The Psychology of Limited Choices: Eat From The Larder Challenge Week One

“Mom, can we go to The Muffin Store?” asks my son, again.

Visits to the local cafe he calls The Muffin Store – because the muffins are fabulous – had become something of a post-preschool tradition for us. A few times a week after I picked him up, we would walk the several blocks to the cafe. I’d get a drip coffee or a tea and he’d get a muffin. For a long time, bran was the longstanding favorite but recently blueberry had come into favor.

“No honey, we aren’t going to The Muffin Store this month.”

“But we HAAAAAAVVVVVVE to. We Have. To. Go. To. The. Muffin. Store.” He punches the air with little fists as he reiterates his request, this time in demand form. I recognize the self control inherent in this: not so long ago he would have been punching me. His little body is learning to control his huge emotions.

I offer homemade muffins.

No.

I offer homemade chocolate muffins.

Noooooo.

I offer homemade chocolate muffins with extra chocolate chips mixed in.

Pause. He considers this. No, he decides, holding out for The Muffin Store.

I offer homemade chocolate muffins with extra chocolate chips mixed in that he can help me make and we can eat together at the park.

Grudgingly, grumpily, as if he suspects this is a trap, he agrees.

“Well, okay.”

And then,

“Come on mommy, let’s go make MUFFINS!!!!!!!!” And off he goes, running towards the imminent joy of scooping flour and banging wooden spoons and licking batter and stealing lots of chocolate chips.

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Really, it’s not about the muffin. Most of the time at the cafe he picks at his muffin, eating at most a third of it before declaring himself done. It’s about the tradition. It’s about knowing that sometimes – once or twice a week after school – mommy will take him to The Muffin Store where they know him and he can pick out the table where we’ll sit and one of the aspiring-musician baristas (all of whom have improbably awesome facial hair) will make him a fancy cocoa with whipped cream and sprinkles on top.

Oliver does not care about the Eat From The Larder Challenge. He just wants his tradition with whipped cream and sprinkles on top.

So a week into this Eat From The Larder Challenge and I’m having more trouble than I would have anticipated. It’s not the food – hell, we haven’t even eaten down our perishables yet. It’s not the cooking – if anything, a focus on using my preserved foods makes my cooking faster and easier. (Meals of the “Pour, Heat, Eat” variety make use of pantry stores effectively.)

The challenge is the psychology and the family push-back for those treats and convenience items that have snuck into our lives over the past year and are now not a choice. I realize my son in particular strongly associates “outing” with “food.” The more he’s denied his trips to The Muffin Store the more he’s pushing for them, or for alternate favorite food-destinations like The Hamburger Store Without A Door.

I continue to say no (usually gently) and am working on tradition-swapping, which has been more effective than anything else. Muffin In The Park has gone over well. After school library trip instead of after school cafe trip seems like a winner.

This early push-back from the littlest member of the family has been an unexpected (but probably should-have-been-expected) challenge. While I don’t expect my three-year-old to understand food storage or frugality, my hope is that, as “Homemade Muffin in the Park” becomes the new expected tradition, I’ll spend less time saying no and explaining that restaurants and cafes aren’t an option this month.

The Psychology of Choices

This brings up an important consideration in the psychology of choices. People are evolutionarily wired to attempt to maximize our available choices, and having options makes people happier. But sometimes, with apologies to Mae West, too much of a good thing isn’t wonderful.

Take food. For most of human history we have eaten a diet of a few locally bountiful staple foods made interesting with spices, wildcrafted herbs, vegetables, and foraged fruit as available. People ate (and continue to eat) mostly cheese and bread, or coconuts and seafood, or corn and beans, or caribou and huckleberries because those were the items that were available to grow, pick, hunt or otherwise procure in their region.

Without locale, season or transportation to limit our options, your average First World’er has more food choices available to them on a random Wednesday than a king on his coronation day would have had 500 years ago. It can take a ton of mental and emotional energy to wade through and assess these choices every day (affording them is a different issue) and a question as simple as “what’s for dinner?” can turn paralyzing.

