Eating From Your Pantry, What A Concept!

Eating from your pantry (or freezer) can be tricky especially if you have uncooperative family members, but it's the number one way to save money.
(I use pantry interchangeably with freezer since it's all food storage.)

You save money twice by a) not going out to eat, and b) not letting food go to waste.

Tell me if any of these scenarios sound familiar.
  • You bought too much of something that was on sale.
  • You bought several of the same item thinking your family might like it. They didn't.
  • Somewhere behind the tuna fish, dog food, and boxes of pasta is the land of forgotten food.
  • Your freezer is potentially hiding "The Thing" and you don't have the nerve to defrost it.
Even the most organized person can fall prey to the Food That Time Forgot, so don't feel bad. You're in good company.

Once a year I clean out my dry pantry. I pull out every single item, dust, wipe, and check expiration dates. When I put everything back I make sure the stuff that expires first gets put up in front. Still, I've been guilty of unwittingly pushing the 'old' food to the back, never finding quite the right time to use it up.

The freezer is even harder! I have two freezers which take turns holding goat milk, unwanted roosters, the last of our pig, and jars of homemade soup, aside from the normal stuff people put in freezers.

Since we're doing a No-Spend Month, it was time to see what I had and use it up. This means Greg could be eating more pork than he'd like. On the other hand, he might also have more rib eye than usual. (Poor guy!) It all depends on what's left inside.

I knew a No-Spend Month was coming so I've been carefully trying to use up roasts and ribs. I've also stopped buying more meat even though it killed me to have to pass up some excellent sales on organic chicken. At some point you have to show all your cards and play what's on the table--or in this case, freezer.

I can finally see some bare areas in my freezers, so my next step is to pull out everything, put it on the counter and catalog them. This way I know what's left and in what order I should bring them out for defrosting.

I made a vow not to buy any more meat until what we have is gone, or nearly so.

I'm hoping there won't be too much mystery food. There's some tilapia we've thus far refused to eat, (it turned out neither of us likes tilapia) but I can cook that for the cat. There's also some deer sausage a friend gave us. It's good, but super spicy--even for us! When we tried it, it gave us indigestion. I'm afraid that's headed for the garbage unless I can think of something else.

Last week, I slow-cooked a quarter piece of brisket. I had planned on refreezing the leftovers but it was so good we kept having them for sandwiches and breakfast. It disappeared fast.

It's good to see I'm making headway. It would be great if I could start the year with a clean slate and a clean freezer.

I'm hoping too that I'll do a better job organizing my freezers. Typically, I do a shelf of pork, one for beef, and one for chicken. Drawers were for sausage, bacon, fruits and vegetables. As time went on Greg would pop things in the wrong place, or I'd have to wedge something that didn't belong because there was space available. I'd like to go back to compartmentalizing my food so it makes it easier to find. I also need to make a shelf for things like goat's milk, cheese, and ice cream. Especially ice cream. :)

But one step at a time.

So what can you do to clean out your warehouse of food?

The obvious answer is to eat what you have. You can also donate dry goods to Food Banks, or give away frozen food to neighbors and friends. If you want to be an extra good friend, you'll cook up that roast or chicken and invite friends over for dinner.

How often do you clean out your pantry and freezer? Do you think you throw out too much food? Have you ever found a mystery food in your freezer?


B.E. Sanderson said…
I hate throwing out food with a passion. Which is probably why I eat a lot of leftovers for lunch. If I buy something we haven't tried before and Hubs doesn't like it, I eat it - whether I like it or not.

Sorry to hear you don't like tilapia. It's one of our go-to fishes (along with salmon and whatever I manage to catch). I bread them and fry them, or bake them with a parmesan sprinkle and some tomato slices on top. Sometimes I just fry them up plain in butter with a sprinkle of dill. They're kind of delicate, so you have to cook them until they just start to flake with a fork, or they can get rubbery.

LOL, I don't label stuff in the freezer, so I have to rely on my memory. I can usually tell what's what, but I have defrosted what I thought was chili only to discover it's spaghetti sauce. =o\
Maria Zannini said…
BE: You don't label?! How is that even possible? LOL. It would drive me insane--not that that's a long drive for me. :)

re: tilapia
I think that's what it is. It's just too delicate. To us the flavor is bland. We much prefer red fish, trout and salmon. Those are our go-to fishies.
lynnviehl said…
I do a sort-through of the freezer and pantry every couple of months, and one big clean-out annually. I try very hard not to throw away any food. Anything new we try that we don't care for goes to the local food bank (I usually get new things on a 2-for-1 sale and inevitably have another package.)

