Premeditated Leftovers

The Occasional Nomads have two food-related goals this year: 1) eliminate food waste as close to entirely as possible, and 2) lower our food costs as well as know exactly what I have on hand in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. We spent much of January getting better organized, and I found several items I had no idea we had on hand.

We got off to a somewhat shaky start in early January with food waste because of a refrigerator still stuffed with leftovers from the holidays. We did our best and ate what we could, but still had to throw away half a container of pico de gallo salsa and some other produce that was past its prime. Otherwise we’ve been careful and creative about finding ways to use leftovers and odds and ends. I’ve been checking the vegetable bins in the fridge frequently to make sure nothing gets pushed to the back and forgotten, and I’m trying to be more observant about adding produce odds and ends to soups or making stir-fries.

Our mid-month shopping at Aldi, Whole Foods, Costco, and Trader Joe’s came to $242.47.

We’ve set a $450/month budget for food in 2023 and did okay in January, spending a total of $433.86, although that took both very careful planning and shopping. Whether that amount will stay doable over the year remains to be seen. I have been starting each shopping trip with a two-week menu, shopping carefully with a list made from that menu, and obsessively sticking to the list. There is absolutely NO “stocking up” allowed, even if I see a good price, something I was guilty of doing in the past, and definitely NO impulse buys. Those two things could always wreck my budget in the past, and we don’t have room for extras here anyway, no matter how good the price. This means we will be avoiding Costco as much as possible going forward, hopefully only stopping once a month for a few items. Costco will remain our go-to store for some things (laundry detergent, paper towels, vitamins, organic apples, soups, syrup, peanut butter, and oat milk are a few things that still make sense), but we had to shop there for almost everything when we were on Kaua’i, and it’s been a hard habit to break. Finally, I am only shopping with cash this year, something I got lazy about at the end of last year. We allot $200 at the beginning of the month, $250 mid-month and otherwise we don’t go into a store unless absolutely necessary (with planning, it’s kind of amazing how little, if any, we have to buy between shopping trips). Any leftover cash goes into our change/$1 bill jar!

I’m trying to be more conscientious about dividing up food into meal-size portions. For example, pork chops usually come four to a package but we only use two at a time, and in the past I was always scrambling to come up with a second pork meal once I defrosted the package. Ground meat comes in one-pound packages but we only use 1/2 pound at a time that meant more scrambling. An investment we’re making this year is in reusable silicone food storage containers (Stashers) that can be washed in the dishwasher when they’re empty (eliminating one-use plastic freezer bags or containers).

Our beginning collection of Stasher bags: two sandwich size, and one quart size.

We’ve also started making our own fresh dog food this year. The recipe I came up with comes from advice from friends, and reading what a dog needs for good nutrition. Using a pound of turkey I buy at Aldi, a pound of chicken livers from Publix, and adding brown rice, mixed vegetables, pumpkin, and vegetable broth (and salt and calcium), I can make two weeks of food for Kaipo in the slow cooker for $6.30 (it will cost a little more in the future when I run out of the pumpkin and brown rice we already have on hand). The best part? Kai absolutely LOVES his fresh food!

Finally, besides spending less time in the kitchen, one more personal goal this year is finding more creative ways to use leftovers and planning them in advance when I make my menus and go shopping. Premeditated leftovers are going to remain a work in progress for a while (a long while, I think), but they fit my desire to do less cooking so the effort will be made.

It’s going to be an interesting year, but our goals are achievable and I’m excited about finding new ways to cook and save!

14 thoughts on “Premeditated Leftovers

  1. Great ideas on how to manage and cut the food budget! I’m good at using leftovers but this year I want to get better at using up produce before it goes bad. And I’ve also thought about making our dog food, but haven’t gotten very far. Would you mind sharing your recipe?

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    1. Pat, I cook one pound ground turkey (cheap stuff from their freezer), then put in a slow cooker with one carton vegetable broth, 1 cup frozen mixed vegetables, 1 cup pumpkin puree, 1 cup brown rice, and 2 tsp salt and cook on low for 6 hours. Abour halfway through I boil one pound of chicken livers, then cool slightly, chop well and add to slow cooker. For calcium I add two Tums at the end – they melt quickly and are stirred in. The concoction is fairly soupy at first but firms up to a nice consistency. Our pup is small and gets two half-cup servings each day – he loves it! We like that we know what’s in his food, and the cost is less than $7 for around two weeks.

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      1. Thanks! I’m going to try it. Unfortunately our Aussie Shepherd/Golden eats more than a cup a day😂!

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      2. I still think making your own may be cheaper than commercial food, but I like knowing exactly what’s in the food our dog eats. He seems happier about it too.

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  2. So many little bits of produce from the freezer = great soup! Nearly free! Salsa/pico de gallo is a flavor bonus! But, yah, things sometimes sneak by us when we are busy, and better safe than sorry!

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  3. I call them planned leftovers, but premeditated leftovers certainly has more cache! I hear sweet potatoes and brown rice are good for dogs, too. If I had a dog, I would make fresh food, too.

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    1. I was surprised by how inexpensive it was to make it myself. Sweet potato would be a great substitute for pumpkin! Right now I have bags of pumpkin puree in the freezer I can use, but when they’re gone I think I’ll switch over to sweet potato. I’m also going to pre-cook the brown rice and add at the end. The last time I made it the rice didn’t want to cook for some reason, and I don’t want our pup getting any uncooked rice.

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      1. I think that you need more liquid in the food so the rice can absorb it to cook.

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      2. The weird thing is the rice cooked fine the first batch. Second batch, same ingredients and the rice wouldn’t cook! I think I’ve figured out why (added frozen pumpkin puree versus defrosted) but just in case I’m going to cook the rice first!

        If I added more liquid the food would be too soupy. The current ingredients create a texture that’s just perfect.

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  4. At the rate we’re going, your entire monthly budget is going to be used by eggs. Man, those prices are out of whack. Decoupaging potatoes for Easter, anyone?

    All good plans but I’d say to give yourself a break on the stocking up aspect. Things are still so tumultuous in our country’s supply chain and if an item is in stock at a good price, perhaps keep it in a separate accounting to amortize over the next months of usage? (Provided it won’t spoil before use, etc.)

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    1. I buy one dozen eggs every two weeks – so far I haven’t paid over $4/dozen, less than we used to pay in Hawaii!

      As for stocking up, we really don’t have the room in our apartment to store extras – when we buy a case of oat milk we have to store it under our desk as there’s no other room. So, it’s a habit I’m having to break. We’ll see how it goes. If something is a good price I try to but one or two extra if I can make it fit in the budget if I can, but I’m not pressuring myself.

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