The Pantry Game

by Nancy Steinkoenig


Some of you may think that I am easily amused after reading this article, but I feel that if you don't have challenges in everyday life, it gets boring!

What is the Pantry Game? The Pantry Game involves imagining that you are on a desert island, needing to prepare a meal, and you cannot go to the store! You must rely on just what you have on hand. Better yet, in order to make it more realistic, pretend you are snowed in for the weekend or even longer. Remember those guys in Pennsylvania last winter? Get the picture?

In your refrigerator, you have 4 eggs, a half-gallon of milk, one left-over baked chicken breast, 3 hot dogs, an onion, 4 carrots, margarine, mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, cider vinegar, 2 apples, 1 banana, a head of cabbage, and some Parmesan cheese. In the pantry, you have flour, brown sugar, white sugar, salt & other seasonings, baking powder, yeast, cornstarch, oatmeal, shortening, chicken bouillon cubes, spaghetti, a can of tuna, two cans of pork & beans, and one can sliced pineapple. In the freezer, you have frozen orange juice, one package of peas, and one package of broccoli. The snow is falling, and you need to make the food last as long as you can, and yet feed four people. By the way, you are completely out of bread! From this list, it doesn't look as if there is enough of any one thing to serve four people, but let me explain.

Saturday Morning: Since it is so cold out, and you are snowed in and won't be going anywhere today, wouldn't it be nice to have the oven on? The first thing I would do, right after a warm breakfast of cinnamon oatmeal with chopped apple and milk, is bake bread. Nothing makes the house smell so good as freshly baked bread! Did you know that "authentic" French bread only has flour, water, salt, and yeast in it? Check any basic cookbook for bread recipes. Make a lot, because people eat more bread when it is right out of the oven!

Saturday Noon: Hard-boil one of the eggs. Grated, and added to the can of tuna, along with mayonnaise, chopped pickle, and a chopped apple, makes wonderful tuna salad sandwiches for four. Make some soup with bouillon cubes, one grated carrot, ½ tablespoon finely chopped onion, ½ cup chopped cabbage, ½ cup peas, and broken spaghetti. Add parsley flakes or celery flakes if you have them.

Saturday Nite: For the main course, make spaghetti with broccoli/Parmesan sauce. Garlic toast made with the sliced French bread, margarine and garlic powder from your spice rack.

What kind of dessert can we have? Pineapple Upside Down Cake. A one layer cake will only use up one egg. You have margarine and brown sugar for this cake.

What do we have left for Sunday?

Sunday Morning: Make pancakes using the egg, milk, flour, salt, baking powder. No syrup? Make pancake syrup from brown sugar and water. Serve with orange juice or milk.

Sunday Noon: Make chicken pot pie. Cut the leftover chicken breast into 1/2" cubes. Cut two carrots into small cubes and cook in a small saucepan with a little water. While the carrots are cooking, make a cream sauce. Add chicken and the rest of the package of peas. Drain carrots and add to mixture. Pour into 1 quart greased casserole dish. Make biscuit dough (flour, shortening, salt, baking powder, milk) for the top. Cut into rounds, lay on top of mixture. Bake at 375 degrees until biscuit topping is done.

While the chicken pie is in the oven, make dessert. Cornstarch pudding is easy and delicious (cornstarch, sugar, milk, vanilla). Divide sliced banana into four dessert dishes, pour cooled vanilla pudding over it.

Sunday Nite: Make Beenie-Weenie, coleslaw, and cornbread. Open canned pork & beans, drain liquid off one can. Add chopped onion, 1/4 cup ketchup, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce. Slice the three hot dogs, and add to bean mixture. Bake one hour at 375 degrees. Make cornbread (flour, cornmeal, milk, 1 egg, salt, sugar, baking powder, melted margarine or shortening) to go with it. Coleslaw is nothing but thinly shredded cabbage, grated carrot and onion. Coleslaw dressing is made of mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar, milk, salt and pepper.

As you go through this exercise in imagination, please remember that in desperate times (like being snowed in!) you may not have the luxury of eating exactly according to the USDA recommended daily nutritional requirements. I am not advocating throwing good nutrition out the window! I know that the above weekend menu probably doesn't have enough vegetables, and making cream sauces is not a low-fat proposition. You have to do the best you can with what you have available at the time. It is also time consuming to spend your weekend cooking. If you were truly snowed in, however, you probably would be more concerned with avoiding hunger than counting fat grams.

The important thing here is to think about using your available resources. Even if you are not snowed in, if you lengthen the interval between trips to the store by using up things you have on hand, you will save money. I have a great deal more food in my pantry and freezer than the above. I could survive for a much longer interval than one weekend on the stuff I have right now. However, it doesn't do any good to accumulate food if you don't use it up. Lots of food is thrown away in America because we don't use it before it spoils. Years ago, mothers would tell their kids to think of the starving people around the world and clean their plates. That has gone out of fashion, but we still need to keep in mind that wasteful conspicuous consumption is epidemic in America. Live more responsibly by cutting out waste in your own household.

Okay, I'll get down off the soapbox now!


I am a computer software trainer for a law firm, but a closet home economics teacher! I love to cook, and it is a challenge to come up with nutritious meals for not much money. I would welcome other peoples favorite tightwad recipes to add to my collection.

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