Sunday, June 14, 2009

We're Going Grocery Free

About a year ago, I started changing my shopping habits, clipping coupons like crazy and stockpiling food and household purchased at rock bottom prices. I've got my own supermarket/drugstore behind every closed closet door.

But, truth be told, I'm not as good a steward of my money as I could be. Somewhere along the way, I've missed the essential point of stockpiling. You see, the goal of stockpiling isn't to wind up with lots of stuff, but to spend prudently and to use what you buy.

At my house, we've been doing that, but not to the extent that we could -- or should -- especially when it comes to groceries. Even though I have a freezer full of good, nutritious food and a well-stocked pantry that is embarrassing in its abundance, I often choose to cook recipes that require another trip to the grocery store. And usually on those grocery trips, I'll find another deal that is worthy of stockpiling and promise myself that I'll find a way to make a meal from 4 bottles of Worcestershire sauce, a case of Wacky Mac and French's dried onions.

I do pull from my stockpile regularly; there's rarely a meal served in this house that doesn't include some ingredient pulled from our second refrigerator or our pantry annex. But I've never planned meals with my stockpile in mind.

That is changing. Beginning yesterday, I imposed a grocery moratorium in our household. We're going grocery free; I'm challenging myself, as our family's main cook, to see how long we can last without going to the grocery store. So, for as long as we can stand it, I'll be cooking exclusively from our stockpile.

A few rules I've imposed, as our family embarks on this new gustatory endeavor:

  • I will allow a weekly trip to the farmer's market (or grocery store, if necessary) to purchase fresh produce, milk, dog food and sodas, which we don't have stockpiled.
  • If we feel like eating out, we can. This is less about spending and more about stewardship. I'm coming around to the notion that we shouldn't buy food we don't need. To do so is wasteful, and to throw it away is more so.
  • I'll be looking for creative uses for leftovers, as I'm really not a fan of eating the same thing over and over again.
  • When my in laws visit, they often bring along a goody bag of bargains they've gotten at the military commissary. If they bring one of these during this challenge, we will accept the free food in the spirit in which it was given.
  • I'm not imposing a time limit on this. I really want to see how long we can last on our stockpile. (We can pretend it's the Cold War and we're hiding out in our bomb shelter!)
  • I won't beat myself up for my human failings, but I do expect those around me to hold me accountable for this challenge. So, if you see me backsliding, give me a hard time about it.
  • My husband is welcome, expected even, to pitch in on the menu planning and cooking.
To prepare for this challenge, I took an inventory of our stockpile and created a spreadsheet (see below) listing most of the food we have in the house. This list does not include already opened items we have, like salad dressing, sandwich meat, bread, spices, any leftovers and condiments. As I post my menus and recipes here, you can assume that any ingredients not specifically included in the stockpile were also on hand. Luckily, we're pretty well-stocked with staples, so my cooking will not be limited by that lack.

Without further ado, here's what's in our stockpile:

As we use items from the stockpile, I'll either change the quantity on the spreadsheet or strike through it to indicate it's been used.

Today is Day 2 of our grocery-free odyssey. (Menus posted soon.) Already, I've latched onto three bits of wisdom that I hope will ensure our success.

First, planning is essential. This morning, I sketched out a week's worth of menus by looking at our stockpile and also considering what fresh produce we have to work with this week. As I said before, we want to be good stewards of our food and that means eating fruits and vegetables before they go bad and have to be thrown away. (Something we unfortunately do with some regularity because of bad planning.)

In addition to mapping out this week's menus, I also thought some about what we'd like to cook and eat next week. I already have the beginnings of a very short list for the for the farmer's market on Saturday.

The second lesson I've learned is that I need to be more creative in my cooking if I want to sustain this challenge. I've always loved to try new recipes, but I usually follow those recipes religiously. That won't work with this challenge. I need to be prepared to make substitutions, as I did on Friday when I substituted chicken broth for white wine in a marinade. I'm sure the wine would have added more depth to the grilled pork tenderloin, but it was still delicious.

Finally, I realize that I will need help to keep this challenge going. I need for my readers, my friends and my families to share their great recipes with me. I'm also going to be using sites like Supercook and Kraft to plan meals. Both let you search for recipes by ingredients.

I haven't used the databases yet, but I'm sure I will. For now, I feel a little bit like the host of the Splendid Table on NPR, concocting delicious dishes from a list of disparate ingredients. But in the end, when I get down to making soup from Worcestershire sauce, dried onions and barbecue sauce, I'm really going to need help. Or a stockpile of activated charcoal.


  1. What a great challenge! We've been doing this unofficially in our house for the past two months, mostly because, with me starting grad school, I don't have the time or energy to go to the store as much. So what was in the apartment is what we ate!

    If you're looking for other places to find frugal, stockpile friendly recipes, check out I find that a lot of her recipes are yummy and I can make them with things I have in the house.

    Ditto for Ree's recipes at My standard Pico de Gallo recipe is from her site - Yum-o!

  2. I'll definitely be helping out with the cooking and meal planning. I've already got my eye on that frozen chicken!

    Lanita, I really like your blog. I'll certainly be checking it out.

  3. I just found your blog from a Twitter follow! I really enjoy it and followed. I also followed you on Twitter. Great site!

    Stop by my corner of the world sometime at: