With trips to the store being limited, it’s important to make sure we make the most of the groceries we’ve got on hand. Keeping track of what we’ve got, making sure what we have stays fresh, planning ahead, and strategically utilizing leftovers can all make a difference.

1. Consider taking inventory

Making a list of the foods you’ve already got in your home will remind you at a glance of what you need to use up first. If this seems too time consuming to do for everything in the house, then consider making a list of your fresh foods and when to use them by. That way the out-of-sight-celery in the back of your fridge won’t be out of mind when you’re deciding what to cook. If you’re shopping for groceries online, as many of us are these days, you can also print a copy of your receipt to get your inventory list started.

2. Store produce correctly to extend its shelf-life

If you are lucky enough to have access to fresh produce during this time, then don’t just let it languish in your crisper drawer. Taking a few moments to store your produce properly will extend its shelf life and its nutrient value. (i) Here is a handy guide to produce storage. If you really want to go in-depth with food storage information, the Real Food Encyclopedia at FoodPrint.org is an absolutely amazing resource.

A bonus tip to help you use up that fresh produce: pre-prep your veggies and put them in see-through containers. This is a tip for both decreasing food waste and increasing the amount of fresh vegetables we eat. When food is pre-prepped in see-through containers, it suddenly becomes much more enticing. Just think about it – which are you more likely to eat, an unpeeled carrot in a bag in a drawer, or a peeled and cut carrot in a jar starring you in the face when you open the fridge? My money is on the latter. If you’re actually eating the vegetables you have in your fridge, then they’re not going to get wasted.

3. Think about what you want to eat the day before

Deciding what to eat the day before has a number of benefits. When you’re in a planning mindset, you can consider what groceries you need to use up first, and make decisions based on that. Planning ahead also saves you the stress of wondering what you’re going to have for dinner (or breakfast or lunch). Thinking about what you’re going to prepare before you’re in the throes of hunger also helps you make better choices. You can also take the time to consider what to have for each of the MyPlate food groups, ensuring that you will be serving yourself and/or your family a balanced meal.

4. Make extra and plan to use leftover dinner for tomorrow’s lunch

Planning to eat your leftover dinner for lunch the next day can help stretch your groceries by ensuring that any uneaten food doesn’t end up in the trash. It is also often easy to make more of a meal without really adding too many more ingredients. For example, say you’re making bean soup recipe that requires a cup of lentils, one stalk of celery, one carrot, and half an onion. A typical bag of lentils has more than one cup, you usually purchase carrots and celery in bunches, and you likely don’t have a pressing purpose for the other half of that onion. Create an immediate use for some of those extras by doubling the recipe.

Personally, I believe that leftovers are awesome. I don’t have to cook, I don’t have to think about what I’m going to eat, and I don’t have to clean up extra dishes. However, I know there are people out there who disagree. For those of you in the first group, it’s a no-brainer: cook extra and eat more tomorrow. For those of you in the latter group, I invite you to consider using leftovers strategically so they don’t seem like they’re leftover. For instance, if you are baking up some chicken, make an extra plain chicken breast and turn it into chicken salad for tomorrow’s lunch. You save yourself the cooking time, and you get a different meal for lunch tomorrow.

5. Breakfast for dinner is a good option

Got some leftover pancake mix or some waffles in the freezer from a prior grocery trip? Now is a great time to use that up. And chances are, if you’re cooking up your breakfast foods at dinnertime, you will have more time to spend in the kitchen to make your meal more nutritionally complete.

Consider adding a plant-based protein, such as peanut butter or a sprinkle of walnuts, to increase the meal’s staying power. You could also add some eggs or sausage for animal-based protein.

Add a fruit too. One easy way to do this is to grab a generous portion of frozen berries and add them to a saucepan with syrup. As you gently warm the syrup, the berries will defrost and make a fruit-flavored pancake or waffle topping. This will also work with drained canned peaches. If you’ve got some more time and some apples, you can even make warm cinnamon apples to go on top.

Finally, finish the meal with a source of dairy, such as a side of yogurt or your milk of choice. You can really make your pantry and freezer items go far with a meal like this.

Want some more recipe ideas for the foods in your house? Click below!

Yours in good health,

Helena Ramadan, MS, RDN

While Helena is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), she is not providing Medical Nutrition Therapy on this website. Anything found here, including downloads and other content, should not be construed as medical advice. The information provided by her is general nutrition/health/fitness information, and is not individualized to your specific medical condition. Helena is not liable for any losses or damages related to any actions you take (or fail to take) as a result of the content presented herein. Please note that the information presented here is not intended to diagnosis or treat any health conditions. Talk to a qualified health professional, such as a doctor or a registered dietitian, about your specific health questions or concerns. 

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  1. Retelny, V. and Milivojevic, J., 2011. The Essential Guide To Healthy Healing Foods. New York: Alpha Books, p.13.[]