Sun. Aug 25th, 2019

How One Household Accepted — and Survived — the Pantry Problem

When my editor referred to as me on the final day of my trip to ask me to tackle a Pantry Problem, my first thought was: I want I had gone grocery procuring first.

However then, the place would the problem be in that?

For those who’re unfamiliar with it, a Pantry Problem requires you to make use of what’s in your cabinet (and fridge and freezer) to create meals for one week. The one rule: no shopping for.

For those who’re like my household, you typically choose up particular substances for a recipe, however don’t essentially use all of them. You neglect concerning the meals, leaving it to languish at the back of the fridge till in the future, it’s grown sufficient mould to qualify as your daughter’s science challenge.

Then when it comes time for supper, you default to stopping by the shop for extra substances or worse, ordering takeout. Neither choice is nice for the price range, and you find yourself losing meals.

Simply us?

My husband, Chris, frequently cooks a scrumptious dinner — my culinary abilities are largely restricted to chopping greens and reheating leftovers — so I figured we might settle for a five-day pantry problem with out a lot hassle. (I received to skip the weekend portion as a result of story’s deadline.)

I introduced our participation within the Pantry Problem to Chris and our 10-year-old daughter, Gwen, Monday night. Though neither appeared notably excited, they humored me.

How the Pantry Problem Works

Meal prepping is a vital part of the Pantry Problem, because you’ll must plan your meals utilizing recent produce earlier than it goes dangerous and saving gadgets like a frozen pizza for a break-in-case-of-emergency dinner.

So after I talked to my editor, I shopped our fridge and pantry for inspiration.

Inspiration shortly turned to perspiration as I spotted we had no frozen pizza. Or eggs. Or apples. Or bread. Or gummy bears.

I regarded on-line for recipes from individuals who’d performed the Problem earlier than me. One particular person advised barbecuing banana peels.

What had I gotten us into?

We weren’t going to starve, however I did expertise a second of panic once I realized how little recent produce we had and the way gross it was turning earlier than my eyes. We had been going to must dig deep (within the freezer).

Right here’s the every day play-by-play of recipes we got here up with for creatively assembly the Problem.

A family eats dinner in their home.

Tiffany, Gwen and Chris eat Thursday’s dinner. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Monday Dinner

We based mostly Monday evening’s dinner on the produce. We had some almost wilted lettuce, half a tomato and an inexplicable plethora of onions. That, together with the hamburger buns within the fridge had all of the makings of a burger evening. 

Sadly, we’d used the remaining floor turkey final week. However my husband discovered a bundle of Asian-flavored soy burgers he’d purchased months in the past throughout our ill-advised try at vegetarianism. With loads of ketchup, mustard and a leftover bottle of chipotle mayo, we determined they’d be the very best companion for our paltry produce.

We additionally found a pair leftover candy potatoes from a bag we purchased for a stew weeks in the past. These candy potatoes weren’t getting any youthful, so Chris lower across the less-than-desirable elements, tossed them with a bit olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika and baked them to a crisp.

And to verify we didn’t waste something, I used up the remainder of the rooster Caesar salad my daughter and I had cut up for lunch. The croutons had been a bit soggy, nevertheless it was a straightforward approach so as to add further veggies to our meal.

Critiques: There’s a motive these burgers collected ice crystals at the back of our freezer. My daughter ate half the sandwich and some fries earlier than claiming she was “full.” She wasn’t. 


Right here’s the factor concerning the Pantry Problem. Within the night, you could have time to assemble gadgets and experiment, so cobbling collectively dinner out of your pantry is a bit simpler. 

However within the morning rush, once I was in control of making lunches, the Pantry Problem grew to become extra of a Pantry Wrestle.

Breakfast was straightforward sufficient: We nonetheless had English muffins, bananas, frozen waffles and cereal. 

However typically once I pack our lunches, I exploit leftovers. And no person was consuming the unhappy, lonely veggie burger from final evening (besides perhaps the canine, whose palate is decidedly much less discerning). 

However my trainer husband and daughter had been headed to highschool to arrange his classroom and I used to be headed to the workplace, so we wanted to some form of subsistence.

I dug into the produce drawer and picked out the great items from a bag of deteriorating spinach, topping them with a cucumber that was on its final legs. (It hadn’t actually grown legs. But.) To assist hold our tummies full, I despatched alongside baggage of almonds, rice crackers and the final of the recent cherries. 

That coated greens, protein, carbs and fruits, so we’re good, proper?

Sadly, in my rush to pack lunches, I forgot to take the rooster thighs out of the freezer to defrost within the fridge for dinner. 

Usually, that may have resulted in a visit to the grocery retailer for another meal or perhaps takeout. However tonight, we simply delayed dinner a short while I found out easy methods to defrost stable rooster thighs within the microwave. 

In case you had been questioning, it takes about 20 minutes for two lbs. of rooster to defrost. And sure, they had been a bit rubbery, thanks for asking.

Chris cooked the thighs with a jar of Indian sauce (largely to cowl the rubberiness). Usually, we like to spice up the dish with a colourful array of peppers, however there have been no peppers to be discovered, so we settled for some chopped child carrots. 

