When it comes to putting food on the table each week, menu planning and zero food waste are an unbeatable combination. This dynamic duo will result in you being able to save money, throw out less, and feed your family amazing meals every day.
The problem with serving up healthy meals for a bargain price actually begins long before you decide how you are going to cook for the week.
Know what you have on hand.
You can use smart grocery savings strategies when shopping, but if you are buying broccoli at a bargain price, but throwing it out days later when it has turned an unsavory shade of yellowish-brown, then ultimately you are still losing money in the long run.
So, before beginning to create a menu plan, you need to know what you have on hand in the house. This step is especially critical when it comes to perishable food items.
Here’s an example. This is my actual perishable food inventory and I’ll be using these items when creating my weekly menu plan.
Another hack which will help you to head toward zero food waste is to arrange your perishable food list in order of “most-perishable” to “least perishable”.
By arranging your list in this way, you’ll know to use ingredients at the top of the list, first. You’ll be amazed at how quickly this will drop your food waste.
Create a Zero Waste Menu Plan
Using the internet or cookbooks you have at home, search for recipes which call for the use all of your perishable ingredients.
I like to have a pen or pencil handy and jot down how much of each of the perishable items I am planning to use in each recipe. This way, you won’t wind up with too many recipes which use any one item and wind up making last-minute substitutions when you run out of an ingredient.
Zero Food Waste Ideas
I used no fewer than seven zero food waste strategies when prepping food for this menu. To see me discuss them, watch this short (and super fun) YouTube video.
The Menu Plan
Here’s a look at the weekly menu plan that I created using my perishable ingredients up before they rotted in my fridge.
You’ll find photos and recipe links below.
Aloo Gobi is a favorite in our house. Indian food is easier to make than you might think and it’s generally pretty low in fat and vegetarian (if not vegan). Subsequently, it’s also very inexpensive. I get speciality spices, like garam masala, at my favorite Middle Eastern grocery store for far less than they cost elsewhere.
The lentil burgers are my recipe and (as of the writing of this post) you can make them for about 15¢ per burger. Nope! I’m not joking. My family begs me to make them. They go together in minutes and freeze very well. I did a YouTube video recently with step-by-step instructions for making them.
- Baked Potato Bar
- Cauliflower Stir Fry over Rice
- Potato Cauliflower Curry (Aloo Gobi) over Rice
- Lentil Burgers
The sweet potato beet dish can be eaten hot or cold. It’s both easy and delicious. One of our Easter guests, Becky, introduced us to this delight last week and I begged her for the recipe. Like me, she’s an “a little of this and a little of that” cook. So, I searched the internet and found the recipe which was closest to the process she described to me.
I’ve made the zucchini fries before and my kids eat them by the handful and then ask, “Is there any more?” There is no such thing as making too few of these. Heat leftovers in the toaster oven for about 10 minutes to re-crisp them after they’ve been in the fridge overnight.
Marinated Salads are so easy and incredibly versatile. Basically, you cut up just a bit of fresh onion, cucumber, celery, and red or green peppers. Then, you add some canned veggies. Green beans and corn works well. Tomatoes are good, but drain them well before adding if you are using canned. You can also lightly blanch some broccoli or cauliflower and add that, too.
My grandmother anointed this salad with what she called: 1-2-3 dressing. She used 3 parts oil, 2 parts vinegar, 1 part sugar.With all deference to my granny, I don’t use oil. So, my ratios are not the same.
I use 1 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/4-1/2 cup water. I sometimes add 2-4 tablespoons of lemon or lime juice, subbing it for part of the vinegar in the recipe. I go by taste. If the dressing is too sour, add a little more sugar. If it’s too sweet, add some more vinegar. You could also add some herbs and spices to the dressing if you’d like. Kathy, from Kathy’s Vegan Kitchen has a dressing recipe that is good to use as a guide to get you started.
Once you’ve added the dressing, toss the salad, and let it sit in the fridge for at least 3-4 hour before serving. If you leave it overnight – even better.
- Marinated Vegetable Salad
- Spinach Salad
Soups (and Broth)
I make two or three homemade soups each week. Not only are they inexpensive, they are also easy for everyone to eat at noon. Just add a salad or sandwich and a piece of fruit and “lunch is served”.
I also made homemade vegetable broth this week. I save all the scraps of vegetables when I prep and cook, placing them in a freezer bag, labelled, “Broth veggies.” When the bag is full, it’s time to make vegetable broth in the pressure cooker.
Here are a couple of items that just didn’t fit under any other category in the menu plan.
Homemade tortillas (even without a tortilla press) are really not that hard. I have used the same recipe for years. I make a double batch, with a yield of 14-16 finished tortillas at 4¢-5¢ each.
I had a lot of leftover fresh pineapple from Easter weekend. So, I threw some of the softer pieces into my Ninja and blended it until it was a frothy juice. I added bananas from the freezer to create tropical smoothie for a quick between-meal snack. I like to add mango to this smoothie if I have it, but it’s just as tasty without it.
- Homemade tortillas
- Pineapple Banana Smoothie