Even experienced cooks run out of things sometime. Foods spoil or spill, we get unexpected company, a family member eats something we put aside, or we simply forget or miscalculate.
Avoiding extra trips to the store involves two stages:
- Before: When you plan your shopping and menus.
- After: When you realize, “Oops, I’m out of milk/cocoa/eggs/onions again.”
- Keep a pantry. This doesn’t have to be a formal pantry, and it can be anywhere in your house that is safe from heat, light and dampness.
- As a rule of thumb, store at least one unopened container of everything you use regularly including sugar, baking powder, cereals, legumes, canned goods and flour. Don’t forget non-food items like shampoo and dishwashing detergent. When you notice that you are close to opening the last bottle of oil, put it on your shopping list. Don’t forget to rotate, using older items first. My mother lined up cans in columns, putting the oldest one in front.
- Regularly take stock of perishables.
- Keep a running shopping list in a visible place.
- Plan menus carefully, whether daily, weekly or monthly.
- Lay out all ingredients before cooking.
Planning well in advance is better because running out of items in the middle adds time pressure and stress to our lives, no matter how you decide to deal with it.
After you run out:
- Forgive yourself, then make a plan. View it as a challenge to be more creative with recipes and menus. If you have children, show them that you also make mistakes and model a constructive way of handling the situation.
- Learn to use substitutes. Add fruit juice water or powdered milk instead of milk. Add herbs to water instead of broth. If you don’t have a simple substitute, try for a variation on the recipe. Supercook is a website to help locate recipes with specific ingredients. Vegetables can often be interchanged, and you can make a good soup even without onions. Substitute a teaspoon of soy flour plus a tablespoon of water for an egg in baking, or look for an eggless recipe (I’ve seen some with vinegar or applesauce).
- Skip it. Sometimes a recipe will be fine if you include less of an ingredient or leave it out altogether. You won’t know unless you try, but use common sense or ask an expert if you’re not sure. This works better for cooking than for baking.
- It’s okay for kids to do without. Kids won’t be nutritionally deprived by being without milk for a day or two. If bananas are the only fruit they like, trust them to find another nutritious food once they realize bananas are not an option. Sympathize but not too strongly; it will pass.
- Have ingredients for simple meals on hand. A lentil soup brought out of the freezer, pasta, canned soup or even tuna salad can do in a pinch.
- Develop good relations with the neighbors. Neighbors are often happy to lend food, and you can make new friends this way. Lending arrangements should be reciprocal.
- If you do decide you can’t do without, save gas by combining the trip with another errand.
Skipping that extra trip to the store helps you develop your cooking skills and use up older ingredients that might have ended up in the garbage. You’ll save time, stress, and money.
Have you ever found a creative solution when you ran out of something you needed?
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