Join Me for a Pantry Challenge

An “eat from the pantry” challenge is a great way to rotate your pantry’s stock and to save money on groceries.


It’s that time of year. I’m ready for a fresh start! And so is my kitchen.

The pantry and freezers around here are pretty much bursting at the seems. I’ve stockpiled a lot of produce from our weekly deliveries by freezing it and now’s a great time to make the most of it.

I’ve done some kind of “pantry challenge” every January for the last couple years. I did it again last July and found it to be just as effective in summer as in winter.

In fact, it’s proven to be a wonderful way to trim the budget, keep close accounts on what we have, and rotate our stock to avoid waste. I first saw Crystal do this many years ago, and I was intrigued.

Over the years, I’ve hosted a “challenge” here at Good Cheap Eats so that others might feel encouraged and try a challenge of their own. So, here we are. I’m ready to go again.

What a Pantry Challenge is NOT

  • It is NOT a total abstinence of grocery shopping.
  • It is NOT putting stockpiling on hold.
  • It is NOT oatmeal and rice and beans until the cows come home.

I once thought this, and it was impossible for me to do a pantry challenge. Life doesn’t work that way. Nor does my pantry.

There was a time when we first started paying down our debt that I really couldn’t buy groceries due to lack of funds. I needed to make the most of what we had until more cash came in. We didn’t starve. I realized that we had a lot in our cupboards already.

What Pantry Challenge IS

A pantry challenge is a focused, but limited, time to “eat from the pantry.” Rather than buying groceries like I normally would, I focus on what we already have. I build my menus around the ingredients I’ve been avoiding using. Sometimes this is something that is cumbersome to prepare or something that I’ve been too lazy to be creative with. The pantry challenge helps me deal with those items — and teaches me not to buy it again.

If you regularly stockpile good deals or if your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer are getting full, you may be a good candidate for the “eat from the pantry challenge.”

Another fringe benefit to giving my pantry a good cleaning out/overhaul is that we save money, too. And January is a fabulous month to do that, is it not?

My Pantry Challenge Goals

1. Lower my budget.

My grocery budget has been ranging between $600 and $800 every month for 8 people. Each week, I get an organic produce box delivery, costing around $40. That’s $160 for the month. Plus, we’ll need milk, cheese, and butter which I don’t have stockpiled. That will be about another $60 for the month. I want to give myself enough allowance for stocking up on good deals as they come and keeping my hungry crew fed. So, I’m not going to get all crazy. But, I would like to spend around $400  to 500 for the month.

Please remember that I’m feeding 8 people, and that our dining out budget is separate from our regular food budget.

2. Help my kids be more independent in the kitchen.

I do a lot of scratch cooking. It’s healthier for us. It’s more economical. But, it also takes more time.

When I stop to think that I was an independent cook in the kitchen by age 10, I realize I haven’t done a great job equipping my three older boys. They need this essential life skill, and I could use the help in feeding this small army I have. So, I’m hoping to teach my 14, 11, and 9-year olds how to cook a few more items that we eat a lot.

3. Clean out my freezers and be able to defrost.

My garage freezer has developed ice on the walls and needs to be defrosted. But, we need to eat up what’s there in order to do that. So, I’ll be focusing on the frozen items in order to do that. That may mean that we eat up our stockpile of frozen meats and vegetables. Currently, it’s not huge. A good defrost, however, will help with the efficiency of the freezer, saving us money and protecting our future additions to the freezer.

Care to join me?

I’d love to have some folks join me so we can spur one another on. On Monday I’ll be posting a link-up for all those who wish to share their goals for the challenge. Then, every Monday following we’ll share updates here on GoodCheapEats. The challenge officially ends on January 31st.

Hop on by these blogs and see how they’re making this Pantry Challenge work for them:

I’ll be posting daily updates right here on my Daily Pantry Challenge Log.

Are ya in?

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Comments

  1. Ooooh, this is so timely for me. After hosting lots of company in December and stocking up, I feel our December grocery budget just exploded. We have also recently subscribed to an organic food delivery company which I thought would then change my buying habits. Not so yet. A January pantry challenge will be just the thing we need to get back on track. Thanks for hosting!

