A recent guest post over at the Money Saving Mom blog poses an “Eat From the Pantry Challenge”. The author wants to eat through her pantry, freezer, and cupboard foods instead of going to a grocery store for an entire month! The idea is that instead of rushing out to the store for specific ingredients, you can find substitutes within your own stockpiles of food.
While this may sound extreme to some, I suggest grocery shopping every other week instead of every week as an excellent money-saving strategy. Paul and I started this about 7 months ago, and we save approximately $100-$160 a month from when we used to shop each week. Why is that? This is due to less opportunities and temptations to spend money, a conscious effort on our part to make sure we stick to our every-other-week schedule (and thus plan out our meals a bit better than we were doing before), and creatively substituting ingredients with what we have at home versus running out to the store to purchase more items.
When I discussed this seven months ago, I had a question from a reader as to how we can grocery shop every other week but still have plenty of fruits and vegetables for both of those weeks. Since some of you may be interested in doing this pantry challenge, or at least in trying to scale back the number of grocery store trips you make, I thought it would be a great opportunity to discuss this.
I have been observing our consumption of fruits and vegetables over the last several months and it turns out that we have a fairly good system in place for making these food groups last in between our grocery store and farmer market visits.
I chose an example from September of last year (mainly because I saved the receipt from this particular trip to the market), and this should give you an idea of how to have fresh fruits and vegetables for both weeks in between your grocery trips. During this shopping trip to the farmer market (located in Alvin, Texas), we bought the following items for $23: 1 cantaloupe, 5 lemons, 2 avocados, 1 red onion, 3 large potatoes, several small red potatoes, 3 tomatoes, 1Romaine Lettuce bunch, 1 bag of spinach, cilantro, green chives, 4 peaches, 2 bananas, 1 mango,1 eggplant, 2 quarts of strawberries, 1 lb. red grapes, 1 red bell pepper, 3 green bell peppers, two heads of broccoli, 1 bag of carrots, 1 butternut squash, two apples, and 1 nectarine.
In the first few days we gobbled down the following: bananas, peaches, and strawberries. These fruits are always the first to spoil. Then we began to use up the green peppers, made some eggplant parmesan, used some of the cilantro and chives in cooking, and took the red grapes to lunch. We made a salad with the romaine lettuce and spinach in equal parts to make the romaine lettuce last longer (plus spinach is just so healthy for you).
For the next week, I made guacamole because the avocados were ripe and the red onion and cilantro were still good. Paul made his chive smashed potatoes and rosemary roasted red potatoes for side dishes to meals, we used the lemons in our iced tea as well as in a lemon-parmesan chicken dish, we had two side salads of romaine lettuce and spinach with olive oil and apple cider vinegar, and I tried the nectarine (it’s true; I have managed to live 27 years without trying a nectarine). We used the red bell pepper in fajitas, and made scalloped carrots and chives and carrots as side dishes to meals. Then I took the butternut squash and made butternut squash mac’n’cheese. I chopped the rest of it, roasted it, and then put it in the freezer for the next time I want to make butternut squash risotto. Finally, we chopped up the cantaloupe which was still good, and took that in lunches along with the last of the red grapes (though some had gone sour by the second week). We were also able to slice up the apples and pair them with peanut butter for lunches. For a Friday night meal I made a homemade pizza crust with tomato sauce, garlic, tomato slices, red bell pepper slices, broccoli, and lots of cheese.
At the end of these two weeks, we were still left with a few potatoes, carrots, a lemon, cilantro/chives, a tomato, and some onions. The mango spoiled before we were able to use it.
As you can see, some fruits and vegetables need to be eaten right away, while others can last two weeks, (and some can last longer than that). Here is a chart showing which vegetables and fruits, from our experience, can be eaten in weeks one and two:
|Item||Week One||Week Two|
|Cantaloupe (purchase slightly ripe)||X||X|
|Avocados (purchase slightly ripe)||X||X|
|Red/green bell peppers||X||X|
Something that we could use more of, and that tends to wilt mid-way through the last week, is romaine lettuce. But I have found that by buying bagged spinach and mixing the two together, we can get more servings of greens. If one wilts before the other, there is still some sort of greens to make a salad with.
How often do you grocery shop in your household? Have you ever done a similar “pantry challenge”, and how long were you able to last before going to a store?