I get that. I can easily find the full scope of modern food options marketed at us exhausting – almost depressing. And it’s not not just me. Barry Schwartz, the author of The Paradox of Choice, says,

Regret avoidance and anticipated regret are some of the most detrimental effects of overchoice. He states, “the more options there are, the more likely one will make a non-optimal choice, and this prospect undermines whatever pleasure one may get from one’s actual choice.” (Psychology Today)

One of the reasons I keep a big-ass larder is honestly because walking down the cereal aisle of a typical supermarket can send me into an option-overload fugue state. I keep hens primarily so I never have to confront the word-salad that is the mostly-meaningless marketing of eggs (cage-free! free-range! humane certified! organic! all natural! get locally laid by happy chicks!) ever again.

What Does Choice Mean For Eating From The Larder?

I’ve heard from quite a few readers doing this challenge that certain items are sacred – a special tea, bananas, whatever. I get that. I wouldn’t go without coffee unless the Zombies were literally fogging up my window with their rotting unbreath.

But when we think about what foods we want to store, and how to live our lives in such a way that our food storage is useful, and how we would adapt if there was an emergency like a job loss – the issue of choice needs to be considered. Building in variety to your larder, and being able to swap favored choices is important. I keep cocoa powder in my larder because there very are few situations in which handing a kid a cup of hot cocoa isn’t going to help a little bit.

But at the same time, we need to think about what would happen to us, and our family, if suddenly the world of options available to us shrank. What if our choices were far smaller than they are now? What if your particular The Muffin Store wasn’t an option? How would that challenge you or your family? How would you deal with it? What can you do now to encourage flexibility in yourself and your loved ones?

The point of these challenges are to challenge us while the training wheels are still on. Our food storage is so dialed in, that I honestly didn’t think my family would even notice a change this month. Boy was I wrong – but the challenge hasn’t been From The Larder, it’s been in how we’ve dealt with the psychology of traditions and choices that just aren’t available any more.

What We’ve Eaten, Week One

From a cooking perspective, the refrigerator still has milk and perishables, so it doesn’t feel like we are eating much differently. I’m being more careful than usual about husbanding the cheese. I want to make that stuff last.

While we haven’t done any grocery shopping, food is coming my way nearly as fast as if we had. My parents are remodeling their kitchen (I didn’t plan this, I swear) and my dad gave me several pounds of his homemade sausage while my mom passed on some dry goods they didn’t have room to store.

Here’s what we’ve been eating.

Breakfasts

Lots of eggs! Omelettes, egg scrambles, etc. The hens are putting out the goods like crazy. We’ve also had skillet flat breads from pre-made whole wheat dough I had in the freezer, breakfast fried rice from left-over rice, and pancakes and bacon. The pancakes were from a large batch I pre-made last month. We use them for fast school-day breakfasts.

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Lunches

During the week, my daughter packs her lunch to eat at school, my son will eat 4 hard-boiled eggs and a canned peach or some similar snacky-type meal, and I’ll often just have a small snack before tucking into a huge dinner, so there’s not a lot to show for lunches.

I made a few late-lunch, soup-type meals using pantry basics. Canned elk and canned chickpeas got cooked together with curry and ginger and the last of the carrots. This made a tasty stew!

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Probably the huge hit of the week was a Faux Pho soup I made. We had roasted chicken the night before and I made a broth with the carcass and seasoned it with star anise, soy sauce and half a sliced onion. The meat from the carcass and Vietnamese-style rice noodles were added to the broth and simmered just until tender. The kids ate their chicken and rice noodle soup plain; Nick and I added homemade plum sauce, Sriracha and sprouts to ours.

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Dinner

Dinners have been pretty normal. I do wish I had more green veg to harvest, but it’s ok. Typically we eat a dinner that looks like: protein-starch-veg. Nothing has really changed except I’m still waiting on the garden to produce my veg!

These pork cutlets were awesome – talk about kid friendly, too. We pounded pork loin thin, then dusted it in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and shallow-fried until crispy. Served that with the last of the salad greens and some boiled lentils. My daughter made a sauce with boiled cider, apple cider vinegar and homemade whole grain mustard that we poured over the pork.

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Lots of pork this week. That wasn’t really planned. Anyway, this was ground pork cooked with sprouting kale (yes, you can eat the sprouts from kale!) and preserved lemon. I served it over pasta. The pork fat and preserved lemon juice made a nice vinaigrette-type sauce to coat the pasta. This made so much we ate it two days in a row.

