Motivation for pantry challenge cooking is two-fold: to save money and get organized!
It can be hard to keep everything straight in a pantry, especially if you’ve had some items hanging out for a while (beans, jams – guilty!) The end of the week when the fridge is looking a little bare is the perfect time to make “clean out” meals as a way to challenge your cooking creativity in the kitchen. If you’re cooking and shopping on a food budget, this is also extra motivation to not overspend 🙂 You’ll be surprised how much you can pull together from what you already have, and how just a few small additions can make an interesting meal.
Plus, it will feel good to make more space and organize the pantry once you’re done! 🙂 Obviously, this is my favorite part! The first step to cleaning something out is to reduce the number of items, so the week before you clean out your pantry, use up as many ingredients as you can.
Some easy go-to meals that I can usually make with things on hand include fish salads, pasta dishes and rice bowls. If you have salad greens left, you can jazz them up with pantry staples. Nuts, dried fruit, pesto, canned tuna or salmon, sardines, hearts of palm, artichokes, and jars of olives are my go-tos. Greens + grains + garnish!
Here are some tips for inspiring you to “shop at home.”
Use up condiments, boxed goods, and canned food.
Inspiration can come in the form of flavored oils, vinegars, canned foods (fish, beans, salsa, soups) and pasta and grains. Jars of salsa make great crock-pot marinade. Beans make a great salad for any season! Pasta can be revitalized as minestrone soup in fall or winter. Or, get creative with sauces – I always keep a jar of good tomato sauce on hand! You can also make your own with crushed tomatoes, herbs, seasoning, and garlic.
Add fresh herbs and citrus.
Herbs like basil, dill, cilantro, whether dried or fresh, can bring a whole new dimension to a pantry dish. Try adding your favorite herbs into canned sauces or soups for more flavor, or a squeeze of fresh lemon into dishes made with pantry ingredients for a bright, fresh taste.
Stir Fry it!
Rice (or other grains like wheatberries) + veggies + protein can make for the easiest one-pan meals, and work great with leftovers. A peanut sauce is an easy good go-to for an Asian-inspired meal that works with almost any combination of veggies. Borrow some veggies from the freezer!
Spice it up.
Inventory your spice cabinet to see if there’s something you haven’t used in a while and try that as the basis of a meal. Curry powder, steak seasoning, or other pre-made spice blends are great bases for dishes. Mixing spices into yogurt is also an easy way to make a sauce or dip for veggies, salads, or proteins.
Mix sweet and savory.
This is a unique challenge, but one that can turn out well! If you have a lot of leftover jams or dried fruits, try a sweet and savory crock-pot recipe with pork or chicken. I also love to use jam in salad dressing!
What are your favorite ways to shop in your pantry?