nutrition tips

Tips to Keep Your Leftovers from Spoiling

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Managing lots of leftovers can be a struggle. Trying to finish everything before it goes bad can sometimes seem like a gustatory juggling act that inevitably falls back down to earth when that succulent steak you grilled to perfection over the weekend transforms into a slimy smelly piece of meat a few days later. And when holiday season rolls around with its mounds and mounds of delicious home-cooked food piled on the table, keeping on top of leftovers before they become compost material can get annoying and frustrating. Following a few simple food safety rules can make your extra food last longer and keep your grocery bill down.

I style myself as a bit of a food safety expert since I work from home and normally make up a batch of protein on the weekend — slow cooker pork, roast chicken — and then keep it to mix into meals for the rest of the week along with some carbs — wild rice, sweet potatoes — and a few sides of veggies like steamed broccoli and chopped greens. But what’s essential to keeping on top of all of this food is, one, make sure you are eating it consistently, and then knowing how to store it, and when it’s time to throw it into the compost bin or trash.

Why Does Food Go Bad?

When food spoils, it’s usually because bacteria — like Staphylococcus, Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter — starts feasting on it after it cools down to temperatures that can support bug life. If the food is not sealed and put away in either in the fridge or freezer, the bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels or create toxins that can cause illness when ingested.

Exposure to oxygen — which helps microorganisms grow, encourages enzymes in the food to react faster, and make fats, or lipids, in the food smell and taste funny, like oil going rancid — is another factor effecting food’s longevity. Water and light are also culprits in spoiling food — water by giving microorganisms like mold and bacteria the moisture they need to rapidly colonize the food, and light by degrading the structure of the food by breaking down nutrients and pigments.

Controlling temperature is the final key to keeping your foods from spoiling as a cold enough environment will stop or slow the growth of bacteria — food should be kept out of the so-called “Danger Zone” of 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F, which is the range bacteria thrive in. Never leave food out for more than two hours during most of the year as the temperature will quickly adjust to whatever it feels like in the room — cut that back to one hour in the summer when temps can get above 90 degrees F.

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What Can I Do to Keep Food From Spoiling so Quickly?

If you can control these three factors — air, water, light, and temperature — you will be able to maximize your leftovers life, saving you money and time spent cooking new dishes to replace your rotten and smelly food. Food waste in the U.S. is a huge problem, with the Environmental Protection Agency estimating that we threw away over 38 million tons of food in 2014, with only five percent going to a composting program. Food spoilage takes up 21 percent of municipal solid waste and about one third of that is fruit and veggies, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

First off, to protect the food — and your family — invest in some good quality re-sealable containers like the Glasslock products, which latch tight, are easy to reopen, have glass bottoms that won’t hold odors or stains, and is safe for the oven, freezer, or microwave. Beachbody’s Portion-Control Containers are another way to store your food while keeping tabs on your food portions. These high quality plastic containers are BPA and DEHP-free, dishwasher and microwave safe. Another tip is to write on the lid of the container with a dry erase marker to record the date and time you put the food into the fridge or freezer.

Next, make sure your refrigerator and freezer are operating at the right temperature — the fridge should be at or below 40 degrees F and 0 degrees F for the freezer. Buy a special thermometer designed for either appliance, put it inside and check frequently so you know for sure that your food is well out of the danger zone. And remember that just because your food is in a properly cold fridge, it won’t keep it from eventually spoiling, that’s the job of the freezer. Don’t pack your fridge tight — food needs the cold air to circulate around it to keep it cool — and make sure you clean it out regularly to prevent old, rotten food from spreading bacteria.

What is the Shelf Life of Foods?

When safely put away in the freezer or fridge at the right temps, foods will last longer, but there are varying ranges of time that affect every food’s ability to last. Here’s a handy chart pulled from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that can help give you a general idea of how long common foods will last.

What are Some Holiday Leftover Strategies?

The holidays can offer extra challenges for the frugal leftover lover as the sheer amount of food you bring home (or cook at your house) can overwhelm even the most dedicated fridge denizen. Here are some quick tips to keep you safe and satiated this holiday season.

• Try to eat up most of leftover food in your fridge the week before the big day so you have extra room to pack in all of those delicious dishes you couldn’t quite devour.

