How To Use Everything In Your Pantry Without Wasting Food


use everything in your pantry

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With all the organizing talk going on around here, it was just a matter of time before we talked about how to use everything in your pantry.

use everything in your pantry

I don’t know how but I end up with the most random crap in my pantry and freezer. That’s not true. Actually, I do know how. When it comes to food, there are three main reasons I buy something:

  1. I have a specific recipe in mind that needs it.
  2. It sounds good at the time.
  3. I feel like I should start using it because I heard somewhere it was good.

And number 3 is the main cause of me saying “WTF??” when I find it (or worse, multiple versions of it) in the pantry 5 months later.

This is why I find myself needing to do a big cleanup about twice a year. But the challenge is to how to use up all that stuff! I hate to throw away food. But if I haven’t done anything with it for the past few months, how will I use it now?

With my two favorite things – a list and a plan! 

The first thing I do is take an inventory of everything I have on hand. I split it out into different groups – meat, cheese/dairy, canned goods, pasta, sauces, etc. And I’ll put down everything I have on hand – pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. I also include quantities as well because that’s important in the next step.

Writing everything down and looking it all over is probably the most important part of this whole process. Because I’ve bought this all at different times it’s highly likely that I’ve forgotten I have something. I mean, it’s not as bad as when I was married and had to hide cookies in the turkey fryer or else I’d never get even one. And then I’d forget all about it and find them 3 years later because I never used the turkey fryer, which is why I put them in there in the first place. It’s a vicious circle.

Once I have everything inventoried and grouped together I might realize I have everything for chicken stir-fry, and also questionable taste in canned fruit. 2 cans of pears and mandarin oranges? Really?

Here’s my list of stuff from this past weekend.

Oy, all that canned stuff was killing my pantry organization.

Meat, Fish,
Seafood
Veggies/FruitDairy - CheesePasta/RiceCerealCanned GoodsOther/Sauces
1 lbf Ground Beef
Brussel sprouts (frozen)Half n HalfWhite RiceRice CrispiesCanned ChickenRoasted garlic alfredo
2 links italian sausage
2 bags stir fry veggies (frozen)Bleu Cheese crumblesBasmati Rice (1 cup left)Chex4 cans sweet corn4 cheese marinara
1 chicken breast, frozen1 bag broccoli (frozen)Asiago cheeseSpaghettiCheerios1 can spinachUnsweetened applesauce
1 chicken breast, fresh1 bag mixed veggies (frozen)Grated ParmesanElbow macaroniRaisin Bran Crunch1 can peasVarious nuts
3 pkg (3 each) thin pork chopsSweet PotatoesString CheeseWhole grain elbow macaroniQuick Oats1 can green beansVarious dried fruits (cranberries, apricots)
4 Frozen Black Angus burger pattiesOnionsMexican Blend Cheeses, shreddedZitiSteel Cut Oats2 cans mixed veggiesRanch dressing mix
4 frozen Turkey Burger pattiesAvocadoMozzarella, shreddedPenne1 can black beansTaco seasoning mix
1/2 bag scallops
Roma TomatoesCream CheeseQuinoa (boxed)1 can cannellini beansTortillas
1 salmon filetSpinachYogurt containers1 can garbanzo beansTortilla chips
1 small filetSweet Butter Lettuce2 cans refried beansFrozen Chili
Ham steakSweet Potato Fries (frozen)1 can artichoke hearts
Oven roasted turkey breastEggplant Parmesan (frozen)2 cans pears
Hashbrowns, frozen1 can mandarin oranges
Carrots1 can pineapple chunks
Apples1 can cranberry sauce
1 can evaporated milk
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can green chili

Once I have it all down, I’ll review it and then write down any recipe or meal I know I can make with what’s there. I had enough to make quite a few different meals. After looking at this stuff every day for months, I suddenly had this big list of recipes I could make with what I had on hand. Sort of annoying, actually.

Here was my initial list of meals:
  • Meatloaf
  • Scallops and chicken stir-fry with white rice (twice)
  • Spaghetti with ground turkey
  • Filet w/ bleu cheese crumbles and bacon with baked sweet potato, corn
  • Ham and beans (using the cannellini beans)
  • Pork chops, Brussel sprouts, butter noodles
  • 2 Black Angus burgers with bleu cheese crumbles and bacon
  • 2 Turkey burgers with sweet potato fries
  • Honey mustard glazed salmon with baked sweet potato and broccoli
  • Baked Italian Sausage Alfredo penne, topped with asiago and mozzarella
  • Eggplant Parmesan
  • Eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, toast
  • Spinach and sweet butter salad with turkey, carrots, avocado, tomato, bleu cheese crumbles
  • Chili w/ black beans
  • Pork Chops w/ honey mustard glaze, quinoa, corn
  • Pears, yogurt, granola, apples

And that was right off the top of my head! Not too bad, eh? I cross the item off my inventory list once I’ve identified a recipe for it. And if the recipe only uses part of what I have on hand, I’ll decrease the inventory by that amount.

