I love to cook and bake; it is a wonderful creative outlet and a great way to bond with the ones we love. When I started living solo, I realised quickly I was wholly unprepared for shopping and meal planning for one. It may sound silly, but I found it a real adjustment only to have one small freezer worth of space. It took me a while to learn how to maximise this in a way that worked with how I like to prepare and cook my meals. After speaking with members of our lovely Solo Dining and a Table for One Facebook Group and utilising my own experience, I’ve compiled a list of tips we can use to reduce food waste in our solo kitchens.
Have a meal plan for the week
This one is a toughie for me, never knowing what I want for dinner until I’m usually on that day of the week. The Solo Dining Facebook Group swear by batch-cooking soups, stews, risottos and pasta dishes. This works very well if you have three things going for you:
- Enough space to freeze multiple meals.
- If you don’t freeze leftovers, the ability not to get bored of eating the same meal a few nights in a row when a two or three portion meal is cooked.
- A diet that accommodates carbs (Beans, lentils, pasta, rice, etc.)
Having been on a low carb diet since August 2020, the batch cooking approach doesn’t really work for me as it leaves me with fewer meal options. I also get bored quickly and change my mind regularly (typical Libra!). So, I have come up with ways to accommodate my diet and indecision. Having a ‘loose meal plan’ means planning up to five meals for the week ahead, with a few meals ready in the freezer only needing lifting out on the morning of the day I plan to eat it. This leaves me reasonable flexibility to swap days around or utilise what I have in the fridge if I don’t fancy anything from the freezer (I have become a great lover of interesting salads).
A moisture-free vegetable drawer
Since lockdown started, I shop once every two weeks and need to make fresh vegetables last for as long as they can. There are some very easy steps to help with this:
- Clean the vegetable drawer in your fridge out every week. Wipe wherever water collects underneath and on the underside of the shelf above.
- Line your drawer with kitchen roll because this will absorb any excess condensation your veg produces.
- Do not keep anything other than leafy vegetables in bags. Condensation is the enemy here and you want to make sure your vegetables don’t attract moisture while in the drawer.
- Put a piece of kitchen roll in with the bags of leafy vegetables as this will avoid moisture building up in there too.
- Reusing the plastic trays your veg comes in from the supermarket helps keep your veg draw nice and tidy, but make sure you have wiped them clean in between uses.
- Buy or, if you grow your own, keep tomatoes on the vine, as this way they last longer.
I can usually stretch the life of my vegetable for two weeks (sometimes longer) following these steps. Obviously, if you have garden space or an allotment, growing your own fruit and veg will be so rewarding. Solo Dining group regular Kim also recommends canning and preserving produce grown in abundance but have no time to use.
Ice trays are invaluable
I love using absolutely everything and hate food waste and throwing things in the bin. So, like Solo Dining member Jessica, if I have chicken bones, I make stock or broth, and with a bulb of garlic or a herb plant at the end of its life, I like to make sure it doesn’t go to waste. This is where the wonder of ice trays and my Kenwood Mini Chopper (thanks, Delia!) comes in. Freezing stock in handy ice cubes that I can just add to a hot pan means that if I’m not batch cooking, there is no need to defrost loads of stock for a meal for one. I also have a couple of ice trays with lids (to avoid freezer burn) full of finely chopped garlic, shallots and herbs leftover from bags bought for other recipes and not used in time.
Another great way to use up leftover herbs is to buy really good quality olive oil and shove your rosemary, basil, or herb of choice in there and leave it for a couple of months, and voila, you have flavoured oil without the premium cost.
Freezers are our friend in the solo kitchen
While ziplock bags might not be the most sustainable item on the planet, I tend to wash and reuse them until they fall apart. They are great for portioning up raw meat or fish, chopped vegetables, or leftovers. Meat and fish packaging from the supermarket tends to be bulky – taking up far more space in the freezer draw than it would do in a bag. I truly believe an organised freezer is key to planning meals effectively and reducing food waste:
- Try allotting your freezer drawers to different things, for example, the top draw for stock, soup and leftovers, the second draw for meat and fish etc.
- Put new items at the back of the drawer working the older items to the front, so you know what you should eat first.
- You can freeze cheese, butter and milk! (Never decide to put cheese in a suitcase and take it on holiday with you in a bid not to throw it away. It looks a bit suspicious to the luggage x-ray! Take it from someone who knows.)
- If you lift something out of the freezer but decide not to eat it, cook it, and refreeze it.
- Let the air out of bags of frozen fruit and veg so that they take up less room in the draw (more space for ice creams!).
Pay attention to use-by dates
Not everything can be stored in the freezer; therefore, it is important to note use-by dates and organise your fridge accordingly. I sometimes set up reminders on my phone a couple of days ahead to remind me when an item needs using up, especially if it is a costly ingredient.
Tip – Just because food has a use-by date doesn’t necessarily mean it will go off by then. Get to know the kind of foods that will be fine when past its use-by date, and don’t throw food away unnecessarily.
Storing milk in the door, as close to the hinge as possible, can increase its lifespan in the summer too. In our Solo Dining Group, Samantha recommends buying lots of mix and match ingredients that can be utilised across different meals and then used up easily.
Whatever kind of kitchen you have, make sure that you are using available food storage space effectively to reduce the prospect of food waste. Whether using jars to store your dry goods, wrapping your apples in newspaper and keeping them in the garage (actually a thing), or using fruit on the turn as an excuse to make jam or bake something – (I do this accidentally on purpose to make banana bread) – try and find a method of organising food and reducing waste that works for you. It’s important to come up with a system that suits your lifestyle.
I also want to thank all the members of the Solo Dining and a Table for One Facebook for all your contributing comments, I couldn’t mention you all by name, but I appreciate your input. Happy cooking!
Find our Solo Living Cooking for One Community on social:
Facebook Group: Solo Dining and a Table for One – the inspiration you need from over 1000 members when you are cooking for one.
Instagram: @sololivingkitchendiaries – everyday cooking for one.