Saturday, January 17, 2009

During this pantry organization series, we have been working on getting our freezers and cabinets organized and inventoried so that we can use what we have on hand. Not only does this save you time and frustration, but obviously the first step to using what you have is to know what you have. If you haven’t inventoried your freezer and pantry yet, you can read my earlier posts here, here and here.

I think that the best way to use what I have on hand is to menu plan. This not only helps me keep on top of what I have, but it saves time and money, too. Even if you don’t follow it religiously, or if you make a very “loose” plan for the week, I would bet that it will help you on those days when you might just make a call for pizza delivery because you have no idea what to make. Not that delivery or take out is evil of course, but it can totally negate your money-saving efforts if you do it too often.

1. Figure out what to use- Once you know what you have, look through your fridge and produce and see if you have anything that is expiring soon or any products that are half-open and will need to be used asap. If there is something that needs to be used quickly, plan to use it early in the week. Also, look at anything you might have way too much of. Make note of these items, too.

2. Decide how you will plan- First, decide how many meals you are going to plan: breakfast, lunch and dinner, just dinner, etc. I only plan dinners, since lunches are either smaller portions of leftover dinner, or sandwiches/soup and then breakfast is pretty straightforward. Larger families seem to benefit from each meal being planned. Now, figure out how you will write your plan. I write mine on my blog, some people write theirs on a calendar (on the fridge), or you can print one of these printable forms and keep it in a recipe binder.

3. Come up with ideas- Now that you know what you have to use up quickly, you have some starting points for your meals for the week. Need help figuring out recipes or meals that use these items? Allrecipes has this recipe finder, that allows you to put in items that you want or don’t want in a recipe. Have a near expiration cream cheese brick, canned tomato sauce and some ground beef? Put those ingredients in the “items you want” section and you will find a casserole recipe like this one. Of course, you can also get as creative as possible to use up anything you want.

I have found that participating in Menu Plan Monday has helped me stick to coming up with a menu plan for the week. Even if you don’t write a blog, stop by and check out some of the other menu plans to get some inspiration and/or recipes.

And remember, your inventory efforts are not to enslave you to making meals from these items only! Of course you can choose exactly what you want to make for the week; the inventory can also just help you know what you might need to pick up at the store.

4. Just write it out- Now that you have gone through all of the steps above, you just have to write out your plan and stick to it.

I hope that this little series on pantry organization and using what you have has helped you get a little more organized and save some money this year. I know that it has really helped me! Love, Bay


Jamila Lomon said...

This is amazing! Such hard work! It's a beautiful design and extremely informative. I'm putting this page down as a favorite!