• If going to someone else’s house for your meal, bring along a cooler with cold packs so your food will survive the trip home without warming up enough to make it into the danger zone.

• Take out any stuffing from your turkey once the meal is finished. Refrigerate both the turkey meat and the stuffing separately, and make sure to put all food leftover in the fridge within 2 hours.

• Again, a good general rule is to keep food in the fridge for only 3 to 4 days, or put the bulk of it in the freezer so you can thaw it out and enjoy it later. Investing in a vacuum sealer can help dramatically extend the life of your holiday delicacies.

Cooking for One? Try These 7 Money and Time-Saving Tips

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Let’s be frank: Cooking for one can be challenging.

And it’s not just single folks who face this issue. If you’re trying to eat healthy and the family wants to stick with their old standbys, you’ve probably tried to figure out how to eat healthy, feed your family, and stay on budget.

Here are some tips and tricks that will make going it alone on your healthy journey a bit easier.

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7 Tips for Grocery Shopping When Cooking for One

Hit the store twice a week
Kudos to you for doing Sunday meal prep. But if your life is such that once the week gets started, plans change, things come up after work, and most of those meals go to waste, considering going to the grocery twice or three times a week instead of doing one big trip.

By hitting up the market more often, you can more readily consider what you have left on hand that still needs to be used like that leftover takeout chicken and the asparagus that you bought on the last trip.

Save on salads
Instead of buying greens and salad toppings individually, it is often cheaper to purchase small portions of pre-made salads at the salad bar, points out Lisa Lee Freeman, savings expert for the coupon app Flipp. Be smart about it though: Since you pay by the pound at the salad bar, skip heavy-but-cheap toppings, like cucumbers. Buy those separately and add when you prep.

Buy dry goods in bulk
“The secret to shopping smart is know how long things last, and figuring out what you can and cannot buy in bulk,” says Freeman. You can freeze extra portions of chicken or turkey and store nonperishable food—like dry beans or grain—in your pantry.

Opt frozen over fresh…
Good news: Frozen fruits and vegetables are close to just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, according to a study in American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. They’re a great choice if you’re cooking for one since they don’t spoil as quickly as fresh produce and who doesn’t love frozen berries in their smoothie?

 And freeze everything
Use your freezer for everything that may spoil, from bread and meat to leftovers. Doing so will make sure you always make sure to have a few single-serve frozen meals on hand for when you need a meal in a pinch. Chilis and soups are some meals that freeze well, but so are healthy chicken enchiladas and egg cups!

Reach for canned fish
While canned fruits and veggies aren’t as nutritious (put down that can of peaches in syrup), canned fish is OK. “Buying fresh fish is always ideal, but canned light tuna and canned wild salmon are great options when buying fresh isn’t possible,” says Chelsea Fuchs, New York-based R.D. Canned tuna and salmon are great sandwich and salad toppings. “Look for light canned tuna packed in water… and when it comes to salmon, look for the wild variety because it is a terrific source of omega-3 fats and vitamin D.”

Look at your bigger picture shopping list
“Most foods go on sale in cycles of about three to four months, as well as during seasonal changes and holidays,” says Freeman. “Instead of buying the same stuff on your shopping list week after week, figure out what you can buy every few months and store. Then go for it when it’s on sale.”

Country Heat Meal Prep for the 1,200–1,500 Calorie Level

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Y’all, it’s time to turn up the heat on the dance floor… and in the kitchen with this Country Heat meal prep! This comfort food-inspired meal prep is sure to satisfy your craving for down-home cooking. Love warm and spicy? We can’t get enough of the Sweet Potato Veggie Hash. Crazy for creamy? The Avocado Chicken Salad is simply divine!

This meal prep menu uses Portion Fix color-coded portion-control containers to measure the amount of food you get to eat, so you never have to count calories. Green is for veggies, purple is fruits, red is protein, yellow is carbs, blue is healthy fats, orange is for seeds and dressings, and oils and nut butters are measured in teaspoons. Stock up on Mason jars or your favorite air-tight storage containers to store your meals.