Thankfully, we’re nearly at all times stocked on rice, so we cooked further to make sure we’d have sufficient for our lunches the subsequent day. We accomplished the meal with steamed frozen broccoli.

Critiques: Lunch was undoubtedly a bust — the “meals” I despatched with Chris and Gwen got here again half eaten. I believe they could have situated pizza leftover from a employees assembly, however neither one was ratting out the opposite. Dinner was a much bigger success, and I used to be pleased with myself for sticking with the Problem and defrosting the rooster slightly than taking the lazy path to takeout.

Bonus: Who realized the marginally browning bananas may very well be lower up and frozen for smoothies and snacks for the rest of the week? This mother!


Wish to know the key to the Pantry Problem? Pasta.

Oh certain, there are different secrets and techniques — like frozen produce, dried beans and canned soups — however on the finish of the day, once you’re drained and hungry, pasta saves the day. Plus, you can also make a ton of it without delay for simple leftovers.

And for a non-chef like myself, pasta is a godsend as a result of you possibly can serve it a number of methods with out a lot culinary wizardry. 

I can toss it with olive oil, recent basil and grated Parmesan cheese for a easy dish, with canned tomatoes, feta and olives for a Mediterranean aptitude or with canned tuna and cream of mushroom soup for a casserole. 

However I didn’t have half of these gadgets in my home.

As an alternative, I discovered an open jar of spaghetti sauce within the fridge that was leftover from final week when my husband had solely wanted a pair tablespoons for a recipe. Usually, the sauce may need sat at the back of the fridge till fuzz grew on the internal lid and we ended up tossing it. 

However tonight we might combine it with the meatless crumbles (once more, from our vegetarian try) and serve it over one of many many pastas in our pantry. 

We didn’t have any garlic bread in the home, however we did have the remainder of these hamburger buns from Monday’s dinner. We threw them within the toaster whereas I roasted a pair garlic cloves. We  blended the garlic with butter and dried oregano, then unfold it on the buns for a DIY garlic bread. 

For a facet, I trotted out the frozen broccoli once more. (Creativity was shortly shedding out to “ok” this week.)

Critiques: Who doesn’t love pasta with garlic bread? Solely somebody who doesn’t respect how fast and straightforward it’s, that’s who. All people in my home was glad, and everyone had lunch the subsequent day. 

A daughter holds a plate while her mother places fish on it.

Thursday’s dinner: baked tilapia, steamed greens and couscous. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder


We’d been holding onto the non-perishables lengthy sufficient. It was time to cook dinner up the frozen tilapia filets we had in our freezer. 

Chris got here dwelling beat from provide dropoff day (aka summer-fueled youngsters overrunning the college for 2 hours), so I wanted to choose up cooking duties. 

I enlisted Gwen’s assist since she’s watched so many cooking exhibits, I figured she was able to getting ready a boeuf bourguignon. If we had these substances. Which we didn’t.

We baked the fish with among the faux lemon juice from the fridge (as a result of no recent lemons), a half jar of capers and a bit olive oil. 

I discovered a field of couscous that needed to have been no less than a yr previous and served the fish over it with a facet of — you guessed it — frozen greens.

Critiques: Though my daughter adopted the instructions and made an ideal couscous, it undoubtedly lacked the flavour of the model we now purchase, so she left most of it on her plate. The fish would have been improved with actual lemons, however everybody cleaned their plates, so I’m calling it a win.


Gwen was going over to grandma’s, who politely declined the leftover fish I supplied for lunch. (Did it look that dangerous? At this level, I didn’t care as a result of my mother stated she’d care for Gwen’s lunch.)

That left Chris and I to forage for our personal meals, so we had been caught with random chips, crackers and people almonds once more. 

He had one other work assembly, so I figured he’d get fed. And I stated a silent prayer to the Penny Hoarder gods that the string cheese provide in our workplace fridge could be stocked in the present day. 

If I had thought forward, perhaps I might have defrosted the remaining pack of rooster and cooked it once I wakened, however we had been all form of sick of the Problem by this level. Who knew discovering meals in your house may very well be so exhausting?

Critiques: No one was very glad in the present day till my mother carried out a miracle by calling to ask if we wished to come back over for dinner that evening. It’s free, in order that counts, proper? 

To be sincere, we might have technically made it by way of all the Problem. We nonetheless had these frozen rooster breasts and sufficient pasta to outlive for fairly a while. The shortage of recent produce undoubtedly was the most important hurdle for us, however the Problem did assist us notice how a lot forgotten meals we had within the cabinet. 

Bonus: This Problem gave me an excuse to wash out the fridge.

Cash saved: One of the best information is that we saved no less than $150 by skipping our grocery run, random ingredient pickups and inevitable takeout evening. (And that doesn’t even embrace the cash wasted on meals we’d have let spoil and needed to toss.) We determined to make use of a bit of that financial savings to take pleasure in dinner out this weekend. Someplace with a salad bar.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a employees author/editor at The Penny Hoarder. She is grateful to her husband and daughter for being good sports activities. Learn her bio and different work right here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.

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