Down to kale and a sweet potato

Published on: 10/05/2017

Everyone knows that feeling when you open up the refrigerator and see more empty shelf than food.

It’s typically followed by an exclamation of outrage or despair (or anger if someone else was in charge of the shopping).

Something like, “Nooooooooooooo.” Or maybe you’re more creative.

Fun reaction or not, however, the fact is people have different thresholds for how much vacant shelf is tolerable. My mom for instance would be happy to see a shelf of just carrots…my dad, on the other hand, would have head to the store several days previously. But the truth is all of us, even my mom, have some level at which a grocery store trip becomes a priority on the to-do list.

If your empty shelf tolerance (like mine) isn’t completely bare, what is it? What’s left on the shelf to receive your anger? What are the foods that you don’t deem really, food. That aren’t substantial enough to get you through to the next day?

Some things are understandable – like jars of mayonnaise, random sauces that you’ll never get read of, the liquid smoke you bought one time for a summer BBQ and tubs of cream cheese – it’s hard to survive on those things alone (don’t push me though, I love mayonnaise). But are there other items left behind? Something in the back corner? in the bottom of the vegetable drawer? any long lost leftovers in the freezer?

Last week, for me, it was half a bunch of kale, a few mushroom slices and garlic cloves mixed together and a single sweet potato.

In the back corner of the refrigerator there was also a container of leftover pasta with onions and butternut squash mixed in that had lived there for over a week. In the freezer there was also a very brown, somewhat leaky banana…it’s actually still there to this day.


The rejects at the back of the fridge

If I had realized this at the beginning of the day I would have fit grocery shopping into the typical schedule (run, work, shop and then return home to cook and eat). As it so happened, however, I did not realize this unfortunate circumstance until nearly 8 p.m.

So…to shop or not to shop? That was the question.

If I went shopping I could buy…what? food? different food? didn’t I have perfectly good food right here in front of me? What was really wrong with these vegetables (besides the fact that they were all vegetables)? Didn’t I spend my whole day trying to convince people to eat more vegetables?

And with a resounding yes to those last three questions I decided that like it or not I was about to find a way to make use of those reject foods in the back of my refrigerator. Sometimes being a dietetic intern feels like an added moral pressure to eat better and get creative in the kitchen.


I started by chopping up the sweet potato, spreading it out across a baking sheet with some olive oil, salt and pepper.


Next I put it in the oven at 400F for about 30 minutes. 


With the potatoes baking, I chopped up the mushrooms and garlic. 


I sautéed the mushrooms and garlic in a skillet over medium heat with basil, garlic powder (becomes you can never get enough), more pepper and Italian seasoning. 

My next problem was the kale. There always seems to be too much kale when it’s raw and you’re trying to chop it, however, if you chop it 3-5 leaves at a time and add it to the skillet in batches it will shrink down enough to mix in well with the mushrooms (or whatever else you might be sauteing.)


With the stir-fry coming along well and the potatoes done I thought it would turn out as an okay meal.

As I was about to turn the stove off and plate my meal, I looked over my shoulder. There on the counter sat my forgotten mixture of week-old pasta, onions and squash.

“Noooooooooooo,” I said for the second time that evening. I looked back at my stir-fry. “Should I add it?” I asked the mushrooms. They sizzled and popped a bit more which I took as a yes, and in the leftover pasta went.

IMG_4198The result was actually delicious.

With a little more basil and some cheese on top I found myself smiling and enjoying each bite (It being 9pm at this point hunger may have been the final spice needed.)


Not only did it end up being a good meal, but it saved me an hour of stress shopping and prevented any food from going bad. So next time you reach that point, stop yourself and ask “what could I do with these?” Maybe you’ll end up with your new favorite dish, if you do share your recipe in the comments!





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