This menu follows the Country Heat at the 1,200-1,500 calorie level and can be used by anyone following the Portion Fix eating plan. (Scroll to the bottom of the post to find out how to adjust this menu for the 1,500–1,800 calorie level). At this calorie level, each day you get:

  • 3 green containers
  • 2 purple containers
  • 4 red containers
  • 2 yellow containers
  • 1 blue containers
  • 1 orange containers
  • 2 teaspoons containers

We combined all of those containers into three satisfying meals and two snacks each day for you, so all you need to do is shop, prep, and enjoy your food. Take the comprehensive grocery list below to the store, and then use our step-by-step instructions to get busy in the kitchen on meal prep day!

 

 

These are the Healthy Meals You’ll Eat this Week:

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Breakfast (M/W/F): Veggie Egg Muffins on Whole Grain English Muffin with Orange Slices

Breakfast (T/Th): Sweet Potato Veggie Hash with Turkey Sausage with Red Grapes

Shakeology Snack (DAILY): Vanilla Chia Shakeology Smoothie

PM Snack (DAILY): Apple with Peanut Butter

Lunch (M/W/F): Cilantro Lime Shredded Chicken with Black Eyed Pea Salad

Lunch (T/Th): Avocado Chicken Salad on Toasted Whole Grain Bread

Dinner (M/W/F): Roasted Pepper Tuna Melt

Dinner (T/Th): Roasted Chicken over Wilted Spinach Salad

 

MEAL PREP BREAKFASTS

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M/W/F: Veggie Egg Muffins Served with ½ Whole Grain English Muffin

(2 eggs, ¼ cup spinach, ¼ cup sliced mushrooms, 2 tsp. green onion, 1 tsp. Italian seasoning, ¼ tsp. onion powder, ½ whole grain English muffin, 1 medium orange = ½ green, 1 purple, 1 red, 1 yellow)

T/Th: Sweet Potato Veggie Hash with Turkey Sausage and Red Grapes

(½ cup sweet potato, ½ tsp. olive oil, ½ tsp. chili powder, ¼ cup onion, ¼ cup red bell pepper, ½ cup spinach, 4 oz. lean ground turkey sausage, 1 cup grapes = 1 green, 1 purple, 1 red, 1 yellow, ½ tsp.)

 

MEAL PREP SNACKS

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DAILY SHAKEOLOGY SNACK: Vanilla Chia Shakeology Smoothie

(1 scoop Vanilla Shakeology mixed with water, 4 tsp. chia seeds = 1 red, 1 orange)

DAILY AFTERNOON SNACK: Apple with Peanut Butter

(1 medium apple, 1 tsp. peanut butter = 1 purple, 1 tsp.)

 

MEAL PREP LUNCHES

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M/W/F: Cilantro Lime Shredded Chicken with Black Eyed Pea Salad

(½ cup black eyed peas, ½ cup broccoli, ¼ cup red bell pepper, ¼ cup red onion, ¼ tsp. garlic, ¼ tsp. dijon mustard, 1 tsp. olive oil, ½ lemon juiced, 4 oz. chicken breast, 1 Tbsp. cilantro, ½ lime juiced = 1 green, 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 tsp.)

T/Th: Avocado Chicken Salad served on Toasted Whole Grain Bread

(¼ medium avocado, 4 oz. chicken breast, 1 slice whole grain toast, 2 Tbsp. celery, 2 Tbsp. red onion, ¼ lime juiced, ¼ cup sliced tomato, ½ cup spinach = 1 green, 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 blue)

 

MEAL PREP DINNERS

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M/W/F: Roasted Pepper Tuna Melt

(4 oz. tuna, 1 bell pepper, ¼ cup sautéed kale, ¼ cup white onion, ½ tsp. Italian seasoning, ¼ cup cheddar cheese = 1½ green, 1 red, 1 blue)

T/Th: Roasted Chicken over Wilted Spinach Salad

(4 oz. rotisserie chicken, 1 cup wilted spinach, ½ tsp. olive oil, 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar = 1 green, 1 red, ½ tsp.)

