Meal planning is a great way to not only eat healthier, but also avoid any unnecessary food waste. When we plan ahead, we can avoid extra trips to the store and reduce the food miles associated with each meal. Not to mention save a lot of money on groceries.
A “food mile” is the distance food travels between the producer and consumer. Some food maps can be quite small, only including the distance from a farm, to a local market, to the consumer’s home. Others can be very long.
Consider Florida-grown oranges being expedited to a midwestern state, dropped off at a chain grocery store, picked up by a consumer who drove to the store, and then must be driven to the consumer’s home. As these distances grow, so do the carbon footprint.
It’s imperative to not waste food because the mere act of growing crops has a carbon footprint. Crops require water and diesel fuel-run farm equipment to plant and harvest. Lowering the number of trips we take to the grocery is the least we can do to try to mitigate our impact on the environment.
Here’s how to prepare healthy, filling meals in between grocery hauls! Heads up—make sure your freezer is cleaned out and ready to go!
4 Meal Prepping Tips to Avoid Food Waste
1. Plan Out 2-3 Weeks of Meals
The first step is to know what you want to eat! A 2 to 3-week meal plan is a good goal to set for yourself. Explore recipes on Brightly, Pinterest, or Facebook, cookbooks, and blogs—or have a recipe swap with your friends and colleagues. When you get tired of your go-to meals, try out someone else’s.
Also think about how to incorporate your leftovers into your meal plan. If you’re grilling chicken on Tuesday, can leftovers be put in the fridge for a Caesar salad on Wednesday? Or can the small serving of homemade chili that’s not quite enough for a full bowl be drizzled over baked potato fries? Don’t be afraid to get creative and mix and match flavors.
2. Shop with Portions and Shelf Life in Mind
Next is the shopping trip itself. You have your plan for 2 to 3 weeks of meals. But what does that mean for food portions? Be sure to keep the size of your family in mind. That will greatly determine how much grub goes in the cart. Load up on fruits and veggies that keep well for a long time such as carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, apples, and oranges.
Also purchase produce such as berries, spinach, pineapple, and bananas. Even though these don’t have as long of a shelf life, there are ways to make them last longer. (Keep reading for tips!) Potatoes, beans, and squash are great to incorporate into your shopping excursion as well.
3. Prep and Store Your Foodie Goodness
Prepping and storing the food after you’ve brought it home from the store is the most important step in making your food last. Potatoes and squash do best when stored in a dark, cool cupboard. Cauliflower and broccoli will be easier to reach for in the fridge if they’re already cut up into snack-size pieces.
Berries, bananas, and spinach can be prepped for smoothies. Simply pack a banana, some berries, and a handful of spinach in a reusable bag and store it in the freezer. If you’re concerned that you have too many hardy vegetables, you can freeze those as well and incorporate them into a soup or stir-fry.
Be sure to save all the vegetable ends and skins to make homemade vegetable broth. The freezer is really your best friend in keeping healthy food available throughout the week!
4. Have Fun with Leftovers
Leftovers aren’t everyone’s favorite. Some fare just doesn’t taste the same the second time around. However, this is an opportunity to create something new!
Biscuits from breakfast can be used in desserts, such as strawberry shortcake. When cooking pasta, leftover noodles can be made into a yummy pasta salad with lots of veggies. Cook up some rice and add it into a pot with potatoes, spinach, and homemade vegetable stock for stew. Any of these meals can have meat, beans, tofu, or tempeh added in for protein.
It might seem like fewer trips to the grocery store would result in bland meals repeated several times over the course of a month. But with these simple changes, it can be a fun—and delicious—experience!
It’s a chance to collaborate with others on recipes and have a healthy, well-balanced meal. You can enjoy dinner and fuel your body while reducing your carbon footprint!
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