A Pantry Challenge – How Will It Work this July?

A pantry challenge can be a great way to reduce expenses, use what you have, and waste less.

Twice a year for the last several years, I’ve spent the months of January and July doing a “pantry challenge“. This is a time when I try to make good use of what we have in the fridge, freezer, and cupboards as well as make a concentrated effort for stretching our dollars as far as I can.

Within reason, of course. Life is always subject to change.

Yesterday, I shared my monthly and yearly grocery spending update. Even though I went over budget, our yearly grocery spending is averaging just under $800/month to feed eight people and buy necessary toiletries, cleaning supplies, and paper products.

This number is not as low as some, but having done a grocery spending audit earlier this year, I know that it’s legitimate for a family of our size and age as well as for one that is trying to reduce processed foods and eat more real food. My kids are pretty ravenous these days, so I don’t plan on lowering our monthly average until someone leaves home!

I hesitate to do a traditional pantry challenge this month for several reasons:

  1. My six children are ravenous, particularly my teen and tween boys.
  2. This is the season for great summer produce and preserving it. I don’t want to miss out.
  3. I haven’t been stockpiling like I did in my bigtime couponing days.
  4. It’s been a tricky dance to keep under budget. Some months have been way over, some less.

Basically, I want to relax this summer and not work too hard. However, since I’m such a traditionalist, I am going to attempt a pantry challenge again this July. In the old days, I made extreme goals of spending as little as possible. But, I didn’t have the four circumstances above working against me.

I also know the benefits of eating down the pantry. Check out my recent post on Keeper of the Home if you missed it. I know that a Pantry Challenge can help me waste less, learn to make do, discover old and new favorites, shop better, be more creative, and save money.

So, I’m in! Are you?

My goals for the Summer Pantry Challenge

I sat down and took mental and physical snapshots of our food storage. We’ve got food, but it’s mostly disorganized. See?

Goal #1 – Inventory what we have.

I plan to take an extensive inventory of the fridge, freezer, and pantry. Knowing what I have will help me cook and shop better in the coming month.

Our pantry holds food as well as some small appliances. I think I might need to find a new home for those appliances so I can make the pantry more focused on its purpose of food storage.

Goal #2 – Empty the freezer to thaw it out.

This is the current state of our deep freeze. There’s mostly baked goods, chicken, ice, and some odds and ends. I’d like to focus on clearing it out so that I can defrost it. There’s a fair amount of ice accumulation developing at this point.

Plus, I’d like to do a big, big freezer cooking session for August and September and want some space to start fresh.

The freezer itself is going on 14 years now. I’m amazed that it’s lasted this long. [knocks on wood]. We’ve looked at upgrading it, but the prices of freezers are just not coming down. And I don’t see that they have too many more bells and whistles than this baby.

Goal #3 – Make better use of the in-house freezer.

Usually, when I thaw out the deep freeze, I transfer all the little odds and ends into the fridge/freezer. And forget about them.

During the interim between thaws, the in-house freezer becomes the holding spot for little bits of odd leftovers. So, this time I’m going to focus on emptying this freezer first and organizing it better.

The kids are becoming more adept at making their own smoothies, so this is going to become a better smoothie-making station. I have big dreams.

Goal #4 – Enjoy the produce box.

This is a wonderful season to enjoy a huge variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. I don’t want to miss out! There are four deliveries for the month ($42 each) plus any extras we want to stock up on. I’m giving myself a $200 budget for produce which will allow us all four weeks, plus a few extras.

I’ve ordered another 15 pound box of stone fruit at $10/box. I know surplus green beans and corn are just around the corner, so I definitely want to stock up for later in the year. Can’t wait!

Goal #5 – Save some money!

I’m not sure how this one will work out. I’m hoping to reduce my total grocery spending some, but I’m afraid to put a number on it. We’re running low on lots of things. So, let’s just say, we’ll see how that works out.

Join me for a pantry challenge!

I’m going to be live blogging our pantry challenge, posting daily updates of what I’m cooking and serving my family. Just check this page here.

Are you interested in eating down the pantry and making the most of what you have? Share your goals for the month in the comments section or link up a post. This will be on the front page (just scroll down) for a week. We’ll have weekly updates each week, so come share how it’s working for you!

