I feel incredibly lucky that I’ve been able to keep up my regular routine of going to the grocery store once per week (albeit, with mask and gloves and oodles of hand sanitizer!) during this interesting and scary time. Honestly, I haven’t been incredibly inconvenienced, food-wise … one week I couldn’t find chicken, but I used frozen chicken from Butcher Box (it’s a great time to join – here’s a discount!). Another week, I couldn’t find asparagus or blueberries, but there were plenty of other vegetables and fruits. You get the point. Unless you need toilet paper or paper towels, you’re going to be fine in my neighborhood. That said, I understand that there are people with much more difficult situations out there, and there are also many people who are used to going to the grocery store multiple times per week that are now doing their part not to (way to go!). So, in today’s post, I want to share a mindset strategy to help you get creative in the kitchen, engage in fridge foraging, and create healthy pantry meals!
The #1 Most Important Key to Getting Creative in the Kitchen
There’s a very simple, but very important mindset shift that needs to happen before I start diving into practical tips. Rather than thinking you need all kinds of specific herbs and unique ingredients to make a fancy recipe you saw on Pinterest, try shifting to gratitude for what you do have, flexibility to go with the flow, and openness to experiment with whatever you have.
Truly, what’s the worst that happens if you don’t follow a recipe and just try to experiment? It’s not the tastiest meal you’ve ever had in your life? Well, sorry to be blunt, but there are worse problems in the world. If it nourishes you, and you learn something, let’s just go with it! A nutrition teacher from my past used to encourage people to “burn the rice!!” His point was that people get so fearful of cooking rice (how much liquid? At what temperature? Should I stir it?) that they never even try. But the worst thing that happens is you end up eating burnt rice, and again, it’ll be OK. Consider now a great time to learn how to cook, and if you mess up a bit, no problem!
Now isn’t the time to say, “I only eat the crispest celery possible” or “if it’s too liquidy, I’ll pass.” Nope, now is the time to get flexible and appreciate that you have nourishing food to fuel yourself! Are you with me? OK, let’s get cooking!
A simple recipe to make healthy pantry meals
Here’s a simple recipe to throw together any meal with whatever you have on hand:
- Veggies. Of course, you knew I’d start there! Fresh is always my favorite, but frozen are also great, and even canned work for now! Aim to include two types of veggies with each meal when possible.
- Protein. Got chicken? Ground beef? A can of beans? A can of tuna? Some lentils? Great! Add them in.
- Flavoring and healthy fat: I’m certainly not averse to a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, but if you want a bit more flavoring, try some of these combinations. The healthy fat will also keep you fuller for longer!
- Salsa and avocado (plus cheese if that works for you)
- Tomato sauce and cheese or nutritional yeast, plus basil and / or oregano
- Cumin, ghee or butter, salt, and pepper with a dash of cayenne
- Lemon juice, pepper, and avocado or olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar with olive oil
- Coconut milk, cumin, and curry powder
- Coconut aminos (or soy sauce if you tolerate that) with minced ginger and minced garlic
- Anything else you want! Why not experiment?
- Starch: If you’re super active or if a starch works for you, add a starch like potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, rice, or quinoa.
See? Simple! By following that recipe, here are a few things you could make:
- Fajita bowls: cauliflower rice sautéed with cumin, ghee, salt and pepper, topped with ground beef or turkey, roasted broccoli, salsa, and avocado
- Makeshift curry with a bag of frozen veggies, a can of chickpeas, coconut milk, cumin, and curry powder
- A salad with whatever veggies you can find, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper
- “Chicken parmesan in a bowl” with baked chicken, roasted brussels sprouts and asparagus, tomato sauce, basil and oregano, and parmesan cheese
- Make-shift stir-fry: whatever veggies you can find, sautéed with lentils, coconut aminos, and minced garlic and ginger
- Tacos or lettuce wraps: chicken breasts + jar of salsa in the crockpot or instant pot, served in lettuce wraps or tortillas with sautéed onions and peppers, plus avocado
The list goes ON and ON and ON, but if you mix and match the above, you’ll learn to get creative and have healthy, tasty meals in no time!
Tips to use what you have and not waste food
- List what you have: pandemic or not, every single week before making my meal plan, I make a physical list of everything I have in the refrigerator that needs to get used. Those are the first priorities to go into my meal plan. Seeing it on paper helps a lot, so write it down! I also aim to use one thing from the pantry, and one thing from the freezer. Getting in the habit of this helps keep a rotation going and prevents me from wasting food!
- Meal plan: Now more than ever, it’s SO helpful to meal plan weekly! All my best tips for meal planning are in this webinar.
- Fridge forage: If you’re not a meal planner like me, consider “fridge foraging” a game! Have you ever seen the show “Chopped”? The contestants make a new dish out of very random ingredients. Watch the show to get inspired, and flex your creativity muscle by seeing what you can create!
- Don’t be picky: I hate (hate hate hate!) wasting food, so this one might be easier for me than some. But most things that aren’t at the very peak of freshness are still just fine to eat. Broccoli got a little wilted? No problem! It’ll still be great in a stir-fry. Lettuce looks wimpy? Toss it in a smoothie! Celery or carrots aren’t as crisp? Dip ‘em in some hummus and you’ll hardly know the difference. Even if something has a small spot that looks rotten, I simply cut that off, leave an inch margin, and eat the rest. Do you think people a hundred years ago would have tossed the celery just because it wasn’t crisp? No way! Eat and appreciate.
- Store food with the freshest in back. I drive my husband crazy with the avocados (and many other things 😊). Let me explain. I feel strongly that the avocados should be stored with the ripest in front, and that we should only choose that one each time. Same thing with fruit or any other veggies – use the one that is closest to rotting first! Store the freshest in back to make this easier to grab, especially if you have kids around. Here’s more on how to store vegetables.
- Keep two plates in the fridge. If you’re not following a meal plan, and you tend to defrost things (or forget to defrost things!) to make each meal, keep two plates in the fridge. One plate is for tonight’s protein (or whatever needs to defrost). The next plate is for the following night’s protein. When you look in the fridge, the plates should always be full! As soon as you take something off the front plate to cook it, you move the contents of the back plate to the front plate, and put something new on the back plate. This ensures that you’re always defrosting something and you’ll always be ready to go!
- Use your freezer. Just not feeling something that you know is on its last leg? Freeze it! The freezer is amazing for preventing food loss – just take the extra time to chop it, store it, and you’ll be so glad to have fresh items ready to go in the future.
The bottom line is: be OK with not being “perfect” or following a recipe, get creative and experiment, and be flexible with what you’re eating. We’re all so lucky to have food on the table, especially now! I hope these tips help you get through this challenging time. I’d love to hear how you’re managing and any creative meals you’re making!
Now it’s your turn … What’s the tastiest or healthiest thing you’ve made from things you have on hand recently? Inspire us all!
This is so incredibly helpful. Thank you so so much!
Always glad to help, Carrie! Stay well!
Thanks Megan! These are great tips. I used to waste so much food. This time at home has taught me to use every bit I have. I especially love the tip on two plates. I always seem to forget to defrost!
So glad this helped, Aimee! Look at you using this situation as an opportunity. Way to go!