Pantry Meals: Creating meals using only what you have on-hand at home.
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Pantry meals aren’t new; people have been pantry planning forever because it’s efficient, inexpensive, and easy. Now that many people are stuck at home (thanks, COVID-19!), many families are having to get creative with the foods they have on-hand.
KEEP ON HAND
Pantry meal planning can go a LONG way if you have some staples on-hand. While people are stuck at home, you may not have a full stock, and that’s okay. Work with what you have. Here are some foods I like to keep in my pantry at all times:
- oil, vinegar, and sauces (olive oil, white vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, mustard),
- seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, chili powder, paprika, oregano, etc)
- stock (chicken, beef, vegetable)
- dry goods (pasta, rice, flour, sugar, baking powder, beans)
- canned goods (pasta sauce, tomato sauce, peanut butter, vegetables)
- frozen foods (meat, vegetables, dough)
- root vegetables (potatoes, onions, garlic)
When my pantry and freezer are stocked with these items, I only have to make trips to the store for produce, meat, and dairy.
HAVE A SPACE TO PLAN
You don’t need to have a dedicated meal planner (a notebook or pad of paper will work just fine!), but I love my Erin Condren Meal Planner and I already had it here, so I’m putting it to good use! Have a place to write everything down.
THINK ABOUT HOW YOU’LL ORGANIZE YOUR INFORMATION
I have always tweaked planners and notebooks to fit my needs, and this is no exception.
Start with your days. This will give you a framework to fill in later.
START MAKING YOUR PLAN
I REALLY love planning dinners, but I eat breakfast and lunch on the fly. My husband and I usually have the same thing for breakfast (I make him two eggs over easy with rye toast, bacon, and apples, and I have coffee), but the kids are home now and they LOVE big breakfasts. I decided that instead of doing a full-blown breakfast plan, that I’d just make a choice list. I can see what I have on-hand, and I still have the flexibility to mix and match each day.
Lunches are almost always sandwiches or leftovers around here, so I didn’t bother to fill that space in (whoops).
Next up, figuring out what you have on-hand for PLANNED meals.
I turned to this page, and because we’re not shopping right now, I tweaked it a bit. Remember, you can always make your planners work for you!
I grabbed stickers from my Teacher Lesson Planner (I don’t use all of them over there so I repurpose them!), and covered up the words I don’t need to see. I re-named the spaces “Ingredients on hand,” “Need to use” and “Meal ideas.”
Now that we are stuck at home, this section is especially important:
I don’t like to be wasteful, and I especially don’t want to be wasteful when we have limited access to food. Make a list of the things that will go bad if you don’t eat them. Some of these things can be cooked and stored for later, some can be frozen, and some need to be consumed before they go bad. This will be a good starting point for building meals.
Next, note what you have on-hand that you can use to build out meals. Fresh food first, then other items.
Once you have your ingredients in front of you, you can start to build out your meal idea list. If you don’t have a lot of cooking experience, start simple. Grilled or baked meals are very easy to learn (basic formula: season well and get your heat level right). Pinterest can help with ideas, or you can ask friends or family what their favorite recipes are.
I like listing all of my meal ideas before committing them to dates for 2 reasons: 1, under normal circumstances, I would put easier meals or meals I can prep ahead of time on nights that we are more busy, and more complex meals on our lighter nights; and 2, I like to break up similar foods or flavors.
Once my meal ideas are ready, I add them to days, and I’m ready! I also usually hold off on the last couple of days of the week in case I need to make changes, or if we end up pushing meals back and eating leftovers.
I generally try to bulk cook and save the rest for leftovers. My favorite containers for the freezer are these deli containers, and any leftovers I’m going to eat without freezing, I store in these glass containers.
Once you have your plan, don’t be afraid to adjust if necessary! I usually have to bump a couple of meals each week if we decide to do leftovers or go out for dinner, but I’m sure now that we’re home more, I’ll be extra glad I planned everything out.