“How do you look at what you already have in your freezer / pantry and what meals to prepare? I have a lot of items in my pantry and freezer but it’s a bit overwhelming so I feel like I’ll never use these items but could save money if I did. “
I got this great question in my inbox recently. I’ve had reverse meal planning for a few years now, so it happens pretty naturally and with little effort. But this question challenged me to really dive into my thought processes to look at the ingredients I have on hand and come up with food ideas.
As I thought about it, I realized that I am using a very simple three tier system that I am using. In this post, let me break down my ABC of reverse meal planning.
The ABC of Reverse Meal Planning
First off, if you’re new to reverse meal planning, it’s just a fancy name for planning your meals based on what you already have on hand and what’s on sale in the store.
When planning a meal, many people remember to think about what sounds good or what recipes you like, write down the ingredients you will need for those recipes, and then go to the store to buy those items. While this is definitely an effective method for menu planning, it is not the most cost-effective.
Instead, I practice buy-ahead and reverse meal planning – that means buying additional items that I know we’ll use at the lowest prices, and then planning our meals based on those items.
That means that what I buy at the grocery store isn’t just for meals that week – it’s often additional items (that are on sale at the bottom!) That we can use in the coming weeks (or even months!). That means we always have a wide variety of items on hand to work with.
Homemade energy bites are a favorite recipe here – and they’re so adaptable! You can adapt the recipe to what you have on hand!
1. Evaluate what you have
You need to know what you have in order to use what you have! To get started with reverse meal planning, I recommend clearing out and reorganizing your pantry, cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer quickly.
Pull out everything you have. Throw away what’s old, past its prime, burned in the freezer, something you know you will never eat (as your whole family thinks it’s gross and won’t touch it), or has expired .
Those who organize what is left of similar items. I find it very helpful to have a shelf in the freezer where I keep all of the meat, a shelf for all of the bread, a section for frozen vegetables, etc. I do the same thing in our pantry and in our cupboards. So you can see what you have at a glance.
If you have trouble remembering what you have, you can use a whiteboard or spreadsheet or app to keep track of what you have on hand. That way, you’re not buying something you already have or forgetting that you have something that would be a great addition to a meal!
I buy eggs whenever they are marked (you can use them at least 2-3 weeks after the expiration date!) And bread when marked (I put it in the freezer). That way, we almost always have what it takes to make french toast – which is great for breakfast for dinner!
2. Break the rules
Guess what? When it comes to your family’s menu, you can break the “rules”. Some people would think our meals are weird or don’t go together … but who decides what is weird or what goes together. There are no hard and fast rules for this stuff. So relax and have fun experimenting!
When I share our meals on Instagram stories, I often get comments from people who say, “Wow! I never thought that you could do this together! ”If your family likes it, nobody will stop you!
One thing we do every week is to buy all the fruits and vegetables that are on sale or in the market. That usually means we are buying more of 2-3 types of products instead of buying many different types of products.
We then use these products as a side dish for our meals for the week. This means that we often eat the same fruit / vegetable several times in a week. I know this may seem strange to some people, but since the sales / markdowns vary, it means that – over time – we eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. And at the same time we save a lot of money on the products.
I buy bananas when they are marked and freeze them. Then I use whatever green or fruit or milk or yogurt we have on hand for smoothies.
3. Create new recipes
Speaking of experimenting, one of my favorite ways to get creative in the kitchen is to make recipes from what you already have or find replacements instead of going to the store!
I see recipes as a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule, so I keep improving or changing recipes. Note: some recipes – popular yeast breads can’t be tweaked like a casserole!)
If you’re new to substitution, the best way to find out what works is to google for ideas and then just try it out. If you’re baking a wedding cake for a friend’s wedding it might not be the best time to substitute things, but if you’re cooking a pot of vegetable soup for your family and it calls for potatoes and all you have is sweet potatoes, use those all over instead.
The more fun you have experimenting, the more you will learn what works and what doesn’t. Always keep some cheese and ice cream handy in the freezer. You can “fix” a lot with cheese and ice cream! 🙂