Are you still finding ways to take on the new year? This is the perfect time to take on those pesky tasks we put off such as cleaning out the garage, organizing the linen closet, straightening up the spare room, and cleaning out the pantry. A challenge I enjoy doing many times throughout the year is cleaning out the pantry. It sounds awful, but it’s actually a way to get creative and save some extra cash! Cleaning out the pantry simply means to eat down the pantry, avoiding grocery shopping and using up the food you currently have in the house. This can be a real challenge for some, since we have our favorite recipes with specific ingredients we use more often than others. However, it’s the perfect time of year to declutter your pantry (and freezer) and actually save some money!
In order to do this challenge, you need to know what your pantry and freezer inventory is. Take note of the things you already have on hand so you can figure out what recipes you’ll be making for the week. The easiest way to take inventory is to break up the items into their select food groups. For example, you may have a bag of rice, spaghetti, and oatmeal in the grains group. I would suggest trying to fit this all on the same sheet of paper so you can visually see what foods you have that might pair well together.
Next is to decide what recipes you’ll be making. Personally, I have found the more recipes I try, the more creative I get when making up my own dish. You can take some of your old or favorite recipes and make small substitutions such as a different cheese, a different type of bean, or using a different vegetable. It doesn’t have to be complicated and you never know until you try it! There are also a few websites that allow you to plug in foods you have and get recipe suggestions. Supercook and My Fridge Food are two great resources. You can also plug foods into a search engine such as Google and find recipes that way as well. Just remember to use a thermometer on your meats to make sure they are cooked correctly since not all recipes online are tested for food safety.
The last step is to plan out your meals for the week. Planning isn’t just important for vacation or party purposes. In order to follow through on your challenge, meal planning is essential to its success. Make sure to write down the different recipes you plan to make and even print out the recipes if they’re online. You may need to buy a few fresh foods from the grocery store, but be sure to check your freezer and pantry for frozen and canned fruits and vegetables first. Perhaps an onion is all you’ll need to pull off the perfect recipe. Just think how much you can SAVE by using what you have that may expire soon!
Some of you may be thinking your picky family members are not going to enjoy this challenge. I want you to think of how long it has been since that family member has tried something new or different. It’s important to try new foods every so often because our taste preferences change over time. Try pairing a food you don’t think they’ll like with something they really enjoy! You may end up finding a new favorite food for that picky little one.
Sydney Johnson is an Area Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached by calling the Sampson County Center at 910-592-7161.