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KIWI magazine

The great pantry challengeOne day last March, Crystal Paine, a Kansas mom of three, wanted to save some money by going a few extra days without a trip to the grocery store. So she headed to her pantry, found plenty of unused food, and got cooking. It was eye-opening to see how well her family could eat without several (expensive) trips to the store. So now, they take on this challenge nearly every month: For eight to ten days at a time, they eat only what they already have at hand. “I think my frugal nature carried over to my pantry,” Paine says. “I didn’t want to let things go to waste.” Paine is onto something: By eating through the food they’ve already bought, families across the country are becoming more aware of what they consume. In the process, they’re saving money, getting creative in the kitchen, and teaching kids an important lesson about avoiding wastefulness. Are you up for the challenge?

Getting started

If the thought of eating through your pantry seems more idealistic than practical, think again. It doesn’t have to be hard. Here, some common reasons you might resist—and the simple reasons you can still go for it.

“i just don’t have the time”

Cooking with what you have doesn’t necessarily take longer—especially since fewer ingredients often means less time. “It’s all in the planning,” says Anne Marie Carver, an Arlington, Virginia, mom of one. Before you begin the challenge, take inventory of your cupboards and freezer so you can hit the ground running. And don’t limit yourself to handling one night at a time: If you whip up double batches of vegetable soup one night, you can have the leftovers for lunch.

“What happens when I run out of basic food and still have three boxes of mac and cheese left over?”

Make the challenge fit your needs—even if it means “cheating” a bit. Try eating through your pantry with only one grocery run: You can shop in the beginning to stock up on the basics, or try eating what you have at home for a few days and visiting the store when you’re desperate but still have half the pantry to go.

“pantry meals are boring”

In fact, your cupboard boasts tons of opportunities for interesting dishes. Try dressing up pasta with roasted red peppers, artichokes, and anchovies, or give refried beans a kick with cumin and chili powder, suggests Carver. Got a bag of tortilla or bagel chips on hand? Crush them up as a garnish for soup or whirl them in the food processor and use in place of bread crumbs. Get creative and you’ll see your pantry in a whole new light.

Making it fun

Involve your kid to make a pantry challenge exciting for the whole family. Some fun ways she can help:

get her opinion

When deciding on meals, Carver makes sure to get input from her 4-year-old daughter. “I find that when she’s involved in the process she’s much less likely to be fussy at dinnertime,” Carver says. Using up the last of the black beans from the back of your cupboard? Ask your kid if she thinks they’d work better as a soup, dip, or taco filling.

play a game

“We put on my daughter’s apron and play a game to see what’s hiding in the pantry,” says Carver. Try using Pantry Hide-and-Seek as a learning experience for your kid: She can create a balanced meal by finding a whole grain, a protein, and a vegetable. Then talk about why those foods are all good choices.

cook to compete

If your kids are older, try a cooking competition. Each family member gets a night when he’s in charge of coming up with a dinner plan. (Bonus: Tweens can probably cook some of the meal on their own.) When the pantry challenge is over, vote on which meal your family liked best.

Culinary Inspiration

Add balance and variety with these meal ideas, which rely on cupboard and freezer staples most families have on hand.


Reprinted from KIWI Magazine

Frozen fruit, sugar, whole wheat bread, nut butter Open-face nut butter sandwiches with fruit compote In a medium stockpot, heat frozen fruit with a few tablespoons of water, plus sugar to taste. Simmer until soft. Toast bread, then spread with nut butter. Top with warm compote.
Oats, nuts or seeds, raisins, powdered milk, brown sugar Baked oatmeal Place oats, nuts or seeds, and raisins in shallow baking dish, then pour reconstituted powdered milk over top. Sprinkle with brown sugar, cover with foil, and bake at 350° until oats have absorbed most of the milk.
Frozen ground turkey, olive oil, onion, potatoes, dried thyme or sage Skillet hash Thaw turkey, then brown in a skillet with olive oil. Remove turkey from pan; sauté diced onions and cubed potatoes with thyme or sage until soft. Add turkey back to the pan to heat through.


Garlic, canned diced tomatoes,
vegetable stock or
bouillon, white beans, pasta
Pasta e fagiole soup In a large stockpot, sauté garlic for 1 minute, then add tomatoes and vegetable stock or bouillon. Bring to a boil and add white beans and pasta. Cook until pasta is al dente.
Potatoes, canned chili, shredded cheese (optional) Chili-stuffed baked potatoes Top baked potatoes with chili and shredded cheese. Place under the broiler for a few minutes or until cheese is bubbly.
Spaghetti, frozen veggies, peanut butter, soy sauce, honey Peanut noodles Cook spaghetti and frozen veggies according to package directions. Combine peanut butter with soy sauce and honey to taste, and thin with water to desired consistency. Pour over hot pasta and veggies.


Frozen chicken breasts (or tofu), cornstarch, crushed cornflakes (or another crunchy cereal), ketchup Crunchy chicken or tofu fingers with dipping sauce Dredge thawed chicken pieces or tofu first in a water-cornstarch mixture, then in crushed cornflakes. Bake or pan-fry until golden and serve with ketchup for dipping.
Spaghetti, garlic, jarred tomato sauce, canned tuna, canned olives or capers Mediterranean-style pasta Cook spaghetti according to package directions. In a medium stockpot, sauté garlic for 1 minute, then add tomato sauce, tuna, and olives or capers. Cook until heated through, and pour over pasta.
Onion, garlic, black beans, vegetable stock or bouillon, sweet potato Black bean soup with sweet potato cubes In a large stockpot, sauté onion and garlic until translucent. Add black beans and stock, then simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer half the black bean mixture into a blender and blend until smooth, then return mixture to stockpot. Serve soup in bowls garnished with cooked sweet potato cubes.
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