How to cook with what you already have at home and make your stock last longer

We are all isolated at home, quarantining ourselves to protect ourselves and the community against the spread of the coronavirus . The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone have a stock of food at home that is sufficient for at least two weeks.

You may have already been to the supermarket a few times to build up a stock of the most needed products. With many people making panic purchases and some products starting to run out in supermarkets, you may have ended up buying some things that are not usually on your list or have exaggerated the quantity of some of the products that you usually have at home.

In any case, it is important to use all the food you buy, avoiding waste. Even outside pandemic times, families throw away $ 1,500 a year in food they end up not consuming.

“Even during the pandemic, it is possible for people to buy food that they think they should be consuming, instead of food that they really want to eat. This can end up leading to unnecessary waste, ”commented Alyssa Pike, nutritionist and nutritional communications manager at the International Council for Food Information Foundation.

Keeping abreast of what’s in your fridge and pantry and learning which foods to prioritize will help you avoid waste and get on well with what you already have at home – and, of course, even prepare some delicious meals. Here’s how to do it.

Follow this rule: get in first, get out first

The “get in first, get out first” rule is strictly followed in professional kitchens. It’s simple: older foods should be kept in the foreground of your fridge or pantry, and the products you purchased most recently should be in the background. This practice is also advisable for home kitchens, said Celine Beitchman, director of nutrition at the Culinary Education Institute.

“What you shouldn’t do is stick products in any space where you can fit them,” she explained. “You have to follow some kind of organization when you keep them.”

Place fresh fruits and vegetables in the most accessible part of your refrigerator, along with milk and other dairy products that will expire in less time. In the pantry, organize canned goods, pasta and other products in order to leave those who will win first in the foreground.

“We know that whatever is in the foreground is what we need to use first, and what is in the background is something we just bought,” said Beichtman. “So we keep moving products around so we can always follow the ‘get in first, get out first’ rule.”


Eat fresh fruits and vegetables first

Fresh fruits and vegetables should be eaten first, recommended Kris Sollid, a nutritionist and senior director of nutritional communication at the International Council for Food Information Foundation.

“Consume what is most mature first. Draw up a plan to use vegetables when they are closest to being perfectly ripe, ”he advised.

When fruits and vegetables are stored properly, with leafy vegetables in the refrigerator and onions and garlic in a dark, dry place, their life span will be extended.

But the mere fact that something starts to wilt or go limp does not necessarily mean that it should be thrown away. Freezing or cooking are options to extend the shelf life of vegetables.

Bananas that are about to pass the point can be frozen or used in smoothies, cookies, pies, cakes or breads, said Sollid.

Leafy vegetables can be scalded, and vegetables like tomatoes, carrots and pumpkins or the like can be baked in the oven. Beitchman recommends: include vegetables cooked in soups or stews or freeze them.

Better yet: make a soup or stew with fresh vegetables. Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for three or four days. Or you can separate them into smaller portions and freeze them for up to three months.


Woman standing in front of fridge and taking milk.

The “get in first, get out first” rule also applies to meat and dairy products

Follow the “get in first, get out first” rule also with meats and dairy products, Beitchman recommended. Pay attention to expiration dates and, as you do with fresh produce, think about freezing or cooking these products to extend their shelf life.

Raw meat can be kept in the freezer for between four and 12 months; cooked meats, for up to two or three months, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Milk, cheese and other dairy products can also be frozen.

Beichtman’s suggestion is that everything be divided into portions before going to the freezer: cut the cheese into slices or pieces, freeze the milk in trays for ice cubes and freeze the meat in individual or family-friendly portions.

Another option to consume milk and cheese that is nearing the end of its shelf life: make a béchamel sauce. This versatile creamy sauce can be used in macaroni and cheese, lasagna or other oven-baked dishes.

Don’t forget to check the expiration dates of the products in your pantry

After you have used fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products, go to the freezer. Whether purchased at the supermarket or frozen at home, frozen foods are generally more perishable than canned goods or other products that can be kept in the pantry, said Claudia Sidoti, the head chef at HelloFresh.

“But it all depends on the dates. The most important thing is to look at the dates, ”she explained, encouraging home cooks to stick a date tag on anything they freeze.

Date tags on canned goods or other packaged packaged products can cause confusion. They usually have no scientific basis, but offer an idea of ​​when the food is better – not necessarily from when it becomes unfit for consumption.

According to Sidoti, food stored in the pantry can often be safely consumed even though its expiration date has recently expired. But if something looks or smells strange, or if you are in doubt, throw the product in the trash.

You can always cook anything that is about to reach its expiration date. And don’t forget that things like wheat flour and grains also have expiration dates.

“In the case of pasta, you can cook it, store it in bags with airtight closure and then include it in soups. Or you can prepare macaroni and cheese ‘crazy’, with different shapes of pasta, then divide into portions and freeze ”, said Sidoti.

Bring creativity to life with the ingredients at hand

It is possible that you end up with a collection of random ingredients that apparently do not combine well. In this case, creativity must be used in the kitchen. For Sollid, the best way to prepare well-balanced dishes and use what you have saved is to combine shelf products, such as beans, pasta, rice and canned goods, with fresh and frozen foods.

Soups, chilis or oven-baked dishes allow for unique combinations of different ingredients, said Sidoti. Search Pinterest or Google for recipes with the ingredients you have on hand or search the cookbooks that must have been collecting dust on your shelves for a long time.

“If you look in cookbooks from the 1950s, when dishes baked on platters were super in vogue, it’s amazing to see the canned ingredient combos used by people in their kitchens,” said Sidoti. “Give wings to creativity and look for ways to use that ingredient that you don’t know how to use. Have fun with him, take a little risk. ”

Change ingredients and try using dried herbs and flavors like honey or molasses to use your ingredients and not be bored by eating the same thing, Beitchman recommended.

Pike advised: even when you are quarantining, try to follow the healthiest diet possible, using foods from various groups and abusing vegetables and fruits – fresh, frozen or canned.

“Make the best possible choices based on what is available, what you like and what you are actually going to eat, which is practical and within reach of your pocket,” she concluded.


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