Zero Food Waste Week 13: Meal Plan Like a Champion, Part 1: Pantry (plus refried bean and kale quesadillas)

zero food waste challenge 2015Good morning, food non-wasters! Last week, The Finance Phoenix wanted to know what exactly I was making with all those groceries, and I thought I’d make this week’s tip about meal planning. This has really been how I’ve been making the no-food-waste thing work: being super strict about the planning, although also being flexible enough to throw things in the freezer if the week changes unexpectedly and there just isn’t time.

I’ve written before about laddering and spring cleaning, both of which are versions of “figure out what you already have and start there.” I guess I’d say that successful meal planning on the cheap has a fair amount in common with dressing from a capsule wardrobe, where you mix and match the basic clothes you love from a limited number of pieces, say 30. Meal planning gets easier when you have a roster of stuff you like and use a lot, and can stock it so that when you plan a recipe, you already have a bunch of what needs to go into it. I try to always have things like: tahini, a selection of vinegars and oils, honey, white and brown sugar, sesame oil, parmegiano-reggiano cheese (a hunk of it, wrapped, will keep more or less indefinitely in the fridge), garlic, mustard, yeast, a selection of dried herbs and spices, nuts and seeds (in the freezer), capers, cornmeal, white and whole wheat flours, cornstarch, baking powder and baking soda, kosher/table/sea salt, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, lemon juice (in the freezer), a bottle each of red and white wine. If I use up one of these things, it goes on the next week’s grocery list for immediate replacement. I used to stock more dry goods like beans, lentils, pasta, grains, and canned tomatoes, but lately I’ve taken to trying to just buy what I need for a specific recipe. What I try to keep in stock is the stuff that I’d use only a little bit of for any given recipe and that lasts for a long time, properly stored. I buy tahini maybe three times a year, miso maybe twice, because I only use a couple tablespoons at a time…but when you need it, you need it. After the grocery list, I’ll explain what I’m cooking from it this week.

Salt, $.79 [this is insane, does salt really cost this little? I haven’t had to buy new salt in like three years]
Avocado, $1.99
white vinegar, $2.09
canola oil, $3.29
Total: $8.16

Whole Foods
Milk, $2.39
Yogurt, $3.39
Corn tortillas, $.99
1/2 lb bulk bacon, $4.95
Kale, $2.49
olive oil, $14.99
oatmeal-blackberry scone, $1.99 [I am apparently never going to get tired of these]
Total, minus bag credit [ALWAYS keep the bag credit], $31.09

Coffee beans bought in bulk at the co-op — hmm. didn’t get a receipt, can’t quite recall. About $8?

Grand total, $47.25

The salt, vinegar, and canola and olive oils were just stocking up — I apparently ran out of all the basics this week. I buy milk three or four times a month; I use it for coffee, plus for things like the occasional cup of cocoa or if I need it to bake. Every now and then I have cereal, but mostly not.

I make oatmeal for breakfast, and didn’t have to buy anything for it this week; I had oats, nuts, dried and frozen fruit, and brown sugar all in stock.

The avocado, yogurt, and approximately half the kale were for Coconut-Quinoa Bowls, which I actually made with brown rice, not quinoa; I recently realized I have a 2-lb bag that I bought for no good reason months ago and that I have to start using. I also had dried coconut to use up in the pantry, along with almonds, garlic, salt, and lemons.

Finally, the bacon, tortillas, and the rest of the kale are for the recipe below. In my spring cleaning last week I not only found that rice, but also a bag of pinto beans, and decided to work on using some of this stuff up. So, refried beans it was; in addition to the dried beans, I had an onion in the fridge from a 3-lb bag I bought a couple of weeks ago, and cheddar cheese to finish the quesadillas off although really you can use almost anything that melts well, or I guess skip the cheese, though I think it helps a lot with binding everything together.

Homemade Refried Beans and Kale Quesadillas

This is one of the few things I will actually cook when I get home on a weeknight; as long as the beans are pre-made, they take about three minutes to assemble and another five minutes to cook, which is the limit of how long I will be patient in the kitchen after a workday.

For the beans:
If you already have leftover white or pinto beans made, great. If not, soak them for a few hours or overnight. Then drain the soaking water and put in new water. Bring to a boil, boil for five minutes, then turn the heat down to a simmer. They will take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours depending on what kind of bean you have and how fresh they are; start checking them early. Salt them when they’re pretty close to done. Let cool to room temperature and/or stick them in the fridge for a few days, whatever.

Fry the bacon in a skillet, preferably cast-iron but whatever, really. Take the bacon out with a slotted spoon or tongs or whatever and reserve for another use (by which I mean, eat the hell out of it.) Slice up an onion — white, preferably, but yellow is fine — really thin, I mean really thin, and toss that into the hot grease. After a few minutes it’ll start to become translucent; add some diced garlic; fry the whole thing for another few minutes until the garlic is golden and everything smells amazing. At this point, put in the beans and a little bit of their liquid. Stir and let it cook for a little while — I don’t know, maybe five minutes — stirring occasionally, adding more liquid if things seem dry. Mash in the pan with a potato masher; I like them not too too smooth. Check for seasoning, and you’re done. You can cool and freeze or fridge at this point, or just move straight on to using them.

For the quesadillas: Get out your skillet again and put a bit of oil into it. Chop up some raw kale leaves into pretty small ribbons or bits. Spread a corn tortilla with some beans, put the kale on top of the beans, scatter some shredded cheese, put another tortilla on top, and then fry the whole thing over medium-high heat, turning at least once, until the tortillas are a dark golden brown, the kale is wilted, and the cheese is melted. I usually put the lid on the pan for the first few minutes in order to encourage the kale to wilt and the cheese to melt, then take it off so that the tortillas will crisp up properly.

