A Minimalist Pantry

The other day, I was rifling through jar after jar of miscellaneous dried contents in my under-lit pantry, looking for pumpkin seeds. “Is it this jar? Nope, that’s flax seed. This jar? Nope, freekah. Well it has to be this jar. Dang, still nope. That’s wakame.” Then it hit me. My Pinterest worthy, satisfying rows of healthy dry goods in Mason jars aren’t minimalist. At all.

The philosophy behind minimalism is that we want to simplify our lives to clear out the literal and mental clutter that detracts from our time doing what we love, with those we love. It’s a concept I have readily adopted throughout my home, in my calendar, and even in my kitchen. I’ve donated endless numbers of travel mugs, single purpose appliances, a giant tiered cupcake stand, redundant baking pans, and much more.

Somehow, I had missed the actual food. My refrigerator was in no better shape than my pantry. The door shelves were a mess of carefully balanced condiment bottles that had been used once for a recipe and then never again. The freezer was a labyrinth of half used, poorly closed bags of veggies, wheat alternative breads, and unidentifiable freezer burned items threatening to leap off the shelf and crash into the dog’s water bowl, beneath.

Adventurous eating, especially of healthy, organic foods, is nothing to feel bad about. The trouble comes when novel ingredients have to be imported only to largely waste away in my refrigerator. Food waste is bad. The waste of expensive foods that were imported from around the world is even worse.

I looked through my list of recipes of meals we have tried over the last 6 months or so. It’s an extremely long list. Every week, I scroll through websites, Pinterest, newsletters, and more, looking for the most exciting recipes and new ingredients touting some health benefit or another. It usually takes me an hour to an hour and a half, just to plan the weekly menu. I won’t say how long my poor husband spends at two, three, or more stores every week hunting down the ingredients. Then, we furiously wash, mince, sauté, roast, plate and garnish before sitting down, exhausted, for dinner.

No part of this is minimalist. Minutes spent digging through cluttered shelves, wasted imported ingredients, or masses of time invested in planning, shopping for, cooking, and storing these meals — all for what? A meal I chew, swallow and then think to myself, “That was good. What’s for dinner tomorrow night?”

I did some digging around the web and plenty of other people have run into this issue as well and have done some writing about it. I went through a number of blogs to get ideas and came across all sorts of plans to minimize the complexity of food as well as it’s transportation, storage, purchase and preparation.

Few of them met our dietary needs. So I came up with a new checklist for my family to ensure the meals I plan and ingredients I buy meet our requirements for simplicity, time saved, and avoidance of waste.

  1. Is this meal comprised of staple ingredients that I have room to store and will be sure to use entirely before they waste? If not, could I substitute a staple ingredient with success? (For example, will white rice work instead of basmati rice? Could I use walnuts or almonds instead of pistachios?)
  2. Is this meal largely comprised of local, organic ingredients?
  3. Does this meal require foods that are packaged in plastic/items I can’t recycle, or do they have preservatives in their packaging? (BPA, BHT, BHA, etc.)
  4. Is the meal easy to make, without stressing us out on a work night?
  5. Is this meal something we would enjoy eating as leftovers? We always double meals to eat them for dinner again the next day, saving us cooking as often.
  6. Is this meal something that could go into a regular rotation?

If these answers are satisfactory, then it’s a meal I’ll be making in the near future. Everyone is different, so this may not work exactly as is for you. I encourage you to make your own checklist of what’s important and then simplify your kitchen as well.

Another way to go about this would be to greatly reduce the number of similar ingredients you buy. Examples:

Pasta: do you really need macaroni, spaghetti, fettuccini, couscous, rotini and orzo? We’ll be cutting back to gluten free macaroni and spaghetti.

Nuts: my shelf had walnuts, coconut flakes, pecans, raw almonds, slivered almonds, pistachios, and there were pine nuts in the refrigerator. I will cut back to walnuts, raw almonds, and coconut flakes.

Cheese: cottage cheese, ricotta, imported feta, smoked provolone, light string cheese, cheddar, parmesan and Monterrey jack are all fighting for space in the cheese drawer. We will eat these up and from now only keep only cheddar, parmesan and provolone since those are what we eat most.

Sauces and condiments: well I won’t waste your time with the number of these. Suffice to say, we will be pairing back to the likes of ketchup, mayonnaise, hot sauce, Bragg’s aminos, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, yellow mustard, sweet chili sauce, and spaghetti sauce.

This should be enough to get you going. Remember to eat through what you have as long as it’s still good, instead of throwing food away. Be sure and share what you did and how it worked below.

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