Fridge Foraging: A Fresh Take on Frugality and Better Health
Digging into the back of your fridge has never been so satisfying.
My frugality stems from apathy. I’ll eat the wrinkled grape at the bottom of the fridge and last scrape of cottage cheese before making another trip to the store. I hate shopping.
When the garden is in full swing, I’ll scour plants for anything ripe for the picking. I’ll rummage the cellar for something preserved and comb cupboards to make dinner happen.
I thought I was alone in this mad avoidance until I stumbled upon the perfect phrase coined by Stephanie, from Cook by Color Nutrition — Fridge Foraging. Thanks to her positive perspective, I realized fridge foraging was saving money and time while improving my health and food waste. And it can for you too.
You see, fridge foraging is the act of using what you have. In a society where endless convenience is at our fingertips, you’re making the conscious decision to eat at home, with the ingredients you have on hand, producing a nutrient-dense and delicious meal.
And when I say “using what you have,” it means in any condition, safe for eating. Have a green pepper starting to wrinkle, use it. A peach with a soft spot, cut it out, and use it. A loaf of bread going stale, use it.
I’ve turned into my great-grandma, cooking Sunday dinner for 20, and not telling them the meat may have been brown or the cheese molding.
By the way, we all lived to tell about those meals.
The USDA reports 31% of food waste is lost at the retail and consumer level. That’s approximately 133 billion pounds of food. Billion, with a “B.” Those numbers should give you nightmares.
Could fridge foraging be the answer in reducing waste for the average consumer? Regardless, it sounds like an excellent place to start. So how do you begin?
First, take inventory of your stock in the refrigerator and pantry, prioritizing items that are starting to go “bad.” When looking at these items, don’t take the labels for face value, use your senses. Considering date labels, a mark of expiration is an archaic thought. Food dating is voluntary, an indication by the manufacturer of when their product hits peak quality. Most food is still good for plenty of days, weeks, months after.
If you’re uncertain, use what your mama gave you. Through sight, sound, smell, and taste, you can quickly identify if your food is good or bad. If you feel like you need a more comprehensive list, check out this New York Times Article for some pantry staples that keep almost forever.
Now that you know what you have on hand, it’s time to get cooking. For many, this may be the most intimidating part, especially if cooking doesn’t come as naturally to you. Welcome to the wide world of apps. Several, including SuperCook, Allrecipes Dinner Spinner, Epicurious, and Tasty have been developed to help turn your random list of ingredients into recipes.
Now, if you’re still with me, know I didn’t eat some fermented sauce and fall off my rocker. I know you’re busy. You barely have time to eat, let alone, take inventory of your ingredients, scroll an endless app, and then cook.
If you’re hard to press for time, skip the unnecessary and just cook the damn food. In addition to our outrageous food waste and idea of expiration, we’re also captivated by what meals should consist of during particular times.
For instance, you’re probably thinking I like french toast, soup, and lasagna. So when you’re faced with some leftover roasted chicken, stale bread, lettuce on the verge of wilt, peppers, and peaches going soft, you’re at a complete loss with what to concoct. “These won’t make a meal!” you exclaim — oh, but they do.
Sauté your peppers, add your diced bits of salvaged peaches or grill them. Reheat your chicken in a little ghee, turn that stale bread into croutons, and put the whole shebang atop a bed of lettuce. Voila! It doesn’t have a conventional name like “lasagna,” but it’s full of protein, fat, and veggies — all good things, in addition to eliminating waste and avoiding that drive-thru cheeseburger. And guess what, there are no rules you could eat that meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
When hunger strikes, dig into the furthest depths of your fridge and get foraging. You’ll reduce food waste, add a new level of thrifty to your resume, and, best of all, find endless food opportunities awaiting you.