Isn't it crazy how our Sunday self can be so motivated and driven to conquer the week, but when Thursday rolls around, all of our early-week intentions go down the drain (right around happy hour)? On Sunday morning, you tell yourself: I am going to meal-prep my lunch and dinner every day this week and be super healthy! Some weeks, it's a total win, but others, you just can't deal with another mason jar salad or coming home to another plate full of chicken, quinoa, and veggies.
When you're feeling *over it,* then yes, you should go out and have pizza and drinks with your friends and leave your leftovers behind. The only issue that creates is when you end up tossing said leftovers into the trash. Food waste isn't cool. Not only is it sad to see food that was perfectly fine a day ago get the ax, but it's a waste of money too.
To help all of us be both meal-prep all-stars and Thursday night warriors, we asked two nutritionists from nutrition program Guiding Stars, Kitty Broihier, M.S., R.D., L.D., and Allison Stowell, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., for their best tips when it comes to waste-free meal prep.
1. Start with the list.
Reducing waste starts with a shopping list complete with the foods you actually need for the week's meals. Before you leave for the store, check your refrigerator and pantry to see what staples you already have, what you need to replace, which are expiring soon and need to be used, and what you have on hand that can inspire your meals for the week. Then make your list, hit the store, and most importantly, stick to your list.
2. Use up all the fresh produce and herbs (for real this time).
You have the best intentions when you’re picking up fresh produce, but here's the reality: Most of the kale bunch remains unused. And don't even get us started on buying a bunch of fresh herbs that only get used for one recipe. Here are ways to reduce waste for fresh produce and herbs:
- Wash and prep fruits and vegetables to make them more accessible. Cut them into snack-size bites to dip into hummus or chop them up so they are ready for a stir-fry or egg scramble.
- If you know a recipe calls for a bunch of herbs, be proactive and search recipes in advance that will help you to use them up (think salad dressings, pesto, and pasta sauces).
- Make use of the lesser-used (nutritious!) parts of produce such as the leaves and skin. The skins are great for veggie stocks and the leaves can be added to a stir-fry or even your smoothie.
- Don’t toss the tops of beets or radishes—they are highly nutritious and versatile. Wrap in damp paper towels and store in a plastic bag in the fridge. Use them within a couple days; beet greens are a good swap for spinach in smoothies, juices, sautés, and soups, and radish greens taste great in salads and on sandwiches.
- Wash, cut, and freeze ripe fruit that won’t be used in time to enjoy later in smoothies, oatmeal, and batters. A zip-top baggie is really all you need for storage.
3. Batch and freeze proteins.
Your “cook a bunch of protein on the weekend” trick is helpful for cranking out multiple meals throughout the week, but if you’ve found that you get tired of eating the same thing every day, don’t toss the leftovers.
Instead, follow the “batch and freeze” trick: Go ahead and make that large batch of chicken breasts or ground turkey for tacos, but divide it in half and keep one half to use this week and package the other half to put into the freezer for later use. This way you can still take advantage of batch cooking efficiency, but also add more variety to your meals and have a good supply of standby options ready in your freezer for those weeks you didn't feel like meal-prepping.
4. Save the stale bread.
Bread that’s gone stale and the ends, or “heels,” of a loaf don't get enough love. Pro tip: They're still nutritious and contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Instead of throwing them away, make some croutons for salads or soups (cube the bread, coat with a little olive oil spray, and sprinkle with Italian seasoning or whatever you like, then toast them in the oven (make sure they are nice and dry before storing them). If the heels aren't stale yet, these are the best slices for open-faced sandwiches.
5. Don't toss the little bits and pieces.
Little bits of leftover veggies, protein, and cheese are pure gold for things like egg bakes and quiches. Small pieces of veggies also go well in a smoothie without dominating the flavor. Don’t worry about following a recipe perfectly; just use what you have on hand. These dishes are quite forgiving.
6. Tomato paste doesn't have to go to waste.
Most recipes don't use the whole can of tomato paste, and the rest often ends up in the fridge... neglected and forgotten. Instead, find new uses for this lycopene-rich paste by freezing leftovers or consider creating a unique Indian-inspired simmer sauce by adding it to light coconut milk along with a bit of curry powder and garam masala.
7. Juiced citrus isn't trash.
A squirt of citrus juice is a common ingredient in many recipes, but don’t discard the fruit afterward—the rind is super useful. One easy way to use it is to add some zing to your daily H2O—just cut it up and add it to your water pitcher or infuser. Citrus peels are a source of vitamin C, calcium, and potassium. The bright flavor is a nice addition to baked goods, homemade salad dressings, and of course, cocktails too.
8. Bring on the bones.
Just when you thought matcha lattes were taking over, now you'll find people sipping bone broth out of their coffee mugs like it's their morning cup of joe. Save the bones from your next roasted chicken or beef roast and make a nutritious broth that can be enjoyed on its own or used to give recipes and other dishes a heavy nutritional boost.