You don’t have to have a blog to participate. Just share your challenges, questions, and successes in the comments of each weekly post. We’ll help each other out!

Are ya with me?

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Comments

  1. Angie McGeown says:

    I am so excited that you are doing another pantry challenge! I’m in! I will be taking my inventory and organizing asap!!! Thank you!

  2. I’ll definitely be cheering you on and watching. We just ran through most of our freezer / pantry items before a small trip so I’m about to restock almost everything!

  3. I’ve been working on eating down our stockpile for some time now. The reduction is noticable and there has been a significant reduction in the grocery expenditure as a result. I plan my dinner menus around the 15th of the month, for the upcoming month. I start with an inventory, and come up (and write down on a calendar used just for menu planning)with menus for the new month, using as much of what is already on hand as possible. I currently have 3 teen boys at home, and understand about voracious appetites. A protein, a starch, a veg or 2, a salad is a good start. Offer more carbs such as bread at dinner to help fill them up. Make pasta and bean dishes for lunch. Fried rice using your produce box contents.

    RE: the 14 y.o. freezer. I currently have my second chest freezer, one that replaced a 14 y.o. smaller chest freezer before it would expire. Although this new freezer is gigantic, about 24 cubic feet storage capacity while the previous one was 15?, our electricity went DOWN when I replaced the older freezer. Something to consider. We have ridiculously high electric rates, so anything I can do to conserve is a win-win for me.

    • Jessica says:

      @Carol, yeah, I’ve been contemplating the energy usage. I think I want to get a killawatt meter and see how much we’re actually using.

  4. I’m in! I announced to my guys last night that we are doing a Pantry Challenge this month. My husband said, “Oh no! Beans and rice!” Then my son replied, “But her bread with butter is the best in the world.” HA! It’s definitely going to be an adventure.

    • Jessica says:

      @Angela, ha! I don’t tell me people anymore! The last few times, no one even noticed.

      • @Jessica,
        I’ve done it without telling them before, but hubs is NOTORIOUS for saying, ‘Will you go pick up _____?’ on the spur of the moment, so I’m hoping this will help curtain that. Hoping. Planning. And hoping. ;)

  5. I LOVE it when you do this. Yes, I am way in. We are out of town this week for a family funeral, and I am taking a good bit of my freezer stock to fill my cousin’s freezer (his wife passed away yesterday, leaving him and his 8 y/o son). So, I figure that’s kind of “cheating,” in terms of reducing the stock, but I really need to tackle/reduce our dry pantry stock and work ahead on baking mixes. I’ll be following, but I really won’t start checking in until the second week of July. Thanks for inspiring me, as always, Jessica!

    • Jessica says:

      It’s not cheating if you’re helping someone. That’s being a good steward of how God has blessed you!

  6. We redo our budget (at least) every six months. We just finished getting it all set up last night so it’s a perfect time for me to do a pantry challenge. I also just made a list of healthy whole-food snacks so we feel like we have more options and aren’t being deprived as we try to eat healthier.

  7. I am in too! Just doing a modified challenge…mainly to spend less this month. We had an unplanned trip to FL last month and just had a house full of family this past week. So needless to say, we need to watch the budget this month. I have a freezer stocked with local beef and some chicken and pork. I’m trying to limit my shopping to produce and dairy (plus some lunch meat). I just spent $35 at Aldi today and I think we’re set for the week…yay!

  8. We’re joining in this month, too! My husband agreed to help me plan some meals out of what we have in our pantry and freezer.

    Our main goals:
    1. Reduce our grocery spending this month by at least $100, if not $200. Our goal is to mainly just buy produce and a few staples (like dairy, cereal, bread). Maybe I should put a number on the produce budget? Or limit types of items we buy? I wonder which would work better.
    2. Use up a majority (at least half) of what we have in the pantry so I can reorganize that space. (It’s a mess right now.)

    Thanks for the encouragement here!

