More recipe kit ideas

In a previous post, I wrote about the micro food pantries that are popping up outside churches, schools and businesses in communities around the country (link HERE).

Then I added a post about stocking your local micro pantries or food pantries with the same kind of meal kits or recipe kits offered by meal delivery services such as Sunbasket, HelloFresh or Blue Apron (link HERE).

Meal kits or recipe kits are great for micro pantries and food pantries because it is often hard for people using the pantries to find all the ingredients they need to make a particular recipe.

From time to time, as I think of ideas for meal kits or recipe kits, I will share them. Here are a couple of ideas for meal kits, one for Chili 3-Way and one for Tuna Tetrazzini, using all nonperishable ingredients.

The Chili 3-Way recipe is one of my favorite go-to recipes at our own house when we’re in a hurry and need something quick. For the pantry recipe bag, I would add a second can of chili to make the recipe large enough to feed a larger family if necessary.

For the Tuna Tetrazzini, one can put a box of the Tuna Helper and a family-size packet of tuna in a gallon freezer bag, and assume the family has the milk and butter called for in the recipe already in their fridge. But one could also add powdered milk, along with olive oil to replace the butter. That way the person picking up the bag will be sure to have everything needed. (I use olive oil instead of butter myself. Healthier!)

Question for readers: Do you have any great ideas for recipe kits for food pantries or micro pantries? Please share your suggestions in the comments section below.

Recipe kits for your neighborhood micro pantry

About a month ago, I shared a post (link HERE) about the micro food pantries that are popping up outside churches, schools and businesses in communities around the country. The post included a list of nonperishable foods, cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items that people like to put in these miniature food pantries.

Here’s another idea for stocking your church’s or community’s micro pantry: Create the same kind of meal kits or recipe kits offered by meal delivery services such as Sunbasket, HelloFresh or Blue Apron.

I absolutely adore Sunbasket’s nifty little kits, which contain all the ingredients needed to prepare a recipe, thereby eliminating the need to run to the grocery store at the last minute for that one ingredient we need and don’t have in our fridge or cupboard.

So I got to thinking: Might a person using one of our community’s micro pantries appreciate finding a kit like this as well?

Of course, a major challenge when creating a recipe kit for a micro pantry is that only nonperishable ingredients can be used, which rules out ingredients like milk, eggs, fresh meats and most produce. But with a little ingenuity, it is possible to create a reasonably nutritious and tasty recipe using only nonperishables.

One of my favorite quickie meals at our house is tuna noodle casserole. All the ingredients for this super easy and filling recipe are nonperishable items, which makes it ideal for a micro pantry kit: a packet or can of tuna, a bag of egg noodles, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a can or jar of mushrooms and a container of parmesan cheese.

To make a kit, first create a label that looks something like this one, listing the items in the bag along with directions for making the recipe. (Note: When I make the tuna casserole recipe myself, I use a 5-ounce packet of tuna, 16-ounce bag of noodles, 10-ounce can of soup and 10-ounce jar of mushrooms, so you may want to purchase similar-sized containers of each of these ingredients for your kit in order to make the recipe work.)

Paste or tape the label to the outside of a paper bag. A plain sturdy gift bag with handles on it large enough to hold all the ingredients will work nicely.

Then just fill the bag with the recipe ingredients and place the kit in your church or neighborhood micro pantry next time you’re out and about.

If your church or civic organization wants to make this a group activity, some food pantries also welcome these meal/recipe kits. Or, if your community has several micro pantries scattered around town, you can make up several of the bags and deliver a few to each of the micro pantries.

At church, your youth group or community service committee could encourage congregation members to donate the ingredients. This project could also make a great service activity for other civic organizations you or your children belong to, such as Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.

A great giving opportunity: Micro food pantries

One of the niftier ideas to gain traction in recent years has been the micro pantry movement. We now have about 20 of these miniature food pantries scattered around our community – including one we just installed this year at our church.

Micro food pantries operate on a simple premise: “Take what you need. Leave what you can.” There are no sign-ups and no strings attached. If we are in need, micro pantries are there for us. And if we’re extra-blessed, we can help someone else.

The micro pantry movement provides another source of help for those who may be too embarrassed to seek assistance from a traditional food pantry, those who feel intimidated by the bureaucratic paperwork involved in receiving assistance from a government program, or those who don’t quite qualify for public assistance but are still strapped for cash between paychecks.

These little pantries – which have begun to pop up in communities all over the country – have also provided a wonderful low-contact, high-impact way for neighbors to help neighbors during the pandemic when more traditional, face-to-face volunteer activities have posed too much of a health risk.

Our church built our own micro pantry this year. About the size of a large kitchen cabinet, it turned out to be fairly easy to construct. Click HERE for a link to the design and instructions we used.

We placed it in a well-lit area next to the sidewalk leading up to one of our front entrances. People can safely access it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no questions asked. Congregation members are encouraged to bring items and help keep it filled.

Once our little pantry was built, here are some examples of nonperishable items that have made great micro pantry offerings.

  • Fixings for sandwiches: Bread, peanut butter, jelly, canned tuna, canned chicken, mustard, mayo, pickle relish.
  • Canned goods: Soups and stews, chili, fruits and vegetables, potatoes or yams, corn, baked beans, jars of baby food.
  • Canned or nonperishable meats: Tuna, chicken, Spam, sardines, Hormel Compleats.
  • Boxed meal kits: Macaroni and cheese, mixes such as Hamburger Helper, pasta noodles and pasta sauces.
  • Other shelf-stable foods: Rice, dried beans, Ramen noodles, instant mashed potatoes, powdered milk, evaporated milk, powdered eggs.
  • Breakfast items: Dry cereal, prepackaged instant oatmeal, fruit juice, fruit cups, shelf-stable breakfast pastries.
  • Healthy snack foods: Crackers, granola or cereal bars, trail mix, peanuts, almonds or any nuts, P3 protein packs, jerky.

We also like to put items in our micro pantry that people can’t buy using SNAP benefits.

  • Grooming supplies: Toilet paper, shampoo and conditioner, body soap, disposable razors, toothpaste and toothbrushes, tampons or pads, baby wipes.
  • Cleaning supplies: Dish soap, laundry soap, bleach, sponges, paper towels.
  • Disposable face masks. I’ve ordered them online in boxes of 50 and put them in plastic sandwich bags in batches of 5 or 10 per bag.
  • Pet food: I sometimes even like to leave a little something for Fido or Fluffy – small cans or packages of dog or cat food.

When contributing items for the pantry, I like to leave a combination of small serving/individual-size items for single individuals, and larger economy-size items for families.

I’ve also repurposed those little packets containing napkins and plastic silverware that come in to-go restaurant orders. That way, homeless people who avail themselves of food in the pantry have something to eat it with. The sample-size soap and shampoo picked up from hotel rooms are perfect as well.

Our church’s little pantry has been getting well-used and it has been a fairly easy project for our community service committee to maintain.

Perhaps just as importantly, it has provided a great way for my husband and I and other congregation members to keep contributing to our community despite quarantining and other restrictions imposed by this endless pandemic.

This adds up to a win-win situation for everyone, giver and receiver alike.