  2. I’m in!!!

  3. I have been already planning to do this. We were blessed with 3 deer this year during hunting season, and 20 lbs of grass fed beef for only $40! So I have lots of meat in the freezer. I’m hoping to spend about half of what I would normally spend in a month. What a great boost to the budget that would be after December!

  4. I’m in I am already itching to do a whole house clear out and the freezers (we have 3) are on my list for sure. I would love to get things cleared out to get down to just 2 freezers to save on our electric bill or be able to buy the grass fed beef we have been talking about.

  5. What a great idea – I’m in too. This will be a great way to creatively use up random items and partially used packages that have made their way into the pantry for those special holiday meals. I’m looking forward to using my weekly organic delivery and produce I preserved from the garden this summer along with the mystery stores in the cupboards for interesting and healthy meals. A great way to save money and clean out the cupboards before spring!

  6. Count me in! I have gotten into a splurge-happy state of mind over the holidays, buying whatever looks good. This would be great to help me break that poor stewardship habit and I love the accountability of a link up!

  7. I’m in! I have wanted to do this for years. I will need some guidance though, as I try to cut our grocery bill in half for January. Thank You.

  8. Count me in!

  9. I’m in. I have not worked out my goals yet, but I have been planning on doing this for some time! I’ll be thinking about how we’re participating in the next few days. :-) Can’t wait!

  10. I, too, have a freezer that is ice bound. We are needing to eat some of our frozen stores in our chest freezer to make room for defrosting the upright. It’s currently sporting a strap just to keep it closed.

  11. I’ll be joining in…I’ve already started my post and made a list of current inventory…holy moly, do we have a lot of food!

  12. I’m in! I’ve already gotten a good start, thanks to a freezer dying. :-( However, I have other freezers that need help, and pantry shelves that have been holding items for way too long!

  13. kootenayAnnie says:

    Count me in. Company that was comming for Christmas wasn’t able to come, so I’m stuck with lots of leftovers and things that need using up! With only 2 in the family when you buy for 6 that’s a lot of extra food to use. Glad I can use the extra cash to replenish sale items in January. I noticed I had run out of several items that I buy semi annually ( case goods sales in end of August and in January).

  14. I was laying in bed thinking about this challenge knowing it was coming up again! and then here is the post about it, lol. I love following your challenge (I have for the past two years) while cleaning out my freezer and cupboards, also.

  15. I’m in. Goal of $50 max per week (one person). Including dining out.

  16. Count me in! I have lots of boxes and cans that need to go away!

  17. I’m in! I’ve rededicated myself to meal planning in the new year,so this will really help! I’m due to have some pretty invasive surgery on the 13th, which may throw a wench in my plans….or may spur some creative crock pot cooking! Can’t wait too hear everyone’s victories!

    • @Sandy, you might want to make some meals ahead of time and freeze them. I was surprised at the number of freezer meals I made during the last pantry challenge: http://lifeasmom.com/2011/08/freezer-cooking-from-the-pantry.html

      • @Jessica, Thanks for the tips. (Un)fortunately I have what I call a “magic freezer” – no matter what I take out of it, it always stays filled to the brim. (Trust me, I am NOT complaining – this is a wonderful problem to have, I know!) I love freezing left-overs into “grab and go” lunches (particularly since we saved to invest in a chamber vac), but my freezing exceeded our eating. I’m hoping the challenge will free up a bit of space so I can go back to freezing left overs again. In the mean time, I’m hoping that careful meal planning will result in less need to freeze and less wasted food. I’m starting by intentionally planning a left-over night and a soup night once a week. Best of luck on the challenge and in the new year!

  18. I can’t wait either! I’ve been looking forward to it this past month since I can barely cram anything else into my freezers. I just got a turkey out from the freezer to begin using in January for meals. Whahoo!!

  19. Sadly this was me two months ago, out of necessity… so my pantry is looking sad, VERY sad indeed. I need to get back into my couponing routine.

  20. I’m in!

  21. I am definitely in.. My 2 pantries & my huge freezer are bulging at the seams. I’ve been doing these myself for the last 3-6 months off & on… stocking up some things, using up others.
    I plan to stock up on pork in the next week or two and still need to restock my chicken as well but after that, it’ll be pantry & freezer all the way for quite a while.
    This will work out great as well so I can pay for my next summer CSA program out of my grocery budget.

