Fri. Aug 23rd, 2019

How One Household Accepted — and Survived — the Pantry Problem

When my editor referred to as me on the final day of my trip to ask me to tackle a Pantry Problem, my first thought was: I want I had gone grocery procuring first.

However then, the place would the problem be in that?

When you’re unfamiliar with it, a Pantry Problem requires you to make use of what’s in your cabinet (and fridge and freezer) to create meals for one week. The one rule: no shopping for.

When you’re like my household, you usually choose up particular elements for a recipe, however don’t essentially use all of them. You neglect in regards to the meals, leaving it to languish behind the fridge till in the future, it’s grown sufficient mildew to qualify as your daughter’s science mission.

Then when it comes supper time, you default to stopping by the shop for extra elements or worse, ordering takeout. Neither choice is nice for the finances, and you find yourself losing meals.

Simply us?

My husband, Chris, frequently cooks a scrumptious dinner — my culinary abilities are principally restricted to chopping greens and reheating leftovers — so I figured we may settle for a five-day pantry problem with out a lot hassle. (I received to skip the weekend portion because of the story’s deadline.)

I introduced our participation within the Pantry Problem to Chris and our 10-year-old daughter, Gwen, Monday night. Though neither appeared significantly excited, they humored me.

How the Pantry Problem Works

Meal prepping is an integral part of the Pantry Problem, because you’ll have to plan your meals utilizing recent produce earlier than it goes dangerous and saving objects like a frozen pizza for a break-in-case-of-emergency dinner.

So after I talked to my editor, I shopped our fridge and pantry for inspiration.

Inspiration shortly turned to perspiration as I noticed we had no frozen pizza. Or eggs. Or apples. Or bread. Or gummy bears.

I regarded on-line for recipes from individuals who’d accomplished the Problem earlier than me. One particular person recommended barbecuing banana peels.

What had I gotten us into?

We weren’t going to starve, however I did expertise a second of panic once I realized how little recent produce we had and the way gross it was turning earlier than my eyes. We have been going to should dig deep (within the freezer).

Right here’s the each day play-by-play of recipes we got here up with for creatively assembly the Problem.

Monday Dinner

We based mostly Monday night time’s dinner on the produce. We had some practically wilted lettuce, half a tomato and an inexplicable plethora of onions. That, together with the hamburger buns within the fridge had all of the makings of a burger night time. 

Sadly, we’d used the remaining floor turkey final week. However my husband discovered a bundle of Asian-flavored soy burgers he’d purchased months in the past throughout our ill-advised try at vegetarianism. With loads of ketchup, mustard and a leftover bottle of chipotle mayo, we determined they’d be one of the best companion for our paltry produce.

We additionally found a pair leftover candy potatoes from a bag we purchased for a stew weeks in the past. These candy potatoes weren’t getting any youthful, so Chris minimize across the less-than-desirable components, tossed them with somewhat olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika and baked them to a crisp.

And to ensure we didn’t waste something, I used up the remainder of the hen Caesar salad my daughter and I had break up for lunch. The croutons have been a bit soggy, but it surely was a simple approach so as to add further veggies to our meal.

Opinions: There’s a cause these burgers collected ice crystals behind our freezer. My daughter ate half the sandwich and some fries earlier than claiming she was “full.” She wasn’t. 


Right here’s the factor in regards to the Pantry Problem. Within the night, you’ve got time to collect objects and experiment, so cobbling collectively dinner out of your pantry is a bit simpler. 

However within the morning rush, once I was answerable for making lunches, the Pantry Problem turned extra of a Pantry Battle.

Breakfast was straightforward sufficient: We nonetheless had English muffins, bananas, frozen waffles and cereal. 

However usually once I pack our lunches, I take advantage of leftovers. And no person was consuming the unhappy, lonely veggie burger from final night time (besides perhaps the canine, whose palate is decidedly much less discerning). 

However my instructor husband and daughter have been headed to highschool to arrange his classroom and I used to be headed to the workplace, so we wanted to some type of subsistence.

I dug into the produce drawer and picked out the nice items from a bag of deteriorating spinach, topping them with a cucumber that was on its final legs. (It hadn’t actually grown legs. But.) To assist preserve our tummies full, I despatched alongside luggage of almonds, rice crackers and the final of the recent cherries. 

That coated greens, protein, carbs and fruits, so we’re good, proper?

Sadly, in my rush to pack lunches, I forgot to take the hen thighs out of the freezer to defrost within the fridge for dinner. 

Usually, that might have resulted in a visit to the grocery retailer for an alternate meal or perhaps takeout. However tonight, we simply delayed dinner a short time I discovered the best way to defrost stable hen thighs within the microwave. 

In case you have been questioning, it takes about 20 minutes for two lbs. of hen to defrost. And sure, they have been a bit rubbery, thanks for asking.

Chris cooked the thighs with a jar of Indian sauce (principally to cowl the rubberiness). Sometimes, we like to spice up the dish with a colourful array of peppers, however there have been no peppers to be discovered, so we settled for some chopped child carrots. 

