Saturday, July 19, 2008

Shop Your Pantry

I've run across the injunction on several financial/frugal blogs to "shop your closet" instead of going shopping for new clothes. I'm not a clothes horse and but for one brief period in my life, I've never had much urge to buy fancy or expensive clothes. I wear casual, functional stuff. So controlling my wardrobe expenses has never really been a challenge for me.

But I realized that while I've been pursuing the monthly $50 Grocery Challenge, I've been shopping my pantry a lot. I've posted before about how to stock a pantry so that it serves as a springboard for a huge variety of meals. Well, now I'm taking full advantage of that. One way to look at this is that I'm cheating on my own challenge because I'm just using up stuff I've stockpiled. That was especially true in the first month, when I blew through a lot of our favorite shelf stable foods. But another way of looking at it is that we're making a concerted effort to reap the benefit of money we've already spent and to reduce waste. Is it an exercise in spending less, or an exercise in cleaning out the pantry? It's a bit of both, I suppose.

It's been a challenge to find uses for some things, particularly jars of spicy condiments. But it's also been very satisfying to come up with great meals that use up what we have in the pantry. Of course, right now we have the bounty of our garden produce. So we're also shopping the garden.

It seems like there's been a fairly significant shift in my thought process around cooking. Instead of sitting back and exploring my own cravings and whims as a starting point for meal preparation, the first thing I do now is take a look at either the garden or the pantry to see what's available. In fact, with the garden it's not so much what's available as what really needs to be eaten.

It may sound as though this stifles creativity, but it really isn't so. In fact, my creativity gets more of a work out when I try hard to come up with something new to do with cabbage, zucchini, or whatever we have in abundance. Creativity is an invaluable skill for anyone who wants to live a more frugal life, and not just in the kitchen but in almost all areas.

If anything, my impulsiveness is what gets stifled. It may be true that we limit our choices somewhat by imposing the requirement of eating what is fresh and in season in our own garden, or of building a meal around something out of the pantry. There's ample compensation though in the high quality of the food. What could be better than a meal of fresh, perfectly ripe garden produce? The satisfaction of eating what we've gone to such efforts to grow is enormous. Even building a frugal meal around pantry items gives me a sense of satisfaction in not letting anything go to waste. For me, that's more than enough to compensate me for not following a culinary whim that would necessitate a special trip to the grocery store.


Anonymous said...

I think it makes a lot of sense to live out of your pantry. A lot of us have food in there that's been sitting since who-knows-when and needs to get used up. I have a very, VERY small pantry, but this still happens to me to some extent. In fact, I went grocery shopping for the second half of the month, and was proud of myself for staying under my $90 budget. When I got home to put the stuff away, I realized I didn't even need to spend as much as I did, given the amount of food we already sitting around.

Kate said...

That happens to me all the time - realizing I didn't need to buy as much as I did because I already have stuff stashed away. With this challenge, it's happening less though. My pantry is pretty large, and our chest freezer is mostly full at all times. So it's not like we're going to run out of stuff to eat without the pantry getting to look awfully bare, or the freezer awfully empty.