Zero Waste Kitchen – A Beginner’s Guide to Reducing Waste | Lifestyle

A complete beginner’s guide to zero waste in the kitchen (without having to purchase hundreds of dollars worth of eco-friendly products).

Here, we’ll cover:

Grab a cup of hot tea and let’s get down to business.

A passion flower vine.
A perfect passion flower vine. Natural beauty we want to preserve, cultivate and encourage!

What is zero waste?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), zero waste can be defined as:

“The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”

Simply put, living zero waste means reducing the waste produced in all levels of a product’s life cycle.

This includes initial production, shipping methods, and where the product and it’s packaging wind up at end-of-life (when the product is all gone and you no longer have use for it.)

Here’s a quick example of zero waste packaging production. These are packing peanuts that dissolve in water. YES. No styrofoam here! A box from Meow Meow Tweet used these innovative dissolving peanuts for packaging.

Why go zero waste?

It’s good for everyone! Take a look at this bright, informative graphic from the Toronto Environmental Alliance.

Benefits of Zero Waste infographic
Borrowed from Toronto Environmental Alliance.

If that’s not enough to convince you, read the full article here.

Now it may be surprising, but food waste is actually detrimental to the environment.

Roughly one quarter of man-made greenhouse gas emissions are created by food waste, and if food waste was a country, it would be ranked third after the USA and China in terms of greenhouse gas production. When thrown into landfill, food waste produces a large amount of methane. As food rots and degrades, it emits these harmful gases which are 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere. If we look back at those 2015 figures, the environmental benefit of preventing this sort of waste would be like taking 1 in 4 cars off the road.

Food Waste, Why It’s Bad. Via Greener Kirkcaldy

So yes: being more conscious of reducing waste in the kitchen does positively impact the environment. That’s great news, right? How we eat, cook and process food in our homes matters.

That’s why a commitment to zero waste in the kitchen matters. Let’s get to work!

First, commit to learning.

Depending on your current lifestyle, zero waste can be a huge change.

Taking one step at a time, making one small change at a time, can make the daunting task seem much easier. It’s a process and that’s okay. The idea of zero waste is that its an ideal you are working towards — not one that you have to achieve.

As you become more aware of producing waste, you’ll also become more aware of the ways in which you can make adjustments to reduce your waste. And, with the help of some great zero waste pioneers, you can have a guide to your new lifestyle.

My top three website guides on zero waste are:

Zero Waste Chef who provides innovative recipes and ideas for living zero waste.

A Zero Waste Life run by a rocket scientist who posts ways to integrate zero waste into everyday life.

Trash is for Tossers provides useful insight into living zero waste. This is the blog of Lauren Singer, founder of Package Free, so you may see some product placement as part of the postings. I still find it an extremely valuable, educational resource for learning more about living waste free.

If you are on Instagram, I’d also recommend giving Waste Free Marie a follow, an advocate for climate and racial justice.

A note on zero waste shopping:

I’m a big fan of Amazon, don’t get me wrong. But as zero waste, sustainable living emerges as a growing market, so do vendors. It can be difficult to navigate the greenwashing on Amazon, as not all information is readily available when making a purchase. For this reason, I recommend shopping companies like Package Free, Blueland (for cleaning products), Cleancult (cleaning products) or The Earthling Co. Sustainably conscious companies like Meow Meow Tweet offer vegan skincare in recyclable packaging and the option to buy in bulk to reduce waste.

Part of living a zero waste lifestyle is buying better quality products, made in sustainable ways, from sustainable sources less frequently. Which means you don’t HAVE to invest hundreds of dollars into eco-friendly products to get started on your Zero Waste journey. In fact, you can get started today!

Zero Waste Kits available on Package Free
Some great zero waste starter kits available on Package Free.

10 ways to a Zero Waste kitchen

In my own journey toward zero waste, I’ve learned some basic swaps that can make a big impact. This list is a compilation of the things I’ve learned, zero waste practices I implement in my kitchen, and general inspiration to get started on your own zero waste journey.

1. Save glass jars

Opt for glass containers when you’re shopping.

Mason jars, jam jars, glass salad dressing bottles, empty olive jars, you name it. If it’s glass, save it!

Glass jars of all shapes and sizes make for great storage vessels in the kitchen. Additionally, you can paint or decorate them to become a candle display, pen container for your at-home office or makeup brush holder on your vanity. The possibilities are limitless here.

Dried lavender in a glass spice jar
Upcycled spice jars are great for storing home dried herbs! This one has dried lavender.

2. Make your own broth

One way to use your unwanted vegetable scraps is to make your own broth! This is a zero waste two-for-one: you give new life to vegetable scraps that would otherwise wind up in the trash and you eliminate the need to purchase pre-made broth at the store.

Start saving scraps in a designated bag or container in the freezer. When it’s full, it’s time to make broth! Herb stems, onion roots, cleaned peels are all great candidates for homemade broth.

Watch the tutorial from my IGTV for a step-by-step guide to making your own vegetable broth.

