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The Quarterly Food Purge

I like having a fully stocked kitchen. Maybe it’s the Cancer in me, astrologically speaking, but I feel a sense of security knowing that I have all that I need to whip a variety of meals within reach in my pantry or my freezer. I’m also a fan of creating freezer meals. These frozen stores are a boon when life happens and there isn’t enough time to do anything more than defrosting a ready-made meal in the microwave, oven, or stovetop. I’ve been building a supply of ready-made meals since Thanksgiving.

As great as they are, they don’t last forever. Three months, more or less, is about as long as you want a ready-made freezer meal to freeze before consumption. Any longer and it can get a little chancy. My digestive tract is sensitive because of Celiac Disease, so I don’t take chances when it comes to food.

Around the end of January, I meal plan my quarterly food purge. On the menu for this week includes long lost favorites including turkey soup (made from Thanksgiving turkey sometime in late November), frozen lentil soup, frozen homemade tamales (from Christmas), frozen slow-cooked pulled pork, frozen three-bean chili, a frozen flank steak (to be used in a Thai red curry meal) and even some of the Moroccan-style beef roast all made within the last few months. We kicked the quarterly freezer purge with some frozen leftover lasagna from a few weeks back.

Besides clearing out the freezer with ready-made frozen meals, there’s also the pantry to consider. Before I was more conscientious about rotating meals and goods from the freezer and pantry, I’ve come across the situation of finding expired foods. When things expire in my pantry because I didn’t rotate new stuff with old or simply forgot, it’s wasted food. I don’t like being wasteful, just as a general principle. For instance, cans of puréed pumpkin bought in Thanksgiving don’t last forever and I have come across expired ones between Thanksgivings or bought new ones without realizing I had old ones. Even though beans have a long shelf life, long does not equate to forever. Cereal and grains get stale over time. Canned meats like tuna and sardines need to be used well within their expiration date. Dried fruits get hard and rancid within a few months of opening.

After rotating through the ready-made freezer meals, I plan for meals that use up pantry items that need to be refreshed. A tuna noodle casserole is an excellent example. This dish is a perfect leftover clear-your-pantry-or-freezer casserole. Use dried pasta, any kind, but refrain from long spaghetti or angel hair varieties. Use canned tuna (of course) but if you’re feeling adventurous, add some sardines, anchovies, or canned salmon. Want to throw in a can of white beans or green beans? Sure, go for it. Want to add some frozen vegetables like broccoli, green peas, or corn? Sounds great! I don’t buy cream of chicken, mushrooms, or whatever soups for casseroles because most have gluten and many have an insane amount of sodium. Instead, I make my own with a simple roux. Melt two and a half tablespoons of butter at medium to low heat, whisk two tablespoons of flour (gluten-free or gluten-filled), and continue to whisk until golden. Slowly pour while whisking two cups of (room-temperature) milk. After the sauce begins to thicken, you can add a cup of cheddar or whatever cheese you have on hand. If you want, you can skip the cheese altogether and flavor with spices, like dried mustard, nutmeg, and thyme to enhance a simple white sauce. You can mix all the ingredients for a one-pot meal (but do cook the pasta in boiling water) or combine in a casserole dish and bake for thirty minutes at 350-degrees.

Other pantry meal options are pot pies (fill with whatever meats or vegetables you have on hand with a basic white sauce and pie crust. Homemade pie dough is not as difficult as it may seem but you could also buy ready-made store-bought pie dough), rice casseroles (the same thing, mix with meats, beans, and vegetables on hand with some sort of sauce), pasta meals using dried pasta, jarred sauce, and whatever meats and vegetables you have on hand. The options are easy and truly work with what you have. One part starch, one part protein (meats, beans, or both), one part vegetables, and one part sauce equals an easy pantry casserole.

I like to do this, conscientiously going through my freezer and pantry, once a quarter. Besides the three-month shelf life for freezer meals, this quarterly practice gives me a chance to reflect. If I find an item that I haven’t used and have no desire to use it, I reflect on why I bought it in the first place. This mindfulness practice helps me avoid unnecessary purchases on future grocery trips. January is a great time because of frozen Thanksgiving and Christmas leftovers, and I repeat the process in April, July, and October.

Take some time and inventory the foods you have. Get creative and enjoy what you have on hand.


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