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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Surprise Meal Inspiration When Whittling Down the Fridge, Freezer, and Pantry

As I mentioned a little over a week ago, in early February, we decided to halt grocery shopping and use up as much as possible from our freezers (3) and fridges (2). It's actually been kind of fun to see what we have, then make something from it. It's also been great to have those "instant" meals of frozen leftovers. We did run out of milk last week, with no plans to buy more until March. As none of us rely heavily on milk for nutrition, this is no big deal. Whereas many households use cereal as a mainstay for breakfast, our family has always been happy to have alternate quick foods like banana bread or toast, which maybe supplemented with a slice of cheese or yogurt (while that lasted). I was going to say that we are also running low on fruit, until I began listing what we do have. We have a handful of tangerines, raisins, dried cranberries, dried prunes, bottled lemon juice, frozen blueberries, frozen blackberries, frozen plums, frozen cranberries, frozen orange zest, and frozen juice concentrate. I'd hardly say that is the same as "running out of fruit!" We also have a good amount of vegetables, in canned, frozen, and fresh forms.And, there is still meat in the freezer. The good news is that eating down the freezer is requiring us to use the pieces that no one has really wanted, such as the leftover turkey legs from Thanksgiving.

Despite still having quite a lot of food, just thinking that we're not grocery shopping for most of the month adds a suggestion to our subconscious that we are being deprived. In response, I have gone above and beyond what is called for to make sure my household feels that there is plenty of great food left. I have pulled out several boxes of snacky foods, such as crackers, granola bars, and pop-tarts. I moved the case of Cup Noodles to a front and center spot in the pantry. I made chocolate peanut clusters, 2 loaves of banana bread, roasted some raw almonds, boiled some eggs, and made more flat soda jello. My daughter made cereal-marshmallow squares (rice crispy treats with other cereal) and a blackberry pie. We were out of hot dog buns so I used corn tortillas and made hot dog taquitos to go with frozen sweet potato fries for dinner one night. Another night, I pulled frozen eggs and cooked yams from the freezer, plus 1  1/2 softening apples from the fridge to make a frittata, sweet potato casserole, and an apple and raisin crisp. When I was tempted to buy a chocolate treat for myself one afternoon, I came home and made a tiny batch of chocolate covered almonds, using chocolate chips and some of the roasted almonds.

Still, today and the next few days will prove to be the most challenging for meal and snack prep, as our supplies continue to dwindle. One freezer is now empty. Taking a quick survey of what's left, we've and made tentative plans for the week's meals. I found a block of turkey breakfast sausage and a bag of prunes to use in a breakfast for dinner meal tonight. My daughter will be making a pumpkin and chicken sausage soup along with another blackberry pie, all using frozen ingredients, for tomorrow night's dinner. Friday night, I'll make something Tex-Mex themed, using some frozen cornbread, frozen cooked beans, cheddar cheese, frozen canned tomatoes, onions, and seasonings. The amazing thing is that I think we could probably go another 10 days without shopping and still eat well.

We may have been mildly inconvenienced, but we accomplished a couple of significant goals. We used up foods that had been lingering for a long time and might have been thrown away at some point, due to the deterioration of food quality. We saved a lot of money on groceries this month, spending approximately $90 for February, which is about $130 under budget. We proved to ourselves that we don't need as much variety as we think we do. We found new possibilities for meals and snacks. Of course, we'll be happy to have our supplies replenished in early March. It is nice to get things cleaned out, every once in a while.

The message that I get from this experience is that most of us probably have a couple hundred dollars worth of food in storage. Should any difficult financial situation arise, most of us could live for several weeks without spending any money on food. It's like a little emergency savings account.


  1. Funny that you mentioned that feeling of deprivation you get when you decide to cut spending for awhile. My husband is a government worker and was off work during the shutdown. While it is an everyday thing for us to avoid making non-essential expenditures, I admit that I did feel deprived during that time period. We were financially fine, but it seemed unwise to me to spend any money that we didn't absolutely need to spend. It really brought home to me how important it is to approach finances from a positive mindset. I think you were wise to come up with ways to make your family feel "treated" and I did something similar during that time period.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I didn't realize that your husband had a gov't job. That must have been difficult for your family. We have a couple of friends at church who are also gov't workers and this was a stressful time for them, so I can imagine what it must've been like for you. I hope that the shutdown and all of its ripple effects is now over for your family.