When you’re done, you can compost the cooked vegetable scraps and voila! You have successfully completed a cycle of zero waste. Keep in mind, if you add meat bones to your broth, you won’t want to compost the scraps. More on this later.

3. Use the whole vegetable

Carrot tops, celery greens, chard stalks — you can eat them all! With a bit of creativity and some inevitable trial and error you can learn to use the whole vegetable, from root to tip, reducing your waste and expanding your palate.

At a quick glance:

  • Carrot tops make a great addition to coleslaw or a green salad.
  • Celery greens do well quickly blanched and added to a pesto or stir-fry.
  • Stalks of leafy greens like chard and kale can be diced and sautéed as a tasty side dish.
  • Broccoli and cauliflower stalks make great soups or soup bases.
  • Radish greens give pesto a flavorful bite.
  • Potato peels cleaned, salted and baked turn into irresistible chips!
  • Citrus peels can be mixed into a batch of simple syrup for a sour spin on a classic sweetner.

Check out this article from Huffington Post with a myriad of recipes on using the whole vegetable.

View my farmer’s market haul video below, guiding you through using the whole vegetable!

4. Shop local

For Central Coast residents, this one should be a given! Buying local, farm fresh fruits and vegetables (even meat) does wonders for reducing the waste created by packaging and transport.

Buying local supports small farmers and provides you with fresh ingredients.

Farmer’s markets are not as regular as they once were, so I encourage you to check locally to see how COVID has affected your local farmer’s markets.

If you are a resident of San Luis Obispo South County, you can buy from just about any farm stand, including picking up fruits and vegetables as you see them.

Two baby artichokes from a local farm.
Gorgeous baby artichokes from a local farm

It’s different for everyone:

Depending on where you live, buying local fresh-from-the-farm goods may or may not be feasible.

I advocate strongly for buying local in San Luis Obispo County, because farms and farmers are plentiful, as are farm stands. It’s accessible and most of the time, fiscally on par with buying produce from a supermarket.

If you are not in an area with a high concentration of farms, this may be a challenge. I encourage you to do local research to see what is available, even if its just a chance of a couple of products that you can access locally.

If there’s REALLY no local produce available, try shopping at small business, independently owned or co-op stores for food items instead.

Living zero waste must be customized to your lifestyle. Otherwise, its not sustainable — and sustainability is the goal!

Shop within your budget:

I’m going to add a caveat here, though it may seem contradictory. Shopping local is great for supporting small farmers and businesses and therefore your local economy.

HOWEVER….

I understand that only buying local products isn’t in everyone’s budget. On a tight budget, there can be an astronomical difference between the $14 locally farmed 4 oz of honey and the $4.99 8 oz bottle mass-produced.

That’s okay.

As earlier stated, zero waste is a goal, and the more moves you make toward zero waste the better. But that shouldn’t mean you have to overdraft your bank account to do so.

(This is also why following real people who are striving towards zero waste is helpful…they provide the perspective of someone with a budget, who knows the value of a dollar.)

5. Buy in bulk

If available, buy products you use frequently in bulk. Not only will it save you money, but you’ll reduce waste by reducing smaller size packaging.

Try shopping the bulk section of your grocery store for items like flour, coffee, sugar, nuts even granola and candy.

To get extra eco-friendly, bring along your own clean containers with the marked tare weight (how much the jar/container weighs by itself) to reduce the use of those pesky plastic bags. Read more about this shopping method here.

6. Opt for loose produce

Plastic-free produce campaigner Anita Horan advocates for supermarkets to sell their produce free from its common plastic packaging (something Trader Joes is notorious for).

When shopping, opt for loose produce that isn’t encased in plastic. This is common with apples, oranges, bananas, even bell peppers. However, they are also typically sold next to plastic free counterparts.

Bring your own produce bags and you’re well on your way to shopping zero waste!

Local strawberry the size of my hand!
Much farm stand produce is available loose, like this giant local strawberry!

7. Buy dry goods and learn how to cook them

This goes hand-in-hand with buying in bulk.

Purchasing canned goods in aluminum or tin certified to be recycled is a good option.

However, if your looking for something that creates even less waste (and allows you to get more bang for your buck), buying dry goods in bulk is the way to go.

Items like beans, lentils, farro, quinoa, couscous and a variety of other grains can all be purchased dry and cooked at home. This is particularly simple if you own an Instant Pot. For an easy step-by-step guide on how to cook beans in an Instant Pot, read this post.

It may seem more convenient to buy the small-sized, precooked package of grains that takes only 10 minutes to cook.

In reality, most grains are straightforward to cook on the stovetop. If you know how to cook rice, you can make farro, quinoa, couscous and the like. I’ve even provided some links below to get you started.

Learn how to cook…

Yellow peas, pinto beans, black beans and red beans in individual glass jars.
Upcycled pickle jars make great dried bean containers! With some elbow grease, the labels can be completely removed for a cleaner look.