Luckily, we’re nearly all the time stocked on rice, so we cooked further to make sure we’d have sufficient for our lunches the subsequent day. We accomplished the meal with steamed frozen broccoli.

Opinions: Lunch was positively a bust — the “meals” I despatched with Chris and Gwen got here again half eaten. I think they might have situated pizza leftover from a workers assembly, however neither one was ratting out the opposite. Dinner was a much bigger success, and I used to be pleased with myself for sticking with the Problem and defrosting the hen reasonably than taking the lazy path to takeout.

Bonus: Who realized the marginally browning bananas may very well be minimize up and frozen for smoothies and snacks for the rest of the week? This mother!


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Wish to know the key to the Pantry Problem? Pasta.

Oh certain, there are different secrets and techniques — like frozen produce, dried beans and canned soups — however on the finish of the day, if you’re drained and hungry, pasta saves the day. Plus, you may make a ton of it without delay for simple leftovers.

And for a non-chef like myself, pasta is a godsend as a result of you’ll be able to serve it a number of methods with out a lot culinary wizardry. 

I can toss it with olive oil, recent basil and grated Parmesan cheese for a easy dish, with canned tomatoes, feta and olives for a Mediterranean aptitude or with canned tuna and cream of mushroom soup for a casserole. 

However I didn’t have half of these objects in my home.

As a substitute, I discovered an open jar of spaghetti sauce within the fridge that was leftover from final week when my husband had solely wanted a pair tablespoons for a recipe. Usually, the sauce may need sat behind the fridge till fuzz grew on the inside lid and we ended up tossing it. 

However tonight we may combine it with the meatless crumbles (once more, from our vegetarian try) and serve it over one of many many pastas in our pantry. 

We didn’t have any garlic bread in the home, however we did have the remainder of these hamburger buns from Monday’s dinner. We threw them within the toaster whereas I roasted a pair garlic cloves. We  combined the garlic with butter and dried oregano, then unfold it on the buns for a DIY garlic bread. 

For a aspect, I trotted out the frozen broccoli once more. (Creativity was shortly shedding out to “adequate” this week.)

Opinions: Who doesn’t love pasta with garlic bread? Solely somebody who doesn’t admire how fast and straightforward it’s, that’s who. Everyone in my home was blissful, and all people had lunch the subsequent day. 

A daughter holds a plate while her mother places fish on it.


We’d been holding onto the non-perishables lengthy sufficient. It was time to cook dinner up the frozen tilapia filets we had in our freezer. 

Chris got here house beat from provide dropoff day (aka summer-fueled children overrunning the college for 2 hours), so I wanted to choose up cooking duties. 

I enlisted Gwen’s assist since she’s watched so many cooking exhibits, I figured she was able to making ready a boeuf bourguignon. If we had these elements. Which we didn’t.

We baked the fish with a number of the pretend lemon juice from the fridge (as a result of no recent lemons), a half jar of capers and somewhat olive oil. 

I discovered a field of couscous that needed to have been a minimum of a 12 months outdated and served the fish over it with a aspect of — you guessed it — frozen greens.

Opinions: Though my daughter adopted the instructions and made an ideal couscous, it positively lacked the flavour of the model we now purchase, so she left most of it on her plate. The fish would have been improved with actual lemons, however everybody cleaned their plates, so I’m calling it a win.


Gwen was going over to grandma’s, who politely declined the leftover fish I provided for lunch. (Did it look that dangerous? At this level, I didn’t care as a result of my mother mentioned she’d care for Gwen’s lunch.)

That left Chris and I to forage for our personal meals, so we have been caught with random chips, crackers and people almonds once more. 

He had one other work assembly, so I figured he’d get fed. And I mentioned a silent prayer to the Penny Hoarder gods that the string cheese provide in our workplace fridge could be stocked right now. 

If I had thought forward, perhaps I may have defrosted the remaining pack of hen and cooked it once I awakened, however we have been all type of sick of the Problem by this level. Who knew discovering meals in your house may very well be so exhausting?

Opinions: No one was very blissful right now till my mother carried out a miracle by calling to ask if we wished to come back over for dinner that night time. It’s free, in order that counts, proper? 

To be sincere, we may have technically made it by means of your entire Problem. We nonetheless had these frozen hen breasts and sufficient pasta to outlive for fairly a while. The dearth of recent produce positively was the most important hurdle for us, however the Problem did assist us understand how a lot forgotten meals we had within the cabinet. 

Bonus: This Problem gave me an excuse to scrub out the fridge.

Cash saved: The most effective information is that we saved a minimum of $150 by skipping our grocery run, random ingredient pickups and inevitable takeout night time. (And that doesn’t even embody the cash wasted on meals we would have let spoil and needed to toss.) We determined to make use of somewhat of that financial savings to get pleasure from dinner out this weekend. Someplace with a salad bar.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a workers author/editor at The Penny Hoarder. She is grateful to her husband and daughter for being good sports activities. Learn her bio and different work right here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.

This was initially revealed on The Penny Hoarder, which helps tens of millions of readers worldwide earn and get monetary savings by sharing distinctive job alternatives, private tales, freebies and extra. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder because the fastest-growing personal media firm within the U.S. in 2017.

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