The purging and decluttering of the household is now gracing our kitchen. I have long been known for having “everything” I would need for many great meals. While I do not boast of having “everything” in terms of ingredients, I can definitely put together a wide variety of meals with the food I have on hand. In our transition to creating a zero waste lifestyle, reducing food waste is among one of my top priorities. The foods that are most likely to be purged due to overstocking and under preparing food at home are perishable foods such as fruits and vegetables. Currently there is a block of sharp cheddar cheese that I may need to shred and freeze in order to detour it from the garbage bin.
Point of Clarification- A “Pantry Purge” in my household is a purge of all food storage areas which include the pantry, food cupboard (a smaller space where dry goods are stored), the refrigerator, and the freezer. I do make a list of all (or most) of the food items I have available. Just this month, I reached a total of 3 jars of Kalamata olive pieces which I use for salads, antipasto plates, and to make olive bread. The benefit of cleaning out and organizing the food storage areas is that you can see (if not list) what food items you have for planning meals and snacks. You will also avoid those embarrassing moments when you discover a long past its prime bell pepper in the fridge or are forced to identify the source of a bad chicken smell.
Benefits of a Pantry Purge
- Food Quality Benefit – You ensure that you are keeping food on hand that is fresh.
- Food Budget Benefit – You prevent yourself from buying items that you already have on hand.
- Nutrition Benefit – You can plan for more healthful and balanced meals.
If you are not sold on the pantry purge, consider the savings of both time and money that support a more healthful kitchen. There are different systems for completing your pantry purge. My preference is to sort each of my food storage areas based on food groups (fruits, vegetables, high hazard proteins, diary, grains, nuts, etc…). When I am planning meals I have a tendency to think of incorporating the different food groups so that I ensure that I am eating a varied and balanced diet. Grouping items that are similar in how I use them (rice, pasta, quinoa) helps me to know at a glance what I may need to add to my list as well as what I might substitute if I run out of an ingredient. I enjoy a cold quinoa salad with crunchy fresh vegetables alongside fried chicken but similar ingredients could just as easily go into a pasta salad or vegetable soup depending on the season or the mood of the household.
Steps to a Pantry Purge
- The first step is to discard all out of date or expired items. I like to move items in order to clear at least one shelf or drawer at a time so that I can deep clean the area for a truly fresh food storage area. Be honest. Some food items may be old or out of date because they are just not what you or your family want to eat. Keep these items in mind as you progress towards making that ultimate shopping list for your household (this will be part of the long term pantry purge).
- Decide on how you are going to sort your food items. While I sort items by food group or culinary use, you might have another preference. Place items back into food storage areas as you sort and organize.
- As you are sorting food items, start some form of inventory or food preparation list. A food inventory lists all food items that you have on hand. A food preparation list provides a list of meals for which you have ingredients (with a list of ingredients you may want to purchase to complete a given meal). An inventory may help you work on strategies for reducing how much food you have stored if that is your goal. I am working on reducing the level of food storage that is in my home. The long term strategy would include a system where you can know (or see) exactly what you have on hand in your food storage areas.
- Now that you know what you have, and it is organized, make a list of meals/snacks that you can prepare with the food items that you have on hand. If you are trying to focus on reducing pantry storage, you may want to plan to limit food purchases to the minimum as you reduce your inventory. Plan your menu for the week. It is not necessary to have a conventional day by day menu but you could list the 3-5 meals you may be preparing during the week or on a bulk cooking day. I believe that 3-5 different lunches and dinners provides enough variety but you will know how many options you need for your family.
- Take notes on what works or does not work with your household.
My Pantry Purge Cooking List:
Cooking a Pot of Chickpeas – I have cooked a pot of chickpeas to use in a chickpea curry recipe and homemade hummus.
Black Beans – I have cooked a pot of black beans to use in black bean and chicken enchiladas with red chili sauce.
Pumpkin – I have several cans of pumpkin puree and there are more ways to use pumpkin that go beyond pumpkin pie. I plan to make a loaf of pumpkin bread which will be a great traveling breakfast. I also have a pumpkin smoothie recipe planned for this weekend.
Rice Noodles and Cashews – I have about two servings worth of rice noodles that I plan to use to make an Asian fusion spicy noodle recipe. I have serrano chili, ginger, garlic, cilantro and lemon which will jam pack the noodles with flavor. The cashews will provide filling protein and some fiber.
Olive Break – Last night I made a batch of two loaves of olive bread. I upped the nutrition by changing the white bread dough recipe to a whole wheat recipe. Tip: storing flour in the refrigerator helps it last longer.
Chicken Breasts – I am usually cooking for just one or two people. I do use batch cooking days every four or six weeks in order to have home cooked meals for those busy evenings but I am not able to eat the same meal each evening throughout the week. When I have purchased a batch of chicken breasts, I season and individually freeze chicken breasts. Right now I have the following seasoned chicken breasts: Greek, Italian, garlic (versatile seasoning), and lemon rosemary.
If you are working on a pantry purge share your challenges and successes.