  22. I’m going to do this too! We are about to open up a new business so who knows what our income will be the first several months!

  23. I’m in!

  24. I wish….we have been so low on funds that there isn’t much to do this with…Our budget for groceries for 8 people is $300 on a good month $200-$250 otherwise…so we already make a lot from scratch-everything! use up all leftovers and find a use for everything…turkey soup from bone broth today…Groceries are the only flexible spending we have so it is always the first to get lowered to pay off debt…which with all the hospital bills is horrible lately!
    Wishing you all the best of luck and I will be watching and learning some new frugal ideas I hope!

  25. rosalie perez says:

    I am so totally in! But I think I have an unfair advantage, I have nearly a 3 month supply of food in my pantry and freezer. I need this challenge to help validate my work couponing and stockpile building. I too feed 8 people, but with a budget ceiling of only 250 a month. But we eat well and are happy!

  26. Yes, I am definitely in again this year. Love this Challenge. Goal of $100 for the 2 of us and 2 nieces a couple days a week.
    Is your food budget strictly food only? or do you include any household consumables? Just curious, I think that is why I have trouble keeping on track is I include all household and health and beauty.

    • @Tami, I do include most toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc. But, since I use baking soda and vinegar for most of my cleaning and use coupons for most of the toiletries, it’s not a huge amount of the budget. Very thankful not to be buying diapers anymore.

  27. I’m in for the 3rd year in a row! Looking forward to it.

  28. Count me in! I already started mine on the 20th. With the stores being beyond crowded I have wanted to stay away from them so I decided to begin my normal pantry challenge early. I am planning to keep my shopping to dairy, fresh fruits and veggies, and stock up on the normal January items. I just cleaned out the freezer 2 months ago but I filled it back up that quick.

    • @Christine,

      I started early too and will go to the 3rd week in January {if I can manage that long, lol}. This week I’ve spent $5 so far on groceries but have to go tomorrow for eggs and a few other things. I am really excited to begin!

  29. sounds like a plan! I’m in!

  30. I will certainly be doing this in January. I have many peices of deer meat in the freezer. my goal is to find some recipes that my family will actually eat…and use up this meat since it is already a year old.

    • @Corbi, I’ve heard that folks are challenged to use up venison. Wish I could help, but I don’t have a storehouse of venison. LOL

      • @Jessica,

        We are using up some venison too…tonight my husband made deer chili for his lunches this week. I’ve also made sloppy joes with ground venison and they were really good {and I don’t usually eat venison}.

  31. We just finished one or I’d join you too. I thought I had about two weeks worth of leftovers in the refrigerator and freezer. Turns out I had more. We began the day after Thanksgiving. I began cooking again yesterday! I did cook a new meal on Christmas Eve but the rest of the time was spent using up those leftovers.

  32. I’ve already started. We (re-)dedicated ourselves to getting out of debt right after Thanksgiving- just in time to go Christmas shopping! In addition to setting a strict budget for Christmas, we decided to live on pantry/freezer items as much as possible to stay within budget. I spent half what I normally do on groceries- and that was with buying $60 in special holiday meal stuffs! We are going strictly pantry/freezer for January as we just got a job offer for an out of state job and I don’t want to waste anything/have to move more than necessary. We’ll only be buying milk, eggs and bread this month (lots of frozen veggies and fruit in the freezer). Dinner tonight was random leftover french toast and pancakes I’d thrown in the freezer, frozen fruit made into smoothies, scrambled eggs, and fried mashed potatoes from dinner last night. The kids said it was the best dinner ever! :0)

    • @Jennifer, my kids LOVE breakfast for dinner! It sounds like you guys are at an exciting crossroads. We moved while getting out of debt. It can be done. You go!

  33. I’d like to join! I see this as a good opportunity to do an inventory as well as use up stuff near expiration dates. My understanding is that you can still buy fresh produce and things like dairy?

