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The Pantry Project

Post image for The Pantry Project

When I assembled my supplies for hiking New Zealand’s Milford Track, I made a miscalculation that’s funny in hindsight but sure wasn’t at the time.

It was a four-day trek, and my food strategy was to keep things small, cheap, and utilitarian. For some reason I decided to base my menu around a sporty-person meal replacement bar called “One Square Meal.” My luxury dinner items were spaghetti and pesto sauce, and I rounded things out with a dense loaf of Danish rye bread and a small jar of peanut butter. I liked the idea of roughing it, rationing what little I had, like some kind of romantic vagabond. Each crumb would be valued and enjoyed.

My mistake was assuming that a single One Square Meal bar would serve as one square meal. Upon reading the label at my first meal stop, I learned that it takes two of these bars to constitute a meal, and that it is not recommended to replace most of your meals with meal replacements.

The hikers I dined with brought the most luxurious trail meals imaginable. They somehow produced steaming bowls of beef bourguignon and chicken teriyaki, taboulis and pilafs, soups, omelettes, fine cheeses and fruit.

On the third day, I was saved when I discovered an unwanted bag of quick oats on the cabin’s “free food” shelf. (Each cabin had one of these shelves, but the others only had salt, pepper, and Marmite.)

I reminisced about that heaven-sent bag of oats just the other day, when I was loading some new groceries into my pantry, and had to cram my own unwanted bag of quick oats on top of some cans to make everything fit.

It made me realize that much of my pantry is filled with perfectly good food that does not seem destined to be eaten. When will I actually use this barley, these yellow lentils, these dried white beans? Why did I buy penne when I already had open bags of rigatoni, fusilli, and miniature shells? What is parboiled rice and why do I have some?

I suspect this happens in every pantry. Food goes in that will never see the table. We might assume we’ll get around to everything in there eventually, but it doesn’t work that way. The favored, high-turnover foods live and work at the front, where they’re easily retrieved and replaced. Meanwhile, an underclass of less charismatic items is always being pushed to the back. These foods are perfectly worthy of becoming meals, but their moment never comes.

A Job For Every Bean

When I realized I was genuinely unsure whether I or my navy beans would be the first to expire of natural causes, I decided to make a plan. My latest experiment is to finally make use of my most neglected foodstuffs.

I emptied the pantry and laid everything out on my kitchen table. I cleaned the empty shelves, and got rid of the few items that appeared to be too far gone: bulk oats that had absorbed the scent of nearby cloves, molasses that had turned tarlike.

Clipboard in hand, I inventoried everything remaining, except vinegars and condiments. There was less food there than I thought—only about 70,000 calories’ worth.

The main strategy is to identify the toughest cases first—dried beans, bulgur, oats of every sort—and find a way to enjoy them. I will shepherd each forgotten food to its rightful destiny as a meal.

My goal isn’t to use everything in the pantry; it makes sense to have food reserves. I only want to make sure that the least-likely-to-ever-be-eaten stuff—items like the quick oats I found abandoned in the Fiordlands—does get to fulfill its purpose as food.

There are other benefits to doing this. This experiment will save some money, as much of my diet for the next few weeks will come from would-be waste food. I’ll also probably discover worthwhile new recipes and new ways to cook.

Your Own Pantry Project

Looking at the spread of food on my table, I couldn’t help but think of the hundreds of millions of similarly cluttered pantries out there, and how many bargeloads of food will never be eaten solely because nobody made a point of it. That food represents an enormous amount of unused wealth, even though it’s locked up in specialized, illiquid forms: grains, pulses, sardines. It would be a shame if nobody redeemed it.

I have no idea if my pantry revolution is something other people are interested in doing. There are compelling ethical reasons we should attend to our neglected food—food waste statistics are staggering, even for dry goods—but for me this is just about recognizing that there’s real value in that pantry, and that it’s going nowhere without some sort of intervention.

I’ll share my observations in my experiment log. If you’d like to join me, you can post updates in the comments, or on your own blog. If you have a deep freeze (I don’t) you may want to include that as well. I’d love to hear what you discover.

