Do you still have a bag of flour or sugar hanging out in your pantry? Maybe some ancient boxes of cereal moldering away in a cupboard, or ageless cans of Cream of Something gathering dust below the sink?
One of the best ways to squash cravings before they start is to get all that junk out of your house. Clean out the cabinets; purge the fridge; get it out of your sight so you don’t have to think about it. But if you’re reluctant to throw all that food away, you’re not alone. Wasting a bunch of food just seems wrong, even if you don’t ever want to eat it. So here’s how to put it to better use.
Donating to a Food Bank: Pros and Cons
The first suggestion everyone comes up with is donating your old food to a food bank. The argument in favor goes like this: it’s better to eat pasta than be hungry. If you’re giving someone food when they would otherwise have no food at all, you’re doing them a favor, even if it’s not the most nutritionally perfect food in the whole world. Yes, eating junk food is bad for you, but starvation is a whole lot worse.
But other people don’t like the thought of passing off food they personally wouldn’t eat to someone else. They feel like they're basically saying something like “here, I don’t want this in my body because I think it’s basically toxic; you can have it, I guess,” and that isn’t a respectful way to treat another human being. The pro-food-bank side might respond that the person receiving the food doesn’t think it’s toxic, and that if they did have money to buy their own food, they’d probably be buying the same kind of stuff you’re donating, so there's no reason to get all tied up in knots over it.
It’s a personal decision. Some people choose to donate their old food. Other people don’t want to see anyone eating it; they’d rather buy Paleo staples for the food bank and help people eat healthier food instead.
In any case, donating to a food pantry is often not even an option whether you want to or not. Anything perishable, frozen, expired, or already opened can’t go to a food bank regardless, and some people don’t actually have a food bank available to give the food to. So then what do you do with the stuff?
Finding Uses for Old Junk Food
Fortunately, there are a lot of perfectly good non-food uses for old food. It turns out that sugar is the perfect food…for scrubbing on your skin in the bath! And beans are wonderful hot or cold…in a homemade temperature pillow. Check out some creative ideas below (in alphabetical order):
Bread: use it to clean your walls: then you’ll have clean walls and a clean kitchen!
Cornstarch: if you have a box of cornstarch lying around, you’re in luck: it’s a great carpet cleaner. Rub it into a stain, let it sit for a few minutes, and vacuum it up. You can also sprinkle it in your shoes to help absorb workout stink.
Crackers, cookies, and breakfast cereal: make bird food out of them. Unlike you, birds are designed to eat grains, and they'll definitely appreciate your old soda crackers. Crush up the crackers, mix them with peanut butter and birdseed, and mix until you get reasonably solid chunks. Then hang them outside your window from hooks or in wire frames and watch the birds enjoy their treat.
Flour: there are an amazing number of arts and crafts projects that you can do with flour, especially if you have kids in the house (assuming the kids aren’t so gluten-sensitive that just touching it gives them a reaction). Try paper-mâche, homemade play-dough, or other crafts.
Pasta and macaroni: if you have kids, this is another great candidate for art projects, especially macaroni "beads" and other jewelry projects.
Oatmeal: use as an itch reliever for sunburns and rashes by running a bath in such a way that the water for the bath has to flow through some oatmeal. A very common method is to fill the bottom of a sock or pantyhose with oatmeal and tie it around the faucet.
Peanut butter: see “crackers and cookies” above for a use for both! Alternately, use peanut butter to help rub off labels from jars, or de-glue anything that needs to be de-glued.
Rice, beans, or lentils: you can use any and all of these as a filling for a homemade hot/cold pillow. Heat it up to use it as a heating pad on cold days, or stick it in the freezer to throw on your neck after a sweaty summer workout. They’re also great as homemade “ice” packs for sore muscles after workouts. Throw in a few drops of essential oils if you’re an aromatherapy type.
Soda and soft drinks: did you know that Coke is a great rust remover? Stick old soft drinks in the toolbox and save them for cleaning projects.
Sugar: make homemade exfoliating body scrubs with white or brown sugar, and put the texture to use on your skin instead.
Sometimes it’s OK to Just Eat It
Yes, it’s generally psychologically helpful to banish non-Paleo food from the kitchen, but under some circumstances, your best choice might be not to get rid of the food at all:
- If you’re the kind of person who does gradual transitions better than sudden breaks. Not everyone is a “rip off the band-aid” person. Some people have better long-term success if they take it slow and gradually make the switch. One way to do this is to simply eat the non-Paleo food that you’ve already bought, but only buy Paleo groceries from now on. Your stores of pasta and candy will run out slowly, and the transition will be less of a shock.
- If you’re extremely strapped for cash. Not everyone can afford to throw out everything in their pantry and start from scratch. Maybe you’ve invested in non-Paleo bulk staples to save money in the long run, and throwing them out would be financially impossible. In that case, it’s completely understandable to use the staples you’ve already bought.
Paleo is not a religion; you don’t have to have one dramatic conversion moment and completely change your life forever because now you’ve seen the light. If it’s easier for you, mentally or financially, to transition slowly, then transition as slowly as you need and don’t feel bad about it.
Summing it Up
There shouldn’t be a huge pile of discarded food outside your door the day after you switch to Paleo. You can give it to a food bank or find a creative way to use it, or even just continue to eat through your old staples until they’re gone, if that makes more sense for your situation.