A few months ago, I peeked in our pantry and freezer to take stock of what we had before hitting the store. What I found shocked me.
I don’t know when or why it happened, but both spots were bulging at the seams.
In the freezer, I had accumulated frozen vegetables galore, frozen blueberries leftover from summer, and some random prepared foods (mostly breakfast stuff and veggie burgers). In my wall pantry, I had all kinds of random ingredients – things like bread crumbs, pickles, crackers, dip mixes, and potato chips. In my Lazy Susan, I had even more stuff: cans of vegetables and beans, boxes of mac-n-cheese, and like eight boxes of pasta and six jars of spaghetti sauce!
I had to ask myself why I was going to the store when I obviously had so much food already. I mean, I easily had enough food for two weeks or longer.
So, instead of heading to the store, I did something else – I sat down and made a list of everything we had, down to jars of jelly and condiments. Once I created a master food list, I decided that, after one last trip for last-minute stuff, I would figure out a way to use up the bulk of our existing groceries and avoid the store for a few weeks.
The Food Freeze
Not shopping for a few weeks was going to have financial and practical benefits, I thought. First, not shopping for food would obviously save us money. Since I generally spend $125 to $150 per week on groceries for our family of four, not visiting the store for two weeks would theoretically save $250 at the very least.
Another reason to eat up our food surplus? Avoiding waste. I hate throwing away food, so it was about time I took inventory of what we had and put it to good use. To me, throwing away food is like throwing away money! It rarely happens in our house, but I feel physical pain when a sack of salad hits the trash.
The only problem with avoiding the store was getting bread and milk. I solved that problem by vowing to visit the store just once over a two-week period to buy those important staples. My kids drink regular milk with dinner and use it on their cereal every morning, and they need bread for school lunches. No matter what, there wasn’t much I could do to avoid the inevitability of visiting the store for these perishable items.
Once we worked out those initial details, we set out to avoid the store completely for what ended up being longer than two weeks. Here’s how we did it:
We made soups!
By and large, one of the easiest ways to use up ingredients is to make soup. Trent has written about his love of frugal soups and stews on The Simple Dollar numerous times, and I’ve found making soup really is one of the best ways to create a meal with almost anything.
Using ingredients in our pantry and freezer, we made vegetable soup one week and vegetarian chili the next week. With a surplus of frozen vegetables in stock, this part was easy. We had these soups for dinner several times, then ate the leftovers at lunch. I even froze some extra chili we had because I made too much.
We got creative with ingredients.
Because some of the new recipes I found online required ingredients I didn’t want to go out and buy, we had to get creative using the “stuff” we had on hand. I made spicy bean tacos with refried beans instead of black beans, for example. I also used sliced American cheese (kinda gross, but it was fine) for any recipe that called for cheese, because that’s all we had.
The kids and husband didn’t seem to notice or care, and it was fine with me. Best of all, it forced me to use some ingredients that had been lingering in my pantry (that old can of refried beans only had a few more months of shelf life, for example).
We were intentional when it comes to menu planning.
The key to making it work was less about “making do” and more about being intentional. With a list of ingredients on hand, it was a lot easier to decide what to eat using the food we already had.
I like to play around on several websites that give you recipe ideas based on the random ingredients you enter. Whether you’re enduring a food freeze or not, these websites can be a lot of fun. MyFridgeFood.com is probably my favorite. After you log in, you just have to input the ingredients you have to get access to a ton of recipes that would actually work for that combination. MyFridgeFood doesn’t always offer the best recipes, but it is easy to use. Even better, it’s free!
We all ate stuff we didn’t want to eat.
You know how to get rid of eight boxes of spaghetti and seven jars of spaghetti sauce? You eat spaghetti – and lots of it. This part wasn’t fun, but it needed to be done.
I started with the jars of sauce that were the oldest, then made spaghetti on three different nights. Each night, I added a different frozen vegetable to switch things up.
While I like to make my own spaghetti sauce when I have time, our pasta surplus exists because I use spaghetti as part of my emergency food fund. The good news is, I saved the last few jars and boxes of pasta for the busy nights where I don’t have time to make anything fancy.
Two Weeks Without Groceries: The Results
Over the course of two-and-a-half weeks, I only visited the grocery store once. During that visit, I picked up two loaves of bread, a gallon of milk, and nothing else.
Better yet, we made a huge dent in our existing food surplus. We didn’t eat everything we had by a long shot, but we made considerable headway. As icing on the cake, we only spent $250 on food during the entire month.
While the experience wasn’t exactly fun, I would do it again. And honestly, the entire hassle reminded me to be more intentional and mindful of how we spend our money at the grocery store. Even though our grocery store bill is small (around $600 per month) most of the time, we have the potential to spend even less if we make mindful decisions about what’s for dinner every night.
Food is a big component of anyone’s budget, but it becomes a lot more expensive when we’re wasteful. The best way to avoid waste is to pay attention to what you have already – and use it.
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- Our Family’s Eight Favorite Slow Cooker Recipes
Do you ever avoid the store and eat what you already have instead? How does your family survive a food freeze?