Some stray observations so far:

  • It’s a pleasure to consolidate things. Two half-empty bouillon containers became one. The contents of two open brown sugar bags fit into an almost-empty brown sugar jar that had been pinned at the back. A slice of bread softened it all back up. There’s much more space now.
  • I was pleased to discover almost a pound of wild rice, a food I love but never make. This stuff has been here for a year or two. The real reason I haven’t eaten it is the long cooking time. Like so many dry goods, it requires some premeditation in order to get it to the table.
  • The psychological effect of purging and ordering the pantry is immense. It’s virtually all the same items, but there’s no sense of mess or neglect, just abundance. I know what’s in there, and there’s nothing I’m never going to use.

[Experiment log]

***

Jars photo by Yulia Khlebnikova


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{ 71 Comments }

Zoe March 5, 2020 at 2:18 am

I’m in this post and I don’t like it…

Kidding. Well, sort of. My kitchen cupboard and my freezer are full of stuff I rarely touch or even look at. Spices, I don’t mind so much, because I don’t expect to use them up that quickly anyway (apart from a few favourites), but I must have at least three or four half-empty packets of lentils of different colours… and don’t get me started on the cashew nuts, pecan nuts, hazel nuts, ground almonds, etc. that I bought for various recipes and never finished using up. And also salt… so many kinds! Chili salt, smoked salt, bacon salt… and yet I keep going back to my one box of Molden salt because it’s amazing… and when it runs out, I get another, because… well. You get the picture.

So yes, thank you for calling me out on that. I’ve been making a point of reading books I already own, rather than buying new ones, so there’s no reason I can’t do the same with food.

{ Reply }

David Cain March 5, 2020 at 9:15 am

I excluded my spices from the inventorying, because as you say, they can’t really be used quickly, and they aren’t exactly food. Nuts don’t keep so well though — they do go rancid so I keep them in the freezer.

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samantha March 5, 2020 at 2:26 am

Great post, due to the coronavirus we are now in isolation at home, and I am turning to my pantry for thoughts on meals. As we suffer regularly from food moths I clean out every few months and chuck anything too old ar mangy. As Flexitarians we depend mostly on our beans et al for food but I am guilty of turning to a tin instead of bothering to soak. I shall watch this experiment with interest, thanks

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David Cain March 5, 2020 at 9:18 am

Dried beans are so much more economical and environmentally-friendly than the tins, but that soaking step requires another level of meal-planning foresight that I don’t usually have. Part of this experiment is to get used to that.

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Eric Goebelbecker March 5, 2020 at 10:04 am

If you have an instant pot, you can pressure-cook dried beans for about 5 minutes to get around soaking.

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Eric Goebelbecker March 5, 2020 at 10:49 am

Thius works for any pressure cooker, of course. It’s just really easy with an instant pot.

David Cain March 5, 2020 at 10:52 am

That’s good to know… I don’t have either but those instant pots sure sound useful and I may get one at some point.

Deborah March 5, 2020 at 2:33 am

Love this, David. With the prospect of house-arrest and supply-chain collapse with the Corona Virus, we may all empty our pantries at once!

{ Reply }

Deborah March 5, 2020 at 2:36 am

Here’s a suggestion, how about we put those items OUT on the kitchen counter so that only by using them will we get rid of them?!

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David Cain March 5, 2020 at 9:23 am

Heh.. I don’t have enough counter space for that. But I did put a “make cornbread” post-it note on my counter yesterday, and it worked.

{ Reply }

Christine March 5, 2020 at 2:41 am

I love this approach and aim to do it once a year – usually as we head towards Christmas, but you’ve inspired me to start now.

Quite a few people do this as a challenge to save money – they challenge themselves to only buy limited fresh foods and then get creative in finding recipes to use up what they have. It’s good fun and often a reminder that you’re eating without much thought, so you end up eating more mindfully too.

And this will probably give you lots of interesting new soups too!

{ Reply }

David Cain March 5, 2020 at 9:24 am

March will definitely be a month of many soups

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Sharon March 5, 2020 at 4:04 am

I do this every January when I have Christmas leftovers to turn into interesting meals and I use all the odd things that lurk in the pantry and freezer. I only buy fresh fruit and veg, milk and dairy. By the end of January I do some meal planning and only buy what I intend to use that week. Even so the build up continues and the next year after Christmas we do it all again.

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Vilx- March 5, 2020 at 4:35 am

Have the same problem. I once made an inventory of my canned goods… and promptly did nothing about it. What I would like is some sort of app on my phone where I could keep the inventory. Something where I could comfortably enter the name of the food, quantity, and expiry date. And then it could show me what things are closest to expiry (or already expired!) and which things I’ve neglected the longest. I did a cursory search on Google Play Store (I have an Android phone), but couldn’t find anything that I liked. Maybe someone knows a good app they can recommend for this task?