Now it’s time to get creative with what’s remaining.

Sure, you can hit up Pinterest for ideas on recipes using an ingredient for your keyword search. There are literally millions of recipes out there, just waiting for you to find them. I look on Pinterest all the time for new recipes.

But what I really like using is a recipe generator. Which is basically the same thing but so. much. more. awesome.

First up is supercook.com.

You can either type in the ingredients you have or choose from their categories on the left. As you’re adding ingredients, recipes will start popping up in the main window, and whether or not you have all the ingredients or not. Keep going until you’ve entered all your ingredients, and I mean everything that’s on your list, and prepare to be inspired!

All the recipes are linked to their original source. Clicking on one will take you to the site.

A really nice feature is that at the top it will display a list of ingredients and ask if you have any of them. It could just be something like baking powder that you have but didn’t put down in your inventory. If you do have them, additional recipes that you can make are added.

The other recipe generating site I’ve used is My Fridge Food.

Here you have 2 options.

  • Quick kitchen, which gives you a list of common ingredients that you’re likely to have on hand
  • Complete kitchen, which gives you a much bigger list of ingredients and categories

All you have to do is put a check next to the ingredient if you have it, same as with SuperCook.

Once you have everything that’s remaining on your inventory list checked off, hit “Find Recipes”. The big difference between the two sites is that the recipes on My Fridge Food are submitted by users, and not links to another site. You can definitely get some unusual recipes that you won’t find on other sites. But that’s part of the fun!

Just like SuperCook, for each recipe, it will show either “No Missing Ingredients” meaning you have everything needed. Or it will list any ingredients the recipe requires that you didn’t mark.

So what happens if you can’t find a recipe using either a generator or Pinterest?

Then get really creative and make up your own recipe. Seriously, some of our favorite family recipes were born from me trying to use up what I had on hand. In fact, my jalapeno popper chicken taquitos are one of those recipes! You never know until you try. If you don’t at least try the food in something, you’ll probably throw it away anyway. So what’s to lose if you end up not liking it?

After going through Pinterest and the 2 recipe sites, I added the following meals to my list:

  • Mandarin orange muffins
  • Ground turkey taco bowls, with tortilla chips, refried beans, diced tomatoes and green chile
  • Spinach artichoke dip
  • Pork chops, peas, skinny mac and cheese
  • Minestrone, using the canned vegetables
  • Pineapple cookies
  • Mandarin orange chicken salad

I think there’s a decent amount of variety there so I won’t get too bored.

Alright, I have my list of recipes. Now what?

As I’m going through the process of finding recipes, sometimes I’ll need an extra ingredient or two to make a certain recipe. This past weekend I decided I wanted some bacon with bleu cheese on my burger. Since I didn’t have bacon, I added it to my shopping list.

I think it’s OK to buy one or two more things if that’s all that’s needed. But don’t go crazy. The goal here is to use everything in your pantry and to buy as little as possible, not bring in even more stuff!

Having a list of recipes does you no good if you don’t follow through (and yes, I’m talking to me)

After I spend all that time making a list of all the food and finding recipes to use it all, it would be a total waste if I don’t actually make a schedule for when I’m going to cook it.

So the next step is to create a meal plan/schedule. Right then. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Do not get up without making a schedule. I ended up with around 2 weeks worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Wowza!

Now that’s out of the way, all that’s left is to go shopping for the very, very few items that are needed.

So those are my tricks on how to use everything in your pantry. Obviously, the best thing is not to let it get out of control in the first place but I know myself better than that! I’ll be right back here in 6 months with the same problem.

Hopefully, this gives you some good ideas and a place to start on your own pantry decluttering journey!

We’ve been busy this month! Here are other areas we’ve tackled if you’re interested in even more organizing ideas.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside. Be Productive and Get Organized!

Setting Goals Like A Boss

Beyond Paperless – A Guide to Organizing What Matters

Organizing a Messy Junk Drawer for $5 in Under 10 Minutes

6 Hacks to Creating a New Habit