  9. Jessica one of the things that keeps me reading your blogs even when I don’t have time for reading blogs is your ability to look at reality and be flexible. It helps remind me to do the same!
    When I read ‘pantry challenge’ my first thought was that I just don’t want to work that hard this month!
    But you’re right – it WOULD be good to save some money since we spend so much on summer fun, and it would be good to be mindful of what I’m doing – so MY modest goals for this pantry challenge are:
    1. Don’t buy any more snack foods – we’re overloaded and I’m guessing some will have to be tossed because they’re THAT old – need to clear out that area of the closet!
    2. Indulge in fresh produce, but make good use of what I buy – shop more often if need be to avoid buying and tossing [I live near several good places to buy produce]
    3. Eat down the deep freeze
    4. Figure out WHAT is in the kitchen freezer portion and use it up – I rarely open it anymore LOL

  10. Jessica S says:

    I just was directed to your site recently and read up on your freezer meals. I LOVE this new challenge! I do these regularly! This past Monday I moved the last few handfuls of deep freeze items into the upstairs freezer and unplugged for the day! Tuesday I was able to restock the deep freeze with a surplus of meat! We are currently experiencing a major heat wave( I know- who isn’t) and I thought that maybe I should take a notebook down to my basement and inventory what I have in my stockpiles! Your new post is a sign that I SHOULD make use of the unpleasant weather and get to work!
    I cannot wait to continue reading!

  11. Just what I needed! I just went through our pantry yesterday and put together 5 bags of staples for our local food pantry. Still there is lots more left. I looked in the freezer this morning and was thinking we need to eat all of the dinners in there over the next 6 weeks. My goal for the freezer is to be through the majority of food in there by the time school starts so we can work on fall freezer cooking in September. My main goal, however, is to increase the amount of fresh food we eat daily – fewer crackers, chips; more veggies and fruit. We don’t eat badly, but I definitely have seen the kids eat more of the crackers since school’s been out. Thanks for allowing me to come along for the Pantry Challenge again – can’t wait!

  12. Jennifer says:

    Brand new to your blog…what is a produce box?

  13. I’m doing a build my pantry back up challenge. I’m nearly out of all purpose and white wheat flour and I’ve run out of brown sugar and other various staples.

  14. I’m in! Although we’ll be out of town for a little over a week so it may be easier than if we were home but we might spend more $ going out to eat more. I don’t have a huge stockpile right now but there’s only 3 of us so I don’t think it needs to be that big. Just trying to pay attention and use up what we have. Thanks for doing this challenge!

  15. I’m in! I have a ton of partial meals (last serving or two from a meal we ate months ago) frozen that just need to be eaten! I need to get back control of my pantry and make more from scratch mixes and such but I don’t have my inventory up to date. I try to check off items as I use them but it only last a few weeks and then it’s all a mess again. Hoping this will help kickstart me yet again to stay a little more organized and keep the food budget low as funds are tight this month.

  16. I’m in–I’m always in! I live a pantry challenge every day and since it’s been pretty normal for the the last 5 1/2 years, no one will notice a difference. :)

    No food purchases for us for the month of July.

    Our garden is full of peaches, plums, and grapes right now, so we’re doing well with fresh things.

    • Jessica says:

      You constantly amaze me, Brandy! Seriously? You’re buying nothing this month?

      • @Jessica, No food purchases.

        My own reasons come from neccessity (lack of income). That’s usually the reason. It’s pretty easy to not buy anything if you don’t have the money for it.

        My pantry is doing fine. Remember, my pantry is larger than most :) I took a turkey out of the freezer yesterday.

        We had oatmeal with fresh peaches from the garden this morning.

      • @Jessica,
        I replenish when I can. At the end of the year last year I had spent no more than $100 a month total (averaged between times of shopping and not shopping to 12 months) for groceries for all 8 of us. When I shop, I shop to stock the pantry–always. I don’t buy just for a week at a time. Since my pantry has a lot of basic staples already, I only buy things on the best sales. For example, if I’m running low on pasta, and a great deal on pasta comes up, pasta might be the only thing I buy for that week, or even for a couple of weeks. For example, in January I spent $35 and bought 50 pounds of oats.