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Kevin March 5, 2020 at 9:08 am

I know you’re on an Android, but a quick search of the App Store turned up several expiry trackers. Not much help for you, but you’ve definitely made a great suggestion and if nothing else helped me out!

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David Cain March 5, 2020 at 9:27 am

I think it would be hard to sustain food inventory on an app if it wasn’t automated in some way. When you pour a handful of raisins on your oatmeal, you’d have to measure how many were used, or remain, and nobody’s going to do that. An home-based food inventory would be useful but it’s hard to see how it would work.

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Joy March 5, 2020 at 4:52 am

My friend generously offloaded the remnants of her pantry onto me two years ago when she moved to Europe. In a few weeks she is coming back – meanwhile I’m busy scrambling to use up all the very distinctive things she left behind so she doesn’t find out I still have them!

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JoLynn March 5, 2020 at 9:19 am

Oh, I’m there! My daughter recently moved to another state, and left me everything in her kitchen that she didn’t want to pack for the move. I wound up with many exotic and mysterious items, not to mention three jars of mayonnaise! I’ve been googling what to do with the exotics so when she comes to visit she will not be disappointed in me, the cooking-averse mother of a talented chef!

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Deb March 5, 2020 at 10:15 am

Choc Mayo Cake is really good:
1 cup mayo
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup raw sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
1 cup water
2 1/4 cup plain flour
2 tsps bicarb
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Blend m, s, rs, c, add w and v, sift in f and bc. Bake 180 deg 30-40 min.

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Jen March 5, 2020 at 4:59 am

I often aspire to do this, and have managed it in a limited way. I call it “eat your cupboards”. I’ve only done it for short sprints as my family of teenagers (and spouse) start to object! The difficulty is that I hate “regular” shopping, but really love food shopping. I get carried away as the fancy chef in my mind vs. the weeknight reality of getting something on the table before everyone complains that they are starving! I am inspired to try again! Thanks, David.

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Gudrun March 5, 2020 at 6:16 am

I see that time constraints for dried foods is high on the list of readons for pantry woes.
I heartily suggest an InstaPot or similar pressure cooker.

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David Cain March 5, 2020 at 9:29 am

I am definitely intrigued by instant pots

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Kay March 16, 2020 at 4:27 pm

It’s the best buy in my kitchen and a life saver when it comes to beans ever since I became a vegetarian – I now have 2 IPs so I can keep them going on at the same time.

Prepping (not including soaking time) takes 10 mins and then I set to pressure mode and forget till I’m hungry.

{ Reply }

Elisa Winter March 5, 2020 at 6:19 am

In our family we’ve been doing a very un-American thing for quite some time. By each Saturday morning, the cupboards are close to bare, the refrigerator’s got mostly condiments, the freezer’s got ice and frozen peas. We quite literally buy only what we’re sure to use in a week or two. My mother-in-law is completely scandalized and has been for years. She’ll come for a visit, open the fridge, and just stare and the nearly empty, cold whiteness. But we love this – and it brings me to planning out the next week, and then going to the grocery store, early Saturday morning, and getting just what we need for the week. At this point I can make anything out of anything with very little and no one here looks emaciated, I can assure you. One thing I’ve learned about having a nearly empty fridge is that it makes the fridge work harder – consume more energy – so I keep plastic bottles of frozen water in the freezer to maintain the cold. Also, if the power goes out, the frozen bottles help with keeping the whole box cold longer. Good luck with your pantry clearing endeavors, everyone!

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Brenda March 5, 2020 at 7:04 am

^ Goals!

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Kim March 8, 2020 at 5:10 pm

Our family does this, but we do two weeks between grocery trips.

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Brenda March 5, 2020 at 6:50 am

Yes..this article and comments totally resonate. I need an inventory system. Pantry hang-ups, I have a few: 1. The conflict between my desire for order vs. my fear of some kind of Apocalypse. I remember a scene from The Walking Dead where Carl finds a huge institution sized can of chocolate pudding in a deserted house. Or the scene in The Pianist where Wladyslaw
finds the huge can of pickles that saves his life. It could happen. 2. I also want ingredients there when I feel creative – but they sometimes end up like all those art supplies I stockpile. 3. If I make a plan to use up stuff on hand it will end up with me on Pinterest looking up a recipe and requiring a trip to the store to buy additional ingredients for said recipe, and ironically more pantry stock. A vicious pantry circle.

