For the month of May I joined a pantry challenge on Happy in the Hollow. This isn’t the first pantry challenge I have done, but many times I don’t join a group. I tend to do them when either space or money is tight. We have a local store that does a Buy 2 Get 3 free sale 3 times a year, and I will typically stock the freezer at that time. It always helps if there is room in the freezer to do so.
So what is a pantry challenge? It is a period of time when you make a conscious effort to eat down your pantry instead of buying groceries as you normally would. This may be in an effort to reduce spending if your budget is stretched that week or month, or it may be to clean out old and forgotten items before they go bad. Food does eventually do that even if it keeps for a long time, so in order to get the most nutrient value out of it, you want to cycle through the food in your pantry on a regular basis. Even if you have long term food storage it is a good idea to regularly use that food in your cooking so that you know how to prepare it, and this should be done in a First In, First Out fashion. This keeps a cycle going so that you are always using the oldest food first, and as you (or if you) replace something it will go behind the oldest of the item you already have. They make rotation shelves for this, or there are lots of different ways to do it on pinterest… or you can just pull the old to the front and put the new in the back on your shelf. Do whatever works for you.
Most people will probably start a pantry challenge by looking at what they have. Pull things off shelves or out of cupboards, or if you have certain things you know you keep moving around to get to other things— those are prime targets. The next thing is to set your parameters. Will you buy any groceries during the challenge? If so, will you limit your budget? Only buy certain items? Only buy things if they are needed to finish a recipe to use something up? In my experience, I will almost always still need to buy milk. I may or may not need to buy bread or tortillas for the kids (I am gluten free, but they do some cooking for snacks or food while I am at work). I have tried the buying to recipe approach, but found that it is usually better to ask google for substitutes so that I don’t wind up with another ingredient I wouldn’t normally use for the next challenge. You also want to think about how long you will do the challenge for. If you are doing it for financial reasons that might be until you get another paycheck, or the next month. I will often do a month at a time, unless I am trying to clear a particular location out. Then I go til the food is gone (hopefully with enough time to clean it before refilling it with the food that has gone on sale). After you have set your parameters, and you know what you have that needs used up, you are ready to start planning.
Are there obvious meals your family likes you can make with those ingredients? Can you throw in an extra item in something you know you like to get it used up? Maybe those last few stalks of celery could get tossed into a sauce or a soup you wouldn’t normally have celery in. Maybe that canned salmon that you accidentally bought can turn into salmon patties instead of the hamburgers you would normally fix. Make sense? Great! I will be writing more in this series over the next few weeks, so make sure to check back to see what I am working on. Let me know what you are using up in the comments below!
Wishing you clean shelves and good food,
Going Green Mom