Welp, March is here. March. The internet has more than exhausted the stockpile of dark jokes about time passing in completely nonsensical ways over the past year, so I won’t attempt one myself. But reaching this rather bleak pandemic-related milestone does have me experiencing a confusing bout of nostalgia. It’s not that I’m longing to return to last March, when we still had so little information about COVID-19 that I was spending my time glued to various television news broadcasts, worrying about the ever climbing hospitalization rates, and an hour after each strategically-spaced grocery run wiping each item down with an acrid scrap of antibacterial cloth.
But I’m still thinking back to last spring with very mixed emotions. Remembering the seemingly endless variety of banana bread recipes, the run on baker’s yeast, and our first collective experience with a TikTok food trend feels a lot easier than actually grappling with the pain and loss of the last year, so that’s where my brain has been lately. I’ve talked with friends and family, and seen enough memes on the internet that it seems like this feeling is rather wide spread. I wonder if you might be feeling similarly, dear reader?
Another pandemic food memory I’ve been viewing through rose colored glass is the pantry and freezer-based recipe boom of those early days (I even shot my own, sporting a very cringy middle part, I might add) which, in turn, reminded me of the very simple, but very effective habit I adopted mid-pandemic:
To keep track of what’s in your freezer and minimize food waste, keep a running list.
Before I implemented this practice, my freezer was a kitchen dead zone. I often found myself restocking an item, only to find two or three already opened and probably freezer burned iterations of that same product already hanging out in the freezer (frozen peas were often the culprit). Now, this list plays an integral role in my meal planning and grocery shopping process. After my ever growing cookbook collection, it’s also one of my most fruitful sources of inspiration for recipe writing (oh, look at that, I have some chicken thighs! How can I make those taste good?) and is a really good way to prevent food waste.
Take stock of everything in your freezer. For me, my freezer was full enough that this meant pulling everything out. This is also a good time to compost or trash anything you know has gone off or you won’t use and maybe give your freezer a good wipe down…I know I don’t do this nearly often enough.
Write down everything you plan to keep. Do it in categories that make sense to you. For me, I divide things into “protein” and “other” categories, but will probably add a “produce” category next time I make a list.
This is the most important step: As things are used, cross them off the list. As you add new items, add them to the list. Remain vigilant! Keeping the list up to date is the only way it will function well. Some people like to use magnetic dry erase boards for this task, but I find pen and paper works just fine.
Refer back to your list whenever you’re asking yourself “what’s for dinner?” and do your best to plan a meal around something you already have on hand.
Now, data suggests that grocery stores are lower on the scale of risk, so being in one feels a little less dicey (though I’m still limiting my trips), and the supply chain issues of last spring are mostly resolved, so, pantry and freezer recipes are less of a hot topic. But I’m still keeping meticulous track of everything in my freezer and am a much better woman—and cook—for it.
I hope you’ll give this tip a try. I also hope you’re doing what you need to do to cope during this very poignant anniversary. For me, this trip down memory lane has been somewhat helpful. But I also find that doing what I can to lend a hand in my community is a good way to feel a little bit useful and quell existential dread. If you’re in the same boat, I highly recommend looking into mutual aid and free fridge programs in your area.
With love and a tip of my chef’s hat,