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Elisa Winter March 5, 2020 at 7:34 am

Hilarious! The only things you really need to “be creative” are an onion, perhaps some garlic or ginger (whole fresh), rice or other carb, some greens, an egg, some olive oil, salt, pepper and spices or dried herbs. Seriously. I’m coming over to your place, Brenda. We’re gonna cook!

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Brenda March 5, 2020 at 7:46 am

Yes, come on over! I have ALL of the items you listed above …lol.

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David Cain March 5, 2020 at 9:35 am

I think it probably makes sense to separate emergency food stockpiles from the day-to-day kitchen inventory stuff. It could be well-ordered, long-keeping stuff that’s easy to use in apocalyptic conditions, and can be stored somewhere away from the pantry.

I do share concern 3 with you. Part of the challenge is to find recipes that don’t use many new ingredients. I intend to use substitutions where I can.

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Tim March 5, 2020 at 7:05 am

We actually do something similar once or twice a year. We pick a month and purposely eat the unloved or overlooked foods in the house. Doing this on a regular basis keeps it from getting out of hand and as a nice bonus really drops the grocery bill for the month.

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Corina Brdar March 5, 2020 at 7:14 am

I see you have some of that Masa corn flour – I had that sitting around forever too and I’ve managed to use it all up. I throw it into selected soups and stews to thicken them and add flavour. Do you have the Rebar restaurant vegetarian cookbook from Victoria? It’s fantastic and they have a lot of good recipes that use it. I can send you my favorite.

{ Reply }

David Cain March 5, 2020 at 9:37 am

I’d love some new ways to use masa. My attempts to make tortillas without a press have not been encouraging.

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Sue March 5, 2020 at 7:18 am

Both my husband and I love your posts. I am so going to do the same thing. I have a pretty large working pantry, even though there are just two of us in the house, and every time I open the doors I see that jar of lentils and say to myself, “I’ve got to make something with those.” Seriously? I spent my money on those for a reason or a recipe and now I let them sit getting stale while I buy more things to stuff on those shelves! The time is now. Thank you!

{ Reply }

David Cain March 5, 2020 at 9:38 am

Lentils are something I use a lot. I make soups often, but there are so many great lentil recipes. And unlike beans they cook relatively quickly, no soaking.

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Nancy March 5, 2020 at 7:19 am

Oh, yes, been there. When my family and I moved into our new house two years ago, we cleaned out the beautifully large pantry we’d had in our townhouse and lamented the fact that our new house did not have a pantry. Not having a pantry forced us to cut down our non-perishables by 75%. And the forgotten food we discovered was a gold mine right when we needed to be a little more frugal to adjust to new expenses. I discovered so many new recipes and ways to use that food that we actually reduced our grocery spending by 25% for almost the first two months we were in our new house. And we’ve stuck to that leaner way of shopping and storing food. It felt like a weight lifted off me, not having to worry about all the food in my cupboard that I wasn’t making good use of. I’m interested to see how your experiment goes!

{ Reply }

David Cain March 5, 2020 at 9:55 am

I’m glad you mentioned that psychological weight, because it’s what’s behind this project for me, and it’s hard to explain. I’m also hoping to discover some fun recipes made of cheap ingredients that could work their way into my rotation.

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zsouzsou March 5, 2020 at 7:25 am

Hi there 2 you all,

oh my, did I see myself in this post – at least I’ve been there too often – and maybe these 2 solutions I’ve found will help some among you?

1) The first time I identified this problem, I realized it’s the invisibility that causes the trouble. Not seeing what is in the pantry makes you forget what’s in the pantry.

Since then I’ve reused 3 former CD shelves (they’re not very deep which is the whole clou: you see what you got, always. I re-used the big jars that come with my freeze-dried coffee (ogy.de/m7yx) as they were tall, slim and big. The CD-shelves allow max. 2 rows of these – and I constantly see everything that’s there. For spices I reuse the very slim jars for olives (ogy.de/ayxy) – as they hold a whole package of refill spices – and the opening is suitable for dosing. No more lost packages of half opened spices.

tl;dr: make the stuff visible and easy accessible on a daily base. Use non-deep shelves. And don’t stow away the rest of a package in a pantry – you will forget about it.

