The great pantry clean out

There’s nothing like a third quarter deadline coming up in 12 days to inspire a person to get her act together.

Looking at my goals for months 6-9, I see an awful lot of items not checked off: Zero waste-ing my office supplies at work, cleaning out that second cupboard in the laundry room, zero waste-ing my recipe collection (although, fun fact, I was looking for that thing this past weekend and I seem to have lost it), actually make my emergency work kit (plate, bowl and mug), call another family meeting to discuss the one item they’d be willing to go zero waste in the bathroom, researching low waste options for toothpaste and floss …

… Zero waste-ing my pantry …

Actually, I have two pantries — one in my tiny kitchen and one in my tiny hallway. And when I made my list, I had every intention of tackling both at once. Um, but when I started working on this project Monday morning, it became clear that I could clean out both pantries, or I could clean out one and then take a nap.

I chose the kitchen pantry and a nap.

I took every single food item out of my cupboards (I clarify this because I have some small appliances and cutting boards that peacefully co-exist with the food) and lined that junk up on the counter. I was kind of pleased, actually, to see so little packaged trashy stuff:

We're between cereals or there'd be a box on the counter too -- Abby's bye item. And would you believe we've had the cocoa mix since before the project started?

Would you believe we’ve had the cocoa mix since before the project started? Bonus game: Spot the cup of coffee.

Part II. For a family who's not crazy about tea, we sure have a lot of tea.

Part II. For a family who’s not crazy about tea, we sure have a lot of tea.

I mean, I’m trying, so there shouldn’t be, but … well, seeing is believing.

THEN, after wiping down the cabinets, I realized that I’d forgotten about the oils and vinegars et al that I store on a lower shelf because they’re too tall to fit in the main cupboard:

AUGH. P.S. That plastic bottle of canola oil is what inspired Eric's new year's resolution of being more mindful when shopping -- and promise NEXT time he'll come home with a glass bottle of non-GMO stuff.

AUGH. P.S. That plastic bottle of canola oil is what inspired Eric’s new year’s resolution of being more mindful when shopping — and promise NEXT time he’ll come home with a glass bottle of non-GMO stuff. LIKE WE USUALLY BUY. Ahem, sorry, still bitter.

One thing I noticed is that I have a lot of leftover odds and ends from various DIY projects that I’m not not really sure what to do with, like green clay powder, bentonite clay and xylitol. And enough balsalmic vinegar to last us through 2018. And that somehow we’d ended up with two jars of (non-organic) apple cider vinegar?

And why do we have quinoa when we think it tastes like dirt?

Why has it taken me so long to go through the pantry again? Good grief.

Yadda yadda yadda, so I decided that I want my pantry to look like a zero waste dream even if we are not 100 percent there yet. Those packaged items that we tend to use a lot — cereal (Abby and Eric), hot chocolate mix (Johanna), and oatmeal (me) went on the very highest shelf. Next came my jars of oats, sugars, coffee beans and the like, and on the bottom shelf the smaller jars of bulk items like dried fruit, nuts and baking items. I decanted some of the packaged foodstuffs, like baking cocoa (I can’t get it in bulk here. Johanna took the plastic containers to store her polymer clay, though, so we’re delaying recycling a bit) into jars, too. Because a girl can dream.

I have a smaller cupboard where I store my bulk herbs and spices, baking powders and sodas (I’m reusing the baking powder container and filling it in the bulk aisle now — I only found out a couple of months ago that was possible), and then in the lower cupboard went the oils and vinegars. Everything else I put into the hallway pantry … to be sorted another day soon-ish.

But when I was done:


I am a big fan of how glass looks … and having space around my jars.


Ye Ole Spice Rack. Cupboard, whatever. Oh yeah, we keep prescriptions in here too. 


I spy with my little eye something black and fluffy that should not be in this cabinet.

Part II of my extravaganza was to make a list in my journal of items in the pantry that we really need to eat ASAP — that quinoa (ugh), some couscous (which we actually like, can’t figure out what the hold up is there), split peas and a tiny bit of turbinado sugar.

Next week’s menu theme is going to be Using The Crap We Already Have In The Pantry And Freezer. But that’s another post for another time. (Seriously: What do you do with quinoa?)

Anyway, this whole project only took about an hour (I have a feeling the hallway pantry might take a little longer) and it felt awesome once it was completed. Abby opened the main cabinet looking for a snack soon after, and she was all like, whoa! It’s clean in here!, which made me feel like a boss.

The end.

Next up: Some thoughts on week one menu planning and probably a couple other random updates.

14 Responses to The great pantry clean out

  1. Try Quinoa Veggie Salad with Zesty Vinaigrette from I like half that amount quinoa, and tend to throw in whatever veggies I have/can find. I also use half the amount of oil, and double the vinegar, because that’s the proportions I like in a vinaigrette. I haven’t met a hot quinoa dish I care for yet.

  2. I don’t buy cocoa mix. Since you already have cocoa and sugar, that is all you need. For when your cocoa mix is gone…

    • That’s how we did it in the ’80s! 😉 I can’t believe how long this barrel of cocoa has lasted. I was looking for a “cocoa mix” to make for Jo, but they all have powdered milk in them and I’d prefer not to replace one package with another, so I do think cocoa powder and sugar is going to win the day.

  3. Haha I wish I was there to snatch up that quinoa. I love it. I think it tastes great with Mexican flavors. Once or twice a year I’ll do a batch of pork shoulder in the crockpot and serve it over quinoa with fresh cilantro and other veggies from the farmers market. I also grind it up in the food processor and use it as a baking flour along with almond flour and oat flour in my favorite muffin recipe.

    • And I wish I could give it to you! 🙂 Mexican flavors, got it. Will add that to the list with the quinoa salad mentioned above. Also, had no idea you could grind it up to use as a flour. Interesting!

  4. I find some quinoa tastes like dirt, other brands taste good. No idea how that happens. The good stuff my family likes just straight. The other stuff my chickens like as feed. 😉

  5. Some quinoa (the less expensive stuff) hasn’t been pre-washed, which means it still has an outer coating that repels insects. It’s supposed to taste pretty bad. Try washing it the same way you do beans, but really agitate it while you do it.

    I use quinoa in many recipes but most often I just substitute it for rice. It is much easier on your blood sugar than many grains.

  6. Yes, quinoa must be rinsed well. I use it in Pumpkin Quinoa Muffins, which are not only delish, but full of protein. You can find the recipe on the Bob’s Red Mill website (or if not, email me and I’ll send it to you).

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