I Threw a Pantry-Swap Party to Beat the Winter Kitchen Blues

published Jan 31, 2020
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Credit: Raymond Forbes LLC/Stocksy

Staring at my pantry one day in December — the shelves cluttered with things that were still good, but I no longer wanted — I had a thought:

Why aren’t pantry swaps a thing, like clothing swaps?” I texted to a friend.

“Let’s *make* it a thing,” she replied. “I have too much Tang I bought for a school project.”

Then came Christmas, and New Year’s, and I forgot all about it. But I remembered the idea again about a week ago when I opened the pantry door and two excess bags of brown rice fell off a shelf. So I set up a Facebook event titled “Pantry Swap” and invited six friends over. The goal: to meet up with friends in the depth of winter, clean out my own pantry, and end up with something that might spark some cooking inspo.

How I Threw My First-Ever Winter Pantry Swap

Much like a clothing swap, I wanted this to be an informal gathering of just a few choice friends. We’d swap still-good ingredients that were taking up precious pantry space but not being utilized.

Here is what I said in the invitation:

Clean out your pantry and gather any items that no longer “fit” in your kitchen; You know those ingredients you bought with good intentions but never used or overbought when everyone loved them and now no one wants to eat. Please bring mostly closed, unused items to swap. I will provide snacks and drinks!

Credit: Meghan Splawn

I kept my invite list small, including mostly friends who have families similar in size in the hopes that we would each bring things that others could actually use. Then I got to cleaning: I pulled out a few boxes of alternative pasta that my kids won’t eat anymore; some canned goods I bought from Costco but can’t seem to get through, and a whole bunch of splurgy items I couldn’t really find a use for, which you can see in the photo above. In total, I had at least a dozen items that I no longer needed in my pantry.

Before everyone arrived, I set up an extra table in our kitchen for folks to set their swap items on and made a specific section for open or expired ingredients.

Related: A Party Plan for a January Soup Swap

Here’s How My Pantry Swap Went

When guests arrived, we each took a turn trying to sell each other our “worst” item (generic instant pudding and caffeine tablets among them). After snacking and visiting for a bit, we landed on an easy method for selecting from the swap table: each person got to choose 4 items on their first turn, 3 on their next, and so on. We went in order of arrival at the party with me, as the host, going last.

What I found most interesting was that outside the obvious rice, canned fruit, and sauces that went quickly, we were each excited by ingredients that other people thought were silly or useless. For example, I had a small jar of pickle relish, bought for a recipe and never opened, that my family wouldn’t touch. But a friend who makes chicken and tuna salad with pickle relish all the time scooped it up quickly. Only a handful of duplicate items were left over and they were donated to a nearby church for family meals.

(You might be thinking that we could have just donated all our unused pantry staples to a local food bank. That’s true, but last year, while working with my local food bank, I learned that many donated items are among the least-needed. For example, families who shop at the food bank are often looking for basics, not chickpea pastas.)

I can’t say that I walked away with anything revolutionary, but I was excited to score a bag of chickpea flour (I’ll be making socca with it) and a jar of home canned peaches, which I’m looking forward to baking with. And, even though it came to me out of frustration, a pantry swap was actually the perfect thing to cure my winter funk. My house is now (just a little) tidier, I had a chance to socialize with friends, and hopefully everyone now has one or two new ingredients to inspire them in the kitchen!

Your turn: Are you inspired to host — or participate in — a pantry swap? Or have you done something similar? Let us know in the comments below!