Actually we don't have a
pantry, just a few over-
stuffed cabinets and Elfa
racks over the basement
door. A pantry is one item
on a very long home
renovation list that I
may never see. But while
I impatiently wait for our
clutch of green tomatoes to
slowly ripen, I turn my attention towards evaluating and restocking the pantry items I'll want for packed lunches next week.
- canned & jarred items: beans for hummus, salads, burritos, soups...refried beans for dips...pasta sauce & canned tomatoes for stuffed pastas, pizza, lasagna, soups, sauces...olives, pickles, and other finger foods...sauces & condiments like soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, maple syrup, agave nectar, salad cremes...furikake, toasted sesame seeds, dried seaweeds.
- stocks, broth, bouillon...not just for soups, but for flavouring rice & pasta dishes, a homemade sauce, or sauteed vegetables.
- crackers & pretzels...though I had intended to be ambitious and learn to make my own crackers over the summer I never got to it. But I haven't bought any crackers in months either. I like the new Mary's Gone Crackers, but I don't want to buy anything too "weird" for the beginning of the school year, so I'll have a look at what's on sale and has no bad oils. Pretzels nuggets, sticks, & puzzle shapes are fun snacks & gap fillers.
- nuts & seeds...for trailmix, gap fillers, salad toppings, yogurt toppings, asian noodle toppings, cooking in rice, baking in breads & muffins. Of course I can only send nut-products with Ryan, since preschool is nut-free. But the kids love peanuts, almonds, cashews, & sunflower seeds.
- pasta...cool shapes are a favourite, and I often buy those mac & cheese boxes, toss the cheese packet, cook the pasta, and add my own healthier sauce.
- noodles...save yourself some money and check out your local asian market or online retailer for an array of different noodle styles.
- rice...sticky, brown, sushi, basmati, wild, arborio, or forbidden black, there are hundreds of rice varieties available to liven up lunch and keep your grocery bill low. You don't have to have a rice cooker, but if you want one, pick one up cheap at an asian market or buy one online. They really make cooking rice a cinch. There are whole cookbooks dedicated to rice cooker recipes, or search online for thousands of ideas.
- flour & other grains...wheat flour and bread aren't your only options. Try something new like shelf-stable pre-cooked polenta, make your own oatmeal bars for a fraction of the cost of those storebought cereal bars, try a few gluten-free recipes, use millet or barley in place of rice or oats for a new taste & texture.
- other baking ingredients...make sure to have the basics on hand such as sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices
- treats...I don't like to add too much fruit or lots of sweet foods to lunches, but it can be fun once in a while; things like mini gel cups, tiny dark chocolates, refined shaped crackers, sweet cereals, Luna bars, fruit leather, fruit shapes, dried fruit, cookies, baked chips, Veggie Booty, Tings, etc. can be added in small amounts on special days or to complete a themed lunch.
- drinks...while water is great, a bottle of lemonade or Vruit juice can be a nice change...my kids also love vanilla rice milk and chocolate almond milk--adding some coconut milk is a nice creamy addition too. I'm going to try not to resort to drink boxes as much this year; even though we recycle them at home, schools do not. While the kids all have Sigg water bottles, I've bought a few new cheaper BPA-free plastic ones made by Eastar that are short and slim for fitting in a lunchbox, perfect alongside a bento box.
I'm sure I'm forgetting things. Help me add to this list so everyone can benefit!
And if you want to challenge yourself during the first few weeks back at school, check out my newest "Chopped" style challenge at Bento: Impossible.