We’re curious: how much money can you save on groceries if you really try to use the items lurking around — but still fresh — in your fridge?

Money-saving food tips often focus on pantry staples like pasta and beans, and we would never turn up our noses at a great pasta dish. But if you’re looking for new ideas or your cupboard is lean on beans, these ideas may fall flat after a week or two.

Consider this a refrigerator challenge. Chances are, you have random items in your fridge that don’t seem like meal-makers at the end of a busy day, and they eventually end up in the garbage, which is just as costly as takeout or fast foods that replace them — until now.


1. Condiments

Have you ever found yourself saying, “we have no food” yet the door of your refrigerator is stocked with condiments? Or maybe you over-bought at the beginning of grilling season?

Different varieties of mustard, honey, vinegar, sauces and oils can easily be mixed into a homemade salad dressing: Begin by mixing roughly 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. Mustards will emulsify or blend the dressing. Experiment with adding mustards (mustard will “emulsify” or blend and thicken), chopped fresh herbs, jam or marmalade, lemon juice, salt or garlic and adjust for flavour and acidity.

Experiment with condiments. Mixing them creates new and more intense flavours. Tartar sauce can be made with mayonnaise, sweet relish and lemon juice. Ketchup, mayonnaise and sweet relish blend to make a Thousand island-style dressing.

2. Cheese

Good quality cheese will make almost any meal taste great. Use Gorgonzola or feta to stuff chicken breasts before cooking them, or crumble it over salad greens and toss gently with some fresh berries.

Another great combination is crumbled goat cheese served with thickly sliced tomatoes and avocado, topped with your favourite vinaigrette. Or, marinate goat cheese with balsamic dressing and any fresh herbs. Serve with crusty bread or crackers and roasted or fresh veggies.

Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheeses are great refrigerator staples. Sprinkle some on vegetables before or after roasting, or toss into whole wheat pasta with some olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and juice, and watch it disappear.

3. Gourmet Grilled Cheese

You might have the makings of gourmet grilled cheese in your fridge and not even know it. A softer Monterey Jack or Gruyere is perfect for gooey grilled cheese or quesadillas.

Try one of these delicious combinations:

4. Eggs

If you have eggs, you can always make a meal. Cheese and herb omelettes and scrambled eggs with diced veggies are tasty and super easy.

A frittata, like Ina Garten’s Roasted Vegetable Frittata, helps clear out the fridge but involves a lot of chopping and dicing. So if you’re not up for a lot of work, try a big oven-cooked omelette instead.

You can also try poaching eggs and serving them over steamed spinach on toast — if you have smoked salmon on hand, even better.

5. Jams and Marmalades

If we took a collective peek into our refrigerators, spotting a half dozen jams, jellies and marmalades is probably a common thread. If you have raspberry, blueberry apricot or orange flavours on hand, use them to glaze salmon, pork or chicken.

Preserves, like Laura Calder’s Country Apricot Preserves, are also fantastic spread on pancakes or waffles (with maple syrup, of course).

6. Single Vegetables

Don’t let a single vegetable in your refrigerator get lonely — roasting it with some olive oil, salt and pepper is a quick route to a satisfying meal.

Another great tip for those lonely veggies is that you can combine almost any cooked vegetable — carrot, spinach, broccoli, potato, squash — with chicken broth and milk or cream if desired, and puree it into soup.

Try cutting a spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and microwaving it face-down in a dish with about an inch of water for approximately 9 minutes. Run a fork along the squash to create the “spaghetti” and toss with some olive oil, salt, pepper and a heaping spoonful of Parmesan cheese.

Add leftover steak or chicken to greens for a hearty salad, like a variation of Nicoise salad, a composed salad based on Provencal cooking, based on what’s in your fridge.

7. Chicken Broth — Braising

Chicken broth needs to be consumed within a few days after opening. If you’ve used a bit and now have leftovers, use it to braise meat for essential cold weather comfort food.

Braising essentially means slow cooking in liquid, where less expensive meat is actually better. Braising meat in broth makes one of the most tender, succulent meals and looks like it took a lot more effort than people may think.

Tougher cuts like shoulder, shanks, chuck and short ribs will give more flavour and texture. If you have leftover wine, carrots or potatoes, add them to your braising liquid as well. Braises both reheat and freeze beautifully, so try Michael Smith’s Apple Braised Pork or Chicken and Mushroom Stew and we bet your family or guests will sing the praises of your braises.

8. Lemons

A squeeze of lemon can brighten up any dish — and they can be handy in many ways:

– Lemon zest can be grated or shaved into sauces, over fish or chicken and pasta — it often adds more flavour (and colour) than the juice.
– Add both zest and juice to cooked pasta and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh basil if you have it and Parmesan cheese for a delicious (and rather healthy) weeknight meal.
Dress salad greens — some olive oil and lemon juice is all you need.
Don’t forget about dessert — lemon zest can be sprinkled over vanilla ice cream, yogurt or fruity desserts.
Have an avocado? Toast some slices of bread, tortillas or bagels, spread on some mashed avocado and top with lemon juice and a hint of pepper.

We’re interested to find out what you always keep in your fridge — how do you turn it into a simple meal? Let us know in the comments below!