    • You get to make your own rules. I don’t want anyone to feel pressured or burdened. You know what you have or what you need to do. So, make your own rules. :)

  34. I’m in! I always love following your pantry challenge. I, like you, have many items that I’ve been avoiding, but I want to make room for some fresh beef and pork that I plan to have processed in the spring. Can’t wait to start!

  35. I am in. I cleaned out my pantry and baking cabinet. I made a list of what I have and I will cross it off as I use it. Just wondering what to do with 1 jar of marishino cherries and 2 jars of pimentos. Both were for recipes I did not make so they are sitting there. Maybe a cherry salad and pimento cheese! MMMM
    here we go…….

    • @tammi, isn’t it funny what we find lurking in the cupboards? I’ve never bought pimientos, though.

    • @tammi, When I do a fresh fruit plate (apples, oranges, bananas, canned pineapple, or whatever) I also add several marachino cherries on it. It adds some color, and they are fun to eat. A jar would last for a little while, but my kiddos love fruit. It is a great addition to a meal, or a finger food event. (Or a cherry salad would be good too!) :)

      • good thoughts! I added them to my pantry ambrosia today with some left to take for lunch tomorrow! When a block of cheese goes on sale-those pimentos are MINE for pimento cheese Paula Deen style!

  36. I am in. Our deep-freeze needed cleaned out to find out what was lurking in the bottom. Turns out a lot of ice and PORK.

    Sometime back our Kroger had great cuts of pork for .99/lb. I bought a lot. And still have a lot. Spent time yesterday looking for creative pork recipes.

    Aside from needing cleaned out, I really want to be more intentional this year in where our grocery budget goes. Hoping for more fresh produce – and less pork. :)

  37. I’m in! I’m really tired of opening the pantry doors and having stuff come falling out every time. I don’t have much storage, and it’s time to use it or lose it. :-) Saving $20-$25 off my usualy $250/month budget (for me and nearly 17-year-old twins) would be a welcome bonus.

  38. It’s time for me to do this! My pantry is a mess so I bet I’ll find a number of interesting ingredients in there :)

  39. Count me in too! We might be moving interstate in two months and I really need to use up all the ingredients I’ve collected. This should also motivate me to do a proper menu plan too. Thanks for the motivation!

  40. I am so glad to find this challenge!! I have been trying to get serious about cutting our food budget as it is our only flexible spending area. I am determined to plan menus and work better at my couponing. I have the same question that someone else posted–do you include health & beauty, cleaning supplies, paper products etc in your food budget, or is that just strictly food?
    Thank you!!

    • Personally, we include those things in our grocery budget because of the stores I buy them at. But, for challenge purposes, do what works for you!

  41. Hi Jessica,
    I’ll join you for the pantry challenge. But I will spend on meat, produce and dairy. I’m not aiming to reduce my grocery expense, just planning to use up stuff in my pantry. Thanks for starting this challenge.

  42. Count me in! I started working on clearing out my freezer/pantry around mid-December. I’m still buying milk, produce, and ingredients for baby food, though.

  43. I tried to do this last January and failed. I have learned alotabout budget cooking since then. I have put more in our freezer this year then ever. My children may not enjoy this as much as me. Thank you for the encouragement!

    • @claire, the first time I did it was really difficult. The last few times my kids didn’t even know we were doing it. It will get easier!

      • @Jessica, I am getting excited about this. I have 2 turkey’s in the freezer to use. Lots of can goods. My goal this year is to get my children to eat more veggies. I have 5 boys who eat like their Daddy, no veggies. lol I will do my best planning and pray they all eat. Lol thank you for being a good ecample to follow.

  44. I’m in! One of my resolutions is to get our credit card debt under control, and one of those steps is to make a budget. I’ve never actually done that before, but if I cook with what I have that’ll make me spend way less on food (and restaurants!) than I normally would.

    • @Amy @ A Little Nosh, what we found to be most helpful in that process was to stop using the card and then writing the budget based on that month’s income. It seems basic, but that first part about the card was hard.

  45. Count me in too!

  46. We are doing this.
    My pantry is full.
    I will still participate in my veggie co-op and buy dairy/paper products. But I need to use what I have. I did a major toss of expired things (did you know that teas expire? never dawned on me!). Anywhooooooo I put this on my blog too! I’m with you…
    Em

    • @Emily, yes. Lots of things expire that you wouldn’t dream of. I always pay a stupid tax during a PC because I find things that went to waste.