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Basic roast chicken. I cook mine in a cast iron skillet in a 500-degree oven. I made a pan gravy with preserved lemons (yes, I really want preserved lemon in everything) and served it over rice. This was also a big hit with the kids.

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How is your Eat From The Larder Challenge going? What have you found difficult and what have you been cooking from your pantry stores?

Comments

  1. If you heard a loud noise mid-week it might have been me crashing and burning on the challenge when I opened the grocery store ad and the butter and whole oats we like were both on a loss-leader sale.

    Last night I made the bacon maple bourbon brussel sprouts without bacon (we had lard on hand) and without bourbon (used juice of an orange). It was still quite good and I felt good about making do with what was in the fridge. This week we’re cooking a turkey. No occasion – we just have an extra one in the freezer from fall and it will yield a lot of meals in the leftovers. Ah well. Baby steps.

  2. How interesting! Our lone breakdown was a trip out for pizza. I was feeling grumpy and wanted “date night” out, so out we went. Those non-food reasons do weigh big. I got my daughter to agree to non-store bread for her PBJ sandwiches when we run out and homemade applesauce that I’ll make with frozen apples when the fresh are gone. We are eating lots of oatmeal and yogurt for breakfast since I want to make sure we still two servings of fruit and frozen berries are great in those. The end of the month will be more interesting, when there is nothing fresh left except root veggies but I am already psyching up for this, see: http://artofnaturalliving.com/2014/04/05/trends-farm-to-table-five-recipes-using-old-veggies/

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      I hear you about the lure of date night! With two kids, any opportunity to get out/away is sacred time, even though we often end up sitting behind laptops working on posts or the like. Something happened this moth that actually makes this part of the challenge a bit easier for us – our regular babysitter is out of town for three weeks, so our regular date night is on hold, and that cuts down a lot on the temptation to cheat! Because as fun as it is to go to the library or to bring a coffee from home and go walk around a garden center, so many of those couple-social situations do end up involving food and/or drink, don’t they?

  3. Rhapsody says:

    I MUST have that breakfast rice recipe. My husband is a picky breakfast eater, but he LOVES fried rice.

    • Breakfast Fried Rice is super easy. There’s not really a recipe, it’s just something I do when we have leftover rice from dinner the night before. It works best with medium or long-grain white rice but brown is good too. I just slice up some bacon and let it render the fat in a skillet. Then I cook the leftover rice in the bacon fat until it’s soft. I shove the rice off to the edges of the skillet and crack a few eggs into the skillet and scramble them right in the pan. When the eggs are firm, I mix everything together and splash on some soy sauce and sesame oil. Sometimes if I have leftover veggies I want to use I add them in.

      • Rhapsody says:

        That IS simple. Even I can do that. Thanks! =D

      • As a person who’s not a fan of most breakfast foods, this is genius!

      • Started making my own version of this after having it in a chi-chi Vietnamese place, where it was called Four Seasons Rice and also contained chopped ginger and green onions (maybe bacon, egg, green onion, and ginger are supposed to each represent a season?). The green onions are optional, but man, the chopped ginger makes it sing! You wouldn’t necessarily expect bacon and fresh ginger to be such good friends, but they are.

  4. Heather says:

    I liked this idea, though I’m not actually implementing it. It has made me decide to track this month how much we actually buy of various things and how much we use weekly so I can get a bead on how to stock my larder better. I often buy meat by the bundle from local farmers, but I noticed that I also buy supplemental meat when we decide we don’t ‘feel’ like pork chops or hamburgers or whatever. So my decision was to eat down our stock of frozen meat this month and avoid those extra purchases. The one exception is fish, though I have a couple packages of sole that we are going to eat this month no matter what. Anyway, no new meat until the older stuff is gone. Also, I’m trying to be more conscious about leftovers, so I, too, would like to know how you did the breakfast fried rice – I do regular fried rice often, but am wondering what seasonings you use in a bacon/egg version. I’m thinking frying the rice in bacon fat would be awesome.

