Happy New Year! Yes, it's a new year and we're determined to get more intentional about spending less money, reducing our food waste, and becoming more self-reliant.
To kick things off we're taking part in a 2019 pantry and freezer challenge on Instagram (follow the Off Grid Life Instagram account for our latest meals and recipes).
I signed up at first because I thought it would motivate us (okay, me) to clean out our pantry and freezer. It's a 60-day challenge. So it's definitely challenging (ha-ha). Now I'm kind of obsessed with how much money we can save. And I'm looking for ways to grow/make more of our food indoors during the winter.
As it turns out, there are several advantages to taking part in a pantry challenge, a freezer challenge or both. Here's how we got organized for our pantry and freezer challenge, and a glimpse of our first week's meal plan. And here are five benefits to taking part in this kind of activity.
How We Got Organized for Our 2019 Pantry & Freezer Challenge
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Getting organized for this challenge wasn't hard, but it took some time.
Everyone's food organization and home layout are different. For example, we have two spots for frozen food. Our fridge freezer, and our back deck. We live at about 62 degrees north in Canada's Northwest Territories. It's very cold here in the winter. And our "pantry" is one wall of shelves in our battery room. These batteries store the energy that powers our home.
Here's how I prepared for the pantry challenge.
- Organized all the cans, boxes, and packages of pasta on the shelves in our battery room, and on the kitchen shelves. Turns out we have tons of tuna, canned tomatoes, and canned condensed soup.
- Listed these on a new document on Evernote. This is a free app on my laptop and phone.
- Pulled everything out of our freezer. Then tossed the freezer-burned hot dog and hamburger buns that were stuck at the bottom of the freezer drawer...along with some melted grape popsicles (gross).
- Listed all the freezer items by category: frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, fish, beef, pork, ptarmigan, caribou, venison, poultry. Lots of bags of frozen raspberries and cranberries from our foraging days this past summer.
- Brought in all the boxes of frozen food from the shelves out on our deck. These included freezer meals I had made but lost track of. Things like meat sauce, frozen pasta dishes, and homemade chicken broth.
- Added these items to my master freezer list.
- After we put everything away, I sat down with a cup of tea and reviewed the list to start planning our meals for the coming week.
5 Big Benefits to Taking Part in This Freezer Challenge
We're only on Day 12, but here's how we're benefitting so far.
#1. Clears Out Old Food Items
What's in your pantry that's approaching its expiry date? In our house, it's a few soup cans and bottles of store-bought salad dressing. But I didn't know that until we did this challenge because I couldn't see them in our crowded pantry shelves.
The same goes for our frozen foods. I had no idea we had so much beef hiding at the back of our freezer. And frozen pike! We counted 8 freezer bags with 5 pike fillets in each.
When you can see what you have, you're more likely to use it.
#2. This Freezer Challenge is Saving Us Money!
Yup, a TON of money. True, we're only on Day 12 of the 60 days, but so far we've only purchased dairy (milk), eggs, and toilet paper. And I was reluctant about buying toilet paper. But when I mentioned reusable cloth toilet paper our family conversation was brief. And quite loud.
So Dan bought toilet paper on sale.
Going forward, we're committed to keeping our weekly grocery purchases to just dairy and eggs, at least until our frozen and canned fruit and vegetables run out. Then we may add fresh produce. Which is really expensive up here!
Related: Off Grid Living Costs
#3. Forces Us Into Better Meal Planning
A really great benefit of a pantry challenge or a freezer challenge is that it forces you to think ahead when planning your family meals. I review our pantry supply list and freezer inventory. And I think about our family activities during the coming week. Sometimes we aren't home for dinner due to kids' activities in town. So I plan around it.
Here's how I start our meal planning. We like fish on Fridays, and a traditional Sunday dinner with homemade dessert. The two days during the week when some of us are away at dinner time I plan to eat leftovers or a soup or stew that can simmer on the wood stove or in the slow cooker.
#4. Minimizes Waste
I love leftovers. Mostly because it saves money. But they also save a lot of work at dinner time. As a homeschooling work-at-home mom, I appreciate that.
One thing I'm really noticing with this pantry and freezer challenge is how much it's reducing our food waste. We're more mindful about using things up. And as we live pretty far out of town, we don't have garbage pickup. We must haul our garbage to the dump. And pay to dump it.
We've been composting for several years, so we have little food waste anyways. But we're cooking more from scratch now, so there's less packaging waste. And that's a really great thing.
#5. Encourages Growing Your Own Food
When we started making lists of our pantry items and freezer foods, I noticed something. We didn't have a lot of fruit or vegetables. And that's mostly because we buy fresh produce each week.
But it's really expensive. So this past week we returned to something we used to do each winter. We planted lettuce indoors. And we also planted more parsley, chives, and basil.
We have two grow lights up in our kitchen. At the moment we have hot peppers under them. We use an AeroGarden for our herbs. We found that it takes 26 watts to run, and that's fine with our off grid power system.
Yesterday we planted lettuce in egg cartons and placed them around the AeroGarden. As we move the light stand up (the back arm is adjustable), the light spreads out over the lettuce. Hopefully, in about five weeks we'll have fresh lettuce from these seeds. We'll plant more next week and the week after that. We'll save money on food. And it was a good homeschool science lesson too.
What We Ate For The First 12 Days of Our 2019 Freezer and Pantry Challenge
This is what we've had for our meals for the past week. Most lunches are leftovers, grilled cheese sandwiches, or PB & J sandwiches.
Breakfast: cereal (Saturday is our sugary cereal morning. I don't approve of most sugary cereals, but I'm outnumbered. So having it once a week is our compromise. And I've been known to have a bowl of frosted Mini-Wheats every now and then).
Dinner: Sausage Lentil Soup with Homemade Buns
Breakfast: pancakes and bacon with strawberries (from the freezer)
Dinner: slow-cooked sirloin tipped roast with mashed potatoes and carrots and peas, homemade gingerbread
Breakfast: leftover pancakes with canned pineapple
Dinner: leftover sausage kale soup from Saturday and finished up the gingerbread
Breakfast: baked oatmeal with maple syrup and applesauce
Dinner: beef barley stew made with leftover mashed potatoes and roast from Sunday, homemade bread
Breakfast: homemade bread and smoothies
Breakfast: baked oatmeal with maple syrup, smoothies
Breakfast: porridge and eggs and applesauce
Dinner: Tuna Casserole (recipe and pics on Instagram and our Facebook page)
Dinner: homemade chilli and homemade fresh bread
Next week I'll talk about our meal plan more, and maybe add the free printable meal plan template I use if anyone is interested. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook or Instagram to see what we're eating during the week.
There's nothing like an old-fashioned competition to motivate me to get things done. And in the end, if we save money, get to try some new recipes, and learn a few new skills, I'll feel like we've won. How about you? What's in your pantry or freezer that you could make into a meal today?