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With so many of us limiting trips to the store now (and increasingly worrying about our budgets) it makes sense to be smarter about food. If ever there was a time to be strategic about what we buy and savvy about how we use it, it’s now. Here are some steps to take:
Take stock of what you have: Make a list of what you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. You’ll get an idea of what and how much you have and avoid buying things you don’t need. (I created these free templates that can help.)
Plan your meals: Even if you had a let’s-wing-it approach to meals before, it’s wise to have some kind of longer-term plan now. Use the lists you just made to sketch out all the meals you could make with what you have now, plus anything extra you’d need to buy to make it happen. Plan at least a week’s worth of dinners, jotting down a few things you can have for breakfasts and lunches too.
Buy long-lasting produce: Especially-hardy vegetables include potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, carrots, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and squash. Longer-lasting fruits include apples, oranges, clementines, and grapefruit–all of which will keep at least a couple of weeks in the fridge. Buy bananas when still green. Canned and frozen fruits and veggies are a no-brainer now too. Try to choose canned fruit packed in juice when possible and rinse canned veggies to remove some of the added sodium.
Stretch meat and poultry: Combine ground beef with chopped mushrooms for things like burgers or spaghetti sauce and with beans for things like taco filling. Take a cue from other cultures that don’t make meat the centerpiece but rather, a side dish to vegetables and grains like rice and pasta.
Store foods correctly: The back of your fridge is the coldest, the doors are the warmest. So avoid putting highly perishable items like milk and eggs in the doors, and keep delicate fresh foods (think berries and celery) away from the back where they might freeze. If your produce drawers let you adjust humidity levels, set the veggie drawer for high humidity and fruit drawer for low humidity. But keep whole onions and potatoes out of the fridge completely, and in a cool, dry place instead.
Freeze safely: If you’ve stockpiled and bought too much, freeze extras before they spoil. Freeze past-their-prime produce like bananas, berries, and spinach for smoothies.
Extra milk can be frozen (be sure there’s 1-2 inches of space at the top of the contain for expansion). Ditto for butter. If freezing meat, the FDA advises wrapping the original packaging in foil, plastic wrap or a plastic bag if storing it longer than two months. And remember that freezer burn on any food isn’t a sign the food is unsafe–but it may affect the taste and texture.
Use the “first-in-first-out” system: Put items you need to eat sooner at the front of your fridge or cabinet where you’ll notice them. Eat leftovers within 3-4 days (or freeze them and eat within 3-4 months for best quality). And remember that even the FDA says many foods can be eaten past their “best-by” dates as long as there aren’t signs of spoilage.