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  • Writer's pictureTy Bailey

Reduce your Food Waste w/ Multi-Purpose Ingredients

Being a short-order chef isn't practical when you're a parent, but it only gets worse when picky eaters want a large batch of their favorite food only to shun it entirely the next day. Here are some great multi-purpose meal ingredients that can be respun into a different meal each day to use up those leftovers, reduce food waste, and keep picky eaters happy.

Meal prepping is basically the best concept ever invented if you have a family that will actually eat the same foods rather consistently without complaining and wasting portions after growing tired of the same meals. I'm personally a huge fan. My partner and kids? Not so much.

With their horribly picky eating habits killing our grocery budget many times over, I was desperate to figure out how to buy meal ingredients affordably (i.e., in bulk) but also avoid wasting them, thereby making the entire bulk-buying-to-save-money scenario pointless. After quite a good bit of trial and error, I've narrowed down our base "bulk" grocery shopping to a few key items that are amazing for repurposing over the course of a week.


I've always loved potatoes, but as a mother and house-appointed chef for multiple picky eaters, I have never loved potatoes more than I do now. They're the most versatile food of all time, and I'm here to praise them until the end of my days.

The average price for a 5-lb. sack of russet potatoes at our local store is $2.47, and a 10-lb. bag is only $5.18. For the sake of comparison, a 5-lb. bag of frozen french fries runs about $6.28 and premade mashed potatoes (only 24oz.!) costs about $3.64 per container. That's insane! By buying your potatoes in bulk and without processing, you save a TON of money. Also, what might you make with your numerous pounds of potatoes? Let me enlighten you:

  • french fries

  • baked potatoes

  • mashed potatoes

  • roasted potato wedges

  • potato pancakes (easily made from leftover mashed potatoes)

...and these are just a few. You also have even more versatility because french fries and baked potatoes can be topped with nearly anything imaginable to make a delicious meal. Standard "loaded" toppings, chili and cheese, shredded barbecue pork and cheese, or even filled with broccoli, cheese, and other healthier topping options. The possibilities are endless.

Mashed potatoes are also great because they can be eaten plain or seasoned, used as topping for a shepherd's pie, or mixed with eggs and then pan-fried to become potato pancakes.

Mixed Vegetables (Canned or Frozen)

Obviously, we want our kids to eat veggies. Sometimes it can be difficult to get such down their throats, but adding small-sized mixed vegetables into dishes is a great way to at least take a step in the right direction. The best way I've found to make veggies just a normal part of meals and therefore less likely to be freaked out over is to include mixed veggies in as many meals as possible.

Large bags of store-brand mixed veggies are extremely affordable, with a 28oz. bag just costing right below $3—and that large bag will actually last you a while. Canned mixed vegetables are about $2 or less, but you'll end up being forced to use up the entire amount to avoid spoilage and waste, so I try to recommend the frozen ones whenever possible.

What can you add these quick and easy veggies into? Nearly anything!

  • soups

  • lentils

  • salads

  • pasta dishes

  • homemade tacos

  • combine with ground beef in nearly ANY dish

  • top your mashed potatoes

Some of those options may sound a bit unusual, but I'll be posting easy-peasy recipes soon enough to explain what to do to make simple and affordable ingredient mixes totally edible in the best way possible.

Frozen Chicken Tenders

Most parents are aware of the "small child loves chicken nuggets" phenomenon, but from a more practical standpoint, have you ever realized just how insanely versatile frozen breaded chicken tenders are? They're easy to prepare, and once they're ready, you can actually do quite a few dishes with them that aren't just dunking a tender into some ketchup or honey mustard.

My youngest will only eat chicken fries, so her preferences don't apply to this post, and my partner is a chicken-hater for whatever reason. However, my oldest kid and I have gone buck wild with the chicken-tenders-done-fancy recipes.

Some of our healthy but absurdly delicious favorites:

  • "fried" chicken salads (salads topped with chopped tenders, cheese, dressing, and any number of veggies)

  • chicken roll-ups (a cross between a salad wrap and a burrito)

  • chicken strip tacos

And although this particular list isn't very long, the number of different food styles you can incorporate into these two options is nearly endless. My daughter prefers Asian-style flavors and ingredients in her wraps and salads, whereas I absolutely love mixing creamy and spicy options together in my own chicken dishes. You can pretty much alter the general recipe ingredients any way you want, and it's guaranteed to turn out just as good as something you might get in a restaurant.

Ground Beef

This should be nearly every meat eater's go-to versatile meal ingredient, and if you aren't already a fan, let me tell you why you should be. Putting aside any complaints people may have regarding health issues (I'll get into that another day), you can buy a 1-lb. roll of fatty ground beef for about $3 or right above that price. The lower your fat content, the higher the price of the meat. (Honestly, the worse the flavor is too, but I'm also a fat-aholic when it comes to meat, so that's just my personal opinion.)

Ground beef can be used for so many different dishes, all of which can be modified to meet your family's preferences, too. Here's just a quick list of how to include this cheap and easy fat and protein source in your meals:

  • burgers

  • meatloaf

  • spaghetti dishes

  • meatballs

  • shepherd's pie

  • tacos

  • Hamburger Helper meals

  • as a mix-in with rice, potatoes, etc.

You can also skip a lot of food waste with ground beef as any of the above meals can be made and any of the leftover meat can easily be used in yet another option from that list the following day (although a bit of re-seasoning may need to occur).

Looking for more options?

We'll be adding even more posts soon about the various ingredients you can be sure to purchase to help reduce food waste due to unwanted leftovers while also lowering the impact of your grocery expenses on your budget.

As always, feel free to shoot us a message with any suggestions or topics you'd like to see covered next!

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