Saturday, January 10, 2009

An Empty Refrigerator is a Happy Refrigerator

I just looked in my refrigerator and it is getting pretty bare. This makes me rather happy.

Why? you ask. Good question!

I know many frugal grocery shoppers out there are big fans of stocking up. I don't shop that way, however. In fact, I prefer to buy most of my food items in pretty small quantities. For me is a little like dollar cost averaging - I might buy some things high, but other times I buy them low. I guarantee, however, I only buy what I need.

I work from a menu. Once a week or so I sit down and make a menu of things I can make for the upcoming week. I usually try to shop from my own cupboards first. I look for recipes that will let me use up that half a bag of lentils or partial box of whole wheat pasta, for example. I also prefer to eat seasonally. This means in the winter we are talking about a lot of beans and grains here. In the warmer months I shop at the farmer's market and buy all my produce there, but with a few exceptions, I don't like purchasing produce at grocery stores. Too much of it is shipped in from other places and grown not for flavor or nutritional content, but its ability to survive a long trip. That isn't healthy eating to me. Besides, some items like bell peppers are so ridiculously expensive they are hardly frugal.

So, I make menus. I like to sit down with cup of coffee and pour through my cookbooks and find things that look interesting. I rarely make the same recipe more than once or twice. I'm like my father in that way. He was a fellow home cook who would bored with making something after awhile. Half of the fun of cooking is figuring out new recipes!

While I am making my menu, I am also making a grocery list. It is so much easier to just do the two at the same time. Then, when I go to make something off my menu, I know that I already have the ingredients in the house. So, if I love to cook, why am I happy my refrigerator is empty?

Well, if you think about it, Refrigerator = Perishable. Items in the freezer are going to last quite awhile. Same thing with items in the cupboard, but the majority of things in the refrigerator are items that you either have to eat up, or it goes bad. I absolutely hate wasting food. It drives me crazy to throw something out that just didn't get eaten - and since I live alone, believe me, I know who is at fault!

Over the holidays with parties and holiday gatherings, my refrigerator got stocked with a lot of perishable food. Every time I had dinner at my mother's, for example, she sent me home with bags of leftovers. I threw a big gathering the Saturday after Christmas and ended up with a whole stocked refrigerator of delicious, but perishable, foods. On top of that, one of my friends gave me a Christmas gift that was absolutely perfect for me - a whole basket of cheeses. (Yum!)

I am rather pleased that very little went to waste. The cheeses were enjoyed over glasses of wine on several cold and snowy nights, and I was able to either eat, freeze or cook with nearly everything else. Leftovers are wonderful a wonderful thing. I would have been sad if I had had to dispose of them. (I even managed to freeze all the bones from a chicken dish a friend made at my house for the party. I plan on making a big pot of homemade stock.)

Now as I peer into my refrigerator and see the empty shelves, I smile to myself. It is time to make a new menu.

Photo by: Miss Barbara


Anonymous said...

I just started shopping like that myself! Nothing bothers me more than to do my grocery shopping with a fridge half-full of old food that I know has to be thrown out.

I usually cook simple meals with few ingredients, and always try to use the foods I know I already have before I buy anything else.

I've started freezing meats as soon as I get them home because that was the bulk of what I was throwing away. I would plan to quickly use the meat, then change my mind, and before I knew it, it would have to be thrown out.

The inconvenience of thawing frozen meat definitely beats the inconvenience of replacing it once it's old!

louise said...

I'm not a fan of stockpiling food either. I think it only works well for people who use a lot of processed food and we eat fresh veggies and meals are prepared from scratch so there is not really much to stock up on,

A friend of mine has an American friend staying for a few months and he is constantly surprised by the amount of fresh fruit a veggies eaten each day, he says he's used to tinned, packaged & frozen food! yuck! is that common in the US?

Best Refrigerator said...

Actually, a emtpy refrigerator is an expensive refrigerator! Believe it or not more space equals more energy use to keep it cool. Keep that bad boy stocked! :)

random web surfer said...

Actually, while it's good to not have perishable items in your fridge, putting more things in it actually makes it work less to keep it cool. Jugs of water would do the trick. Just trying to help!!

The Passive Dad said...

I think you make an excellent point that could help save money on groceries each month. I would rather buy smaller amounts more often and not have to discard food that's gone bad. I have to admit that I do buy groceries when I'm hungry and this is not good for the food budget. Also, shopping with kids is another story:)

Dawn said...

Jammo - I completely agree! I try to freeze meat right away for the exact same reason. I also like to buy meat in bulk occasionally (one of the few things I do) and then I break it up into single portions and freeze it.

Louise - I think in some parts of the US that is very common. Many people here like the "convenience" of frozen and canned foods. I am not one of them, but there are a lot of people that do. Fortunately we have a wonderful farmer's market here and that's where I like to get most of my meats, fruits and veggies.

Best & Random - Thank you for the good advice! Though, truthfully my refrigerator is far from completely empty, I always have plenty of staples on hand. Plus, because I shop each week, it doesn't stay empty for long. My point is that I love how at the end of the week the perishables are all completely gone - nothing is wasted, no veggies turning green and hairy in the back, no unknown substances in tupperware becoming science projects. My little system lets me "start fresh" each week. Last month though had been really different due to the holiday goodies; it feels good to get back to normal.

Dawn said...

Passive Dad - Shopping when hungry always gets me in trouble - Every. Single. Time. I shop from a list and am hardcore about it... unless I am hungry. Then I get tempted to go "off the list." In that situation, I find I am better off hitting the coffee shop and grabbing a soy latte to drink before or while shopping to curb my hunger. Yeah, a $4 latte isn't exactly frugal, but it far less than the extra amount I am tempted buy otherwise! Shopping with kids... I can't even imagine. :)