Even though I no longer live paycheck-to-paycheck, I hate seeing how much food my family wastes every week.
With the rising cost of groceries, I decided to put an end to the constant supply of stale bread, expired salad dressings and spoiled cheeses that end up in the trash can every week.
A friend told me to try the "pantry challenge" as a way to beat food inflation. The idea is to make sure you use everything in your refrigerator, freezer and pantry before the items need to be thrown out.
Included on my list were the leftovers or "doggie bags" from restaurants.
Taking inventory of the goods
My first step was to clear out all of the expired items so I could make a fresh start. The key was to get everything clearly labeled and arranged so that I'd notice what I already have.
I created a color-coding system with stickers to identify whether items have to be eaten soon or not. I used red stickers for items that have a long shelf life, yellow stickers for items that need to be eaten within a week and green stickers for items that should be consumed within one or two days.
After getting organized, I made a grocery list based on recipes. I also surveyed everyone in the house to find out what they wanted to eat for the next week.
Making sure everything gets used
When I noticed the bananas were starting to get ripe, I frozen them for future smoothies or used them to make banana bread. Instead of tossing the bread or pouring out the almost-too-old milk at the end of the week, I make French toast that I served for breakfast. The leftover French toast went into the freezer instead of down the garbage disposal.
I used the less desirable produce for juicing. Anything that could be composted was thrown in the compost bin for my gardening.
Eating leftovers from restaurants
In the past, most of the leftover restaurant food was thrown away. But during my one-week pantry challenge, I encouraged everyone in my family to actually eat their leftovers the next day. My son found out he really didn't mind eating leftover pizza as long as he baked it in the oven to make it crispy. I discovered I liked my leftover salads better if I ordered the dressing on the side and didn't pour it all over the lettuce.
Although it was difficult to figure out exactly how much money we saved with our pantry challenge, I estimate we saved $100 in the week. That's the amount of money it would have cost to pay for our lunches that we would have bought had we not eaten our restaurant leftovers as well as the meals, desserts, stews and breads I made with produce and ingredients I'd typically toss toward the end of the week.
If any "freegans" go dumpster diving in my garbage can they will be disappointed by what they find. It will be slim picking since we successfully completed our pantry challenge.
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