2) Nevertheless, whilst moving last year I got shocked, that still there was some assemblage of stuff in a deep, low cupboard. This is when I realized: as long as there is such a cupboard, I will be tempted to fill it with stuff and forget about it. The mere effort of opening it, going down on my knees for inventory…. unbearable! ;) … Which is why in my new flat I banned the pantry concept in total. The 3 CD-shelves (see above) are filled and eaten constantly and frankly speaking: as long as I know I can buy food almost anyday and can buy a missing ingredient within a few hours I will not start a pantry again.

tl;dr: as long as you’re living close by a supermarket, there is no need to fill a pantry as if you’re living on a mars colony.

{ Reply }

David Cain March 5, 2020 at 10:04 am

Visibility is definitely a factor. I don’t have much extra space for food storage so my strategy will be to keep aware of what’s in there and use what’s not going to get used out of routine.

{ Reply }

june March 5, 2020 at 7:38 am

How wild, I was laying in bed last night and one of the last thoughts circling was just how much food I have, especially for a family of 1, me, and that I am now self employed
So no longer showing up daily to work and feeding an extra couple of mouths once they smell Or see what I’ve brought.
So there I was, seeing all the food I have, and just how much will never be eaten, and I’ve put off doing just what you suggested , mainly I did not want to see the waste of stuff long expired
And how much I hate food waste of any kind.
So seems the Universe wants us to do this, sending the idea out into the world for all those
Listening……

Oh to see what I can make out of all that is in there…… don’t ask about my deep freezer LOL
Guess it also means I should invite some people over for dinner

Have a great week

{ Reply }

Susan March 5, 2020 at 7:38 am

Great timing for this post as usual, David!
As a person who now cooks for one, I too found using foods that took a long time to cook a bother. What I started doing is cooking the normal 4-6 servings (think rice, beans) and then freezing the leftovers. I wrap individual servings in stretch wrap, then put as many as will fit into a freezer bag. This makes it so easy to add them to hearty soups, stews, quick skillet meals, etc. that otherwise I wouldn’t make because they take so long.

{ Reply }

David Cain March 5, 2020 at 10:09 am

I purged my freezer too, which made it almost empty. So making batches and freezing a lot of stuff is now an option.

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Debi March 5, 2020 at 7:46 am

For a few years I have been doing a “zero-spending” month about every 6 months. It forces me to get creative with the food on hand, as well as other benefits, i.e. mindful spending.

{ Reply }

David Cain March 5, 2020 at 10:10 am

That’s part of the appeal for me. There is wealth already in there, from money spent long ago, but I was not valuing it.

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JoLynn March 5, 2020 at 9:04 am

I’m currently faced with doing the same thing, although with less thought and organization going into it. I find myself suddenly overwhelmed by large medical bills I’m struggling to pay. I have decided to spend at least the next 2 months eating only what I already have in my pantry and freezer. Except for essentials like coffee and a few others, I will forage in my own kitchen. Eventually I expect I will make discoveries deep and far into old storage. Should be interesting.

{ Reply }

David Cain March 5, 2020 at 10:20 am

The idea for me is that there is wealth stored up in pantry food, which is slowly going bad only because we haven’t made a point of using it. I hope you find some helpful discoveries on that front.

{ Reply }

woollyprimate March 5, 2020 at 9:16 am

Great experiment…but don’t invite me to dinner. :-)

I have a few tips that might help you. Quick oats can be used in bean burgers. There are tons of recipes online.

And you don’t have to soak dried beans before cooking them, but they will take longer to cook. And if yours are really old, they might take even longer. A slow cooker is good for that, but apparently not for kidney beans, which need to be fully boiled to get rid of toxins.

This is a good slow cooker recipe for pinto beans:
https://www.budgetbytes.com/not-refried-beans/

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David Cain March 5, 2020 at 10:21 am

Will try, thank you wp

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Diane March 5, 2020 at 9:20 am

You would rarely find a poor family with a pantry full of forgotten foods. Clear out your unwanted foods and if you can, please give all to your local food bank. Food banks cannot accept previously opened packages of lentils and pasta but a charity with a soup kitchen will use every morsel. Canned goods with expired dates can be shared if from this century! Foods requiring refrigeration cannot be shared. Volunteer if you can, especially with your child in tow. You will be surprised who “shops” at food banks.

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Susan Ward March 5, 2020 at 9:32 am

Excellent timing David! Since reading your article on going deeper not wider from a couple of years ago, I have taken it to heart in the kitchen and in so many areas of my life. The timing I mentioned – I will have to move within months so I’ll be able to see what my progress has been like. Thanks again for your wonderful projects and experiments.

