Finally! This post “wrapping up” the 30 Day Pantry Challenge has been longer in the making than I had planned. I wasn’t sick, I didn’t go on vacation or do anything utterly exciting. It was life. And I find the more I read (and re-read) what I had written, the more I wanted to tweak it.
I was so utterly ecstatic when the Pantry Challenge ended, but – believe it or not – I didn’t rush right out to go shopping. In fact, it was a couple of days before I went to the store. I simply waited for a day off so that I could wander the aisles at my leisure. I felt like a kid in a candy store knowing that I didn’t have to limit myself to the barest of bare necessities. That boneless, skinless chicken breast on sale at Sprouts? Added to my cart, even though there was a package of chicken legs and thighs left in the freezer. It felt absolutely wonderful to fill my cart with all sorts of fresh vegetables, even if there were a few frozen and canned varieties left. If there was such a place as grocery heaven, I was there.
How much did we spend (or save) on groceries during the 30 Day Pantry Challenge? The “typical” grocery budget for the two of us is about $60 per week. Sometimes I am under budget, and sometimes I go over. So in a typical month, we would be spending around $240. But during the 30 Day Pantry Challenge, we spent a whopping $15.70 on some spices, sour cream, lettuce, bread and eggs. Not too shabby! I also got a bag of Lay’s classic potato chips for The Hubbers for free, thanks to a store coupon I received in the mail. I’d like to think that they sent it because they missed me.
So, what insights did I have at the end of those 30 days? Believe me, there are no startling new discoveries… but just some very basic, practical things that many people already do, and many people don’t. Old habits can be hard to break!
- No matter how much “head knowledge” we have, it doesn’t do much good if the knowledge isn’t put into practice. I know that I should check my supplies before I shop. But I don’t always do that. If I did, I would have found two bags of brown jasmine rice in the freezer. I also wouldn’t have purchased yet another bag of brown jasmine rice (pictured above) because Thai-style fried rice sounded good. The bag that is now in the freezer. With the other two bags. Sigh!
- If you don’t want to be surprised, label everything that goes into the freezer. The faintest ink is better than the most retentive memory. How many times did I put something into different packaging to freeze thinking I would remember it was there (and what it was) when clearly I didn’t? More times than I care to recollect. But it does make for interesting meals! And yes, I am trying to label what goes into the freezer if it’s not obvious.
- Know what you have on hand and use it before you lose it. Just like grocery stores rotate their stock to ensure the items that have the earliest “best by” date are located where they will be sold first, it is also important to rotate our own pantry and freezer items. How often do we put items away so the last in is the first out? I for one am guilty! Because of this, I lost a few canned goods to spoilage (they had hung out in the pantry far too long) and some meat to freezer burn.
- Continue to plan to eat 100% from the “pantry” regularly. This can be as much as one week a month or as little as once a week. I don’t know about you, but I love pouring over the grocery ads, deciding what sale items I want to buy. I don’t necessarily work existing ingredients I have on hand (other than spices) into any thoughts about what dishes I am going to make. I rarely even come up with a meal plan for the week (beyond “Meatless Monday” and “Taco Tuesday”). I am trying to change this habit as I continue on with the 100 Day Cooking Challenge.
- If you don’t spend an occasional weekend making extra dishes to freeze for busy nights, have a few fairly quick “go to” dishes from pantry/freezer ingredients you typically keep on hand. I work long hours four days a week, so I try to spend at least one day on the weekend doing some serious cooking. When it’s marmalade or jam season, I spend more time canning and do only the barest and most basic of cooking. Pasta with red sauce is always a standby, but it’s nice to have a variety of basic dishes to keep meals interesting (and to keep from falling into a culinary rut).
Would I do this Pantry Challenge again? I hate to say it, but I definitely wouldn’t mind doing it again – especially during the summer when our garden is sharing its bounty. Fresh veggies were what I missed most. I would also make sure to buy plenty of onions before I begin. Some things are just better with onions. Real onions. Not dehydrated ones. They just aren’t the same when you want some caramelized onions. Really, they aren’t.