Putting a great meal on the table every night can be hard, let alone preparing an entire menu for the week. With a little foresight and creativity, though, you can manage your refrigerator to do half the work for you. Here’s how:

  1. Prepare a base concoction featuring what is in season. This can be prepared ahead of time and used in multiple ways throughout the week. Try:
  • Marinated red peppers. Add to cooked chicken, serve under broiled fish, or toss with boiled shrimp.
  • Cooked beans. Dress with shredded cheddar, serve with boiled pasta shells, or enrich with bits of roasted meat.
  • Sautéed cabbage. Serve over polenta and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, bake with sausages, or dump on top of a baked potato.
  1. Always have celery, carrots and lemons on hand. Use celery and carrots as a base for soups, stews and pasta sauces. They’re also delicious on their own, braised with chicken stock or water, a tab of butter, salt, and a few cranks of freshly ground pepper. Use lemons for their juice and zest.
  1. Buy whole food. For example, purchase a whole chicken, cut it in pieces to cook for dinner tonight, and use the bones for stock and store in the fridge. Buy beets and carrots with their greens. Remove greens promptly, and cook them first. Carrot tops make an excellent pesto! [Get Eugenia’s recipe for Carrot Top pesto here.]
  1. Organize food in clear glass containers or Tupperware so you can see what you’ve got—it’s easy to forget. Keep the stuff you should use first front and center. Keep track of the age of leftovers by writing the date on refrigerator tape. Store veggies and fruit in little plastic baskets to avoid bruising and for easy retrieval. And always keep dairy off the door, where it is less cool.
  2. Use the bottom of the jar. Two olives left? Use them in a salad. And don’t dump the vinegar they’re stored in—those flavored vinegars are great in any application that calls for vinegar, except canning. Ditto on marinades. One piece of marinated artichoke left in the jar? Use it in a salad, and use the marinade to make dressing.

eugenia-boneEugenia Bone is the author of The Kitchen Ecosystem: Integrating Recipes to Create Delicious Meals (Clarkson Potter, 2014). The book includes 400 recipes derived from 40 common ingredients—from asparagus to fish to zucchini—that create a kitchen ecosystem of connected foods that can be used across many dishes.