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I’ve been using a new creative way to meal plan lately that has nothing to do with shopping lists or trips to the store. Today I’m going to share how we make a meal plan when we need to use things up!
How to Meal Plan When You Need to Use Things Up
I’ve really slacked off on posting my meal plans lately but I promise I have a good reason for that!
As we’ve settled into late fall/early winter, my husband and I have realized we have a lot of things that we purchased throughout the year that need to be used up. I typically do a “pantry challenge” in January and sometimes February to tidy up my pantry space to prepare for the upcoming canning and preserving season. But it’s not quite that time of year yet and I still need to make more space in my pantry.
You know those boxes of things or cans of whatever that sit on your pantry shelves and stare back at you when you go in to get a jar of beans or something that you use often? Yeah, I have those too. And it seems like I have too many of them right now, PLUS I feel like I have this same problem in the freezer. We have all this stuff we use for our regular meals on a regular basis and the “oddball” stuff, never gets used up.
But I’m not mentally ready for a true pantry challenge yet, so I came up with something a little different.
I wanted to play a little game.
You know those cooking shows where they give you weird ingredients and you absolutely have to use them? My “game” is very similar to that. Here’s how it works.
Each day, my husband picks 2 things out of the pantry or the freezer.
And each day, I have to use those 2 things in my cooking to use them up.
It’s a total surprise to me and sometimes I feel like he picks the hardest stuff just to test me (I’m looking at you can of sweet potato puree), but it’s fun because I enjoy a good challenge.
That might sound a little complicated to have to come up with all of those meals on the fly. But I also do some other things that make it easier on me.
First, I come up with an outline of our meals for the week. This is not a plan of specific meals, it’s a plan of meal ideas and inspiration. This helps to give me a guideline of what dish I want to incorporate the items in. I made this simple spreadsheet in Google Drive and then I printed it off and have it hanging on the side of my fridge.
So you can see on Sunday morning, I make pancakes. But it doesn’t mean I make basic pancakes! If my husband gives me a jar of cherries that day, we could have cherry pie pancakes, or I could make a cherry sauce to go on pancakes (or I could use it later in the day….cherry sauce to go on a roast? Sure!).
I created this “map” with meal themes so that I have a bit of structure for each day, but to ensure each day’s meals are different, and also to give myself flexibility.
You can also see that it’s based on our plans for the week. We often do things on Sundays and Wednesday is our town/field trip day so meals need to be easier or packed. You can read more about meal planning here.
The second thing I do to make this game easier is to have my husband pick out the foods early in the morning or the night before. This allows me plenty of time to figure out what I might make with them but doesn’t allow me too much time to try and put off using that item. Urgency helps me get it used!
Lastly, if I have something I really have no inspiration to use, I use a site like SuperCook or My Fridge Food to give me inspiration on new dishes that I can make. I find those particularly helpful if I want to incorporate the mystery item in a side dish or a dessert.
Honestly, this has been a fun challenge for me. I can clearly see that we are making more room for things we will use more often in our pantry and in our freezer and it feels wonderful to not let the food go to waste.
On occasion, some of the food hasn’t been great to use in our personal meals (or I just can’t figure out how to use it at all and wonder why I ever bought it….). For these items, I either give them to our ducks, or I make them into a meal for the dog/cats. In fact, that sweet potato puree that I couldn’t figure out is currently being made into a treat for our dog, Kady. Everything has a use!
I hope this game will inspire you to have fun with your food and to bring a new challenge to your cooking and meal planning if you are getting a little bored with it. It’s certainly helping our family in many different ways right now!
Have you ever played this meal plan game? What are some odd things you need to use up in your pantry right now? Tell me in the comments!
This blog post on How To Use Food Up was originally published on Little House Living in November 2021. It has been updated as of January 2023.