8. Use what you have

When it comes to meal planning, shop your pantry, fridge and freezer first! This will help to cut back on food waste in your own home.

Setting up a system of First In, First Out (FIFO) can be extremely helpful in knowing what needs to be used at a glance. FIFO is what retail grocery supply and food service use to efficiently rotate their stock, so nothing will be left to grow moldy shoved in the back of the fridge.

Here’s a short list of ideas to use FIFO in your kitchen:

  • Designate spaces for foods that need to be eaten — This could be a drawer or designated container or shelf in your fridge.
  • Label everything — Labelling items with dates makes keeping track of what’s old and what’s new a breeze.
  • Write it down — Keeping a white board, handwritten list or spreadsheet of what you have on hand makes meal planning faster and more manageable.

See what needs to be used first, and focus on creating meals around those items. If you are stuck for ideas, type a few ingredients into Google followed by “recipe”. You may be surprised what you find!

Here’s an example search. I have copious amounts of kale and green beans in my refrigerator right now. I typed “kale green bean recipe” into Google and immediately got a number of tasty results!

Search results for "kale green bean recipe"

Being flexible with substitutions in recipes can also be beneficial in using what you have. Try using whatever alliums you have when you see “white onion” in a recipe, or any leafy greens when you see “spinach”. This helps reduce what you throw away in your kitchen, and helps flex your cooking skills to boot!

For example, use these substitutions in my Vegan Creamed Spinach recipe. I’ve used kale, chard and beet greens in this recipe and it came out just as delicious as using only spinach.

Vegan creamed spinach recipe

9. Stock your own freezer

This is especially effective if you live by yourself or as a couple.

The pre-made food in the freezer aisle at any grocery market is tempting, and a section I would frequent regularly.

My habits changed as my shopping habits changed. No longer could I slip in and out of Trader Joe’s for a quick haul of pre-made food that made meals a breeze when I didn’t feel like cooking.

Good news! There’s a solution!

I started making food in larger batches, some to eat then and some to package and freeze for later.

This method works great for grains, beans and sauces. Or, if you buy meat in bulk, it can make handling a four pound log of ground beef much more manageable. As you can see, my past attempts were unsuccessful.

Gone are the days of forcefully cutting frozen logs of meat in half

The next time I encountered a four pound log of beef I cooked a variety of items, packaged and froze them for later use. Here’s an example list to give you ideas to get started.

4 lbs of ground beef can become…

  • 1 pound of taco meat — Saute meat in skillet with diced onions, peppers and taco seasoning until brown. Here’s a recipe to get started.
  • 2 pounds of beef bologneseMake a simple bolognese in the crockpot. Saute the beef on the stove first til brown, and rid of excess grease. Add to crockpot with some tomato paste, canned diced tomatoes, fresh herbs, seasonings, salt and pepper. Simmer on high for three hours.
  • 4 quarter pound burger patties — Add your ground meat to a bowl with some breadcrumbs, one egg and seasonings. Form into patties and pan fry. Or, try this recipe.
  • 4 servings of beef and broccoli — One pound of beef and one large head of broccoli makes a great base for beef and broccoli. Add onion, peppers, soy sauce, brown sugar and sriracha for an easy tasty dinner.

And boom! Just like that, you’ve stocked your freezer, prepped dinner for the night and successfully used ALL of the meat you defrosted, without fear it will go bad before you’ve eaten (or cooked) it.

You can use the freezer stocking method for a variety of things like:

  • Mirepoix — peel and dice carrots, onions and celery for a quick soup or sauce base.
  • Onions and peppers — slice and freeze. They’ll be ready to make as a quick side to fajitas or addition to a sausage and potato skillet!
  • Leafy greens — If your leafy greens will go bad before you get to use them, wash, chop and freeze them instead! Toss some in a frittata, stir fry or soup.
  • All the fruit — dice and freeze your fruit. This makes smoothies a breeze.
Mirepoix - diced celery, carrots and onion
Mirepoix prepped and ready for the freezer!

10. Invest in plastic free storage solutions

Yes, I said you don’t have to invest any money to start on your zero waste journey, and now I’m recommending you invest! It’s true, you don’t NEED to buy these plastic-free storage solutions, but depending on your own kitchen situation, they may be worth it for you. Here are some ideas to storing food and leftovers that are not plastic wrap and plastic baggies.

Depending on your local supermarket, you may or may not be allowed to bring in your own reusable bags right now. I’ve noticed many stores bagging groceries at no extra cost in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Instead of accepting the free bags, however, try this. Ask the cashier to simply put your items back in your cart, without a bag. Take the cart to your car and bag your own groceries using reusable bags. It’s an extra step, but it’s one I take. It also gives me the opportunity to disinfect any item that may have had a lot of hands on it recently, before putting it in my car for transport.

If you’re not into buying reusable, there are many options for making your own. Check out Zero Waste Chef’s tutorial on how to sew your own produce bags. If all else fails, stick to reusing the bags and containers you already have!

An array of plastic free storage solutions
Silicone baking mat, reusable produce bags, silicone storage bags and mason jars.

