Anytime that you have prepared more food than you can consume at the the time it is made you have leftovers. Often leftovers hang around in the refrigerator until they get old and are thrown out. This represents a tremendous waste of both food and money annually. There are all kinds of articles and books out there that offer advice on how to “recycle” leftovers or how to make them more attractive to your family. The reason that leftovers rarely get eaten is that no one is home during the day at lunchtime to make a midday meal of last nights leftovers, the kids are at school and the grownups are at work. At the end of the day if the family is to eat together then someone must prepare another meal because there aren’t enough leftovers to feed the whole family. Thus the food just sits in the refrigerator and no one goes out of their way to make an opportunity to eat it so it goes to waste.
There is a way to eliminate leftovers in your home and to stop wasting money on food that gets thrown away. Using a food storage system leftover food becomes handy and convenient frozen lunches that you can take to work. Using a food storage system you can actually simplify your life, exercise more control over what you and your family are eating, improve your health, and get better control of your weight or weight loss goals. There are very commonly three objections, that people throw up as roadblocks to initiating changes to the way that they do things now. “I would have to buy a bunch of storage containers.”, “My family won’t eat leftovers.”, and finally my personal favorite, “There is no room in my refrigerator for storing storage containers of leftovers.” This article is going to help you to be smarter about your food budget and more importantly, manage food to increase usability and convenience, save money on school or workday lunches, and help you to make the money that you spend on food go further. Groceries are not the only foods that we eat and spending $5-10 per day on fast food lunches is not cost effective of practical. There are a number of benefits of having a food system at home rather than grabbing conveniences wherever you can. This information is as relevant to men as it is for women, everyone eats right?
Whether you live alone, you live with a spouse, roommate, friends, or have children in your home, you eat don’t you? If anyone else lives in your household they tend to do the same correct? Food is a constant issue in any household. The food that is on hand at any given time varies, especially if you have more than one person within a household. Whatever you intend to cook is either there in your kitchen or you will have to go shopping for whatever ingredients you lack. There is room for modification and improved efficiency even in this stage of the food system-aquisition. When we go to the store we rarely if ever make our list or make purchases based upon what we intend to cook. Rather we rely upon what we perceive as common needs. Staples like rice, beans, dry goods and such are easier to keep and store than are the perishables. Meats however can be kept for quite awhile frozen until we get around to noticing it is there and using it. That is a waste of space, a misuse of your food budget, and an inefficient and ineffective way to go about laying food stores.
Figuring out five to seven meals that you will want to cook in the next week is not difficult. You know what goes into each of those meals. Add all of the ingredients that you do not already have to your list. Include your regular snacks and beverages and you then have your list of what to buy at the store. If you are not going to cook something in the next week or more then why buy it now and store it in your freezer? The store will more likely than not, still have the item on sale the week that you intend to add it to your menu, and the grocery store has a lot more storage space than you do. You do need to leave yourself a little flexibility for items that are on sale at a good price, but if you want to take advantage of the specials or you see something that just looks delicious and of better than usual quality at a great price it is fine to add this item to your purchases. You also need whatever you are going to need to make that one component into an actual meal.
Home cooked meals vs convenience foods.
Home cooked foods have several major advantages that you will not find in any type of convenience food out there. If you prepare and cook your meals, they taste how you like them too. For an individual who lives alone the savings that you realize by cooking at home instead of going out or grabbing convenience food (convenience foods are ready to eat foods like fast food, mini market prep food, snack foods, or candy.)
Unless your convenience food preference is sliced fruits or vegetables, convenience foods are loaded with all kinds of things, fats, cholesterol, oils, chemicals, bacteria and germs, preservatives, and more, that are not good for you. These ingredients are not good or even acceptable alternatives to balanced healthy meals which prepared at home, will rarely contain any of those things. Even if food you cook contains these unhealthful fats, starches, and empty calories, it is unlikely that they are represented in nearly the quantities or quality grades, in your own cooking, that they are in your average bag of chips or cheese curls.
