Strategies to purge your pantry before your PCS

When the time comes for you to become one of the more than 400,000 Military Service Members who’ll pack up for a PCS this year, nutrition might be the last thing on your mind. Moving can be stressful and can put a dent in your healthy eating routine. One way to help you maintain healthy eating during your PCS is to plan your kitchen packing ahead of time.

The military won't move your food unless you're assigned to a remote location. Even if you’re allowed to move food, it’s shipped by weight, just like the rest of your stuff—weight (and money) you could use toward shipping something else. Instead of worrying about packing your food, or wasting it, plan to use it. Follow the steps below to purge your pantry before your PCS.

1. Create a list

What’s in your fridge, freezer, and pantry? Make a list of all your food, so you know what you have to work with. Make 3 columns: one for food items, one for whether it’ll spoil (perishable) or not (nonperishable), and one column for the expiration date, like the example here:

Food Item Perishable?

Expiration Date

1. 1 bag frozen mixed veggies Yes


2. 4 cans black beans, unopened

No 07/23/19

3. 1 bag fresh spinach

Yes 04/30/19


For canned foods and other nonperishables, mark down the expiration date. For perishables such as produce and meat, estimate how much longer it will be fresh.

Toss anything that’s no longer good, then get ready to fire up your meal-planning skills.

Tip: Pay attention to what you used and didn’t use to guide you on what you should and shouldn’t buy at your next location. You could save some money by keeping less “stock” in your pantry.

2. Make a plan

  • Start your “pantry challenge” about 4 weeks before you plan to begin packing to give you plenty of time to make meals that require kitchen equipment you might pack or give away.
  • Create a meal-plan calendar that focuses on using what you have in the fridge and freezer first. Highlight items on your inventory list that need to be eaten ASAP (or put your list into a spreadsheet you can sort).
  • Save low-priority items (i.e., nonperishables) for last.
  • Plan meals first that use your high-priority items, such as leftovers or fresh food in the fridge. For example, stir-fry that chicken breast and fresh peppers, or make some chili with that ground beef and beans.
  • Once you use most of your perishables, dig in to your lower-priority foods. For example, make a casserole with pasta, canned meat, and frozen or canned veggies.

3. Think outside the box

Once you start to empty your fridge and freezer, you might be tempted to buy more food or eat out. Instead, get creative with recipes. By fighting the temptation to go grocery shopping, you’ll save money and reduce your food waste—not to mention make your PCS easier!

Try to come up with fun and unique ways to cook what you have. Look online for meal ideas or try a few of these:

  • Egg casserole with roasted vegetables (from the freezer) and parmesan cheese
  • Canned soup with added meat and veggies
  • Tuna casserole with frozen veggies and pasta
  • Homemade snack bars with oats, dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate
  • Oatmeal with nuts or nut butter, fresh or dried fruit, or yogurt

Buy food only if you need it to complete your meals, and don’t buy in bulk! If you run out of food, buy only what you know will get eaten.

4. Donate or toss

A few days before you PCS, check your list and your meal plan. You can donate any nonperishable items you don’t use to your local food bank or food pantry, or check to see if there’s a food-donation program on base. Give any leftover perishable items to friends and neighbors.

By the time moving day arrives, you should have very little left to throw away—and maybe some extra money to spend on your move.

If you’re assigned to a permanent duty station in a remote location—listed in the JTR, Appendix F, Part Iyou can ship up to 1,250 pounds of food for every year of your assignment. If you are allowed to move food, be strategic about bringing only what you’ll need in the first few weeks—or packing only those food items you won’t be able to buy where you’re going.

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Department of Defense. (2019). Entitlements. Retrieved from

Department of Defense. (2019). Moving with the Military Overview. Retrieved from