Pantry & Fridge: Then & Now

There are very few things I took before pictures of when starting out on this journey but one area I made sure to document was the our food storage. Once realizing the amount of packaging contained particularly within our pantry, fridge and freezer I knew there would be quite a few changes after the transformation was complete! While significant adjustments were needed throughout our entire home, the kitchen historically produced the greatest amount of garbage. It’s fun to look back and see how much things have changed over a period of 8 months (before pics were taken at the beginning of March).

If you caught the last grocery post or follow along on Instagram, you’ve probably seen my shopping habits in action but I thought it would be fun to share what things look like on the other side, beyond the occasional grocery or farmer’s market haul pic. While many of my shopping habits are as they were back at the time of that grocery post, a few have updated so I’ve basically summarized the swaps that have been made within each of these three areas! I say “my shopping habits” since I’m the one primarily gathering our food. We’ve just found its easier since I know what alternatives exist and what I’m willing to make from scratch. That being said, my husband is completely supportive and has really been so amazing in working with me to reduce our household’s waste. I think its important to acknowledge because while this has not been his personal mission, he has played a major role in its success! {insert aaaall the heart eyes} Ok, now that I’m done raving about my sexy other half, lets look at some sexy food storage! 😉

Our pantry is the area that has probably seen the most significant change since tackling our food related waste in March. As you could tell before a lot of stuff was in some sort of single use packaging. Cereal, pastas, beans, granola bars, crackers, dried fruits – even the bulk I bought was in paper bags.

Nowadays pretty much everything thats dry we buy from bulk bins, using either the jar it’ll be stored in, a repurposed yogurt/plastic container, or in one of my reusable cloth bags, then transferred.  We’ve been able to find several substitutes to satisfy both our salty and sweet cravings within the bulk section such as dark chocolate covered almonds, granola, pretzel pieces, popcorn seeds, and seasoned nuts. The only food related things I regularly buy packaged now include: pasta sauce (made by our local grocery store), a few condiments which I’ll talk about next, and pasta in a box (only for the last month or so since my go-to market was the only place I could get whole wheat pasta in bulk but now they no longer carry it).  There are bulk items not see here that are stored in other areas of our kitchen such as local coffee and baking needs (flour, sugar, spices, olive oil and honey). Before coffee would have been bought in bags and everything else in whatever respective container that it normally comes in.  Lots of changes have already been made within our cupboard however it continues to be a work in progress as its taking forevaaaaa to use up all of the spices we’d collected over time.

Many of the products we had back in March, not just spices and condiments, are still in the process of being used up. This includes several tetra-paks of broth as we’ve moved into stew season. Though my first attempt at making my own broth kind of failed, I do plan to give it another go as to avoid having to buy it packaged in the future. I’m still using up a bag of chia seeds and chipping away at a monstrous tea stash by making large batches of iced tea. This has actually been helpful in minimizing the frequency with which we need to buy the sparkling water that my husband so enjoys but comes in individual cans. Once I run out, I’ll be able to purchase tea leaves in bulk. My husband is still using up the same jug of protein powder. As of right now, I feel like the amount of stuff we have on hand is perfect. There are a few things we tend to go through quickly (like chocolate covered almonds) but that doesn’t necessarily warrant me buying more. I’ve always been the “if its there, I’m going to eat it” sort of gal, so keeping a limited amount is always a good strategy. Since there are certain perishables I have to get regularly anyways (and I’m at my favorite market once a week to give store tours), its easy enough to top off any bulk needs while I’m there.

As you can tell, the pantry has become a little more multi-purpose now that most of our food fits comfortably in the shelves of the door. Items that were being kept in other areas of the kitchen/house have found a new home in there as we’ve worked to create a less cluttered environment.

The fridge doesn’t appear to have made as significant of a change mostly because a lot of the habits we have now are ones we had before but with subtle tweaks that make a big impact on promoting a sustainable food system. Our meals already centered around colorful  produce, but sometimes it came contained within some sort of plastic packaging (i.e. grapes, salad greens, mushrooms), was carried out in a plastic produce bag (i.e. green beans) and the majority wasn’t grown within our own state (or sometimes even country). Now our produce is predominately unpackaged, plastic free, and locally grown, some even from our own backyard.

We still buy free range eggs but what you can’t see is that they are from a local farm, either purchased directly or at a local market where I’m able to reuse the same container. Egg cartons bought from farmers are given back to be used by them again. Before butter was either store brand organic stick or sometimes in a plastic tub which was made by an industrialized brand. Now its made from grass fed cows, within the state or region in a larger single block. Milk has gone from plastic gallon jugs to reusable glass bottles from a farm within my state (sometimes within the region depending on where I am when I buy it). If we do buy it in plastic its to support an even more local creamery. We no longer purchase coffee creamer – we simply use regular milk.  Before we were buying large containers of plain yogurt in place of single sized, sugar filled ones but now I’ve been able to locate whole milk yogurt made locally.  Hubs often also has his own tub as he prefers Greek or flavored varieties.