SInce we're empty nesters now I'm more conservative about buying food, and better at planning, so I generally manage to use everything I buy now for the week's menu. I keep one or two "emergency company" packs of meat in the freezer so I can cook a big meal for unexpected visitors without having to make another trip to the store.

I know exactly what's in the freezer, and I label everything obsessively, but sometimes I find odd things someone else stuck in there. During one clean-out I found a half-dozen snack-size baggies of frozen peas. Since everyone but me hates peas this was weird. Later found out my daughter was using them as snacks for her rats. :)
My freezer isn't that big, and my pantry is big but not as full - or as organized! - as it could be. I waste more food than I care to admit, but I'm definitely more aware of it than I used to be, and I'm working on changing it. :)
Maria Zannini said…
re: I found a half-dozen snack-size baggies of frozen peas. Since everyone but me hates peas this was weird. Later found out my daughter was using them as snacks for her rats.

I swear that sounds like something out of a cozy mystery novel. That was wild.
Maria Zannini said…
Madeline: I try to be good and use up leftovers immediately but I sometimes have trouble with a certain husband.

I don't mind eating the leftovers myself, but sometimes he buys things only he likes to eat, and those leftovers are strictly his.
great post and I am due a major pantry clean out/tidy count.. for that sausage, split them open, cook it up and then give it a rince to take the spices out to what ever dregree you need to and then use the non less spicy meat crumbles in a soup or omlet etc or cornbread etc
Maria Zannini said…
Farmgal: That's a good idea to use up tiny pieces of the sausage in eggs and soups. I'm not sure it would do much good to rinse them out but it wouldn't hurt to try. Thanks!
I had a friend that made a crazy spice batch of meat and that was the only way I could find to have us eat it, was to wash the meat of half the flavour/heat and by removing the fat which also seemed to hold the heat.. worth a try once to see if you get the same result :)
Michael Keyton said…
The standard with leftover cooked vegetables is 'Bubble and Squeak.' Having some today with freezer sausage. I never label Freezer food - I like the surprise. I have something inthere which I suspect is left over goose in gravy. Probably the basis of a casserole next week. If it's not goose, should be interesting. On a lighter or perhaps profound note, I have a tin of spam
at the back of our larder cupboard from 1992. When I mum died me and my brother divided her larder between us. The spam is a memento, I guess. Could end up as a family heirloom if I can persuade my son and daughter the concept is not all together gross :)
Maria Zannini said…
Mike: I wouldn't want the product to stay inside, but I've always been fascinated by old tins and boxes. I see them at flea markets all the time.

Having said that, there's no telling how long that Spam will last. You could pass it down the generations like an old bottle of wine. Not good for eating, but a pleasant way to start a conversation. :)
Lisa Lynn said… to read the comments :)

I really do need to clean out freezers and pantries this spring...before I start harvesting from the garden and needing the room for the next round of home canned food and frozen veggies.

The only thing that I have trouble using up are the organ meats. When I get a whole hog or beef, there are organ meats. I don't actually have to take them, but I hate to waste. I usually cook them up for the dogs and chickens, since none of us like them much. But they do seem to accumulate. I believe I also have a pig head in the bottom of the chest freezer. The chickens will have a great time picking it clean once I cook it down and remove the meat from the cheeks. I'll make soup from the broth and meat with some dried beans and veggies.

We have been on an 'eating from the pantry' roll for the last couple months and I'm doing a low spend I haven't bought meat or extras. If something we use is on sale and I can stock up, I do. I have also been buying milk and fresh veggies to supplement our stored food. Our potatoes are almost gone and I've used the rest of the squash from the root cellar. This year I want to grow more veggies to store for the winter, since we ran out early this year.

Thanks for sharing!
Maria Zannini said…
Lisa: We do like organ meat and we sometimes fight the dogs for liver and gizzards. LOL. Only kidding. We do save them for the dogs.

re: storage
It's so hot by us that I tend not to keep vegetables unless they can be frozen or dehydrated. (I hate canning.) I've always wanted a real root cellar or cool room where I could store fresh vegetables.
LD Masterson said…
I'm often guilty of leaving things in the freezer too long but even freezer burned food can usually be salvaged via the crock pot. Slow cooking solves a multitude of problems.
Maria Zannini said…
Linda: The crock pot is a lifesaver. I must admit mine has been relegated to the attic since I switched to the instant pot. Does the same job at a fraction of the time.