  47. I’m in, starting when I grocery shop tonight. I don’t need to clean anything out so much as I need to adjust my budget for a weekly organic produce delivery that I’m starting.

    Yesterday I sat down and planned dinners for the month and we should do just fine! I had more than I thought I did when I looked at it all.

  48. im in! I told the kids I refuse to by anything snacky(candy, fruit snacks, yogurt, pudding, granola bars, crackers, anything prepackaged aside from chips) until everything we currently have is gone. I also am not buying any more cereal and I need to see what’s in our freezer that needs to be used.

  49. i am very excited about this. i have a TON of stuff in my pantry and freezer that needs to be used up. we are low on certain types of meat so i will of course buy that when its on sale so i can stock up like i usually do. there are a lot of meals i wanted to make and never got too so the ingredients just sit. i am looking forward to finding new ideas for meals. i also have a ton of cake/brownie mix so i will be baking my own cakes, cupcakes and adding some of the 50%off candies i found after christmas, instead of spending $4-$5 at the store for a cake!
    hoping to meet some new blogs along the way for ideas as well:)

  50. i’m in!

  51. I’m in!

  52. I’m going to give this a shot! I did a LOT of stockpiling with Thanksgiving and Christmas grocery sales. We also need to do some freezer clearing so that it can be defrosted sometime soon. Trying to save up some extra cash for a vacation in March, this seems like a great way to start!

    I just took a year-old turkey out of the freezer- let the challenge begin!

  53. I’m in! Let the games begin:-)

  54. I’m in! Getting my weekly produce basket and shopping for donation items, but we’ll see how far I can get!

  55. I’m in!

  56. I am in. Took inventory in the pantry and freezer and made a list of meals that I could prepare. 28 dinners so far (red beans and rice, pumpkin risotto, pot roast and more!). Looking forward to reading about everyone’s success

  57. I am in! I spent all day think of all the recipes I can make with things I already have on hand-mostly with the 2 deer in my freezer! My pantry is pretty well organized though. I had my middle child take it all out and organize it( as a punishment) one day. Taught a lesson and accomplished a much-needed task at the same time :)

  58. I’m in! Actually, I started this the week before Christmas out of necessity. It’s a great way to bring the food budget back into line and to rotate what we have in the pantry and freezer.

  59. I am in! I started right after Christmas day. All those leftovers, I am looking forward to the challenge and my freezers are in need of organization and utilization. You all are such inspirations.

  60. Kerry Alonge says:

    I am in! I did it in July with you for the first time and it was awesome, can’t wait to start making my menu’s!!!
    Thanks for all you do, I love your blog. You have me and my family out greatly. Happy New Year to you and your family!!!!!

  61. I’m in too! We’re trying to work on a budget for 2012 and as our car was just totalled, looks like we’ll be having a car payment added to our expenses, so this couldn’t be more timely!

  62. I will definitely be doing this on my website. What a fantastic idea to cut down on food waste!

  63. I had already decided I needed to do this, and found you with a search on “Pantry Challenge”, so count me in!

  64. Chtistine says:

    Inventory? Menus? Meal planning????? Omg!!! I’m a fly by the seat of my pants girl. But I have so much in the pantry,and the freezer out back and the freezer in the kitchen. I need to use it up before I have to throw it away. I feel overwhelmed already.

    • Don’t be overwhelmed. Just look in one of those areas at a time. Find out what you have and then think about what you can make with it. We’ll help. But, a meal plan for this week (based on what you already have) would be a good baby step. You could even start smaller with a three-day meal plan. ;)

  65. I think that I am going to give it a try :) Count me in…..

  66. I am so in!! I was just looking through the pantry this afternoon and thinking that I needed to get busy using it up.

    Are you answering any questions? Or will you be posting questions from readers?

    Someone gave us a LOT of fresh, locally caught fish, which is now in the freezer. What could I make with it? I thought of fish tacos to try something new but haven’t ever done that.

    My question would be does anyone have good fish recipes? Has anyone ever used egg replacement powder? (we also recieved 10 bags of this and I can’t just let it go to waste!) Does it work well in recipes like pancakes or muffins?

