Meal planning is one of the key strategies to reduce household food waste and ensure the best use of every food dollar. Yet meal planning today, especially from national magazines and international cooking shows, cannot reflect what is locally available, the freshest in an area, and the least expensive best food choice. Meal planning, like cooking, is a skill that all of us can learn to do well.
Choose to plan meals with easily substitutable ingredients. Lots of different greens are prepared similarly, but while local spinach is only available in our area a few times a year (late spring, early fall), kale, kohlrabi, cabbage star in late autumn and winter, and chard, Napa cabbage, and bok choi in high summer. That side dish of greens is easy to change out for what is freshest at the moment. All these greens are great tossed with pasta, with slightly different seasonings, and cooked beans for a complete one-dish meal, or added to or starring in a vegetable soup.
A simple change of seasonings or cooking method takes the same ingredients and creates completely different flavors. Roasted pumpkin with sage butter is a fine side dish (eaten just like mashed winter squash). Cubed steamed pumpkin added to macaroni and cheese with a little nutmeg, curried pumpkin soup, and pumpkin breakfast pudding (made with oatmeal) are three other completely different ways to add an inexpensive nutritious high-fiber vegetable to your diet.
Plan meals with vegetables at the center of your plate and fruit for dessert. This reduces both the impulse buys, but also allows stretching your food dollar further, taking advantage of sales on protein sources, and not spending on highly processed sweets. Doesn’t a platter of grilled vegetables, a side of protein (lentils or beans, local cheese or eggs, Gulf of Maine fish or local meats), oven-roasted potatoes and baked apples sound good? What about a big bowl of vegetable soup, half a toasted sandwich, and a fresh Asian pear?
Locally focused meal planning can save you money and allow you to eat the freshest and most nutritious food and support your local economy.