Almond or peanut butter is freshly ground from bulk into my own jar that can reused over and over again instead of the single use version in plastic containers. Now if we buy applesauce its only in glass made by a farm within Virginia and the leftover jars have been great for freezing/storage.

Cheese once came home in several forms: shredded, sliced or grated, all in plastic packaging. Now cheese is purchased in block form, turned into whatever is needed and the thin saran wrap that surrounds it produces far less garbage at the end. Local grass fed ground beef and sustainably caught/raised fish are purchased in butcher paper rather than in styrofoam & plastic trays. What about chicken? Oh lawd. Before I was most often buying store brand organic chicken breasts that came individually wrapped in plastic that were then packaged on plastic wrapped styrofoam! Sometimes, I bought chicken that totally tried to sell itself as being “natural” blahdy-blahdy-blah which sold like 8-10 breasts in one large pack. Then I’d portion out and freeze two at a time in plastic freezer bags. Now we buy whole pasture raised chicken from a local organic farm and while its still in plastic, its a waaaaay better option. We don’t buy lunch meat on too regular of a basis but when we do, we try to get it in our own container. One time I did buy locally made bologna that was packaged in plastic but I was curious to know what real bologna tasted like and since it was made in Richmond from animals sustainably raised nearby, I felt it was an acceptable trade-off.

We’re still using up condiments and some ground up items such as almond and flax meal. The only condiments we’ve needed to purchase pre-made have been mayo, sauce, salsa, jelly all of which have been in glass, with jelly & salsa locally made. While you can’t really see this detail, bread once purchased in plastic bags from the bread aisle is now bought fresh and brought home either in a paper bag or my own cloth bag, depending on where I buy it from. I’m still trying to find a better option for storage but currently we keep it in an old plastic bread bag to prevent it from going stale quickly. We used to always have a bag of tortillas on hand for tacos but since that bag is only destined for the trash I now make them from scratch. Because this does take some additional time and they only last a couple of days (haven’t yet tried freezing them) we don’t have burrito night nearly as often as we used to.

While craft beer, particularly local, was always our preference, wine often fell under the category of pick-whatever-the-heck-is-cheapest. Now, I’ll shell out the few extra dollars for the local stuff, even if it is the most affordable option within that category. For beer, we’ve been buying in bottles, mostly because growlers have to be used within a certain period.  Individually portioned beer better lends itself to a life of moderation but I have thought about locating a few smaller sized growers for this purpose. “Foo” (sparkling) water continues to be on our list for the hubs, but since making batches of iced tea we’ve been able to purchase less.

Before our freezer housed veggies and meat to have on hand for when we ran out of the fresh stuff, berries for smoothies, and the occasional convenience food such as burritos and veggie patties. Thing is, store bought frozen food all comes in some form of plastic packaging, whether its in a bag or contained within some sort of rigid container with a film, most of which is not even recyclable. The produce was grown who knows where and as with anything pre-made, you don’t truly know what’s in it or what sort of practices were used.

Nowadays, the freezer has a very different look. Everything in it was locally grown and frozen myself, stored in glass that can be reused. My intent for this freezing frenzy was to have certain local produce in the off-season months. Foods that only grow in warmer weather, such as berries and peppers, would either have to be purchased from far away or frozen. By freezing ahead of time, we now have some to get use through the winter before having to figure out an alternative. Yes, jars are not as space saving as plastic freezer bags, but they are way better from a waste and health standpoint. While there isn’t any in there right now (I need to stock up) we usually have one or two local chickens in here as well. The coolest thing about our new chicken system (besides knowing they weren’t raised in deplorable conditions or dipped in chlorine before packaged) is that we’ve finally putting to use a roasting pan that we got for our wedding years ago but had only been used maybe once or twice prior to this year! Though a little pre-planning is required, as it takes about 24 hours to thaw, 1.5 to 2 hours to cook and at least two days to eat, it’s totally worth it.

What I love most about the pantry and the freezer now is how everything is stored in repurposed and secondhand jars, making for even less waste! Clear glass makes the contents easy to see so you always know how much is on hand and you simply see food rather than a bunch of packaging and labels. 🙂

xo, Erica

One Reply to “Pantry & Fridge: Then & Now”

  1. You took organizing to a whole new level! We recently organized our pantry and it makes cooking/snacking so much easier. I definitely need to do our fridge too

    Carly at A Modern Mom Blog

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