Compost 101: Frequently Asked Questions

The only reason I didn’t include compost on my list is this: it may or may not be feasible for you to start composting today.

Community compost resources vary from city to city, and in some areas, it’s best to do your compost on your own.

Here’s a quick look into what compost is and how you can start composting.

But first, why compost?

Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 28 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Compost saves scraps from landfills, and actually adds rich nutrients back into soil for your garden.

As you can see below, my compost set-up is simple. It may not be the prettiest, but it’s effective! A wooden palette saved from the dumpster made a great platform to give ventilation to the bottom of the compost.

Two compost bins set on top of a wooden pallet.
A functional compost system, made from upcycled containers and a wooden pallet.

What is compost?

Compost is, “organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow.” (Source: EPA)

Compost consists of your scrap produce and other green materials left to decompose to a state where it becomes a fertile addition to the garden.

All it takes is some food scraps (“green” matter) and dry leaves/cardboard/paper scraps (“brown” matter) to get started composting.

I started composting about six months ago, and have learned a few things along the way.

For more in-depth reading about compost check out these sources:

How do I start composting?

There are many ways you can go to compost. There is some advanced machinery available (like this rotating one).

Or, you can use a storage bin with some holes drilled out of it for ventilation.

Additionally, you can go with the most organic method, which is to create piles in your backyard and let nature take its course. Zero Waste Chef has a lot of good information about this method, as its something she uses at her home.

I keep this stainless steel container in the kitchen to collect food scraps throughout the day. I take it out to my compost at night, which is located next to our cars in the apartment where we live (not out on the patio for all the neighbors to enjoy).

This makes saving scraps for compost easy. The benefit of the stainless steel is that it’s easy to rinse out, doesn’t hold any smells like plastic would and the lid seals tight so no funky smells escape if I forget to take it out for a few nights.

As for what goes in your compost, here’s some basic info from the EPA:

More ideas for compost friendly materials:

  • Browns – Deconstructed cardboard without ink printing; Compostable napkins or parchment paper, cut into smaller pieces; A handful of dirt
  • Greens – Loose leaf tea, or the insides of a used tea bag; Cooked vegetables used to make broth
  • Water – Truth: I haven’t had to add water to my compost. Since I add the vegetables from the broth, they contain a lot of water. Two for one!

Quick Composting No No’s: What not to add to your compost

  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Milk
  • Oil
  • Fat

For a more extensive list on what should and should NOT go in your compost, check out this article at The Spruce.

Isn’t compost stinky?

The number one question you’ll get when you tell someone you compost:

Doesn’t it stink?

Short answer: No.

If the compost has the correct balance of green and brown materials, the compost will give off an earthly odor, much like dirt. The smell will not be “stinky” or rotten or moldy, as this article from Naples Compost confirms.

Full disclosure: As you learn what the correct balance is, you may encounter some funky smells along the way.

Here’s a quick guide on how to tell what your compost needs if it starts smelling a bit foul.

Helpful hint:

Since it consists of decomposing matter, it attracts flies and the like (which is good, you want them there, they help with the decomposition process), so I wouldn’t recommend keeping your compost pile right next to your home. Set it up in an area farthest away from your door.

If you stick to the do’s and do not’s of composting, it should smell like fresh dirt. A wonderful aroma!

How long does it take?

Let’s ask the internet.

How long it takes to compost
Source: Gardners.com

Compost’s maturity can be influenced by:

  1. Temperature – When compost is busy doing it’s thing it will heat up. Warmer days, therefore, can be more helpful in compost’s natural process. The process may take longer to complete in cooler months or generally colder climates.
  2. Moisture – Compost is hindered by too much moisture as much as it is by not enough moisture. It’s consistency should be of a damp sponge, no more, no less.
  3. How often it’s turned – You can help your compost along by manually turning it (meaning, mixing it all up) several times a week.
  4. Size of waste added – Clearly, smaller pieces of food scraps will break down faster than larger ones. A pineapple crown will take much longer to decompose, for example, than potato peels.

Two is better than one:

If you have the commitment, and the room, you can have two composts in rotation.

To illustrate, let’s name the compost piles.

Compost Pile One, aka “Radish” and Compost Pile Two, aka “Okra”.

Radish will be your first compost pile. Add scraps to Radish until it’s full, or your ready to move on and let it do its compost thang. Radish is now in a state where you need to stop adding fresh scraps, it will be turned and tended to until its garden-ready compost dirt.

Now, you move on to Okra. Add scraps to Okra while actively tending to Radish, turning every so often and monitoring its process.

Ideally, once Radish is ready to be added to the garden, Okra will be full.

Empty Radish into the garden, clearing out all the dirt-like compost.

You can now stop adding to Okra and let it do its dance of decomposition.

Start the process again with Radish.

In this way, you’ll always have a compost to add to and a compost thats on it’s way to becoming nutrient-rich dirt.