    I am really looking forward to this!

  67. Corissa Davidson says:

    I’m in I started early, freezer is looking a little shabby, but I’ve still got the cubboards!!! If I could cut just a little more off the budget I’d be happy.

  68. Michelle P. says:

    You can count us in!

  69. I’m in for the 3rd year in a row! Hubby and I did freezer inventory on New Year’s and we’re ready to go!

  70. I think I will give this a go to save a couple hundred dollars to buy a few items I need for our new baby.

  71. I’m so doing this. I’m even gonna blog about it, but I’m newer to blogging and not yet brave enough to go public, yet. Maybe by the the middle of January? Anyway, I’m taking the pantry challenge.

  72. This single mom is in!!

  73. my question is, How do you feed 8 pp on $800 per month?!! I am very frugal and I spend nearly that on 3 of us. That is on budget meats, not even a lot of that, limited produce an litle to no prepackaged foods like hot dogs , mac and cheese or sauces. I make almost everthing myself. I live in the north east and things are high but… WOW I am so impressed i have to ask, how do you do it?
    thanks

    • Well, $800 is actually an extravagant month. And we do have a separate dining out budget (about $200). I guess you’ll have to keep reading. I don’t really have a pat answer other than stockpiling sale items, freezer cooking, and cooking from scratch. :)

  74. I am planning to do this. I may not be one hundred percent in, but I’ll focus on going in this direction. I have plenty of food right now, and the only things I foresee having to go buy are milk, eggs, bread, and butter. We’ll see how it goes. Thanks for all of the recipe ideas. I’ve printed and bookmarked several from your list for January. One question I have is about the chicken pot pie. It doesn’t list a crust recipe–do you make it yourself, and if so, is the recipe on your site? I’m always intimidated by pie crusts, so if it’s a good, easy one, that would be great.

  75. Count me in again. I did the July PC and saved enough money to have a great family vacation in Texas with family for 2 weeks and paid cash for everything. So now I’m hoping to save enough with this PC to pay for our vacation to Yellowstone & Mount Rushmore this summer. Oh we will be camping on this vacation to save more money. Good luck everyone. Oh I should say we live on the Oregon Coast.

  76. It is amazing to come across your site, first time because I had been thinking the same thing these past few weeks. I have no kids at home now but I stock my pantry like I do and so I find myself tossing away too much. Promised not do that this year and this just fits right in. I joining and thanks

  77. I’m in! We definitely have enough food, and my goal is to save enough on the food budget to replace two separate cooking pans that are losing their non-stick quality.

  78. I just saw this! I think I will need to do a feb freezer/pantry clean out! I have a business cking dinner t go from my huse and my jan menu is already posted. I really need to figure out what I have and use up the seldom used items. Thanks for the new tip and motivatin!

  79. I’m joining you, too! Thanks for the challenge!

  80. Jennifer B. says:

    Jessica~I am in!! This will be a challenge for me! Even though I am pretty careful with what I buy at the grocery store and use coupons to save at the check out, I am often very upset at what expires and what spoils before we eat it!! This will be great for me!! Thanks!

    • It is a great way to clean house. I realized that this is the 4th time I’ve done it. It gets easier over time, too.

  81. I am in! I have actually been doing this since Jan 1! My family has decided that we need to eat healthier so we are using up our stockpile and then going to replace items with healthier ones! I am so ready to “de-clutter” our food and start fresh!

  82. Well I know the month is over but we have been doing the challenge all month – I just never had the chance to come here and post updates or post the updates on my blog. I am writing a post now to talk about the goals we had and what we achieved.

  83. Becky Mallatt says:

    Have you ever heard of this site: http://www.supercook.com. What is awesome about this site is you type in (or check off) ingredients that you have and it immediately gives you TONS of recipes, from all over the internet, that you can make with it! It’s amazing! And a good way to use up what you have in your house without going shopping.

  84. count me in. time to clean out and organize the pantry for a healthier and more organized year,

  85. I am in for sure. We have hit a meal time rut at my house and I think this will be a good way to dhake up meal time around here. Also we are saving up money so we can have fun on our dream vaction and this will definitly help with that!

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