  5. Alexandra says:

    I am new to your site and really enjoying it! Having said that, I’ve been waiting for your first check in on the eat from yer larder challenge. Thanks for sharing the psychological aspect. I didn’t even think of that yet it is huge!
    We just got our monthly order of grass fed beef and pastured pork so are building a charcoal fire and searing everything. Then I freeze it and we use it as needed, with that nice smoky taste. This is the first time I’m including a brisket in the mix. I think it will be exceptional when I pull it off the fire and add it to the crock pot.
    My husband’s job ended abruptly a few weeks ago and we have been pretty calm about it all as we work through our larder and try to avoid using our emergency fund. A full larder and an emergency fund make all the difference in the world! we havent even made a dent in our larder. It is just he and I. Kids are grown.

  6. Christina says:

    I am not participating in the challenge for several family reasons, but I expect to learn a lot just from observing. I am leaving this comment to compliment you on your writing and your philosophy. I so appreciate your posts such as this, that cover facts and philosophical reasons and logic and intuition and incremental steps to fundamental change in our daily habits that may bring about the better world we all hope for. You are fast becoming one of my very favorite philosophers and writers… with recipes! Yea! Thanks.

  7. Hi Erica.
    Do you do B&B? If so.. I am heading your way, because those breakfasts look just scrummydumptious!
    I am doing this ‘Challenge’ with you and it is going ok. But the hardest thing is having to go to my wonderful local street market to get fresh fruit for my African Grey Parrot and NOT ‘sampling’ a few of her grapes on the way home.
    Dripping Pots.. ah, so delicious.. wait until the fat hardens, cut through it and there at the bottom you have the very best consommé of what ever the meat was, a little (who is kidding who?) is fabulous on Fusilli or used with rice.
    Best wishes, from Sara in London.

  8. Val Rogers says:

    Excellent post! I had a meal of elk burger, pickled chantrelles and nettle soup yesterday and reflected on how fortunate I am to be able to eat these wild foods.

    Here in Eugene, the nettles are growing well by now. They’re a great green for early spring and freeze beautifully. Just blanch, drain, squeeze out excess water, and freeze in a ziplock bag. Useful in all sorts of things.

    • The nettles are starting to look really nice here too in Centralia, WA. I haven’t cooked with them yet but have every intention to this year!

  9. i so enjoy your blog. but, this thread is especially fine and thought provoking. while i have not taken up the challenge, i am leaning toward utilizing my well-stocked pantry and abundant gardens far more. thank you.

  10. We’ve nearly met our goal which was to empty out the freezer. 3 more dinners and it will be empty. I’m going to do this more often.

  11. I confess, my food hoarder tendencies stood up and screamed at the thought of Running Out Of Food when I first read your challenge. I’m absolutely not doing it to the degree that you are – when we run out of milk and eggs, I’ll buy more. When we run out of coffee I’ll (probably) buy more, if only fo the sake of my wife. I’ll continue to buy wine for Friday Dinner.
    But I am working from what’s in the fridge, the freezer, and the pantry… slightly more diligently than usual, let’s say, particularly for dinners.

    So far, we’ve been eating:
    Leftover BBQ’d duck sauteed with tinned tomatoes and onions over pasta
    Quiche using two kinds of cheese + frozen broccoli and frozen spinach
    Leftover BBQ’d duck with sweet-and-sour (red wine vinegar + rhubarb syrup) cabbage with… either rice or quinoa, I can’t remember.
    A very small beef roast done in the slow-cooker with cabbage and onion and tiny potatoes, all of it braised in a mix of duck stock, left-over red wine, and the “marinade” (red wine vinegar, choke cherry syrup, grainy mustard, cumin, and nutmeg).
    Pancakes (this was a brunch thing, not dinner) made with miscelaneous already-opened jars of fruit butter and fruit curd + whole cooked amaranth (adds a neat crunch, as it happens) thrown into the mix. Very crepe-like, but take forever to cook through.
    Stir-fry of leftover beef, the last of the duck meat, one red pepper (from Mexico, I’m sure), half an onion, and the last of a friend’s excellent tomato chutney, served over (or in, I guess) a mix of brown and red rice.