        Some things I have used more slowly (wheat, mostly) so I still have wheat that I bought a long time ago, and a few other things (curry! And it’s still good, thankfully, since I bought FIVE POUNDS of it :) )

        I continously reevaluate what needs in our pantry are most pressing.

        Also, we have been blessed by so many. A family from our church just moved to Canada. She gave me some things she wasn’t going to take with her, including a 25 pound bag of sugar, some instant pudding in #10 cans (the kind that has powdered milk in it, so you just add water), 2 #10 cans of beans, and a couple other small things. Sometimes I end up having more of something I needed in ways like that.

        I also seek out gleaning opportunities for free fruit.

        Our garden doesn’t provide anywhere near all of what we need (I wish it did! In cooler climates it could go a lot further with the same space) but it does help. Last month I froze plums and apricots from the garden that we couldn’t eat fast enough. I’ll use those later for smoothies and popsicles.

        I don’t buy a lot of meat anymore; I’ve mostly limited us to meat that is $1 a pound or less, which mostly means turkeys and hams bought before Thanksgiving and kept in the freezer to use throughout the year. I cook one turkey a month and we spread it out through several meals. I buy beans in bulk (25 pound bags) for around .65 a pound, and we eat other meatless meals as well.

        As our income continuosly decreases, I have to adapt to make things work. As of mid-June by husband had only made ALL YEAR what he used to make in 2 weeks. (Commissions that used to be $12,000 to $16,000 have dropped to $900-$1200, thanks to living in the city with the nation’s worst housing bubble. Even before the bubble, 11 years ago, house prices were higher, and a commission would be at least $2000-$5000.)

  17. I am half or maybe 3/4 in. lol I’ve been cleaning out my pantry/storage area the last month or two so I’m not as well stocked as I’d like to be. But I’m gonna try to use up a bunch of stuff that we have and I know I’ll be able to shave a lot off my budget!

  18. I did this in January and it seems like a good idea to do it again since my produce box will be starting up again soon. Also, I’m in the DC area and the power outages from last week’s storm freaked me out a bit since I would have lost so much food!

    But i don’t feel like working hard either, so mine will be a pantry challenge lite :)

  19. I have been meaning to clean out our freezer and pantry for a while now. Our freezer is full, our pantry is full, and our grocery budget is out of control. I don’t know what has happened recently, but this is just the motivation I need to get everything back on track!

  20. I’m a few days late joining as I just found you today but I’ve been looking for a pantry challenge for a couple of months. I’ve already done my freezer inventory and I coupon and have a good stockpile. I went 2 months in February and March without going to the grocery store for anything other than milk, eggs, cheese and a fresh fruit/veggie delivery every 2 weeks. Ready to combine this with some menu planning to get us through the rest of the summer.

  21. I’ve tried it a few times in the past couple of years, but never make it past the first week! Now I desperately NEED to do it. My pantry, fridge, and freezer are jam packed — I can barely even close the fridge this week… I don’t know how that happened since I haven’t been spending any big bucks lately. Maybe we have been eating less in the hot weather. Cooking in a hot kitchen isn’t exactly my favorite thing to do, but I will DARN well do it now. I’m really looking forward to this. My husband on the other hand will probably be less existed about what is going to be served for some time to come. AND he loves to eat out, somethat that I feel is terrible waste of money when we have to much food at home. I also often get sick from lactose and gluten when I go out to eat, so we definitively have different philosophies when it comes to best dinner. LOL I’m READY. : )

  22. Well I took your advice and gutted the garage freezer and took inventory. I made a meal plan for a week and a half out of freezer items alone. I too need to defrost, then I can restock.
    I had three teen boys all at once and they can be a budget strain, that is for sure. Not only that, but having three boys at that age meant there were plenty more teenage friends around to eat dinner too. I leaned a lot of recipes that fed a crowd and yes, you may need to add fillers to your meals like additional breads. Just remember it’s only a few years, unless you’re like me and they come back to live because they haven’t found work after college.

  23. You inspired me to do a Pantry Challenge as well. It was much needed after some over spending for 4th of July food and festivities. Time to get back on budget!

    http://livinginwbl.com/2013/07/06/pantry-challenge-july-2013-save-money-and-waste-less/

    I will be following along with you!

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