Compost on it's way to becoming dirt.
A close-up of my older compost — well on it’s way to becoming nutrient rich dirt for the garden!
In Conclusion: You can do it!

Whew! You made it!

I hope this article has brought you knowledge and encouragement for your zero waste journey. (And maybe a laugh or two, if I’m lucky.)

As awareness for the benefits of zero waste grows, so do the resources and the supportive community.

It’s a journey, and we’re all in it together.

How are you going to start on your zero waste lifestyle?

Questions and comments welcome! Leave a note below, follow me on Instagram, or send me an email.

Til next time!

Top 8 Essential Baking Utensils | Lifestyle

Baking is an exact science… most of the time. While I do much improvisation in the kitchen (it is difficult to follow a recipe without adding my own spin), baking is a delicate balance, and requires precision. And so I present to you, my eight top baking utensils. These tools are a must-have to make at-home baking more accurate, more enjoyable and more tasty!

The 8 Essentials are:

  1. Scale
  2. Oven Thermometer
  3. Zester/Microplane
  4. Pastry Bag & Tips Set
  5. Fine Mesh Strainer
  6. Hand Mixer
  7. Glass Jars
  8. Spatulas

Let’s get into it!

1. SCALE

When making my grandfather’s cookie recipes, I always use a scale. Weighing ingredients provides for a much higher level of accuracy and consistency, particularly if you are making smaller or larger batches than the original.

Here’s a solid starter scale on Amazon. As you get more comfortable measuring by scale, it may be worthwhile to invest in a scale that provides two decimals when measuring in grams (1.25 g for example).

Using a scale is my preference for baking. Besides the obvious accuracy of measuring with a scale vs. attempting to perfectly level 3 cups of flour, it makes clean up much faster!

2. OVEN THERMOMETER

Again, baking is an exact science. Sure, you can ~set~ your oven to 350 degrees, but how do you know it actually ~is~ 350 degrees? Enter the oven thermometer.

Oftentimes, ovens run a little hot, or a little cold. Recently, I’ve noticed the oven in our apartment running hot. Thankfully, I can check my oven thermometer before putting anything in the oven. By checking the thermometer and adjusting the oven temp, I can get an accurate temperature every time I bake.

Buy one here on Amazon.

3. ZESTER — MICROPLANE

I’ll admit, zest is one of my most favorite baking ingredients. I love dessert, but am NOT a fan of anything overly sweet. Citrus zest is a relatively foolproof way to balance out the sweetness of your favorite dessert with a fresh burst of acidity.

Have a good zester on hand to lighten up any dish, sweet or savory!

Try adding:

  • Orange Zest to Chocolate.
  • Lemon Zest to Vanilla.
  • Lime or Grapefruit Zest to Berries & Fruit.

Get yours here on Amazon.

4. PASTRY BAGS & TIPS SET

Most commonly, I use my pastry bags and tips for decorating cakes. However, there are some cookies I make that utilize the pastry bags to form the cookies.

Pastry bags and tips can also be used in savory cooking. In general, they are beneficial to have on hand when you feel like dressing things up a bit!

This is the exact first pastry bag & tip set I purchased. The tips are small, which is ideal for learning how to pipe. It’s easier to manage the frosting in small amounts, just make sure your buttercream/frosting is well mixed so nothing gets stuck.

I prefer the plastic pastry bags to the stretchy silicone type included in the set. The silicone bags have a tendency to stretch more when you are trying to pipe, making it harder to control.

Find some plastic piping bags here. If you are concerned about the throw-away plastic, I’d recommend a canvas piping bag instead. They are durable, will last you literally decades if properly cared for, and don’t oddly stretch and give as the silicone bags tend to do. Find some canvas piping bags here.

5. FINE MESH STRAINER

I have a small version of this strainer and I love it. It use it for many things. The feet on the bottom make it easy to sit over the edge of a bowl and measure directly into. It’s ideal for sifting ingredients. The smaller size is convenient for all recipes, or even just dusting a cake with powdered sugar. Buy it on Amazon here.

6. HAND MIXER

Having a hand mixer ~on hand~ is simply essential. They are small in size, affordable and versatile. The hand mixer I use is this one, from Hamilton Beach. I break it out when I want to whip up a batch of 5 minute homemade whipped cream, semi-homemade buttercream frosting, or when I’m saving time by using a boxed baking mix.

My stand mixer, (this one here), is quite literally, a monster. My kitchen can barely accommodate Esther (yes, SHE has a name) so bringing her down from her home in that awkward cabinet above the refrigerator requires a very good reason. For everything else, I use my hand mixer.

A tip: Be sure to use the single whip when making whipped cream. The beater attachments are not sufficient for incorporating air into the cream and will instead deflate it. Use the beater attachments for baking mixes.

7. GLASS JARS

These are what I use to store my open bags of flour and sugar. Sealing the flour in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid keeps the flour fresh, and prevents pest infestation. Similarly, sealing your open bags of sugar in glass jars deters ants that would otherwise consider the scent of brown sugar wafting from your baking cabinet an open invitation to a downright stampede. Needless to say, if you plan on baking regularly, or even just cooking regularly, invest in (or start collecting) quality sealing glass jars. Plastic is OK, but glass is always preferred.