    Most of our breakfasts involve toast (I make the bread at home anyway, and we’ve got a good 9kg of flour hanging around, so I don’t foresee this as being a problem) with Pick A Spread on it, or else it’s pancakes or scrambled eggs, so nothing much has changed here.
    I tried making yoghurt the other day, and I over-cooked it and wound up with something closer to cheese. So, hey, I don’t expect that we’ll run out of cheese any time soon, either.

    Things I expect to run out of (and not replace) before May:
    My favourite tea (dammit – though I’ve got a million other teas that could work in its place, and it’ll be good to use some of those up)
    Chocolate that is not chocolate chips
    Onions and, potentially, garlic – most root veggies that aren’t potatoes, actually.
    Tinned tomatoes, tinned tuna, tinned beans, tinned coconut milk
    Jarred tomato sauce (probably), jarred (from a store) alfredo sauce
    Short pasta (dammit, but it’ll be good for me to use the long pasta as well, so…)
    Frozen animal (dammit)
    Frozen vegetables (dammit, but at least the dandelions will be coming up in early May)

    Hopefully by the end of the month, we’ll have a chest-freezer installed and can go the route of CSAs. Here’s hoping. :-)

  12. I’m enjoying this challenge. It’s the first time we’ve participated and we really need to clean out the freezers. We’ve got two large freezers in the basement, and two fridges (also with freezers) upstairs. For the past several years we buy a whole young beef in the Fall and some of the unpreferred bits and bobs have accumulated. Kidneys anyone? I wonder can still eat a kidney that has been in the freezer for 3 years?

    Also, I froze swiss chard and tons of green beans and 20 bags of sliced okra a few years ago and now I can’t stand okra. I don’t even like frozen beans although hubby does. I like the canned ones. I don’t imagine we will eat 20 bags of okra this month – or maybe any – but I still need to get rid of them if only to make room for more beef this Fall.

    A friend of ours raises guinea hogs and we’ve been buying pork from her. I’ve got several packages of uncured/unflavored bacon along with lots of awesome sausage. We won’t run out of food anytime soon!

    One thing we will continue to buy is raw milk – that’s sacred. I make bread (I confess to having stocked up on flour a bit) and we keep chickens. We have 6 or 8 dead chickens in the freezer too. Had one over the weekend.

  13. Myra Gallier Zocher says:

    FE faux Pho!

  14. michelle priddy says:

    Thank you for the recipes

    I didn’t expect bacon- don’t know why. Maybe because bacon gets ‘GONE’ so fast in our home.
    (We do have smoked salmon and Handsome’s home made pepperoni sticks and salami logs in the freezer-I need to figure out a way to use those in a ‘real’ meal as opposed to ‘finger food’.)

    I sat down last night to plan the next 14 days worth of meals out of our freezer, pantry and dried food closet. Maybe that is the key to longevity in the money-saving-on-grocery business, the planning ahead. I need to use up frozen corn & grated zucchini.

    So tonight I’ll be making salmon loaf with zucchini, sauteed onion, blender bread crumbs, an egg and bake at 375 F. with a side of corn for dinner.

    We are planning on moving out of state this summer, so I have a real incentive use up the foods in my larder- lots of vinegar canned tomatoes (from a lack of lemon juice in 2012) grape juice, pink, red & purple from an awesome glean two years back. Canned foods start to loose their food value at two years, so I sure do need to get these cycled out.

    Do you have a base line staples list?

    Growing up in Alaska, stocking up for the winter was a fact of life. Grandma Lydia’s staples list, coupled with Grandpa Truman’s hunting skills, kept use eating through the winter. What I have always taken for granted as the way ‘things were done’ has become a method of keeping ‘even’ as a stay at home wife in the lower socioeconomic strata.

    It is wonderful to see the other posts form ladies (and gents) using up their spring food. Did you know that March was the month of starvation prior to plows? It is awesome to live where we have food in the larder in the spring!

    • michelle priddy says:

      The salmon loaf turned out just a little ‘juicy’ from the shredded zuc. No worries, we mixed in the left over corn, sprinkled some habanero powder over the top and ate it as salmon dip! (I’m rather proud of that one.)

