3 tips to planning efficient home-cooked meals

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A few generations ago, dining out was an experience reserved for special occasions. However, until recently, when restaurants were shuttered in the wake of the public health crisis prompted by the spread of COVID-19, many people were dining out multiple times a week. 

People accustomed to relying on restaurant for meals multiple times per week may be unaccustomed to cooking many meals at home, which has become the norm thanks to restrictions placed on restaurants and other food-related businesses as part of COVID-19 social distancing precautions. Learning how to shop for food and prepare items by maximizing available ingredients can reduce trips to the store and help people reduce food waste at a time when food is not as readily available as it once was.

1. Plan meals/browse circulars

Meal planning and shopping lists are vital tools for people preparing meals at home. Without doing so, individuals can be left floundering in the supermarket, spending more money than necessary and making impulse purchases (all the while forgetting items they truly need). Use sales circulars to browse weekly discounted items at stores. Build a week’s worth of meals off of these sale items — going so far as to write out a cursory menu — then fill in any extra ingredients or staples needed on a shopping list. Leave a day or two for leftovers. Try organizing the list to follow the natural layout where items are arranged in the store.

2. Shop smart

With paper and pen in hand or a digital list compiled on your phone, go aisle by aisle and check off items as they are added to the cart. If you are shopping for food you hope will last a week or more, consider substituting canned and frozen foods and other nonperishables for fresh items because they can be stored for longer periods of time. “Club size” or “family size” packages of foods may cost less per volume and can be sub-divided and stored for later use.

3. Minimize waste

Cook only as much as is needed for the household. Generally speaking, a meat or poultry serving of three to four ounces per person is adequate. That means a roast or steak of 11⁄2 to two pounds is fine for a family of four. Use up older frozen or perishable foods first. Store foods properly and use them before the use-by date. Wrap up leftovers and turn them into new meals.

With proper planning and smart thinking, homecooking can be more efficient and less wasteful.