{ Reply }

Kim Armstrong March 5, 2020 at 9:37 am

I purged my pantry as well but I actually keep it pretty current. It’s my huge chest freezer that was full to the top with a bit of everything from years gone by to current. There are just 2 of us eating out of it so that is our challenge. We started in November and it doesn’t look like we’ve even made a dint in ! I need to find some good uses for frozen fruit before I starting picking and freezing again

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Sharon Hanna March 5, 2020 at 10:25 am

This post made me laugh! Especially the part about the sumptuous meals that the other hikers made. Mostly I don’t buy food that is not needed. In fact, I do the opposite – don’t buy enough, especially things like canned tomatoes or beans which are going to be used for sure.

There are three exceptions – and I see them (and flinch) each time I go down the stairs to do the laundry. 1. A can of sardines. I know they are supposed to be good for me, but I have not eaten them. Find them too…..something? Greasy? 2. A can of clam nectar (what was I thinking?) and 3. A can of chanterelles. The last two items were bought near Nanaimo on Vancouver island at a canning place. The canned chanterelles, well, I’m kind of afraid to open it up. We shall see. OK, I’ll make some kind of fish chowder and use up the clam juice, and maybe give the sardines away to the food bank or my friend who likes to eat them. ;-)

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Tortoise1000 March 5, 2020 at 10:28 am

Yes, I do this kind of thing from time to time. I used to post about it a lot on the old Motley Fool site, complete with lists of menus, freezer contents etc. I had another go on the Lemon Fool site in January, with the usual interesting results. I started with the goal of not spending money rather than clearing the pantry, but the effect was to clear the pantry exactly the same. I commented at the end: ‘I am genuinely astonished to find I was harbouring so much food. The emptier cupboards, fridge and freezer are a delight and I am going to keep them this way.’

You can read the thread here if you are interested:
https://www.lemonfool.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=50&t=21101

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Wallet March 5, 2020 at 11:32 am

Loved this post! Thanks for sharing.

We actually recently added to our pantry stockpile out of an abundance of caution in case we’re forced to self-quarantine due to the coronavirus. As a result, I am going to delay participating fully in this experience until there is less uncertainty around that situation.

That being said, I will participate in a modified version now. First, there are some items that I will never use due to a change in diet and hobbies. These will be discarded or donated as appropriate. For example, we will never eat cake and baking ingredients as I mostly eat Keto or at least lower-carb and avoid sugar entirely.

Second, there are some items that fit your description and that I don’t think will hurt our preparedness, so I will search for opportunities to take advantage of more foods in our pantry.

Looking forward to hear how it goes for you! We often find that some of our best meals are the children of creativity when there’s “nothing to cook or eat in the house.”

{ Reply }

David Cain March 6, 2020 at 9:35 am

Excessive carbs are one issue I’m already running into. Pantry foods tend to be carbs, so there’s a danger of adding a bunch of fairly empty carbs to the diet, which may not qualify as making good use of this food.” I made cornbread, for example, but felt I had to eat it quickly because it goes stale fast, and it ended up just adding some dubious starches and sugars to my diet. I guess the key is to decide what role the new food will have before making it.

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ANU March 5, 2020 at 12:37 pm

I use the OLIO app as well as am part of my local Buy Nothing groups on FB. I’ve done cleanouts of my pantry as well as bathroom cupboards, closets and given a way a lot of food and other items to folks locally who can use it.

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Jen Macnab March 5, 2020 at 3:37 pm

What a well-written, inspiring post! Sorting the pantry now…

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LanChi Pham March 5, 2020 at 3:45 pm

I usually change residences at least once a year (sometimes several times a year) so it forces me to look at the foods that I have to haul from one location to another. It really motivates me to keep my pantry small because I have to think: Will I eat this before I move in the next few months? Regardless, during my most recent move two weeks ago, I realize that I STILL have too many foods overflowing my pantry. Because of that, I resolved to make meals out of every last bit of food in the pantry and so far, it’s working. In only two weeks, I have eaten through half of my canned foods, all of my fruit and pasta, and most of my cereal.

Thanks for posting this, however. It just makes me feel like I’m not alone on my crusade to eat my way through the food in my pantry.

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Sherry Black March 5, 2020 at 4:11 pm

I need to do this! Especially as a household of one who occasionally likes to cook for herself.

