Spring Clean the Pantry for Low-Cost Eating

Patrice Powers-Barker, OSU Extension, Lucas County

It’s the time of year when we might be thinking about spring cleaning indoors or outdoors. Take this fresh start to use what you already have in the kitchen to save some money and spice up your menu plans. A few benefits of cooking with what you have include:

  • Cleaning out the cupboard, pantry, freezer and/or refrigerator of food you might have overlooked or forgotten about!
  • Saves money because you are not purchasing new food – you are using things you already have.
  • Prevents food waste by using what you have. This is of value throughout the year but can be highlighted as we celebrate Earth Day in April.

My co-worker shared a story about her household’s “Cupboard Clean-Out Cooking Challenge.” They took inspiration from their interest in watching shows like “Chopped”, “MasterChef”, “Top Chef” and  “The Great British Baking Show.” Her daughter started off the first week by using foods on hand to create two different meals based on a small pork roast. The first meal was pork and rice bowls with a side of fresh fruit. The rest of the left-over pork was mixed with a can of black beans for nachos for an additional meal. These could work well for evening meals or packed up for lunch on the go!

If you’re using food on hand, you might have to be very creative but there are some basic types of meals and food combinations to get you started. For instance, think loaded baked potatoes, omelet or quesadillas. Other dishes that can use a variety of foods are soups, large salads, spaghetti or lasagna, stir-fry, or casseroles. Think about including a protein (meat, dried beans), a grain (pasta, rice, bread), and vegetables and or fruits.

The other day I had the best omelet made with a small amount of leftovers from the day before.  In all reality, it wasn’t even a formal, folded-over omelet – it was just scrambled eggs with chopped broccoli, onions, and a few French-fries cut like potato cubes, and shredded cheese. It was for on-the-go so I wrapped it in a burrito. I guess it was more a breakfast burrito than omelet!

If you take on this economical, tasty challenge, look through your food. If there are items past the expiration dates, go ahead and get rid of them. If they can be composted (fruits, vegetables, etc.), that is one way to dispose. IF you have shelf-stable food like canned or boxed food that you know you will not use, and it is not past expiration date, consider donating to a local food pantry or soup kitchen.

For cleaning and sanitizing, empty your shelf (whether it’s a cupboard/pantry shelf or refrigerator shelf) and wipe down with warm soapy water. If it’s a removeable shelf, like from the refrigerator, take it out and wash in a sink of warm soapy water. Once it’s clean of crumbs, food drips, etc. you can sanitize it. To safely sanitize kitchen surfaces, all you need is 1 tablespoon of regular, unscented household bleach for every 1 gallon of water. Use this solution with a cloth, to wipe counter tops and other kitchen surfaces like cupboard or pantry shelves and let air dry. You’ll be doing some spring cleaning while saving money on food!

Join us for free, in-person classes in Lucas County! In April, we will be sharing “Clutter Free Living” at local libraries. This is the same program offered at different dates and locations.  Tuesday, April 9, 6:30 p.m. at Toledo Heights Library, Thursday, April 18, 6:00 p.m. at Kent Branch, and Monday, April 22 at West Toledo Branch.

Visit the new Glass City Enrichment Center, 815 Front Street, Toledo, OH, 43605. At Glass City Metropark, the new building is close to Main Street and Front Street (right across from Burger King) and there’s free parking. On Thursday, April 11 from 3 – 5 p.m, OSU Extension, Lucas County will be sharing free Victory Gardens Seeds and Science Activities.  Different topics will be offered once a month, on the second Thursday of the month. Additional topics that will be offered this year include Nature for the Health of It – Mindfulness in the Outdoors (May 9). Later this summer there will be classes on basic home food preservation (canning and freezing) and invasive insects.