Survivor Island Meal Plans: Use it or Lose It in 5 Easy Steps

by Linsey Knerl on 4 May 2009 8 comments
Photo: Hamed Saber

Whether you’re a bit strapped for cash, or you’re facing the dreaded task of defrosting your freezer, it’s always good to do a complete “use it up” routine with your food supply.  Here are steps for keeping it delicious and making the best of what you have. 

The Survivor Island Meal Plan is simple.  With the exception of a few perishables you might be forced to buy (milk, bread, etc.), you use ONLY what you have in your home for the next week’s meals (or longer.)  The thought behind the practice is twofold: 

1)     

You save some money by not buying anything more than the essentials.  A food budget of $85 a week, for example, could be cut down to $15 or less during the plan.

2)     

You guarantee that every item in your home gets used by the expiration date and that items are rotated appropriately in the future.  (Plus it’s great for those who have wanted to clean their pantry shelves, defrost their deep freeze, or are preparing to move.)

There is no science behind Survivor Island Meal Plans, but there are some tricks to pulling it off.  Since you’ll most likely be using up some odd items, experimenting with new recipes, and cutting back on your regular shopping, it may raise some eyebrows in your family.  You can choose to explain your motives, or just let them know that you will be “trying new things” over the next few weeks.  (This is especially useful if you are finding yourself using the Survivor Island Technique out of necessity – many who have found themselves without a paycheck are scrounging.  There’s no shame in doing what you have to.) 

Step One:  Sort out the Good from the Bad 

If you are like most households, you already have some “questionable” food stuffs lurking in your cupboards and fridge.  It may be an expired container of yogurt, a buggy bag of flour, or a freezer-burnt side of beef.  While it is always sad to see waste (especially when it is due to your negligence), it’s best to own up to your mistake and move on.  Eating old food is never cool.  (We have been blessed to be able to give buggy grains to our chickens, and the freezer-burnt meats can be made into dog food.  For the rest of us, it’s best to let bygones be bygones.) 

Step Two:  Make a List and Check it Twice 

Here is the fun part – now we take inventory of our food items.  You will most likely find things you never knew you had, stuff you wonder why you have, and even more things you aren’t sure when you ever acquired it.  Group your list by food type (meat, veggies, etc), and take a minute to examine your shopping behaviors.  (Families who hate liver, for example, should have no good reason for storing it.  Make a note to yourself that you will from now on only buy food you will eat in a timely fashion.)

Step Three:  Plan Your Meals 

Depending on how much food you have on hand, you can get anywhere from one week to a month or more of meals from your current reserves.  Planning meals from some of the odd items can be difficult, but if you think of it as a flavor adventure (and a chance to really experiment), it can take it from a task to a treat.  Here are some ways I get inspiration for my most unusual meals: 

spired by the macaroon recipe on the side of the bag.  They were delicious, and I don't konw how long I would have searched for a good recipe.  Since food manufacturers often test recipes with their own products, there is a good chance that the result will be above par.  (Another great resource is the book Best Recipes from the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Jars.)

  • Look in old magazines - Even those magazines that don't specialize in food have some unique recipes for odds and ends ingredients.  (Farming, lifestyle, and parenting mags are great resources that shouldn't be overlooked!)
  • Use the internet - Obviously, this is my first choice.  
  • Many of Wise Bread’s expanding list of articles deal with “awkward” ingredients, including a lone can of fruit, lentils, corn meal, and cake mix. Two other favorite web sites are A Year of Crockpotting and About.com.

     

    Step Four: Cook 

    This is the easy (but rather time-consuming part.) You can choose to make your meals all at once (via the batch-cooking method) or day by day.  You can also freeze many of your meals for later – giving those “older” food items a new lease on life! The goal is to keep using up those foodstuffs and keeping your costs very low. 

    Step Five: Shop

    And so we begin the shopping cycle all over again.  For many, you will have already been buying a few things here and there to keep your Survivor Island Meal Plan going.  For others, you won’t be able to let your food supply get that low without feeling uncomfortable (out of a sense of preparedness, possibly).  This is OK, and if you are truly concerned about being caught in an emergency with your pantry down, go ahead and shop the sales to keep some fresh, new items on hand.  (Just be sure to keep them completely separate from your “use ‘em ups” and don’t overspend.  The goal is to cut costs for a little while.) 

    Hopefully, you will have learned something from the process.  In addition to looking carefully at your spending and cooking habits, you can see how storage and planning may need to be tweaked to reduce waste and keep your future meal plans at peak efficiency.

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    Guest's picture
    Anelly

    I enjoyed reading this post because the subject discussed is one of my major problems. Some month ago i realized that i spend a lot on food until some day i changed the system. I started to think on things i really need, things that can be cooked and i can say it's great and cost effective.

    Myscha Theriault's picture

    "Getting caught with your pantry down" . . . HILARIOUS!

    Fred Lee's picture

    Besides the monetary consideration, we just have philosophical issues with wasting food. Most of the leftovers we have in our fridge are ready to eat, so it's just a question of heating them up. In fact, we often make things like soup in large portions just to freeze the excess for another day. If give it a few days in between, then who's going to issue over the fact that their leftovers, much less even know?

    Thanks for the informative (as always) post, but the truth is, as anyone who has watched the show Lost knows, eating on a deserted island is not a problem when tons of processed foods are continually dropped from airplanes.

    Linsey Knerl's picture

    OK, Fred.  You had me at "dropped from airplanes."  It's possible that this method may work better for some than others.  Where I live, it takes considerable effort to drive to the nearest store that even offers most processed foods, and then, you'd be lucky to find it for any kind of affordable price.

    If there was a plane that dropped fresh fruit and veggies from the sky, however, I'd want to sign up for the service.  Sounds like a great business plan for someone in the near future!

    Thanks for the comments!

    Linsey Knerl

    Guest's picture
    Shannon

    Great ideas in this article - thanks Linsey!

    Guest's picture

    Great suggestions! I actually do a pretty decent job of rotating out our frozen/canned supplies, but the snack foods are what stump me. Yesterday we threw out a couple remaining ounces of wasabi peas... I would love to see a recipe that includes them as an ingredient. It probably exists, I'm just too lazy to look for it right now. Next time, though...

    Linsey Knerl's picture

    This cheese ball recipe looks good..

    http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Crunchy-Wasabi-Cheese-Balls/Detail.aspx

    And you can cut the recipe in half or fourths for a small snack with just what you have on hand.  :)

    Linsey Knerl

    Guest's picture
    sylrayj

    My freezer is full, my fridge is full, my fridge freezer is full, my pantry is full, and my bookcase is holding the pantry overflow. Before I read this article, I made a list of 15 must-have items, and vowed to actually use up the rest of the stuff I have.

    I figured that if I opened the overflowing fridge and couldn't see anything I wanted to eat, it was time to change my priorities. I hope it works - and if nothing else, it should save us some money. :)