8. SPATULAS

You MUST have a good set of spatulas to bake. Out of all the essential tools listed here, this one may be the MOST essential. How else can you scrape every bit of cookie dough goodness from the bowl? Accurately measure rapidly melting butter? Imagine tackling a recipe that calls for molasses without a quality spatula… impossible! To scrape down the sides of your mixer when combining wet and dry ingredients?

I digress. Here’s a set of spatulas from Amazon. I like them because they are sturdy, can hold up to being used to scrape glutinous dough, and flexible, meaning they’ll bend to the shape of the bowl, or other container. They come in a variety of sizes and fun colors. I wash mine in the utensil section of the dishwasher and haven’t had any problems.

Additionally, I recommend a set of adorable mini spatulas. These are prime for scraping small jars.

* * * * * *

With these eight indispensable baking tools in tow, you are ready to tackle any baking project the holiday may throw your way! Happy Holidays. Enjoy!

How to Create a Menu for Meal Prep | Lifestyle

There are seemingly infinite meal prep resources available today. From meal kit services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, to specialty services like Sun Basket, and meal prep delivery like Catered Fit, the options seem endless. Additionally, a multitude of social media gurus offer services that provide you with a fully outlined menu to follow, like Workweek Lunch, including specialized meal prep recipes.

For residents of the Central Coast, check out a great local meal prep resource: Clean Machine Meals. Created by a local chef who worked at restaurants like Thomas Hill Organics, these are fully prepared meals delivered directly to you. Worth it!

If, however, you’re looking to experiment on your own, and perhaps hone your meal prep and planning skills, the remainder of this article is for you!

I’ve included the top four questions I consider when creating my own meal prep menus. By shaping your meal prep utilizing the following four parameters, you are more likely to create and stick to a plan that works for you. The answers you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Of course, it is always important to keep the purpose of your meal prep in mind. Be it saving money, having more free time with family, eating healthy or simply trying something new. After all, this meal prep is for YOU and it should be whatever you need it to be. Decide first what need meal prep fulfills in your life. From there, answer the questions below and let your meal prep “preparation” grow!

If you feel stuck or lacking inspiration, I recommend following some meal prep accounts on your social media, like Instagram or Pinterest. You never know what may serve to inspire!

This article series aims to make meal prep & planning more accessible, less daunting and maybe provide the inspiration and courage you need to try it for yourself. Let’s get to it!

Bonus: This article was featured on the Feed Feed!

Photo by Ella Olsson on Pexels.com

When planning a menu, consider these four questions.

1. What do you want to eat?

2. What’s in the pantry you can create a meal around?

3. How much time do you have to assemble the meal?

4. How much time do you want to spend prepping?

Photo by Iamngakan eka on Pexels.com

Below, we’ll get into detail about the reasoning behind each of these questions and some examples of how you may answer them to fit your lifestyle. But generally, these are the four things in the front of my mind when I plan out my meal prep for the week. Now, I’m sure you’ve thought of what it may be like to plan a menu for the week — but let’s take it a step further real quick. I also have a tendency to plan my “execution” of the menu, aka I plan out how I’m going to cook my meal prep. This keeps things running as smoothly as possible, which means less time spent on prep and more time spent on life! More on that another time.

Let’s break down the first task of meal prep — creating a menu.

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Question 1: What do you want to eat?

There’s nothing less motivating in meal prep than cooking meals you have no interest in consuming. No matter how “healthy” or diet-friendly the meal may be, if you don’t want to eat it, sitting down for lunch will be excruciating, not exciting! ~Not to mention you’ll be less likely to stick to it if you dread every meal~

So first, we consider the most basic question. What sounds good to you? Start by brainstorming from some of your favorite cuisines (like Mexican or Italian) or by your favorite dishes (let’s say Chicken Alfredo, for example). Once you have an idea of what type of food you’d like to eat, you can search for recipes similar to it, and create your meal prep around it.

Be sure to include dietary restrictions (voluntary or otherwise) in this first step. I’m lactose intolerant so it would be a very BAD idea for me to pursue a classic Chicken Alfredo meal prep. Instead, I’d use some dairy-free alternatives, or even look to vegan recipes. If, for example, you love Chicken Alfredo but are on a keto diet, you could look to do a pasta replacement (I really like Banza) for a low-carb version of Chicken Alfredo and it would work great for you!

It may be equally helpful for you to create a short list of things you do not like and have no interest in eating. For example, cilantro may be the most divisive, controversial herb of all time. If making a big batch to share with others throughout the week, leave the controversial ingredients on the side.

If your goal for meal prep is to get healthy and/or pursue fat loss, that’s great! Construct your meal prep around low-fat recipes, or whichever specified parameters are dictated by your diet. On the other hand, if you are meal prepping because you don’t want to cook every night, that’s great too! Meal prep doesn’t have to be about eating healthy or losing weight. Only if you want it to be.