18 thoughts on “Zero Food Waste Week 13: Meal Plan Like a Champion, Part 1: Pantry (plus refried bean and kale quesadillas)

  1. Alicia says:

    I’m curious – where is the produce? I’ve never taken note of that in the past, but the only fruit/veggie I see here is kale. Where you just super stocked up from last week? 🙂

    Also, those burritos sound delish… though I might avoid the bacon fat 😛

    1. thesingledollar says:

      You could totally do it with olive oil, I just like bacon fat 🙂 You’ll need to salt the beans more. Produce — I actually am kind of low this week. I bought a whole giant thing of apples at the farmer’s market last week and am still working through those, and I put frozen blueberries and raisins (which I also already had) in my oatmeal, so there’s my fruit, and I had onions and garlic, but I should have bought some spinach or some other kind of greens as well as the kale. I eat so many vegetables normally that I don’t mind too much if there’s kind of a low week, but I really did mean to have more greens on hand and overestimated the size of the bunch of kale I bought. (The other thing is that it’s kind of a weird time for produce here — none of the summer stuff is in yet so I’m just eating a lot of kale and carrots over and over which is totally cool, but in the summer the variety of squash/eggplant/tomatoes/etc picks up a lot, heh.)

  2. Your recipe sounds delicious =) We eat bean burritos and quesadillas all the time, but I’ve never thought of throwing some kale in there.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I throw kale into *everything*, it’s how I get all my vitamins 🙂 Any kind of greens would work really: spinach, chard, beet greens, etc.

  3. Hannah says:

    Bacon and kale pizza is one of my favorites (in the summers that my basil succeeds, with pesto sauce instead of red sauce), but I’ve never considered Kale+beans. I’ll eat this the next time that I don’t have leftovers for lunch (the fam jam would revolt at the idea of a meatless dinner unfortunately).

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I make soup with kale and beans too, in the winter (I just shred the kale up so giant leaves don’t overwhelm the soup) and you can throw chicken in there too if your family can’t deal without meat 🙂 It’s one of my favorite ways to get greens into my diet while hardly noticing them (I don’t particularly like them on their own, like as a pile of steamed or sauteed greens, but I do like them in the mix of a bunch of other stuff.)

  4. Quesadillas are a go-to for us and I like to make them with bell pepper, onions, and mushroom + fajita or taco seasoning. Kale would be a great addition as well! We also do a lot of bowls – grains, tofu, egg, sardines, veggies, etc. and they usually don’t get too redundant since they’re so versatile.
    I may have missed it – what do you take for lunch? I usually bring a sandwich + piece of fruit, or will make something in bulk such as enchiladas or minestrone soup we can use for a few days at a time. I’m always interested to hear new lunch ideas though!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I’m taking the brown rice bowls for lunch this week — they were kind of a pain since I had to take the dressing and avocado separately. I should have thought that through ahead of time 🙂 On the other hand, they are delicious, so there’s that. I like to have something nice for lunch; I care about it more than I care about dinner, because it’s nice to have something exciting and satisfying in the middle of the day when I’m rewarding myself for the morning and gearing up for the afternoon.

  5. ARBM says:

    Do you tend to eat the same thing all week? I think I’d be okay with that, but my fiance would probably protest quite strongly… I have been attempting meal planning since the new year, but haven’t really found my groove yet of actually following through…

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I do, mostly, although I’ll throw in a scrambled-eggs night here and there. I pretty much only make dishes that I can eat all week and not get sick of — tends to be interesting, complex, strong flavors. I just don’t have the energy to do something different all the time (and anyway, buying ingredient sizes for one is really tough.) Keep going with the planning — it’s like budgeting, sometimes it takes quite a while to find the rhythm that works for you.

  6. Jessica says:

    I 100% agree that a stocked pantry is essential (just like a capsular wardrobe). When I notice I’m getting low on a staple I put it on the list because I’m paranoid about running out! I probably tend to stock a little more than necessary, but it sure is helpful if I don’t find the time to go grocery shopping.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, I love being stocked up! The problem I used to have, that I’m trying to do better with, is that I loved stocking up so much but never actually used the stuff 🙂 This happened to me a lot if I bought without a purpose in mind (like, just bought ten boxes of pasta on sale or whatever.) But really, there’s nothing like a shelf with ten different kinds of flour on it so you know you’re covered no matter what 🙂

  7. Quesadillas are very popular in our house. I love that they’re pretty cheap and super easy to put together. And, my picky daughter will eat a cheese quesadilla without complaint. I’m not wild about kale, but I think I’ll sub in spinach. (With any luck, I’ll have some growing soon!)

    I’ve always wondered how long I could keep tahini open in my fridge. Thanks for letting me know it has a while!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Spinach or any other kind of green (chard etc) would totally work! Enjoy 🙂

  8. Yummmm…stealing the kale quesadilla idea 🙂

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yay! Spreading the gospel 🙂

  9. I’ve been doing very well with my zero waste challenge but you have a major leg up on me in the cooking department! I hate cooking so I don’t have a ton in pantry, but I’ve just been making and sticking to simple meals for days and making sure I use it all up. So far only one egg and a little bit of broccoli fell by the wayside! Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I also have it easier because I like to cook — this would be much harder for me if I weren’t enthusiastic. Congrats on doing so well!

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