Cooking meals without a recipe is how chef’s flex their creative muscle and come up with those amazing dishes you discover while eating out. Unfortunately, for the average home cook it can be quite intimidating to make food “off the book”, which is why a lot of us follow recipes so religiously. I always encourage people to cook whenever they can, however a problem with the recipe-only mentality is that it often means we buy ingredients for one specific meal and don’t utilize them again.

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What happens to the bunch of fresh thyme, leftover carrots, and ½ container of sour cream that were perfect for Tuesday night chilli? It’s an all too familiar story - lost in the fridge they rot away until winding up in the trash. Personal food waste is a big problem in Canada and not knowing how to use opened and half-used perishable “odds and ends” in our own kitchens is a contributing factor. So what are some creative cooking solutions to this dilemma? Here’s two you can try right now:

Learn how to substitute ingredients in recipes.Make a fridge clean-out meal!

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The first solution should sound familiar, after all it’s how our Grandmothers cooked way back when! If the chilli calls for white onions and you have red - use the red! Does the pasta require mozzarella and you have parmesan? Start grating that parm! Of course this cooking style comes with practice but it is an easy way to start reducing your food waste next time you cook. Simply take stock of what you have in your fridge and pantry before reading through a recipe and see where you can replace ingredients. And as always, Google is a great sous chef for those “can you substitute x with y?” questions you’re bound to have.

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Fridge clean-out meals is a relatively new social media phenomenon but not a new concept at all (yes your Grandmother practiced this one too). The goal is simply to use whatever ingredients you have laying around to create a tasty meal. Now it may sound a bit daunting, especially if you use recipes like bumpers in a bowling lane, but here is an easy guide to walk you through this challenge:

Take stock of what non-perishable goods you have, as they will help form the basis of your dish.Evaluate what left-over perishable ingredients you have. Pull them all out of the fridge and place them on the counter so you can get a better overview. Don’t only focus on portions of items (like ⅓ of a zucchini), but also look at the whole ingredients you don’t have a lot of, such as a handful of baby spinach or 2 eggs.Group your “odds and ends” into categories for a better understanding of the elements of your meal. You can group by: protein, fruit and vegetables, dairy, spices/garnish, and starch (potatoes, cooked rice or pasta).Start pairing items you think would taste good together (like leftover rice, egg, and onion) or search online for recipe inspiration.If no ideas come to mind then go for one of the classic fridge clean-out meals: stir-fry, pasta, or an omelette with whatever perishable bits and pieces you can throw in!Start cooking and share a pic of your meal on social media with #fridgecleanout to see how others reducing their personal food waste.

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Happy cooking!

About the author: Maggie Clark is a 26-year-old nutritionist living in Toronto. She is a food enthusiast and can often be found posting her own #fridgecleanout meals on Instagram @omnivoresdelight