Like many military families, my family has a pre-moving tradition of figuring out how to eat all the food that has accumulated in our freezer, refrigerator and pantry. After over two decades of doing this, I think I’ve finally got the process down. Better yet, I’ve figured out how to make this part of our regular routine. It is going to save stress and money. Next Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move, I’m not going to be giving away tons of food. Happy dance!
Warning: this strategy works in conjunction with meal planning. It will still be helpful if you don’t plan your meals, but it won’t be as successful.
Each week (or 10 days, or two weeks), I sit down and make a meal plan for the upcoming days. It usually starts by doing a quick inventory of the freezer to see what proteins are lurking there, and checking out the perishables hiding in the refrigerator. I then (try to) include all the perishables and at least some of the existing meats into our planned meals. You probably do something similar.
The PCS-Ready Pantry Plan is an extension of this “checking the freezer.” I have divided our food storage places into sections. In our house, there are about 12 of them: five pantry shelves, the baking cupboard, the condiment cupboard, spare refrigerator, spare freezer, regular refrigerator, top drawer of freezer, and bottom drawer of freezer.
Every time I make a meal plan, I go through one of these sections. I tidy up, identify things that are near their expiration date (or that I’ve overbought), and pick out items that could be used for upcoming meals.
For example, a few weeks back I was on the dry/boxed shelf, and realized that we had too many lentils. It was super-simple to add some lentil soup to the menu one day. We also had an abundance of taco shells, so Taco Tuesday made the list.
When I’m not sure what to do with an item, the internet is an excellent resource. I use AllRecipes.com, but I am sure there are other good sites. I enter the main ingredient that I want to use, sort by user rating, and scroll down until something looks yummy and/or uses other ingredients that are already available in the house.
By using this method for the last six-ish months, my family is two days out from the most successful “we ate all our food” PCS ever. Yes, we have some random ingredients left over, but we are miles ahead of our first ever, only-two-people-but-still-had-to-give-away-two-trunkloads-full-of-food move.
I am absolutely confident that this new process will help us keep the food moving through our pantry and eliminate those boxes and bottles that sometimes lurk unloved in the dark recesses. Most importantly, it should save money. And I love that.