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My family has been self-isolating since my husband and daughter got home from school and started their spring break last Friday, March 13th.

We haven’t left the house for over a week. Not even for food.

And I didn’t realize how stressed I was about avoiding covid-19 until yesterday.

Yesterday, because the weather was nice, I thought it would be a good idea to go on a bike ride with my daughter. It did not go well. Apparently a lot of people in my neighborhood thought that a bit of fresh air sounded like a good idea too, and I panicked when we saw people a couple blocks down the road.

We only made it one block ourselves before I couldn’t handle the anxiety of possibly getting too close to other people and we went home.

Let’s just say it was the shortest bike ride ever and my daughter wasn’t pleased. It was my idea, after all.

Apparently, my idea of social distancing is: if I can see you, you’re too close. :S

Because of that stress-inducing experience, I realized that I was going to have a problem when I needed to go to the grocery store again.

I was also concerned that, whenever my family did need more food, there wouldn’t be anything left to buy.

So I gave myself a little positive talk. The stores will restock and there are already safer measures being put into place daily for customers, cashiers, and all the workers at grocery stores. In-store pickup and shipping are also options at some locations. And we can make as few shopping trips as possible.

It’s just a matter of how long can my family go before we need more food?

The question “what are we going to eat?” comes up multiple times a day and can be even more stressful when you’re trying to self-isolate.

I thought about it and realized there was something I could do right now to help me feel better about the situation.

And that is: I could figure out when we are going to run out of food!

Well, it sounds a bit ominous when I put it that way…

Really, what I mean is:

I could figure out how to make our food on hand last us as long as possible before we needed to shop for more.

And the way to do that was to inventory all the food currently in our house; then make a meal plan using as much on that list as possible.

Based on this mega meal plan, I could then deduce when we would need to buy more food.

I talked to my husband about it and he agreed to help me go through our pantry, fridge, and freezer.

And so, the idea for the “Food On Hand” Mega Meal Plan Challenge was born!

take the food on hand mega meal plan challenge

Back in January, I started making month-long meal plans, so I’d do one huge shopping trip for the month and then each week, I’d get a small list of mostly perishable items. (Meal planning was one of my New Year’s resolutions.) But because of that, my last huge trip for groceries was February 24th with small trips on March 3rd and 11th. So, after nearly a month since stocking up, our kitchen already seemed a bit bare to me.

Note: I would still recommend it because it helped me practice mega meal planning which prepared me for this moment. AND before I started making monthly meal plans, we were spending a little over $100/week on food for our family of 3. In comparison, we’ve spent less than $700 on food so far this year, which is about $60/week. But I digress. Let’s get back to the Mega Meal Plan Challenge!

Because it had already been so long since we stocked up, I didn’t know if our mega meal plan would be very mega. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

After inventorying all of our food, we were able to make a meal plan that should last us at least 3 more weeks!

In this post, I’m going to walk you through how my family made a mega meal plan with all of the food currently in our house, so you can do the same.

The goal of this challenge is to make a meal plan out as far as you can go, using as much of your food-on-hand as possible.

So you can self-isolate successfully with your family, get some peace of mind about your food inventory, and avoid grocery stores for as long as possible.

The “Food on Hand” Mega Meal Plan Challenge is a 3-step process. You’re going to create your food inventory list, make your meal plan, and then calculate how many days the food will last your family.

Create Mega Food Inventory List

The first thing you need to do is become aware and familiar with all the food you currently have in your home by making a mega inventory list.

As Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.”

Pantry

Make a list of everything in your pantry.

Take everything out of your pantry and track it all on one mega pantry food list.

You can just use a few pieces of paper to write it all down.

Don’t worry about organizing your list of food by category or making it look pretty. Just put it on the list. You’ll be sorting things out later.

food on hand mega meal plan challenge - pantry inventory list

Once you’ve finished your list of everything in your pantry, the pantry should be completely empty. Like, Old Mother Hubbard bare.

Here’s a picture of our pantry and kitchen floor aftermath:

food on hand mega meal plan challenge - emptied pantry

Make sure you’ve gotten everything. At our house, we also use a couple of kitchen cabinets for pantry items. Be sure to track those too.

Reorganize your pantry

Now, categorize and organize the food to go back in your pantry.

Take a few minutes to organize all of the pantry food into groups around your kitchen floor. I recommend making the groups based on which shelf you’re going to put the food back on in your pantry.

