What is Shelf Cooking?
Shelf cooking is a method of meal planning where you aim to use up whatever you have in the house first before having to go shopping, it’s a great way to save money on a food shop and to actually use up the bits and pieces in your cupboards that you otherwise ignore. Shelf Cooking helps to solve the problem of having stuff in the cupboards but ‘nothing to eat’ as once you’ve used up what you have on hand you then make your shopping list based on the things you have left so that you use up EVERYTHING in the cupboards and you can then shop more intentionally going forwards.
So for example – if you’re left with a can of kidney beans kicking around in the back of the cupboard (it always seems to be kidney beans in our house and I don’t remember ever buying them!) and can’t find a way to incorporate them into a meal you’ve got planned, you’d use them as a jumping-off point for another meal. If it were me I’d make a chilli con carne with them (as it’s a great meal to bulk out with other bits and freeze in portions for later) so I’d add the other ingredients I need to make that to my shopping list.
I try to do a Shelf Cooking challenge once or twice a year if I can, we budget for food shopping monthly and doing this can sometimes cut the food budget down by 70%! We usually can make around a fortnights worth of food from what we have in the house and then the next week is a small shop just picking up the bits we need to turn the other random bits we have into meals.
How Shelf Cooking helped us during the Pandemic
When everything closed down in the first lockdown we were in a bit of a pickle as we had just run down most of what was in the house in preparation for a big food shop, we were down to some random bits and pieces in the cupboards and freezers. Lockdown hit and the shops were empty, we were still working so didn’t want to queue up for an hour at the supermarket after work to find that there wasn’t anything in stock anyway, we couldn’t get a home delivery slot and if I’m honest we didn’t really fancy leaving the house if we didn’t have to.
Luckily we were a 3 adult household at the time, Deans niece Jodie was living with us, so between us we had two freezers and a few cupboards worth of random bits and pieces. We had previously been eating separately from Jodie as she was out a lot but since we were all stuck at home we decided it made sense to do meals that could feed all 3 of us.
Jodie and I spent an afternoon going through the cupboards and grouping similar items together (rice and pasta, cereals, packet mixes) and emptying out the freezers to see what we had as it made sense to try and use up as much of what we had at home before having to go out and do a food shop. We made a massive food inventory list of what we had and then started making notes of the meals we could make from them – we ended up with nearly a fortnights worth of meals!
Anything we had that wouldn’t fit as part of a meal was put to one side – we had things like a macaroni bake sauce and dried egg noodles. We even went through the seasonings and found things like BBQ rub and chilli con carni mix. Once we knew what was there we made a shopping list for things we needed to turn them into full meals, it was a bit of a random list but it was a lot cheaper than it would usually be and it meant we were back to ‘lean slate’ as it were food-wise and we made a real effort to only pick up stuff we knew we would actually eat.