    • For the salami make spaghetti with sliced fennel bulb and salami of course if you ddon’t have fennel bulb on hand that may not work for larder challenge but its a good combo. Saute some crushed fennel seeds and crushed red pepper with the onions garlic and fennel then add some chunks of salami and your tomato sauce or whole canned tomatoes maybe some dry oregano and finish with some red wine and fresh chopped basil. Simple and tasty.

      • michelle priddy says:

        I haven’t any fennel bulb, but I do have fennel seed. I have ‘summer pizza sauce’ (oven roasted tomatoes & garlic cooled then pureed with fresh basil back in August- froze in snack bags as the size we use for home made pizza) That will take care of the garlic, tomatoes and basil. I have fresh oregano in the back yard- no red wine- have habanero pepper powder and dried ‘pound’ onion flakes we made this fall. I’ll give it a try and let you know how it turns out. Thank you.

        • If you have some carrot add that in place of the fennel its from the same family and it will add a little sweetness to the dish that the fennel bulb would have added. A teaspoon or so of sugar might do the trick as well.

  15. I am just aiming for general frugality this month. We are using up the last of the leafy greens from the freezer just before the new stuff starts coming on. Making soup with the jars of green lentils that have been sitting on the shelf. That sort of thing.

  16. So far we’re doing well. We’ve added a few things to our larder, mainly eggs, half a bushel of fresh apples, a couple pounds of ground turkey, and my mom bought us some bacon as a treat (she was picking up the other stuff for us). The hardest part is that I am hungry ALL THE TIME with this pregnancy, and if I don’t eat I feel sick(er), so I will likely need to keep buying animal proteins as I don’t think I can survive on the chickpeas/black beans/lentils that we have.
    Another challenge is that my sourdough starter went mouldy because I forgot to feed it. But we still have two loaves of bread in the freezer so I don’t feel too pressed to get on the bread-making… but I’ll get there! Would be great to save $15 a week right now! Tonight I’m going to try to stretch a pound of turkey as far as I can in a meatloaf.

    • I definitely think you should make allowances in this challenge to feed your body what it needs – please don’t under-nourish yourself for a challenge on the interwoobles. :) No pregnant lady likes food advice, but I’m gonna give some anyway: I found that the only way to not be ravenously hungry all the time during my last pregnancy was to load up on really fatty stuff – like, braised pork shoulder and chicken livers fried in butter. Depends on what your body is craving of course, but I found savory fatty things tend to be the most satiating.

  17. Jenny Cole says:

    Thanks for this challenge, we are working with it, although I’m still buying soya milk. However what a good time to use up all the slowly hardening pulses from the store cupboard…. (At least three years worth as that’s when we last moved house.) And the jars of honey that are slowly crystallising, and the emergency tinned fruit bought for no apparent reason that I can remember. They’ll be going into porridge when the packets of dried fruit have been finished later this week. Then when the porridge oats are finished, it’s onto the oat groats, then the buckwheat, followed by the wheat berries. I’ll draw a line at the amaranth grains as I don’t think they agree with me, but perhaps I’ll try swapping them with a friend who would like to try them?
    What funny things I’ve bought to try. To be fair most of them are tasty, but they just take somewhat longer to cook, or need pre-soaking, so it’s more about being mindful.
    I’m wondering what will happen if we should run out of meat protein before the end of April, that feels like my tripping point.
    I look forward to hearing more from you all.

  18. We are doing good, great actually. I started a new job today, so that could get interesting, but I am proud of us. The only thing we will be purchasing this month is our local milk because I just started making milk kefir. I too have noticed the psychological aspects. For me, it is somewhat laziness and somewhat the comfort of the food from somewhere else, not the taste. I am starting to realize that for what our eating out budget can afford, the food almost always tastes gross….and it isn’t worth it. I sincerely hope this month will help with that. We are only 2 adults. Breakfasts: eggnog scones (frozen eggnog from December), oatmeal with canned pie filling, kefir smoothies with frozen fruit and muffins, cashew butter on whole wheat bread. Lunches are always leftovers in our house. For dinner we have eaten pizza, tacos with refried beans, buffalo chicken chili, spaghetti squash and sauce, black beans and quinoa with veggies, meatloaf with baked beans ans veggies. There is always some sort of vegetable on the side and all the veggies are frozen from last summer and fall. I just discovered dry canning beans and it has changed my life. Although the cheese and coffee might run out we are sticking with this come hell or high water….it is so, so good for us to realize that if we want something sweet or something cheesy we really can make it at home. For desserts we have had oatmeal/peanut butter/chocolate cookies and peach/black raspberry sorbet. Yum!

