2020 and 2021 thus far have taught us many things. Prepare for the worst. Stock up your pantry. Hunker down. Wash your hands, keep your distance and make your own meals. Because of this, our kitchen cabinets, cupboards and pantries are full of more canned and dried goods than we know what to do with—and, unfortunately, most of them only last one year past their expiry date.
In one survey of Canadians in March 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, 45% of respondents shopped for groceries that would last them between one and two weeks. Some 9% more said that they bought enough food to last more than 30 days.
It’s easy to push our canned goods, sauces, spices, jarred jams, chutneys and pickles, teas, soups, grains, flours and cereals to the back of our cupboards and forget about them until they’re ancient and ready for the landfill. It takes work and conscious effort to do the opposite—and avoid the cost (to our wallets but, more significantly, the planet) of unnecessary food waste.
Get reinspired by your pantry!
Here are tips and recipes ideas to help get you inspired to eat your way through your pantry.
How to Get Inspired By Your Pantry—and Curb Food Waste
Inspired Pantry Tip: Organize, Inventory and Purge
Knowing what you’re working with is the first step in curbing your food waste and finding new inspiration in your pantry ingredients. Dig around, pull everything out, get rid of (compost and recycle!) long-since-expired goods (use our blog post on everything you need to know about best-before dates as a guide). Consider what you have.
Is there a better way to store your canned and dried goods so that you can see them (and actually use them)? Organize your cupboards and pantry in a way that works for you. If nothing else, doing an inventory will remind you of what you bought and should eat. But, it may even inspire you.
Inspired Pantry Tip: Up Your Cookbook and Recipe Game
Spend some time leafing through your favourite cookbooks or looking at blogs or websites for recipes. If you’re not finding inspiration or getting hungry from what you’re looking at, maybe you’re searching for recipes in the wrong places. A world of recipes is at your fingertips.
Foodgawker or Epicurious are great places to look up specific ingredients and find recipe ideas. Bon Appetit and NYT Cooking may inspire you—and they both have recipes for specific pantry ingredients. Pair your non-perishable goods, such as dried and canned items, with perishable goods to add extra nutritional value to your meals. For example, warmed-up canned butter beans taste delicious with a splash of olive oil (for extra fat and omegas), coarse salt, pepper and lemon zest (for vitamin C).
Brainstorming Recipe Ideas for Pantries Full of Beans
Speaking of beans, do you have canned or dried beans that need eating?
What about making homemade baked beans? Soak dried beans overnight and cook them all day on the weekend or if you’re working from home. Or, use up your canned tomatoes, beans, corn and spices in a batch of chili. Here’s an NYT Cooking post on 19 Great Chili Recipes for inspiration. Beans are also great on salads, as a traditional side with eggs and toast in the morning, or added to soups. If you have sausage, why not make a white bean, sausage and kale soup or a bean and smoky sausage stew?
Beans aside, every pantry ingredient has thousands of recipes featuring them. Who knows, you may even find that you enjoy trying new recipes and spending time cooking at home.
Inspired Pantry Tip: Plan and Shop Ahead
Planning ahead is the single most important thing that you can do to curb food waste while creating inspired meals based on what’s in your pantry.
If you know that you want to use up your dried pasta and canned tomatoes, for instance, then research a few recipes, such as this delicious-looking creamy tomato pasta or Bon Appetit’s 43 Tomato Sauce Recipes for All Your Pasta-Adjacent Needs. Get inspired, make a list of missing ingredients and shop before the night-of. This simple step requires planning ahead but means that you’re more likely to make that dish instead of giving up and ordering in (or eating something uninspired).
In the restaurant industry, what is often overlooked is the fact that chefs must use what they have and buy only what they need. That is how a well-run kitchen functions. It is also the art of the pantry: using what you have and buying only what you need.
What we’ve seen today is that using up what’s in your pantry doesn’t have to be dull, boring or uninspired!