- Make an inventory of what you already have before you do the shopping list. I am a bit methodical about this; I fold a sheet of A4 paper into four sections and label them ‘CARBS, PROTEINS, FRUIT AND VEG, FLAVOUR’. I then rifle through the fridge, freezer and cupboards and write down every last thing that’s there. Every dusty herb and spice, every can of beans, every quarter bag of frozen peas gets written down.
- Meal plan from your inventory. I have a meal planner chart and each week I write the dates in next to the days of the week. I then match what I already have in the fridge or the fruitbowl, by its use by date, to each day of the week, and plan meals around them with what else is kicking around. This leaves you with a lot less to buy, because you’re using what you have, and reduces both your food waste and your shopping bill in the process. By assigning days to use certain items up, you reduce the risk of forgetting about ingredients that languish in the back of the fridge. I learned these tricks working in food service and restaurants and pub kitchens; basically stock take, plan ahead based on what you have, and date rotate. Every single day. It’s a couple of minutes work once you get the hang of it, but you’ll save a fortune, in both time and money.
- Substitute ingredients for similar ones. If your recipe calls for swede and you have carrots in, put the carrots in instead. Swap out fruit and veg for similar items that you have in already – this sounds really obvious, but it’s been one of the questions I have consistently been asked most as a food writer over the last seven years. ‘I don’t have this in, can I use that instead?’ Work out what the main function of that ingredient is – is it bulk, protein, a bit of heat, a root veg, some zing? – and replace it with something that will do the same job. I keep meaning to do a table of substitutes at some point but every time I start, it’s so large and daunting, I stick with replying to individual tweets and comments instead!
- Learn to preserve. I pickle pretty much everything I can get my hands on; from radishes to roots to mushrooms to beans and many other things besides. All you need is water, salt, vinegar and a dash of oil, and whatever flavours take your fancy, and you can turn that withered pepper or shrivelled mushroom lurking in the bottom of the fridge, into a zingy condiment or snack that will last for months.
- Freeze leftovers in individual tupperware portions immediately after you’ve served up. And then label them, and stick them in the freezer. And THEN, I know this sounds fastidious but you may have guessed by now that I love a system, write what it is on a sheet of paper. I keep a half-sarcastic ‘menu’ of home made ready meals stuck to the front of the freezer at home, and when I’m working late or away, my partner and son just pick what they want from the list, bung it in the microwave, and cross it off. Keeping a visible list reminds us that we have good food in ready to be eaten, and when it gets long, I put my feet up for a few days and take some time away from the stove to munch our way through it.
- Finally, get creative with what you have. You can go on my website – jackmonroe.com – and type an ingredient in the search bar to find ideas – and BBC Good Food is another great resource, as is jamieoliver.com and many others. At a push, most veggies can be blitzed into simple soups with a can of beans and some stock and a bit of flavour – curry powder and coconut milk are excellent catch-alls for even the blandest and most tired of vegetables – and then popped in the freezer, labelled and written down, for another day. You can also make pasta sauces, risottos, top pizzas, make pickles, preserves, vegetable omelettes, tarts, quiches – the options are literally limitless! And even tired bags of salad can be given a new lease of life with my salad bag pesto – see here for the recipe!
Click here for my books! All text copyright Jack Monroe.
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