Making the Most of Your Food

Frozen vegetables

Making the right choices for your health, time and budget are more important than ever. So how can you make the most of the food that you already have in your pantry, freezer and refrigerator?

Planning is key:

  • Before planning a trip to the grocery store, make a list of the items you have on hand.
  • Look for recipes that use a majority of ingredients you have available and create a list of items to fill in the gaps (see my healthy tuna recipe below).
  • Make leftovers part of your plan. Leftover ingredients can be used to make soups, sandwiches, salads or as the base of an entirely different meal. Leftovers from a Sunday southwestern chicken casserole (see recipe below from Hannah Brilling, RD, LD, Culinary Medicine Program) can make for the filling of a burrito on Monday.
  • Buy only the amount of food that can be eaten–or frozen–within a few days.

Helping food last:

  • Keep fresh food, like fruit, more visible to encourage eating them sooner.
  • Wait to wash produce until just before eating. Added moisture, like in berries, can make them spoil quicker.
  • Research ripening times and how to store food. Did you know some produce should be kept separate because it can cause the other produce to ripen too quickly? Some produce gives off a gas called ethylene, which can accelerate ripening, such as bananas or avocadoes. So avoid storing these next to other sensitive produce, such as apples. Resources are available with tips for storing produce.
  • Learn what “Use By,” “Best By” and “Sell By” dates mean and other guidelines for keeping food at its freshest, and safest, for the longest time.

Making the most of leftovers:

  • Eat most leftovers within 3 to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 to 4 months.
  • Get creative. Leftovers can be used in a variety of ways, including future meal preparation. For example, leftover brown rice and veggies can become the base of a stir-fry or added to a soup.
  • Use food that you might otherwise throw away. Stale bread can become breadcrumbs or croutons; vegetable pieces like celery leaves can be used to make soup stock.

Think ahead:

  • Consider preserving food by canning, dehydrating or freezing.
  • Double a recipe and freeze half for a future meal.

Learn more about making the most of your food at UDSA.gov, choosemyplate.gov and eatright.org.

Heather Wolfe, MPH, RDN, LD, is a certified health and wellness coach for Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Employee Wellness program.

Heather’s Healthy Tuna

Healthy tuna salad

This uses ingredients I always have on hand and is a quick go-to meal in our home. We love it served as a tuna melt in colder weather, or scooped into a romaine lettuce leaf in summer.

Serves: 4
Serving size: ½ cup

Ingredients

  • 2 cans (5 ounces each) chunk light tuna (in water or in oil)
  • ¼ cup carrot, grated
  • ¼ cup celery, chopped finely
  • ¼ cup onion or shallot, chopped finely
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • ½ teaspoon dried or 1 tablespoon fresh dill
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Instructions

  1. Drain tuna and put into a small mixing bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients.
  2. Serve on salad or a whole gain (such as a 100% whole wheat English muffin, pita, tortilla, bread or cracker).

Nutrition (per serving): Calories 188, Fat 14g, Saturated Fat 2g, Carbohydrate 2g, Fiber 0.5g, Protein 15g, Sodium 260mg

Southwestern Chicken Casserole

Southwestern chicken casserole

Cooked like rice pilaf, this colorful one-pot meal will make dinner for a crowd or provide leftovers for a smaller group. Adjust your spice level according to preference and enjoy the flavor and warmth of this protein-packed dish!

Serves: 6-8 servings
Serving size: 1 ½ cups

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil (or other vegetable oil of your choice)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion (1 medium onion)
  • 1 cup chopped red pepper
  • ½ seeded, finely diced jalapeño pepper (optional)
  • 2 cups short-grain brown rice, rinsed in cold water and set aside
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 15 ounce can black beans (no need to drain or rinse)
  • 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (no need to drain)
  • 2 small chicken breasts (roughly 1 pound uncooked) cut into 1-2 inch cubes
  • 4 ounces grated Cheddar or Jack cheese
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Place Dutch oven (or other oven-safe lidded pot) over medium-low heat and add oil.
  3. Once oil looks shimmery (1-2 minutes), add spices and stir to combine. Let cook for about a minute, or just until fragrant.
  4. Add onions and peppers to pot and cook for 5-6 minutes (until onions appear translucent but not browned).
  5. Add rice to the pot and increase heat to medium. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon for 4-5 minutes to toast the rice.
  6. Add black beans, tomatoes and chicken broth; stir to combine. Place chicken on top and press lightly into mixture.
  7. Bring contents to a boil; cover and transfer to oven.
  8. Bake at 350°F for 40 minutes. Remove from oven, lift the lid, and check liquid. If there appears to be extra liquid, uncover the pot and place back in the oven for an additional 10 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven, top with cheese and cilantro. Recover and let rest for 4-5 minutes or enough time for the cheese to melt. Serve with sour cream or plain yogurt.

Nutrition (per serving, not including yogurt/sour cream): 320 Calories, 10.8g Total Fat, 4g Saturated Fat, 40g Carbohydrate, 8g Fiber, 20g Protein, 466mg Sodium

Hannah’s Healthy Hints

  • Try any variety of canned beans.
  • If using a regular saucepan, try placing a wet dishtowel over the pan, covering tightly with the lid, and tucking the ends up over the top before placing it in the oven. This will encourage the rice to steam within. Take care when removing the towel, as it will be extremely hot.
  • Combining black beans with chicken gives the flavor and feel of a “meat” dish while supplementing with a low cost, high fiber vegetarian protein as well! This way, you can feed a crowd of 6-8 and only buy two chicken breasts.

Additional Resources