Cooking for one
Portion control is not just something that you do when you serve up plates of food. Portion control is very important and it will arise in every stage of this proposed food system. Most recipes that you find in cookbooks, magazines, and online are ordinarily adjusted to between 4-8 average sized portions. If you are single it can sometimes be depressing trying to cook for just one person because making regular sized recipes can lead either to over eating or wasting food due to spoilage, Also reducing recipes to accommodate a single person can be difficult when there is no measuring spoon for ½ of a ¼ tsp or a half of a 1/3 cup measuring cup. Trying to cut a recipe in half can be both confusing and frustrating. When you’re single, you often prefer to go out and eat rather than staying in and cooking just for you. Especially if you are not into leftovers and they tend to hang around in the refrigerator until they go bad and you end up throwing them out. The amount of money that you waste in spoilage if this is the case, can run into hundreds of dollars a year for an individual and thousands for a family of four.
Making efficient use of the time you have when you have it
If you work long work weeks, a good and fruitful use of your time on the weekend would be to cook, a lot. Not a lot of any one thing but several different meals. Ideally to take your through the next week you want to make 4-5 separate main dishes, casseroles or stews or goulash recipes. You can also make and store layered or stuffed pastas, or stuffed vegetables such as stuffed eggplant Parmesan, stuffed peppers, or stuffed mushrooms. You will still want to make some side dishes also, especially if you are used to making certain foods together which complement each other. You will want the side dishes to make your meals complete. When you finish cooking these foods, store them immediately in plastic food storage containers that are both safe for the freezer and are microwavable. They are then handy and convenient to pop into a bag and take to work with you if they have a microwave in your break room at work. They are also convenient for when you come home hungry but don’t feel like doing any cooking. Just pop one of your frozen foods into the microwave and in a few minutes you can sit down to a fresh homemade meal.
What you should do is buy a good quality set of reusable storage containers. Many people claim the reason that they don’t have storage containers is because they don’t have room in their cabinets for a set of Tupperware or whatever. Though Tupperware is a great storage container maker, usually if you have a full set it takes up a cabinet or two. However there is a product called a Storage Container caddy. It has a rotating base, three sizes of containers all stacked together in their own separate slots, and then the fourth slot in the stand holds all of the lids for all of the containers. This storage container system is great because it spins so it doesn’t have to be taken out of the cabinet that you keep it in. All of the containers are stackable and all fit together into the spinning caddy that they come in. Finally the best thing about this type of storage container system is that the lids fit onto all of the containers regardless of size. The entire caddy with all of the storage containers on it will take up maybe ½ of one shelf in your cabinet. The containers are sturdy and durable and can be used and washed over and over again. The caddy containers are microwavable and dishwasher safe as well. If you are going to do the whole week’s worth of meals however you will either need a few larger containers or a second caddy set.
Using disposable single use baking dishes you can also put together casseroles, lasagna, or other pasta bakes together in the container, seal it well with plastic wrap or foil and put it away in the freezer for some night when you don’t feel like cooking when you get home, or when you need to call your kids or baby sitter and ask them to just throw it in the oven for you before you get home. If it is frozen solid and covered you can even leave the casserole in the oven to defrost while you are at work and just turn the oven on when you get home. It is very convenient, no muss, no fuss, and you have a home cooked meal without any of the cleanup normally required.
Sizing it all up
Use the containers to store different sized proportions (they come in three sizes.) The smallest is perfect for snacking or for kid sized portions. The mid sized container is perfect for a single serving. They are handy and convenient to take to work with you as long as there is a microwave. The larger ones are big enough for either a dinner portion or a single serving portion for two people. For best results you will have to experiment with packaging and cooling, some foods taste better the second day than they do the first. The flavors still have to marry sometimes so you have to decide whether to let it marry in the fridge for a day before packaging it up or doing the packaging while it is still fresh and hot.. You can freeze your casseroles and bakes and such either cold or hot. As you experiment with different foods you will find the methods that work for each type of food that you want to store.