 

Here is what all of your meals will look like on M/W/F:

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Here is what all of your meals will look like on T/Th:

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Follow this step-by-step guide to assemble your meal prep:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Begin by preparing the chicken breast for baking; trim the raw chicken breast of any excess fat. Spread raw chicken breasts out in a large baking dish and add water to cover the bottom of the dish; season with salt and pepper, if desired. Cover with aluminum foil and place in a preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink and pulls apart easily. (Pre-cooked chicken breasts or rotisserie chicken can be purchased to save prep time). Allow chicken to cool in baking dish, then place on cutting board; use two forks to shred chicken into bite-sized pieces and divide between two large bowls for later use (one bowl will contain 12 oz. shredded chicken, the other will contain 8 oz. shredded chicken).
  2. While the chicken breasts are baking, prep the vegetables for the week. One at a time, wash, cut, and set each vegetable aside in separate bowls or piles. Remove the skin from the 2 onions (1 red and 1 white) and dice into small pieces; store in separate bowls. Brush off any dirt from the mushrooms (8 oz. container) and cut into thin slices. Rinse spinach leaves and allow to air dry. Rinse bunch of kale, allow to air dry, and shred ¾ cup. Rinse 4 bell peppers. Remove seeds from the red bell pepper and chop.  Cut the remaining 3 peppers (in color of choice) in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Rinse and chop 1½ cups broccoli. Rinse and cut sweet potato into bite-sized pieces (peel first if desired). Rinse and thinly slice ½ cup tomato. Rinse and finely chop 4 Tbsp. celery. Rinse and finely chop ¼ cup green onion. Rinse and loosely chop 3 Tbsp. cilantro. Peel and finely chop 1 clove of garlic. Store any unused portion of vegetables for future use.
  3. Prep the Veggie Egg Muffins. Prepare a six-cup muffin tray by coating cups with nonstick spray. Note: If using a 12-cup muffin tray, coat the inner 6 cups with nonstick spray and fill the outer 6 cups with water to help evenly distribute heat. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add ¾ cup sliced mushrooms to the skillet, cooking just until softened (about 5 minutes). Next add ¾ cup spinach to the skillet, cooking until wilted (about 2-3 minutes). Remove vegetables from heat and divide between the 6 coated muffin cups. Crack 6 eggs into a large bowl; add 3 tsp. Italian seasoning, ¾ tsp. onion powder, salt and pepper to taste, and whisk to combine. Ladle the egg mixture into the muffin cups and top each muffin with 2 tsp. green onion. Place on a baking sheet (to prevent spills) in preheated 375°F oven for 12-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Allow to cool, then divide muffins among three containers (two muffins in each container) to refrigerate. Serve with ½ whole grain English muffin and 1 medium orange.
  4. Next, make the Roasted Pepper Tuna Melts. When the Veggie Egg Muffins are done, increase the temperature of the oven to 400°F. Add ¾ cup diced white onion to a skillet coated with nonstick cooking spray; cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent (about 5 minutes). Add ¾ cup shredded kale to the skillet and cook until just wilted (about 2-3 minutes). Remove skillet from heat and set aside. Open and drain 3 cans of tuna. In a large bowl, combine 12 oz. drained tuna, sautéed vegetables, and 1½ tsp. Italian seasoning. Divide tuna mixture between 6 bell pepper halves and arrange in baking dish with tuna facing up. Bake for 20 minutes or until peppers have softened to desired texture. Divide ¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese among the bell pepper halves and return to oven for an additional 5 minutes or until cheese has melted. Note: Peppers will soften further when reheated; if you prefer a crispier texture, remove from oven earlier. When cool, divide pepper halves between three storage containers.
  5. Prep the Sweet Potato Veggie Hash. Place 1 cup diced sweet potato in a microwave-safe bowl and add a splash of water; microwave on high for 5 minutes (or steam sweet potatoes in a steamer on the stovetop until soft). While sweet potato cooks, heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove sweet potato from microwave and toss with 1 tsp. chili powder; transfer to preheated skillet and continue to cook for an additional 10 minutes or until softened, stirring often. Remove from heat and set aside. Meanwhile, heat a separate skillet over medium-high heat; coat pan with nonstick cooking spray and add ½ cup chopped white onion and ½ cup diced red bell pepper, cooking until onion is translucent and peppers have softened. Add 8 oz. lean ground turkey sausage to skillet, cooking until meat is browned and no pink remains. Add 1 cup rinsed spinach to skillet, cooking until just wilted (about 2-3 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Divide sweet potato and sausage mixture between 2 storage containers and refrigerate. Serve with 1 cup washed grapes.
  6. Make the Cilantro Lime Chicken. To the bowl containing the 12 oz. shredded chicken that was set aside earlier, add the juice from 1½ limes and 3 Tbsp. chopped cilantro. Toss until well combined and divide between three storage containers. Next make the Black Eyed Pea Salad. In a small bowl, make the dressing. Whisk together ¾ tsp. minced garlic, ¾ tsp. dijon mustard, 3 tsp. olive oil, and the juice from 1½ lemons; set aside. Open, drain, and rinse can of black eyed peas. In a large bowl, combine 1½ cups black eyed peas, 1½ cups chopped broccoli, ¾ cup chopped red bell pepper, and ¾ cup chopped red onion. Drizzle salad with dressing and toss until well coated; season with salt and pepper, if desired. To the three containers with the Cilantro Lime Chicken, evenly divide the Black Eyed Pea Salad and refrigerate.
  7. Prep the Avocado Chicken Salad. To the bowl containing 8 oz. shredded chicken that was set aside earlier, add 4 Tbsp. diced celery, 4 Tbsp. diced red onion, and juice from ½ lime; season with salt and pepper, if desired. Mix until well combined and divide between two storage containers. Place 1 cup spinach, ¼ cup tomato slices, and one slice whole grain bread or toast in each container. When ready to eat, add ¼ chopped avocado to the chicken mixture and layer chicken and vegetables on toast to make an open-faced sandwich
  8. Make the Wilted Spinach Salad. In a large skillet, heat 1 tsp. olive oil over medium-low heat. Add 2 cups spinach, cooking until just wilted (about 2-3 minutes). Remove from heat and divide spinach between two storage containers. Next, remove skin and breast meat from the rotisserie chicken. Add 4 oz. of chicken to each of the containers with spinach and place extra meat in a freezer-safe bag to use in a future week (or to make soup!). When ready to eat, drizzle Wilted Spinach Salad with 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar.
  9. Snacks do not need to be prepped in advance. Make the Vanilla Chia Shakeology Smoothie each morning by blending 1 scoop Vanilla Shakeology with 4 tsp. chia seeds, water, and ice. Serve one medium apple with 1 tsp. nut butter each afternoon.

