Saturday, September 13, 2014

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Meal Planning in the Pantry

Have you ever had shelves of food on your pantry but felt you could not put a meal together?  I used to quite often.  Especially when my pantry was there for emergencies and not for Real Life.  Before the idea of deepening the pantry instead of storing food.

That was when it began to dawn on me that the pantry can be utilized a lot better than I had been.  It started with just purchasing at least one extra item I use all the time, like I mentioned last week.  But then as I did some research, I found great ideas that have worked since then.

The first was to think of simple pantry friendly meals and make certain I have everything needed for them stocked.  Not only the ingredients but any other essentials like cooking oil, foil, parchment paper, etc.

The easiest such meal is to have a jar of good quality marinara sauce, a package of spaghetti or penne pasta, and perhaps a package of garlic bread kept in the freezer.  I have found those purchased frozen in foil to be very yummy when baked and then carefully (very carefully, watching it always) placing it under the broiler to become bubbly and just a little brown.

Another easy pantry meal is tuna noodle casserole... the old fashioned recipe with canned tuna, cream of mushroom (or another favorite "cream of" soup), and a bag of dried noodles set aside.

A very healthy soup can be made with a can of beans, a box of broth (chicken, beef, veggie, etc.), a handful of rice or pasta, and perhaps a can of diced tomatoes.  Or when able to plan ahead, a bag of beans soaked overnight and simmered the next morning.  Or bring the beans to a boil (strong simmer really), turn the heat off and let them sit an hour or so... then continue cooking until the beans are tender.

I make salmon patties quite often (making them really into croquette sizes) and that is an easy recipe to keep all the ingredients on hand, served with rice and perhaps veggies from the freezer.  In mid-winter, the veggie is often canned green beans.

These pantry meals require just a little thinking ahead, perhaps doing a search online for meals from the pantry or some more imaginative phrase to look for good ideas.

If you don't mind putting a little more time and effort into the pantry, do the same thing but with your five favorite family meals.  Take out a piece of paper and off the top of your head, think of five meals you make quite a lot. 

Then make certain you have all the ingredients for those five meals on the shelves, in the frig, or in the freezer... for five meals to begin with.  Then to deepen the pantry, simply make certain you have all the ingredients for more than one meal or all five of them.

Some people like to concentrate on stocking up just one meal at a time.  For instance, making certain they have all the ingredients to make that main dish four or five times (to the extent ingredients can be purchased ahead, fresh produce the exception).

I prefer (when possible) to have the ingredients for a variety of meals in the freezer and on the pantry shelves before deepening the pantry with second, third, etc. ingredients of the same dish.  I don't mean have it all prepared ahead of time like a 30 Day Freezer meal (albeit that is a good idea for some families), I mean just the ingredients ready to make each meal.

It is easier that way when I have a little extra money to spend on the pantry. As mentioned before, some recipes are ideal for this and others... not so much.  Your favorite chef's salad wouldn't really work as a deepening the pantry meal. 

You really must have a way to track ingredients if you want to stock up on entire meals at once.  Otherwise you will find you have used an ingredient for something else.  I know.  I have.

The easiest way is to assign a number to each meal and then mark that number on your cans, Ziploc freezer bags, etc.  Just get a role of inexpensive freezer tape (nothing fancy), rip a piece off of the roll,  and write #1 on the tape and then tape it to the bag for the freezer. 

That way the bag can be used over and over (as long as you take the meat out before defrosting it).  I store my Ziploc bags that I use... 1 gallon and 2 gallon sizes... right in the freezer.

Just write #1 on the cans you will use and also have a place in your refrigerator where everyone knows those items are already spoken for!  That helps even if you are not doing anything organized as far as the pantry.  You would think with only two people in the house, that lemon you planned to use in the soup would still be there when you went to get it!  But I digress...

Then, in a notebook or on the list in your computer or wherever you keep your information these days, next to #1 you will write this particular main dish.  For the sake of simplicity, that dish may always be #1 in your files.  But by using just the numbers and the name, it gives the option of assigning #1 to a different dish in the future.

It sounds complicated but if you are only doing this for your top five meals, not so much.  That doesn't mean you will always have to make those particular meals each week, it just means you have the ingredients for those five meals on hand all the time.  When you prepare one of those meals from the pantry, the ingredients (if necessary) to fix it again will go on your grocery list.

Think it is too complicated?  Well, it does take more time for meals that contain a meat, produce, and canned good.  But some are so easy that just about anyone can have five meals put back.  Such as examples of meals mentioned above that all the ingredients can be kept on pantry shelves.

There are some fresh and produce items I cook with a lot that I always try to have on hand like onions, lemons, green peppers (these may be frozen or fresh), co-jack cheese, mozzarella cheese, potatoes, and carrots... to name a few.

Stephanie has a good way of using the freezer to cook ahead for her family... here.  I need to defrost my freezer soon but after I do, I plan to have a few make ahead meals ready in it for those days I don't feel like cooking or when company drops by.

Just by putting a little thought and preparation into keeping the pantry, it will help us get meals on the table a whole lot easier!  And you can choose how much you want to deepen the pantry given finances, time, space, etc.

Hope sharing from what I have learned on the subject helps someone else.

Next week... God willing and the creek don't rise... I'll be thinking ahead about the Holidays.  Yes, it IS that time!


Anonymous said...

Those bags of frozen meatballs are good to keep on hand. Added to a can of spaghetti sauce or gravy, they can be used for a lot of different pantry meals.

suzanne said...

I love the idea of numbering items in the pantry for specific meals! Not only does that help keep track of what is on hand for which meal, it helps remind the "chef" that she has a meal already stocked. Big relief! Not sure I want to think about the holidays quite yet, although I know they are looming there, in the background of this Indian Summer. akk!

Journeyin' Lady... said...

Good tips! Rachael Ray's TV program was very similar this week.

Living on Less Money said...

This was a great post! I learned a few things that I can't wait to put into practice. I've been wanting to 'deepen' my pantry for quite some time. Thanks so much!

Nadine said...

Great tips and tricks...thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

Good post. I must say how glad I am that "soup" weather is here again! I love how easy a pot of soap is! Here in WI, we eat soup for autumn, winter, & spring, so YAY!!! I always struggle with what to feed all these hungry kids in the summer!!! :D But soup & bread for the rest of the year wins!!!

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

Such great advice! I have my go to items that we use regularly. Butter, Better than Boullion, cheese, tortillas. You get the idea. I stock up when I can.

I can't wait to talk about the holidays! There are on their way!


The Grey Gardenia said...

Purchasing a few extra items every time we shop has allowed us to float during the lean times. Thank you for all of your suggestions and advice.