  2. Lili--

    I'm getting hungry just reading about your meals and snacks. They sound good to me!

    I've been working off my stock of groceries a lot this month, as well, due to unexpected logistics, rather than a plan (so more like Kris' situation than yours.) I'm always interested how MUCH food I actually have in the house, and how long it can last beyond when you might first feel like "Oh, I'm out of ... x... and ought to go to the store." DS was saying the same thing during bad road and weather conditions at his place.

    As we all say here, it's a stimulating (and can be fun, too) exercise to evaluate your resources, and come up with something tasty, especially, as you said, when you're using things that weren't favored and/or when you are able to make use of something that might go bad and be waster otherwise.

    Tonight, I'm making Mexican for the hubby with things that need to be salvaged -- leftover boiled chicken, leftover brown rice, and three tortillas getting past their prime -- with a little chunk of cheddar cheese, half an onion, some parsley, the last bottle of taco sauce in the pantry, a last spoonful or two of plain yogurt, and some freeze-dried refried beans I keep for emergencies.

    Glad you folks did so well this month, and I'm sure you'll appreciate when you're able to expand the menu a little more in March.

    Take care-- Sara

    1. Hi Sara,
      It really is a comfort to find out that you have enough on hand to last for a while, isn't it? It sounds like you and your husband have been coming to the exact same conclusions that my household has. And the Mexican meal sounds delicious and would be welcome in our home, too!

    2. Hello, again, Lili--
      The rest of the Mexican dinner story is that I ended up only using two of the three tortillas the first night, and hubby only ate one of two mojado burritos. So, we actually stretched that same pool of ingredients, plus one orphaned chipotle sausage from the freezer, into a second dinner, with one leftover baked burrito and a new fresh-rolled one. Yummy! Hoooray! Sara

    3. That sounds like the dinner that just keeps on giving, Sara. Sounds tasty!

  3. All that dried fruit made me think of a hot fruit compote of some sort. That just sounds good to me right now. It must be the Michigan cold getting to me! Enjoy!

    We also have been doing a deliberate low-to-no-grocery rule the last couple of months. Amazing how much goodness can come from the freezer!


    1. Hi Alice,
      Some of the prunes turned into stewed prunes to go with dinner. I made this often when my kids were younger. We have an Italian prune tree in the yard and in years that I have had more time during harvest season, I have split and dried plums for days on end.

      I totally agree how much wonderful food can come from a freezer. My daughter made a delicious soup last night using Thanksgiving turkey, turkey breakfast sausage, cooked pumpkin, some onions, and ham stock, with almost all of the ingredients coming from the freezer.

  4. Every once in a while, I try to not buy anything and just use what's on hand. I enjoy the challenge. However, we do not have nearly as much on hand as you do so it can get pretty interesting when you're working with little more than a can of beans and some Jell-o. We usually have a little more to work with than that. That example was one time when we were moving across country and trying to use everything before the move.

    You know what I would be interested in? I would love to see how long you could go just using what you have in freezers and fridges and what you grow when the weather is warmer without buying anything except milk. I bet you could go for months. However, I don't think that fits into your plans. :)

    1. Hi live and learn,
      we sometimes talk about what we could grow, if some calamity befell us and we had to live off of what we could generate on our property. I'm not sure that would be doable in our climate and with all of the enormous evergreens blocking sunlight in our yard, but the thoughts have provided hours of entertainment for us. For now, our freezers and fridges really are looking more bare. I'm not sure there is more than a few weeks of food left in them. In the pantry, we do have some grains that would keep us from starving for about a month, along with about 3 cases of canned vegetables for interest. Oatmeal and canned corn casserole anyone?

      Canned beans and jello -- well if that is what someone has, then they won't starve at least. And when you are hungry, canned beans and jello probably taste delicious.

      When we had an interstate move many years ago, we tried to eat down everything we had, too. I remember making some pretty interesting things during those weeks. I needed to make a dessert to bring to my grandmother's one night, with very little sugar. I made an orange chiffon pie, using canned orange juice concentrate and about 2 tablespoons sugar folded into whipped egg whites for a filling. It wasn't the best dessert that I've ever made, but it was okay-enough. And my grandmother and cousins were so gracious. I knew the pie was just so-so, but they made me feel like I'd made something extraordinary.


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