 

Use this Grocery List to Make Your Country Heat Meal Prep:

Fruit
5 medium apples
2 cups grapes
3 medium oranges
2 limes
2 lemons

Vegetables
1 large sweet potato
8 oz. baby spinach leaves (4¾ cups)
8 oz. package mushrooms
1 medium red bell pepper
3 medium bell peppers (in color of choice)
1 bunch kale
1 bunch green onion
1 medium white onion
1 medium red onion
1 medium tomato
1 stalk celery
1 medium avocado
1 bunch cilantro
1 head broccoli (or 1½ cups chopped)
1 head garlic

Protein and Dairy
½ dozen eggs
1 rotisserie chicken (or 8 oz. cooked chicken breast)
1¼ lb. raw, boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or use remaining rotisserie chicken)
8 oz. lean turkey sausage
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
5 scoops Vanilla Shakeology

Dry and Canned Goods
1 loaf whole grain bread
1 package whole grain English muffins
1 (15 oz.) can black eyed peas
3 (5 oz.) cans light tuna packed in water

Pantry
Italian seasoning
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt
pepper
Dijon mustard
peanut butter
chia seeds
chili powder
onion powder
 

Here are some suggestions to increase this menu to fit the Portion Fix 1,500-1,800 calorie level of 4 green containers, 3 purple containers, 4 red containers, 3 yellow containers, 1 blue container, 1 orange container, and 4 tsp. per day:

On M/W/F:
Add 1 cup cauliflower roasted in 1 tsp. olive oil to dinner (1 green, 1 tsp.)
Add ½ English muffin to breakfast (1 yellow)
Add 1 tsp. additional peanut butter to the afternoon snack (1 tsp.)
Add 1 cup mixture of mango and blueberries to dinner (1 purple)

On T/Th:
Add ½ cup extra veggies to breakfast (½ green)
Add 1 tsp. additional peanut butter to the afternoon snack (1 tsp.)
Add½ cup sweet potatoes roasted in 1 tsp. olive oil to dinner (1 yellow, 1 tsp.)
Add 1 cup of strawberries to dinner salad (1 purple)
Add ½ cup extra spinach or other veggies to dinner (½ green)