If you have a family and you make larger meals for the whole family every night, you can build up your frozen food stores simply by doubling the size of the recipe or instead of making one casserole make two exactly the same. Package one up as soon as it is made and serve the other to your family. Any leftover food from that casserole, package it up and freeze it too. Thus they are not leftovers they are stored meals. Your family is much more likely to eat the food if it is stored fresh and frozen than if it has been hanging around on a plate in the refrigerator for a few days.
You will also need self adhesive blank labels, a roll of clear plastic packing tape, and a felt tipped Sharpie style pen. When you fill each container write on the container the contents and the date that you made it. You can even make variations and note the changes on the label. For example if you make a pot of chili, you can freeze half of it vegetarian style and then add your meat or macaroni noodles . This helps to give you some variety so that you don’t tire of certain foods. Of course when you are doing all this cooking you will be doing a lot of sampling and experimenting with variations. I find when I spend a weekend cooking I am almost never hungry, and I eat less due to all of the tasting and sampling I do while I cook. Also if you fill your sink with dishwater when you start you can wash the various dishes measuring cups and implements as you go which should keep your work spaces and counter tops available and clean as well as your dishes. Making multiple meals is a real multitasking challenge but it can also be fun, especially if you have kids that like to help in the kitchen.
The same can be done with some deserts but not all. For custard style pies like lemon, pumpkin, and sweet potato what is required is a deft hand and a bit of thickening of your pie filling so that it does not shift about on you. A word of advice though if you are going to prepare pies for future baking you should do the pies before you begin freezing any of your other foods because the pies must be frozen on a level surface so that the fillings stay in them. Depending on the size of your freezer though if it were empty you could feasibly get 2-3 pies per shelf. If you own a side by side refrigerator freezer then you have room for whatever. Pies are easy to do and they are stackable. Tip: Freeze your pie crusts first. These you can stack one atop the other in the freezer once they are frozen (about a half hour to an our should freeze them solid.) This helps to solidify your filling faster, freezing your pie crusts also keeps them from absorbing moisture from the pie filling and turning to mush when baked.
If you are baking pies for a party, an event, or just because. As long as you are doing the big baking mess it is an easy thing to just throw a few extra pies in the freezer for sometime in the future when you feel like something sweet but are not up to the task of baking and cleaning up the ensuing mess. You simply make extra pie crusts, roll them out, put them in your pie plates or tins, freeze your crusts for at least 30 minutes before you fill them. Then just set the pie crust flat on the shelf in your freezer. Using a measuring cup or ladle, spoon your pie filling into the pie crust. Allow the filling to freeze to at least a soft set (an hour or so) then take them out of the freezer, slip them sideways into a one gallon freezer storage bag, zip the bag shut, and if your fie filling is solid enough you can then stack them one atop the other in your freezer until you are ready to bake them. When you take them out to bake take them out of the freezer for at least an hour to an hour and a half, then bake them at about 25 degrees lower than you normally would for half of the baking time to allow the pie to thaw thoroughly so that it cooks completely. Tip: You can make pot pies from leftover chicken, pork, or beef and frozen mixed vegetables, butter, salt and spices and freeze them the same way as a fruit pie. Just combine all of your ingredients in a frozen pie crust, cover with your top crust, cut vents as you would for baking, slip the whole thing into a freezer bag and freeze it for future use.
You can also save cookie dough for future use. You just make a double batch of cookie dough when you are baking cookies instead of making a single batch.You simply refrigerate the portion of dough that you are not going to bake now, for about 15-30 minutes, remove it from the fridge, roll it into spoon sized balls and drop the cookie dough balls into an appropriately sized freezer storage bag. Alternatively you could also roll the dough into a cylinder such as you would find in the grocery store. Then you wrap it in wax paper to help it hold that shape, then you insert the roll of dough into a freezer storage bag and store it
How this system saves you both money and time
Some people may be wondering how making a lot of food is going to save you money on spoilage and help to save you time and money at the same time. Normally leftovers from a meal are a small portion, a serving or two. Enough maybe for lunch or a quick easy dinner for one, but if you eat every night as a family and you are not at home during the day the food just sits in the refrigerator and goes uneaten until someone throws it out. If on the other hand you make a double batch of whatever your family is eating, you then take your storage containers and fill them will all of the extra food before you even serve up the dinner, and pop them into the freezer. With casseroles or pasta bakes it is always better to freeze them while they are still hot and fresh out of the oven. You know around how much your family eats so you can make full plates for everyone and then at the same time take a few extra minutes to put away all of the rest in the storage containers; Leave a little in case someone wants more. Any food that is leftover from the meal that wasn’t already stored up and put into the freezer you can put into one of your storage containers and put it in the refrigerator for easy microwaving later or the next day.
