You’ve spent a long time creating your meal plan for the week. You bought just enough ingredients for your meals, and you’re all set to cook all this delicious food.
And then the schedule changes.
Maybe you get invited to dinner one night unexpectedly. Or a friend gives you a huge container of food she can’t use.
Those are both very good things! But one question pops up: What do you do with the stuff you bought for your own dinners?
I hate wasting food just as much as you do. And when those situations arise, sometimes it can be hard to think of what to do with the extra food you bought. Instead of letting your precious food go bad, here are some ideas for meal planning when your schedule changes.
Plan at least one meal from your pantry every week
One major thing that saves me money (and frustration) is creating a dinner out of the items I have in my pantry. If you read my weekly grocery posts, you may have noticed that I include pancakes as a dinner pretty much every week. That’s mostly a safe dinner, because I don’t need to buy any extra ingredients to make them.
In our house, “Pancakes” is code for “This is a backup dinner in case something happens”.
In your house, it doesn’t always have to be pancakes, although that’s one of the most frugal meals you can make. You can always keep a box of pasta and a jar of sauce for a pantry meal; or other basic ingredients like rice, beans, and canned tomatoes.
Having a well-stocked pantry definitely helps when it comes to cheap meal planning!
If you plan at least one meal from your pantry every week, you won’t feel so bad when you can’t use that dinner for whatever reason. It’ll be there the next week and likely won’t be expired!
Cook and freeze the dinner, if possible
If you bought lots of fresh ingredients for a dinner but suddenly aren’t able to have it that night anymore, consider cooking it and freezing it for later.
Most casseroles and pasta bakes freeze well; just bake it in a foil disposable pan and once it cools, wrap it tightly with foil and put it in your freezer. It should keep at its best for a few months.
If for some reason your dinner may not freeze well, try freezing some of the fresh ingredients instead. Spinach can be pureed with water and frozen in ice cube trays for smoothies; bell peppers can be chopped and frozen in a freezer bag to be cooked later; and even meat, like chicken and ground beef, will freeze very well.
Re-use fresh ingredients in another way
What else can you do with the fresh ingredients you bought? If you bought carrots and celery, can you cut them into sticks and have them as snacks? Can you use your veggies as side items for your other dinners?
This happens to me often. Usually I’ll just add the fresh vegetables to another dinner; so if I have a fresh head of broccoli, I’ll chop it up and roast it with another dinner. Or if I have a lot of vegetables that need to used up, I’ll throw it all into a soup.
A couple weeks ago I had a bunch of potatoes, carrots, celery, and onion; so I let it all cook in my slow cooker, blended it up, and turned it into potato soup! We ate it for dinner one night, but you could easily freeze it.
You don’t have to panic anymore when your schedule changes unexpectedly! Having a plan always helps; and you’ll save money and frustration when you follow the above tips when meal planning.
What are some other ways you use up your food when the schedule changes? Leave a comment and let us know!
Jaime is a Nutrition Coach and professional writer. She enjoys cooking easy meals, running, and learning more about food.
Jaime specializes in helping women with ADHD learn to meal plan and cook healthier meals without getting overwhelmed.