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How many times have you reached into the dark recesses of your food pantry to find some can that expired three years ago? Or found a moldy bag of cheese in the back of the deli drawer in your fridge? Or some indistinguishable piece of meat covered thickly with frost burn? In my case, I count pantry food based on the number of times we’ve moved it!
Two moves ago (a.k.a. two years ago), I decided no more! It’s not a wise use of our resources and it’s wasteful. I’ve found that planning a pantry challenge( fridge freezer) every 6-8 weeks, is a good rotation for our family. The week leading up to a vacation is a really good time to schedule it, leaving a cleaned out fridge.
If you’ve never heard of a pantry challenge, it’s simply a challenge where you focus on using ingredients you already have as your focus for meals. Take an honest look through your food supply & see what needs to be used. You can make it as loosey-goosey or as strict as you want. Some people try to go the entire week without doing any shopping, some shop only for perishables. I’m fairly loosey-goosey.
My pantry challenge rules & goals are simple
- eat foods that are nearing the end of their shelf-life
- cook as many main dishes as I can from what I have on hand
- use up random ingredients that sit on my shelf for weeks
- make smart use of leftovers
- try new food combinations/recipes
- and save money!
My first step is to find out what needs to be used up and what I have that I can use up. I begin in the fridge since those are my perishable items. From there, I move onto my freezer for any foods that have been in there awhile and then onto my pantry.
Next, I scan my list for any meal ideas that immediately jump out to me. We love a mixture of roasted Russet (or yellow) potatoes, bell peppers & onions as a side dish, so I will make that. Rotel & jalapeño scream for a Tex-Mex dish. And so on.
The next step for planning my pantry challenge is where my beloved Plan to Eat comes in handy. I pick an item not yet planned, enter it into Plan to Eat and it finds all my recipes that use it. That’s not unlike the days I’d sit down with my recipe binder & cookbooks, strewn across the table or living room floor, looking for a way to use an ingredient. (And getting distracted for hours!)
Plan to Eat takes it one step further. If none of my recipes sound good or I come up empty, I can search my friends’ recipes! Distraction still occurs when I’m looking at recipes but I love this option! It has opened me up to recipes I wouldn’t have searched out and introduced me to a few new family favorites.
Grocery Results & Meal Plan
So…what meals did I plan and what did I buy? I had to buy the usuals for breakfasts (yogurt, oats) and lunches for my husband (turkey, carrots, pretzels, bread) but, for dinners, I clearly met my goals!
Caesar chicken wraps & sun-dried tomato Alfredo pasta (only needed to buy the cream)
Kalua pork, waffle-cut kettle chips, green beans, pineapple (only needed to buy the pineapple)
Roasted whole chicken, roasted potatoes/peppers/onions, salads w/homemade croutons (needed lettuce)
Stromboli w/leftover Caesar chicken, prosciutto & mozzarella cheese, leftover Alfredo, salads (needed lettuce)
Rosemary chicken kabobs, roasted red potatoes, salads, fruit (needed lettuce & fruit)
Cajun chicken, homemade rice-a-roni, leftover fruit & veggies