Being efficient with your ingredients is always the way to go. And if you’re in the habit of prepping meals or seem to be perpetually crunched for time, maximizing the food in your kitchen is a must, both for your budget and your well-being.
Culinary students can learn a thing or two about food shelf and storage life after repurposing meals, as well as dishes that work well under varying conditions.
Here are a few to get started:
If the goal is to stretch or reuse every ingredient, pasta, in its many forms, is typically an excellent place to start.
Rigatoni, penne and ziti are easy-to-cook noodles (just throw them in boiling water) that tend to hold up well over the course of several servings and varieties of creams, sauces and spices. However, many cooks are finding it best to keep pasta slightly undercooked on the first go-round – this keeps the noodles more durable (and less mushy) with each subsequent meal. Additionally, you can make pasta last even longer by cooking the noodles separate from the sauce. That way you can simply combine the two when it’s actually needed in the future.
Pasta is also a great all-encompassing meal, as lasagnas and casseroles can include a vast number of ingredients that cover all bases of nutrition. Mix and match based on your preferences to see what style you’re in the mood for that day. There’s plenty of meat and meatless options, and creams can be customized however you see fit.
Rice or noodles form the backbone of most stir frys, both of which are known for their ability to be incorporated in virtually any meal.
For your purposes, you can use shrimp, beef, chicken, tofu, mushrooms, asparagus, peppers or broccoli as the primary base of your dish. Though these foods are the most commonly used, by no means limit yourself with stir fry – as long as you have a sauce or oil that tastes great and enough variety cooking on the stove top, you can customize your meal to your liking.
Seafood tends to not hold up as well as proteins like chicken or beef, so keep that in mind when cooking. If anything, you can include multiple bases starting out and choose to enjoy the seafood portion first.
If you’re a fan of “set and forget,” pot roast is your go-to. The low-key nature of slow-cooking means you can simultaneously achieve other culinary feats in the kitchen while your pot roast bathes and marinates.
By slow-cooking, you obtain a meat, typically braised beef, that is succulent and fully tenderized, which is far different than tossing a steak on the grill. When adding potatoes, peppers, spices, broth, carrots, parsley and rubs or sauces, the roast absorbs a lot of juices, which it retains for a long time. This means you can reheat every serving and still get that great, juicy taste.
You can toss in rice, veggies and, if you’re feeling more exotic, fried ripe plantains to further add to the pot roast each day you enjoy it.
This classic Italian dish is light but filling, making it a perfect midday or evening meal that’s adaptable to different flavor profiles and available ingredients.
Some foodies prefer a creamier, almost soup version of risotto while others may be more familiar with the more defined, shaped version that’s lighter on the broth.
The key thing to know about the rice used in risotto is that it should not be pre-rinsed – the starches from the exterior of the rice create its patented texture and helps solidify the rest of the ingredients like butter, olive oil, meat broth, cheese, cream, sausage and mushrooms.
The less water, cream and broth used, the longer risotto can be kept.
If you’ve got a full week ahead of you, start with the basics – prep for simple dishes with multiple ingredients.