Budget Buys Meet the Pantry Clean Out

The following is a guest post from Dr. Alice of Feet First.

Dr. Alice says:

When it comes to meal preparation and food storage, I’m an unabashed fan of cans. Being single with a busy work schedule means that my meal planning skills are not all they could be, and having a repertoire of quick meals I can make without spending a lot of time on food prep or having to thaw something out is extremely helpful. There are exceptions; obviously I wouldn’t buy, say, canned asparagus when fresh or frozen is so much better quality, but when I began making more of an effort to eat right and cook for myself, canned food really helped me do it.. It’s also helpful with the budget; if I’m shopping at a warehouse store and see a good deal on a case of canned beans or tuna I don’t hesitate to buy it. I’ll have months, maybe over a year, to use it up. Even at grocery stores you can find good bargains, depending on the time of year. Right now the tomato crop is in, which means lots of tomatoes are getting canned, which means grocers need to move the older stock of canned tomatoes off the shelf just like with the last year’s car models. End result: great prices on canned tomatoes.

Unfortunately like everything else, canned food has a limited shelf. Fortunately cans now come stamped with sell-by dates, which is incredibly helpful for absent-minded people like me. It can also be unnerving if, like me, in a fit of efficiency you have been cleaning your pantry only to find on the unreachable upper shelf several cans of white beans with sell-by dates from two years prior. What to do?

First, don’t panic. 99.5 percent of the time the food is perfectly fit to eat, although it may not be quite as tasty as it used to be. Of course if the can is bulging, rusted or looks otherwise suspect you should not use it, but let’s assume the can is pristine. (Dust is not a deal breaker here.) The food should be used as soon as possible, so move it to the front of the pantry and try to work it into your menu planning in the next few weeks. This may give you the chance to be creative. For instance, when it came to using those beans I viewed it as a challenge.

This is what I came up with.

My first choice was a white chicken chili crockpot recipe which I found on the Internet. It worked okay, but my main problem with it was that after the long cooking the beans turned to mush. This was partly my fault, as I think I put them in way too soon. Learn from my mistake: older canned beans soften and don’t handle long cooking times very well. Aside from the texture, the chili was fine.

To finish off the last can or so of beans my thoughts turned to soup: Specifically, minestrone. This would allow me to use one of my large cans of tomatoes and some of the macaroni from a half empty bag of pasta. When it comes to soup I usually don’t go by a specific recipe. Here I diced an onion, some garlic, some celery and carrot and sautéed them in a little olive oil in the bottom of the pot. In went the contents of the large can of diced tomatoes with some broth, and I set it to simmer. Be generous with the liquid here as the macaroni will eat it up – you want it a little watery. Then I chopped a couple handfuls of green beans I had hanging around and threw them in and added a small amount of dried basil and oregano, salt and pepper. After 90 minutes or so I rinsed a can of beans and added them to the pot along with the macaroni, let simmer another 10 minutes. Voila! My version of minestrone. It tasted fine and fed me for several days.

Are you a fan of the can?

Even doctor’s kick back and relaxDr. Alice lives, works and blogs in Los Angeles. In her spare time she writes and collects cookbooks and craft ideas.

Be sure to visit her Feet First.


  1. Rod on March 2, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Good comment about salt. I'd never realised just how much of the stuff is often contained in canned foods. I now always opt for low-salt or no-salt can alternatives.
    My recent post Stuck Drain Rods Help

  2. Alice Dick on September 4, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    My grandmother used to can a lot. In the summer (they had a huge garden) she would put up quart jars of what she called "soup mix," a mixture of corn and tomatoes, which made a great vegetable soup base. I would love to try canning myself someday.

    Reading can labels is always a great idea to minimize salt. If I'm using canned food I will go very easy on adding extra salt.

  3. ThatBobbieGirl on September 4, 2009 at 1:03 am

    I do use plenty of canned foods, but I make sure that I READ READ READ the labels to see what I'm getting, and never just grab a can and assume I know what's inside.
    I really have to watch out for what I call "salt build-up" when cooking.
    If I eat too much processed salt (the white stuff that canning companies use) or too much in the way of other additives, I do not feel well, I start retaining water in my legs, feet and hands, and believe it or not, my carpal tunnel gets inflamed.

    That's why I just canned a bunch of tomatoes with no salt or preservatives. Better for me, and in the long run, cheaper. I'm just glad I can fit in the time to do it.

    I've never noticed a difference in older canned beans as far as texture — but I do know that older dried beans can cook all day long and still not get soft!! I think it was Home-Ec 101 that gave me the idea to try a pressure cooker on them – I actually used it to make home-canned beans, and they came out great.

  4. @carolinadreamz on September 3, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    (comment attempt number 2.. plz delete one if they both post.)

    I am a fan of the can!

    I learned something, recently, in a food storage class, that I hadn't previously considered. Expired food, although less nourishing, will quench hunger.

    I've had the mush experience, like your beans, with canned peaches. Although the consistency was bad, it would have worked for the Peach BBQ on the Salmon, here.. http://bit.ly/SrEKY

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