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Question 2: What’s in the pantry you can create a meal around?

After deciding what type of food you want to prepare, check your own grocery store first! Not the Aldi down the street, I mean open up your cupboard, root around the pantry, dig in the freezer and see what you have on hand first. Maybe there’s a box of Mediterranean Lentil Mix that you’ve had for six months. Maybe it’s time to use all those cans of kidney beans.

Chili’s, soups and “bowl” meals are super ways to use frozen produce and canned items that have, perhaps, overstayed their welcome in your kitchen.

Not to mention, most chili’s and soups can be easily executed in large batches in a Crock Pot or Instant Pot, saving you that much more time in prep!

Personally, I receive the Talley Farms Fresh Harvest Box each week. It’s packed full of fresh produce, either grown on Talley Farms or procured from other local farmers. I build my weekly meal prep around the box! Check your local farms to see if they do something similar, and if you are slocal, check out the Harvest Box.

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Question 3: How much time will you have to heat up / assemble the meal?

You know what you want to eat, and maybe even have some of the ingredients in your pantry already. Great! What’s next? Consider this: how much time do you actually want to spend reheating and/or assembling at each meal?

Let’s take two extremes, both meal preps I have done: Salad Vs. Tacos.

Salad: Requires NO heat, simply dress and serve. Takes less than five minutes to plate and serve. No reheating time. Easy to assemble quickly, and its great to have on hand when you’ve only got thirty minutes between coming home from work and leaving for nightly activities.

Tacos: You can prep the taco meat, and precut all of the toppings. However, tortillas need to be heated (for soft tacos) or fried (for crunchy). The taco meat needs to be heated, and all of the toppings need to be set out/made available for personal taco dressing. One option to cut back on assembly time is to use store-bought crunchy taco shells. Either way, taco assembly still takes more time than dressing a salad. But it can be a very fun and interactive way to dinner.

Both are great meals, are extremely versatile in what type of ingredients go in them, and can be used for lunch or dinner. However, the big difference is how long it takes to get dinner on the table. If you have some time after work, the tacos are worth it. First of all, because who doesn’t want tacos for dinner every night? And second, having the tacos assembled fresh makes it feel less like meal prep, and more like you just made dinner in half the time! It all depends on what works best for you.

Keep it personal. Look to others for inspiration, but ultimately, don’t be afraid to modify based on your own needs!

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Question 4: How much time do you have to spend/want to spend prepping?

One pot or sheet pan meals can be super useful, not to mention time-saving, especially when you are just beginning to develop a meal prep habit! Break out the slow cooker to whip up a batch of pulled pork and roast some veggies in the oven, or take to the internet for a slew of sheet pan, one pot, instant pot and/or crock pot meal recipes.

REMINDER:

You don’t *have* to make everything from scratch

in order to “successfully” meal prep.

Making meal prep semi-homemade by starting with a base of rotisserie chicken, or prediced vegetables, even steam-in-a bag microwave rice can give you just enough extra time to make meal prep worth your while! Once it becomes a habit, the time flies by and it’s really just another part of life, like laundry, but more fun because of course, you have to taste test everything.

To start slow, commit to ONE meal-prepped meal per week. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, commit to making it meal-prep and feel it out. Making that one meal ahead of time can be the difference between waking up early to make breakfast, or taking a morning walk instead. You may find that meal prep affords you so much extra time during that week that the few hours you spend on it during the weekend is completely worth it!

Whatever your goal for meal prep, make it your own.

Feel free to experiment, and as always, contact me with any questions! I’d love to hear your feedback and any more questions you’d like to see covered in next month’s Meal Prep article.

Til then, Enjoy!

5 Best Oils to Keep in Your Pantry | Lifestyle

Olive, sunflower, canola, avocado, walnut, sesame… the list seems endless! There are a multitude of oil options out there. Experimentation with different oils is the best way to find out what you find easiest to cook with and what flavors you like best. Here I’ve provided a list of my top five most used cooking oils.

While there is no debate that whole fat salted butter provides unrivaled flavor to any dish, sweet or savory, it is also of no debate that massive amounts of butter are not great for your heart, among other things. Switching to oil (or changing from all butter in a recipe to half butter, half oil) saves you some calories and fat. By choosing the right oils, you won’t skimp on flavor either, and you can save the splurge on butter for dishes where it really shines.

Below is my list of top five oils for cooking. Here on the Central Coast, we are blessed to have many local producers and farmers. I encourage you to explore your options and buy local whenever possible!

1. SUNFLOWER OIL

Sunflower in the sun

Uses: For everyday cooking. Lighter alternative to butter and more affordable than Olive oil. I use this oil often when sautéing or roasting vegetables. It’s also great to add in to salad dressings, like my Garlic Tahini Salad Dressing.

Benefits: High in Vitamin E. Sunflower oil can also be used as a topical skin and beauty treatment, providing natural moisture to skin and hair.

