We overdid it. We set a limit for eating out on our budget app and we went over…again. I could point the finger at summer activities and travel but I should really be looking at the three fingers pointing back at me and MY habits and MY need for convenience.
Feeding children during the summer is a challenge. There are only so many sandwich days one can take before the thought of another meal with white bread stuck to the roof of your mouth will make you sick.
My will is more fleeting than those promos for 50 cent ice cream. Also, my coupon book (which I hadn’t touched all winter) has so many BOGO deals that I just have to take advantage, right? But the purchases became frequent and now I’m in a self-prescribed restaurant fast. It’s time to delve deep into the abyss of a place no husband has gone before.
Your Pantry: A Stockpile of Reality Right in Your Face
Your refrigerator gets all the attention. It’s too cool to ignore (guffaw). We panic when milk is low or if there is only one mozzarella stick to split between siblings. Your freezer is in the supporting role, providing steamable veggies, oven fries, veggie burgers, and last year’s catch of fish which (fishwich?) you should probably throw out.
Your pantry, however, is the land of the misfit side dishes. There are single soup cans for hot dishes that require double the amount. There are drink mixes that seemed so convenient until you had to stir them in again. There are cake mixes that you don’t dare make because you will have no self control.
It’s time to let those dusty boxes of crackers shine! I promise, that was not a metaphor.
Step One: Find the Starches
A basic meal for a family consists of three things: a starch, a protein, and a vegetable. Set your starches aside. What do you have?
Can you see the possibilities yet? I would bet my last french fry that you forgot you had some of these. That reminds me…check those expiration dates.
Step Two: Identify Your Proteins
If you are like me, you have meat in your freezer. I, personally, am not a meat eater but my children are and I feed them; ergo we have meat. We bought a portion of a cow last year and so have a backstock of ground beef in our deep freezer. Thankfully, we also have some chicken. As for my meals, I’ll use chickpeas, refried beans, and a few packages of veggie patties.
As an added note, remember that dairy and dairy substitutes have protein in them. If you go a few nights without meat, your family is going to be fine. You can make a heck of a meal with milky sauces which brings me to…
Step Three: Your Sauces, Marinades, and Spices
Before you get too excited, check those expiration dates. Then, before you get too depressed at what you have left, try the following links for sauce ideas. If you are still struggling, you can always make a sauce or marinade based in soy sauce, brown sugar, oil, and vinegar. It’s so easy it’s almost insane you haven’t tried it yet.
Other Easy Sauces
Step Four: Add Your Vegetables
You can’t go a few weeks without vegetables without risking scurvy. I think that’s true anyways. You can look it up. In any case, if you don’t have a garden in your yard and you are running out of frozen vegetables, you have leave to buy some fresh vegetables. This could be a chance for you to check out a local farmers’ market.
Finally, a Crazy-Easy Way to Find Recipes for What You Have
I came upon this site that lets you put everything you have on hand in and it generates recipes that rely on only those ingredients. Once I put all I could recall into their checklist of items, the search generated 1,275 recipes. The site is SuperCook
I’ll be checking in again in a few weeks to tell you how my pantry-shopping experiment went. Hopefully, the meals will win over some pickier eaters in my family. I imagine we’ll still have our share of sandwich and free-event hot dog nights but I’m taking this as an opportunity to save some money and get creative.