  19. Melinda says:

    While I LOVE the idea of the pantry or larder challenge, I find that I can only mentally handle it on weekends. Working full time during the week -and starting a new job recently – just saps me of all of my creativity at 6 pm when it comes time to put something together for dinner. The best I’ve done in years was when I was forced home during the government furlough..I was cooking up old rice from the pantry, checking the back of the freezer, and coming up with all kinds of meals. Nowadays I just feel guilt! I’d welcome any ideas that would help in coming up with pantry challenge meals during the workweek (and with one somewhat picky eater).

    • I always come home from work HUNGRY, so never wanted to cook and wound up eating out way too much. What I started doing was to start on the next night’s dinner after finishing up tonight’s. Prep vegetables, make pasta sauce, thaw meat, whatever, then after work the next day I could just finish up the cooking and have dinner ready quickly. Slow cooker meals also help with this–prep the night before, then throw everything in the slow cooker in the morning, and it’s ready when you get home. Some people swear by planning out the week’s meals on the weekend and doing prep then, so you could also see if that works for you (I find that I like the flexibility of not doing it so far in advance).

      • Yep, I agree. Just recently my newly christened 2 yo has started playing by herself or helping with dinner so I can now cook (for the most part if expectations aren’t too high). But previously I would cook at 8pm-ish after she went to bed and then we would re-heat and eat that the next day. It was actually kind of nice, but now I enjoy the act of cooking more and find less excuses to order out (we only do Indian ($$), Chinese ($), or pizza ($-$$)).

  20. We are not going “whole hog” as you are, but you have really challenged me to eat up what’s in our pantry and freezer. I will buy some things, but decided they will only be what I need to add to supplement what is already in the pantry/freezer. As others have said – the meat bought in bulk, the frozen greens from last season’s harvest, the various pasta/noodles and the frozen black beans and chickpeas that were cooked in the crockpot earlier this year. My goal is to have the pantry and freezer emptied by the end of the month with minimal (rather than zero) purchases. Thanks for the nudge.

  21. Any chance you could share the chocomuffin recipe? (Or did I miss it?) Thanks, Erica!

  22. Jason Sinclair says:

    I’ve been digging through the freezer and pulling out stuff I don’t even remember buying. This has been great for meats (we’ve been using up a large-ish pork roast for the past few days), but I’m a bit worried regarding vegetables as nothing is ready in the garden yet. My kids are at a stage where anything green except broccoli is evil so they’re not eating much of them, but I still serve them anyway.

    Each night, I’ll throw whatever the kids don’t finish into some Tupperware in the fridge. Every two or three days I’ll then dump it all in stock and spices and make a quick and dirty soup. I’m the only one that eats it, as it usually turns into a weird-but-tasty form of chankonabe, but I’m happy being the family goat.

    I may have to break ranks and buy some milk, and I’m pining for pickles as my cukes are taking *forever* to ferment. Arrrgh! There’s bubbles and whatnot, but they taste like I just dropped them in…

    • Soooo glad I’m not the only one finding strange things in the freezer! Yesterday’s lunch was some minestrone soup which I know I didn’t make, I’ve never made it. It was pretty tasty, seemed to be my dad’s handywork and so far I’ve not gotten ill :) Definately working down eating the meat but I also have a lot of pureed persimmon from last fall I’m not sure what to do with…. I see a lot of different bread/muffin ideas out there. I’m thinking dried cranberry, chocolate chips and persimmon would be tasty muffins. I might even try adding hubby’s unused soy protein to make it a bfast muffin.