Where to Buy: Being the Trader Joe’s fan that I am, I prefer Trader Joe’s High Oleic Expeller Pressed Sunflower Oil. If purity is your priority, go to Target for Spectrum Organic Refined Sunflower Oil.

2. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

Olive oil

Uses: My personal favorite. It may just be the Italian in me, but I am inclined to drizzle some EVOO on anything and everything. Primarily used when cooking sauces, or sautéing garlic and onions before they are added to a sauce. My go-to Oil to use in marinades and to drizzle on meats before cooking. Use in spreads like pesto and hummus.

Benefits: EVOO is a source of antioxidants and the healthy monounsaturated fats, which makes it beneficial to heart health. It’s also a part of the Mediterranean diet, often recommended by doctors to promote a healthy heart.

Where to Buy: In San Luis County, pretty much anywhere! And not just the supermarkets… as an agricultural community we have many local olive farmers producing olive oil in small batches at supreme quality. I encourage you to explore and try new local olive oils. In the grocery store, I’d recommend: California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

3. CANOLA OIL

Field

Uses: I primarily use canola oil in the creation of baked goods, like cakes and muffins. Additionally, canola oil is the oil of choice for proper cast iron skillet maintenance. I oil my cast iron after each cleaning. It’s a pantry staple – helpful to have on hand when needed in a pinch!

Benefits: Canola oil is known for its convenience more than it’s health benefits. Though, it is the better alternative to vegetable oil, and contains more omega-3’s.

Where to Buy: Any grocery store should have canola oil. If needed in a pinch, vegetable oil is almost identical in taste and texture of your finished product. Pick up canola oil at Walmart, Smart & Final, Vons or Food 4 Less.

4. COCONUT OIL

Coconut oil in a glass jar

Uses: Coconut oil is having a moment! And not unwarranted — add coconut oil to smoothies, use it as a hair mask, stir it in your coffee and stir fry your veggies in it. You name it, coconut oil can do it! I do use coconut oil in my hair (it’s awesome for hydrating unruly curls), for stir frying vegetables and for reheating meals on the stove. BONUS: Use coconut oil to make stovetop popcorn! Find recipe here.

Benefits: Coconut oil is renowned for its healthy fats that boost your brain activity and provide energy for your body, which is why it’s a desirable addition to your morning Cup O Joe. Coconut oil is a safe and clean addition to your beauty cabinet as well!

Where to Buy: When shopping for coconut oil, you will see two main types: Virgin and Refined. Virgin coconut oil contains the unadulterated aroma and flavor of coconut. This type is useful when you are cooking dishes where the coconut flavor is desired. I prefer keeping refined coconut oil on hand. It’s flavor and aroma is mellow, and once added to your food, the coconut flavor is undetectable. Pick up coconut oil at any grocery store, Costco, Ralphs, Vons, or my go-to Trader Joe’s.

5. FINISHING OIL

Man pouring olive oil

Uses: A finishing oil is typically a flavorful infused EVOO that is not made for cooking. The best use of a finishing oil is to drizzle on your food after it is cooked, or right at the end of the cooking process. These are not oils to drizzle in the pan before adding your mirepoix. Mix with a good quality balsamic vinegar to make the perfect bread dip.

Benefits: Since finishing oils are typically naturally flavored olive oils, they carry many of the same health benefits. In terms of culinary benefits, the possibilities are endless! Finishing oils make a sublime simple salad dressing, or can be the perfect touch to take your homemade dish over the top.

Where to Buy: Locally! In San Luis Obispo, I recommend going to We Olive. Check out local Farmers Markets for other vendors, or the San Luis Co-Op. or this list on San Luis Obispo Guide. Finishing oils are great for experimenting and trying new flavors. One of my current favorite are the Herbs de Provence infused Olive Oil pictured below. If you are outside of the area, check out assorted flavored olive oil packs on the internet. So many possibilities!

Take the opportunity to try something new! You never know what you’ll like until you give it a chance. Enjoy!

Creative Essays by a Hungry Writer

Where do you begin to tell a story as expansive, diverse and culturally pertinent as the story of food? Through history, tradition, or family heritage, there is infinite significance entwined in all cuisine. The story of food is deeply personal, be it a social phenomenon or the reverence with which one dish is passed down from generation to generation.

And so, that story must begin with one person, one family, one perspective. Here on Edible Ink, you’ll read the bite-size histories embedded in the way we prepare, consume and share food. My goal, as a writer, is to extract the stories embedded in our culture of food, crafting palatable prose meant to engage, teach and memorialize. 

You’ll see recipes and the occasional restaurant review local to the Central Coast of California. But most of all, here on Edible Ink, we hope you’ll see the heart, the personality and the significance that exists in something as perceptively small as say, a family cookie recipe. 

Here we aim to uncover the experience of food — the tastes, sights, and smells –to its more pure state, the meaning behind every bite. Transforming a family dish into a narrative that is food for the soul, so central to our humanity, is accessible here, on Edible Ink.