If your children have recently left the nest, you may be surprised at how full your pantry still is. Or maybe you have been coupon shopping or shopping bulk, and now you have 15 boxes of rice pilaf and no idea how you accumulated so many! This post will help you shop your own pantry to make meals, so you can cut down on the excess and save money as we head into the holiday season. You can break the process into chunks or set aside an afternoon to complete the process.
Step 1: Assess your pantry (Time needed: 30-60 minutes, or more if you have a large pantry)
Clear off a large horizontal space close to your pantry and grab a pen/paper. Begin removing items from your pantry and organize them into groups (I usually do it by type of item, e.g. canned goods, baking, pasta/sauce, breakfast but you can do it however you would utilize your pantry). Once you have everything out, give the shelves a wipedown, and begin making a list of what you have by category. Then return the items to the pantry, trying to organize by category if possible.
Step 2: Assess your fridge and freezer (Time needed: 60 minutes (includes cleaning time), or more if you have an additional freezer unit)
Repeat Step 1 with your fridge/freezer, and don’t forget to wipe the shelves/drawers out while it’s empty! Once you’ve made your list, return the items so they don’t get warm/spoil, and try to organize by category if possible.
Step 3: Begin planning meals (Time needed: 1-4 hours depending on how much food you need to use up and how creative you want to get!)
Grab a pen/paper. Starting with the most perishable items (e.g. fridge), what meals can you put together with the items you have? You may still need to buy a few things to accomplish this (e.g. I found that in the past I usually had a lot of side dishes but needed to get some sort of meat/protein to accompany it), but try to be creative and use up what you have. There are a myriad of websites that can give you suggestions based on the ingredients you have (here, here, and here).
As you create meals (including the ingredients list), you can cross the item off your list so you can see what’s remaining. As I mentioned in my lat post (Cooking for an Army of 2), a few quick ideas for veggies and fruit that may be passing their prime:
- Veggies – make a veggie soup; sauté and add to an omelet, stir-fry, or pasta sauce; dice them and combine them into a quiche; roast them in the oven in some olive oil/spices
- Fruit – freeze them to use for smoothies; cook them down to make a sauce for ice cream or pound cake; dice them into salads.
Another great use of pantry items is to make soup/crockpot meals because you can mix/match things like beans and pasta and canned veggies.
Step 4: Create a weekly meal plan
Once you’ve created the meals you will be making, grab your calendar and a pen (or you can do this on the computer, there are blank calendar templates available online that you could fill in). For each week, slot in the meals you’ve created in a way that gives you enough time to make that meal. Since plans can change week to week, you may want to leave some flexibility in the menu, especially if you are planning out the next month or more for meals. Make a note of any ingredients that you may need to buy to supplement the meals each week. For additional ideas, check out Yanely’s post on Meal Planning.
I’d love to hear back from folks if they have any experience/suggestions for pantry cooking. Good luck and happy eating/saving!