An interesting aside: my church has a Blessing Box (free mini pantry) on the side of our building. We work hard to keep it stocked, but some things keep appearing: cans of garbanzo beans, and dried beans, lentils, peas of all types, and rice. People who most utilize the Blessing Box either don’t have the time, the wherewithal, or the equipment to cook these items. One of my church members picked up 17 bags of beans and rice (and if we don’t pick it up sooner or later it ends up spilled all over the drive) — and donated it to another church who will make use of them. And she posted a sign asking our friends not to leave these items.

(I confess, I have lentils, yellow split peas, and pinto beans at my house that came from stuff left there.)

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Tallgirl1204 March 5, 2020 at 11:32 pm

Your post reminds me of my own trip along the Kepler Track— similar to the Milford Track. People made amazing meals, especially the first night.

I brought very simple “backpack meals”— so boring— but I threw three avocados into my pack for a treat. The first night people looked with scorn at my avocado, which I loaded onto the top of my backpack meal. The second night, someone commented that it looked good. The third night, several people asked if I had any more to give away prior to the long hike out the next day…. (sorry…)

One luxury food item on a backpack trip is always a good idea. (But only one, because weight.)

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David Cain March 6, 2020 at 9:54 am

Oh man I want to do all the great walks! They’re amazing.

I probably would have ogled your avocado as well, due to my own spartan food situation

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Bobbi March 6, 2020 at 2:30 am

Really enjoyed this post (usually do) & can totally relate to the feeling of satisfaction. Such a practical thing to do & therapuetic too! It just makes sense.

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Brady Faught March 6, 2020 at 2:39 pm

Another vote for Instant Pots. It cooks rice, dried beans really quickly, especially for beans which take FOREVER otherwise. I suggest cooking a big batch of them, put them on a baking sheet to freeze, stick ’em in a bag, then they’re ready to grab a handful for any soup or stew!

The only negative is it should’ve been called the ‘Insta-Pot.’ A branding failure in my opinion, but I digress.

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David Cain March 7, 2020 at 5:05 pm

I think it is inevitable I will get an instant pot. They seem so useful!

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Lance March 7, 2020 at 6:42 am

My wife is German. Our pantries are sorted, alphabetized & optimized. The penalty for non compliance is severe..

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David Cain March 7, 2020 at 5:04 pm

Ha!

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Msureen March 8, 2020 at 10:22 am

I’ve done this periodically, too, and you’ve inspired me to do it again! I’ve actually created a list of the inventory of my pantry, fridge, and freezer, the idea being that when it’s Sunday and time to plan meals fur the week, I should look first to see what I already have on hand, and build around that. It’s just pure laziness to just go to the store without doing this, and I’m so guilty of it. It is much more satisfying to use what I have. I make lists of each inventory on a phone list app.

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Mr. Burrito Bowl March 8, 2020 at 11:46 am

Yes. Every month when I look at our grocery bill I look back over at the pantry with our 25 lb bag of unused lentils and shudder. I’ve been kicking this idea around in my head as well. I like having emergency food that we could survive on but most of the pantry will never be eaten without purposeful action.

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David Cain March 8, 2020 at 2:57 pm

Hey Mr. BB.

“…but most of the pantry will never be eaten without purposeful action.”

This is exactly the thought that led me to this whole project. It’s just not going to happen under my normal patterns. It takes an intervention.

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m2bees March 8, 2020 at 5:23 pm

:) Been there done this. Challenging. I was shocked at what I discovered buried in the cupbords!

I keep green split peas and brown lentils on hand year round and use them in the winter months for soups for supper, one week lentils, next week split peas. One cup of lentils (or peas) will make enough soup for 5 servings, maybe 6 if I add more onions, carrots, potato. The lentil soup uses tomato so the flavors are quite different.

Do try soaking and cooking dry beans and freezing in serving portions. Did that with a big jar of field peas, it worked out well.

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Mappy March 9, 2020 at 5:53 am

Yes David, I know where you’re coming from with this. I’ve done similar excavations of the kitchen in the last few years and it’s important to do these things. In my single days of yore I was strapped for cash and used to work out a precise two-week menu, buying only what I would eat in that time. Saved a fortune and there was not a scrap of waste. Just had a similar purge of old documents and found piles of stuff that should have been disposed of years ago. Very cathartic these clear-outs/sort-outs. Good for the soul (and the pocket).

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