. That’s what the inner rim of the plate is designed for – a natural indicator to show you how much is enough. If you save 1/7th per meal it’ll add up to an additional meal every week.
- Use the food which goes off first. This is a simple trick which helps reduce waste. In a weekly shop, for example, your fresh greens such as spinach, courgettes and broccoli will go off before the root vegetables such as carrots, onions, leeks or squash. Use the freshest items which are most likely to turn first which leaves the other items happily sitting on the shelf for another week or two.
- Think before using an ingredient. Each ingredient should have its place and should be adding 1 of 5 things – bulk, flavour, texture, colour or nutrients. It is important more now than ever before to think about whether you need to add that extra ingredient or whether it will be just as nice without it. Think of a painter mixing paints. If he adds too many different colours he will likely make brown. But a few well-chosen colours in the right balance will make his painting sing.
- Grate vegetables on the large grate instead of chopping them. By grating rather than chopping vegetables such as carrots, courgettes, beetroot, fennel or cucumber you will use less than if you chop them. You might be amazed as to how much you save and can use again for another meal. Grating them also means that you are more likely to eat them raw and not loose vital nutrients in the cooking process.
Above all stay safe, stay well and let me know if you have any questions or there is something you need help with.