At our house, we ended up organizing our food in the following categories:

  • Drink mixes: tea, lemonade, kool-aid, coffee
  • Carbohydrates: bread, rice, flour, cake mixes, pancake mixes, pastas
  • Snacks: chips, granola bars, fruit strips, microwaveable popcorn, gum
  • Breakfast foods: cereal, oatmeal, peanut butter , chocolate milk mix
  • Canned goods: beans, canned veggies, broth, sauces, dressings, condiments, soup
  • Tall containers/ other: bags of onions or potatoes, vinegar, vegetable oil, more snacks like trail mix and nuts
food on hand mega meal plan challenge - reorganized pantry
food on hand mega meal plan challenge - reorganized pantry 2

Freezer

Now it’s time to inventory your freezer. Empty everything out like you did for the pantry, and just write everything down as you pull things out. Don’t worry about grouping things into categories while you’re writing.

However, make a separate inventory list of items in your freezer.

food on hand mega meal plan challenge - freezer inventory list

You want to write it in a separate list from your pantry inventory because it will come in handy when you start making your meal plan later. Trust me.

Reorganize your freezer

Once you’re done inventorying, take a few minutes to group like items together and reorganize your freezer as you put items away.

Our freezer ended up with the following groupings:

  • Frozen fruits and veggies: corn, mixed veggies, peas, blueberries, bananas
  • Desserts / pizza: apple pie, gluten free donuts, frozen pizza
  • Frozen meats: hamburger, chicken, ham, pulled pork, bacon
  • Frozen meals: chicken nuggets, breakfast sausage, stuffed baked potatoes, lasagna
food on hand mega meal plan challenge - reorganized freezer

Fridge

Finally, move on to the refrigerator. Follow the same strategy as you used for the pantry and freezer, and make a list of everything in your fridge.

Remember, write your fridge food in a separate fridge inventory list.

food on hand mega meal plan challenge - freezer inventory list

And you can reorganize as you put items away.

Make your Mega meal plan

At this point, you have gone through your pantry, freezer, and fridge, and have written down all the food in your house.

Now that you have your food-on-hand mega food inventory list, you’re ready to make your mega meal plan.

Start with the foods that are the most perishable first.

Most likely, this will be items in your fridge. You want to make a plan for the foods that need to be eaten within the week so you don’t have to throw anything out and waste it.

food on hand mega meal plan

This is where your separate inventory lists for pantry, freezer, and fridge come in handy. You can easily go through each item on your fridge inventory list and pair it with items from the pantry/freezer. This technique ensures you’ve made a plan for all the most perishable items first.

While you go through your lists of food, I recommend making a “snacks/sides/breakfast” list as well. These are foods that you have on hand, but they may not fit into a particular lunch/dinner meal plan.

As you write down each meal on your meal plan list, be sure to mark off the items on the appropriate pantry/freezer/fridge inventory list.

This will prevent you from accidentally planning to use something in more meals than you have ingredients for.

food on hand mega meal plan challenge - checked off inventory list

Once you’ve made meal plans for all the perishable food items, make meal plans for all the foods in your freezer list, marking items off as you go.

Then do the same for your pantry.

By the end of this exercise, you will have completed your “food on hand” mega meal plan!

Calculate How Many Meals You’ve Got On Hand

Once you’ve got your mega meal plan, you’re in the home stretch.

Count up the total number of meals you’ve written in your meal plan.

You can do this by going back through your mega meal plan and estimating how many meals/person you expect from each meal.

Estimate how many meals each meal will last based on past experience, the number of people in your family, and their known eating habits.

For our family, I know which meals are most likely to have leftovers and provide additional meals beyond the initial meal.

Add up all those meals (as 1-person sized meals), and then you can calculate how many days it will last by taking your meal total divided by 3 meals/day divided by the number of people in your home.

Total Meals ÷ # of People ÷ 3 Meals/Day = Total Days of Food

The answer will give you the total days of food you have planned for with your mega meal plan.

Now you know when you will need more food.

Frugal Thumb Tip: Once you’ve determined how many days of food you have on hand, plan on getting more groceries at least a few days BEFORE you run out. That way, if the grocery stores are still not stocked as well as usual, you’ve given yourself some cushion time to find food elsewhere.

Congratulations! You’ve completed the “Food on Hand” Mega Meal Plan Challenge!

Because of this challenge, you have a plan for making the most of your food-on-hand for as long as you can.

You have a mega plan for what you’ll be eating while your family is self isolating.

I hope this gives you and your family a little more peace, knowing you have a meal plan in place and knowing when you will need to go grocery shopping (- at least a few days before your meal plan runs out).

If you take the challenge, please share your results. I’d love to see others successfully meal planning from their food on hand. And encourage others to take the challenge too! It would be an inspiring thing to see in these times.

Be safe and stay healthy,

Joni