All of the frozen home cooked foods as great for when the family doesn’t eat together and you don’t feel like cooking, or if you are single just for during the week when you don’t feel like going out. If there is a microwave at work you can take your frozen meals to work and heat them up for lunch. The kids or the adults can grab a quick frozen container out of the freezer pop it in the microwave and zap it when they come home from school or on the weekends when you’re busy and they don’t feel like making something. Anytime that you need a meal for one or two people these meals that you have frozen will be a convenient alternative to eating fast foods, prep food, or convenience foods. These foods are not full of preservatives, excessive salts, color fixatives, chemical flavor or smell enhancers, low quality oils or fillers. The best part about freezing your own meals is that, unlike commercially frozen prepared meals, in your kitchen you use high quality consumables, natural ingredients, and you know what all of those ingredients are.
Nutritional Value and control of what you eat
In the modern age of plastic packaged foods, and mass produced prep foods with the nutritional value of eating the cardboard container instead of the food contained within, food safety is important and yet it is further out of our hands, our control, and our ability to know with confidence what is in them. Even with the food labeling system do you know what is included in the catchall term “Natural flavors”? How about what exactly xantham gum or guargum, is or what it is doing in your food. Do you know whether the Soybeans listed on the label of 50-60% of the products on the shelf in your grocery store, used as a natural filler in all kinds of food products, is a Genetically Modified Plant product? The massive food production system can tell you the ingredients chapter and verse on the label and feel that they are making a full disclosure. So that the consumer “can made an informed choice about what they feed their family.”. I personally do not feel any better informed as to the safety or wholesomeness of the product after reading the label. I can certainly make a comparison between two like food products, if I took the time in the store to stand there and compare two or more products. When you prepare even your prep food at home, you know precisely what is in it. You put it there and there is no gum of any kind, nor a single soybean required when you make home cooked versions of foods which you can buy in the grocery store.
If you are trying to diet or just to watch the calorie content of what you eat then this method of preventing spoilage and preparing healthy meals for both yourself and for your family, can be of tremendous help to you. It is a well known fact that fast foods contain a lot of carbohydrates and fats, not to mention both modified and unmodified starches and oils. Clearly your good health is not of tremendous concern to the fast food industry. With the limited time that we have during our workday we have to have food fast when we are on our lunch break. For this reason many people try to save money and or watch what they are eating by bringing in microwavable TV dinners, which is a moderately healthier alternative to other types of convenience food. By freezing single servings in microwavable containers, you too are making your food convenient and portable.
By cooking double recipes or large amounts of the foods that you cook regularly and then freezing them immediately after cooking preserves the freshness and the taste of your foods. Also it removes the stigma of being “leftovers” for your family. These containers are not food that has been left sitting around in the refrigerator because no one wanted to eat it, and because it is frozen solid it won’t go bad for a very long time. Thus the food will probably be consumed, and the amount of food waste from spoilage in your household will go down. There will also be few if any “leftovers” left in the house. However if you are working late, or need a something to eat that is handy and convenient after coming home from work, it is nice to just be able to pop something wholesome into the microwave and enjoy a nice home cooked meal without having to get out the pots and pans or go to the fuss of preparing something. Speed and convenience are necessary in anyone’s life, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have more control over what you and your family eat. Convenience can be created when you do the prep work and cleanup when you do have the time, on the weekends, your days off, or when you are already cooking anyway. Then package it up and store it away in the freezer for convenience and wholesome goodness when you need it.