  23. I’m pretty broke right now, so I’m keeping to the pantry cooking, but my partner isn’t. He ordered Chinese food on Friday in order to carbo-load for Saturday’s 300k bike ride, then all the cyclists and a few SOs went out for breakfast Sunday. But hey, that leaves more food in the pantry for me to work with. I thawed a nearly 17-pound turkey that I got from work for Thanksgiving, and we’ve been working on that; some more of it will go on a pizza tonight (with some pesto made from last summer’s basil that’s in the freezer), then the rest of the meat will be frozen in meal-size packages for later. The stock I made from the carcass has already been frozen. As part of my spring cleaning this week, I’ll go through the cupboards and pull out anything that’s old but still edible, and that will be the basis for next week’s meals.

    • Oh, and I meant to note that another difficulty with the pantry cooking is celebrations–the breakfast on Sunday was an impromptu celebration of most of the group completing the 300k bike ride, so it wasn’t really practical to have it at someone’s house with no time to prep for feeding 15 people. And restaurants seem to signal a celebration or special occasion, at least in my mind.

  24. I never feel like cooking after work either, so I try to make 2 or 3 entrees over the weekend. This feeds my husband and I for several days of lunches/dinners with some variety available. Meat is no challenge now because we got our 1/4-beef order recently, but I found I really don’t have enough vegetables on hand. A valuable lesson in pantry planning!

  25. I’m doing fine. My husband, on the other hand, mid-week decided to go camping for a few days, LOL! When he announced he was going to make most of his meals in advance and needed to buy a few things (pine nuts – WHY are they so expensive all of a sudden?), I plugged my ears and told him to store his illegal purchases somewhere where I wouldn’t see them.

    The fresh bins in the fridge are now empty. We’ve subbed home-canned apple sauce for apples, and still have plenty of veggies in the garden (kale, chard, artichokes, lettuce, a few asparagus) to eat. I miss carrots and celery for snacking in the afternoons. The cow milk is gone since I used the last of it to make yoghurt today (my priority, not his, but he’s gone till tomorrow!). We still have some boxed soy milk for cereal, but I suspect we’ll be making a lot of pancakes (with honey syrup) and quinoa-breakfasts in a week or so. The hens are keeping us in eggs and the dogs are getting them scrambled on their kibble, or enjoying the gelatin/stock from a baked chicken. Last night I had mac and cheese mixed with tuna, chopped chard and fresh tumeric (I have lots of cheese stored in my freezer, divided from large purchases at Costco), with an artichoke on the side. Today I used the last of the chicken meat and some frozen broccoli for chicken divan over rice. I wish I had another grapefruit for another one of Erica’s Hemingway martinis, now that I’ve soaked the dried cherries in the rum… I have a few mandarins, but it just wouldn’t be the same. I fasted one day (that was easy meal planning!), and I enjoy a yoghurt smoothie every few days with kale, banana, juice, vanilla, etc. Soon the banana will give way to frozen berries needing to be used up.

    The surprise finds in the freezer were last fall’s tomato soup in half-pint jars for lunch (even camping) and the leftover coffee cake that I was sick of in January, which tasted great tonight! A relative gave us several fish steaks last month and I have a corned beef to cook up (sadly no more cabbage or carrots, so it will have to be corned beef and…kale?) so I think we’ll be OK on the meat side. The joy today was finding out how, and having satisfactory substitutions in the pantry, to make malted milk balls, since I hadn’t planned ahead for Easter. So much nicer to have just a few premo dark chocolate ones rather than a bag of the ones that leave my mouth all super sweet and gummy.

    The psychological thing that is coming soon will be the lack of choices, but like Erica, I prefer fewer choices for better mental health (but I did say “fewer” choices, not “no” choice). I remember returning from a few years overseas and just staring at the aisle of canned tomato permutations at the store. Talk about overkill!

    I’ll repeat what I wrote on the first pantry challenge entry. I mentioned what I was up to, to an organic farmer friend and he said, “If everybody ate out of their pantry for a month the US food system would collapse ….. and consumers would have tremendous leverage in these food fight issues, such as GMO labeling/banning.” Definitely food for thought!

    Thank you Erica, and congrats on being a proud baby chick grandma!

    • P.S. I am really enjoying NOT going food shopping and instead spending more time creating food and playing in the garden, potting up veggie starts, etc. I think I can thank my mom for the cooking ingenuity gene. As a child of the depression we always said that you could have put her in anyone’s kitchen and in half an hour she could have a meal of meat, veggie and starch, with a green or fruit salad, on the table.

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