7 ways to make your groceries last longer
Here's how to reduce food waste right at home.
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Reducing food waste is always a worthwhile endeavor—but since the the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's gone from noble to necessary. With so many of us spending more time at home and less time in grocery stores and restaurants, we need to make sure that the food we buy or grow will last us as long as we need it to.
If you’re trying to stretch one week of groceries into two, reduce food waste, and still keep a clean and tidy kitchen, we’re here to help. Here are our top tips for making the most of your groceries while still cooking delicious meals.
1. Keep your fridge clean—and toss bad food
It might seem counterintuitive, but holding onto food that’s near spoiling isn’t thrifty—it’s likely to make your other food spoil faster. If you have crisper drawers stuffed with aging produce, or a cheese drawer with months-old cheddar, you’re promoting bacteria growth in and around your food. In the case of produce, the ethylene produced by ripe fruit will cause the fruit around it to ripen, too—and eventually spoil.
If you want to make sure your groceries aren’t spoiling quickly, keep your fridge clean and organized, and quickly toss anything that goes moldy or rotten. It might be helpful to use a fridge organization guide so you can easily see and access all your food at once, or try a device that helps reduce bacteria growth on produce.
2. Regrow alliums and herbs in water
You might have seen this hack on social media in the past few months—and it actually works. You can regrow alliums like garlic and green onions, or really anything with intact roots, right in a glass of water. This is great for when fresh produce is hard to come by, or grocery trips have been spread further apart due to social distancing.
Simply save the ends of your produce with the roots on and place in a container with water somewhere sunny like a windowsill—but make sure only the roots are submerged. You should start to see growth in a few days, and you’ll need to change out the water as it disappears.
Unfortunately, you can’t keep produce edible in water forever. Without soil, the plant will begin to lose its flavor. If you can, try to pot any plants you’re serious about in soil within a couple of weeks. I just did this with a basil plant that had intact roots from my grocery store.
3. Save all your broth—even from beans
If you’re making more beans, soups, stews, and sauces than usual, you’re probably producing a lot of lovely broth that’s worth saving for future dishes. Yes, chicken bones make great chicken broth, but beans and veggies also make delicious, rich broth—much better than the store-bought stuff.
To make things easy for yourself, try to save leftover broth in small containers and freeze them. Then, when you’re ready to cook, you have a little cube of broth ready to throw in the stockpot. Bean broth has done wonders for my dishes like risotto, lentil soup, and pasta. Want some quarantine cooking ideas? Check out our guide to making the most of pantry meals.
4. Don’t toss your parmesan rinds
While you’re saving your broth, make sure to save your parmesan rinds. These salty, flavorful rinds can add a ton of depth to pasta sauces and other dishes. Simply save rinds as you produce them in a plastic bag and store in the freezer until ready to use.
5. Wrap meat and leafy greens before storing
Unless you’re going to a butcher, the meat you bring home from the store is unlikely to be packaged well for storage. Styrofoam and thin plastic wrap will not hold up as well as butcher paper and freezer bags—so when you get home, try to rewrap any raw meat. If you’ll be cooking it soon, this is also a good time to season the meat with salt for maximum tenderness.
If you bought more meat than you’ll be cooking at once, make sure to divide and conquer—rewrap and freeze any meat you won’t be making in the next couple of days. This will help keep meat from going to waste. Freezing in portion-sized bags also helps here.
You should also wrap leafy greens and herbs in a damp paper towel before storing—this will keep the leaves from wilting for as long as possible. We've published an entire guide to storing and preserving your fresh-grown or store-bought herbs.
6. Make a lot of smoothies
If you’re not already on the smoothie train, now’s the time to hop on. Smoothies might not be as filling or as flavorful as real meals, but they’re a great breakfast or snack that can help you get much-needed nutrients when your diet isn’t filled with produce.
Because you can put just about anything you want in a smoothie, they’re a great way to reduce food waste and use up old fruit and veggies. Just freeze anything (before it spoils, of course) you want, add a nut butter or dairy product for protein, and blend in one of the best blenders for smoothies.
7. Freeze just about everything
While you’re freezing fruit and veggies for smoothies, consider freezing a lot of things you wouldn’t think to freeze before. Bread, coffee, meat, broth, herbs, leftovers, and even mozzarella cheese all freeze well and can easily be defrosted in the fridge (or used from frozen) when you’re ready to prepare them. Of course, you can’t freeze a lot of these products forever or their quality will start to wane, but a couple of weeks in the freezer won’t hurt.
Freezing as the default and defrosting as necessary is a great way to make sure your food doesn’t spoil and helps reduce your need for grocery trips. Consider investing in a second freezer—when this period of social distancing started, my household of five picked up this Magic Chef chest freezer, and it’s been incredibly helpful. Without it, we wouldn’t have the room to freeze everything we need, and we’d be making much more frequent grocery trips.
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