By Natalie Maughan
I like to cook meals for my family, but I mostly cook out of necessity. We don’t eat out very often, so I end up cooking five nights a week with one night dedicated to leftovers or pizza and one night dedicated to eating out. Well… take-out now. With the whole social distancing and limiting our exposure at places like the grocery store I thought I’d give some ideas on how to best stretch your food and make it last a little longer. This will hopefully help limit trips to the grocery store for the time being.
If you’re looking for simple meal ideas or other food prep tips, be sure to visit the dsm4kids COVID-19 Guide.
Here’s a few tips on how to make your food last longer:
Eat Fresh First
It may go without saying, but it’s best to eat fresh foods first. Bananas will last a bit longer if you wrap the stem part with some saran wrap and try to keep it tight. If bananas start to ripen, peel them, cut them in half, freeze them, then store them in a Ziploc bag. Don’t wash your produce until you are ready to eat it. This mostly goes for berries. The sooner you wash strawberries, raspberries, etc. the faster they will ripen and go bad. Kale and coleslaw mixes will have a longer life than lettuce as they are a bit hardier. If your kids will eat these alternatives to salads this helps them last a week or longer.
Fresh spinach can be frozen and added to different sauces or smoothies. It won’t thaw well for a salad but can be tossed in smoothies or any sort of pasta sauce. Add your diced tomatoes and spinach to a blender and pulse a few times, then add to pan per recipe instructions if possible. This may not work for all sauces as it may make the sauce too runny. This is great if you have run out of fresh veggies and want your kiddos to still get their nutrients. I sneak spinach into whatever dish I can manage.
I tend to cook more pasta than we actually need. Did you know you can freeze cooked pasta? Cook it, drain it, add a little olive oil or butter to the pasta, then transfer to a Ziploc bag and freeze. Next time you need pasta it’s already made. Simply cut the bag open, toss it in a colander, run hot water over it while breaking up with your hands and it will thaw within seconds. Don’t rinse for too long or it will make the pasta soggy.
Milk freezes quite well also. Pour about a cup into a mason jar and then freeze the gallon of milk. Once you thaw the milk, use it within 10 days of opening. Make sure to write the new expiration date on the jug. I’ve read that it can alter the consistency and taste a bit but I haven’t noticed that. Only one of my kids says it tastes a bit sweeter, but the other kids are completely clueless.
Cooked rice can be frozen as well although I’ve found that it tastes drier once it’s thawed. It wouldn’t be great if you are putting, say, Teriyaki Chicken on top of it, but if you are adding it to a casserole, it would work just fine. This recipe for Rice and Black Bean Casserole would be perfect for frozen rice and it doesn’t call for anything you might not already have on hand. Skip the zucchini if you don’t have it.
Powdered Eggs vs Real Eggs
Since the virus hit, I’ve been using powdered eggs for baking when we run low on the real stuff. They don’t work for scrambled eggs but they work great in things like muffins or other baked goodies. I bought this off Amazon (thank you Amazon, yet again) and keep it in the cupboard. I had a question about an online order, so I chatted with an employee at Hy-Vee on the phone the other day and she said that eggs are starting to run out every day. When our family starts to run low, I use the powder instead. You honestly can’t taste a difference.
If you’re looking for ways to change up breakfast or lunch, assign the kids to bake a double batch of muffins. They freeze well and you can pull out what you need and leave the rest frozen for another day. My kids will eat muffins and hard-boiled eggs with fruit or veggies depending on whether it’s for breakfast or lunch. These pumpkin muffins work great as well as these banana muffins because they use honey instead of refined sugar. PS: the powdered eggs worked great in these muffins!
Essentials to Stock Up On
It helps to have a few pantry staples on hand when you aren’t sure what to make for dinner. A few items that are great to have stocked would include:
– sugar (white and brown)
– diced tomatoes
– beans (pinto, black, kidney, great northern)
– milk (we have powdered milk as a back-up)
– cheese (brick and shredded)
– bread (freeze extra loaves)
– frozen fruit
– frozen veggies
– eggs (remember the powdered eggs)
– meat of choice
It’s definitely a different time than it was two months ago; I think we are all eating a little differently than we normally do right now. You’re doing amazing! Keep it up and keep it healthy when you can! At least most of the time. We all need that ice cream once in a while after a long day. Or we need the kids to make that cake just to keep them occupied for an hour in the afternoon. You all know what I’m talking about.
What do you do to make your groceries last a little longer? What tricks have you found helpful? Leave a comment below and share with all of us; we are all in this together.