Grocery Greek: Pantry Challenge, Week 1

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To set my family up for success in the pantry challenge, I stocked up on basics so that they don’t notice what they’re missing.

The first week of the pantry challenge is almost done. At this moment, I’d like to point out that this is not a “no-spend challenge”. I’ve tried those before for groceries and it drives me crazy. It’s just too hard in this season of life to squeak by without buying something.

That said, I’m hoping to buy less this month than in months previous. But, like I said last weekend, I don’t want to stress it.

Sunday we got back from our staycation and the cupboard was bare. Well, not really. But since I like to start the week on a good foot, I did a 21-meal plan and hopped over to Sprouts for a few things.


15yo boy requested protein powder and we needed more sunscreen, so those were the high priced items in the cart. Since folks seem to like the price breakdown of different items, I’ll try to start recording them here. That may give you a better idea of how you can replicate or avoid my shopping adventures.

half and half $2.59
eggs $1.89/dozen
puffed rice $1.25/bag
sunscreen $7.99
chicken sausage $2.99/lb
melons $0.50/lb
cherries $1.49/lb
cilantro $0.33/bunch
green onions $0.33/bunch
avocados $0.50/ea
organic broccoli $1.49/lb
organic blueberries $2.50/pkg
organic celery $1.49/eac
watermelon $0.25/lb
yellow onions $0.33/lb
protein powder $17.59

Total spent $64


It may seem odd that I went to Costco during a pantry challenge. What is she thinking?!

This is what I’m thinking: I want to plan for success this month. If my family thinks we are lacking, it will be hard on them. We were out of cheese, pasta, milk, bread, and tortillas at the beginning of the week. These are veritable staples around our house. I knew that having these would make the rest of the challenge to eat down the pantry.

nonfat milk $2.24/gallon
#10 can of tomatoes (for pasta sauce at the end of the month) $2.89
Cascade $9.39
heavy cream $6.49/half gallon
half and half $3.99/half gallon
pepperoncinis $4.99/2 jars
English muffins $6.49/4 packages
organic spaghetti $7.99/8 packages
organic whole wheat spaghetti $9.39/8 packages
chocolate chips $10.99/72 ounces
hormone-free shredded mozzarella $10.29/5 pounds
romano cheese $5.99/pound
sourdough $3.39/2 lb loaf
cheddar $8.79/2.5 lb
medium cheddar $7.99/2.5 lb
pepperjack $7.99/2.5 lb
tortillas $3.39/2 dozen
organic ground beef $17.99/4 lb
bacon $10.99/4 lb
turkey breast $15.28
Italian sausage $8.69/3 lb

Total spent $173

Abundant Harvest Organics

The produce box doesn’t look like much, but it’s lasted us quite some time. This week’s box includes potatoes, strawberries, melon, beets, radishes, chives, peppers, cukes, nectarines, peaches, eggplant, tomatoes, squash, and lettuce.

Total spent $42 (delivery included)


I didn’t intend on any more grocery shopping, but we stopped at Target for a birthday present and one thing led to another. I realized I hadn’t thawed anything for dinner. A child asked me for chocolate mint marshmallows. I remembered we didn’t have pizza toppings. And I saw that Target’s cream cheese is hormone-free, something that is hard to find in my neighborhood.

So, yes, we bought a few comestibles.

In my defense, I also had Target gift cards to burn, so I didn’t spend anything out of pocket. I would have spent:

cream cheese $1.49 each
tri-tip $11.35
pepperoni $2.84 (best price I’ve seen anywhere)
marshmallows $0.99
sugar ice cream cones $1.99
wafer ice cream cones $1.42
mushrooms $1.79

Total (not) spent $26

The plan for the rest of the month

I’ve got my work cut out for me for the remainder of July. I’m going to need to do some baking to curb our bread spending. We have fruit and veg and cheese and meat to cover us. But, I really want to empty the big freezer, so I’m going to need to be strategic.

Total spent July, to date: $279

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  1. Rosemary says:

    Do you use coupons at all? We’re on a tight grocery budget, $120 a week including a gallon of milk per day to feed a family of five, and we have to use coupons to make that happen. I could never spend $11 on chocolate chips, or $17 on protein powder. Those are such luxeries. A pantry challenge here really is a matter of stretching the staples like canned beans, frozen chicken etc. Your limited shopping for the pantry challenge is like a dream grocery trip for me.

    • Jessica says:

      @Rosemary, thanks for your thoughtful question and comment. I’m not sure how much back story you know, so here it is.

      Four years ago, we had big debt to pay off. In order to do that, we set out grocery budget at $400/month to feed for our family of 8 (2 adults, 6 kids: 11, 7, 6, 4, 2, and newborn). I used coupons heavily to make this work. As a result we had lots of luxury items, albeit processed, thanks to savvy coupon usage.

      We’ve since paid off all our debt and instead of spending more money on cars, clothes, or hobbies, we’ve upped our grocery budget to $800/month. Now we are feeding 2 adults, 15boy, 11boy, 10boy, 8boy, and girls who are 5 and 3.

      Along the way I have done a lot of food research and realized that I don’t want to buy the processed stuff. We’ve reverted back to mostly whole ingredients, except, of course, for things like chocolate chips and protein powder. They are luxuries for us, too, but, I buy those in huge bulk packages that last a month or so.

      Four years ago, the sales with coupons were plentiful and amazing. A lot has changed in California to make that not so much the case. There are no 50cent cereal boxes to tempt me. And since I don’t want the processed foods anyway, I’m now putting our dollars into organic produce, unprocessed sweeteners, and hormone-free dairy when we can. We don’t buy everything organic, but I am trying to be very intentional in what I buy.

      My current shopping is a dream grocery trip for me, too. I never thought our budget would change or that I’d be able to ever buy organic anything (unless I had a FREE coupon). I’m still cooking dried beans and on my list of things to use this month are all varieties of frozen chicken.

      At the same time, my reasons for a pantry challenge vary from season to season. This month is more about stock rotation and using up what we have so we don’t waste it. But, in other seasons, like this past January when I spent about $400 for the month, it was clearly to get our costs down.

      • @Jessica,

        I’m with Rosemary. That’s a lot of food! You’ve spent your normal one week amount for food, so I’m really confused as to what you are challenging yourself to do, other than making sure you eat everything out of the freezer. If that’s the case, perhaps you should call it an “Empty the Freezer” challenge. Can you explain what the challenge here is, for you?

  2. Victoria says:

    I love using gift cards for groceries (or other necessities) ! haha 🙂 I read a book recently where the gal recommended having a freezer (and pantry) inventory… that sure has helped with working my way thru the backlog that can get lost in there (and it’s only a pain at first when you have to write it all down, keeping up on it is easier) Though I’m the only one pulling things out of there (not the hubby or 2 year old) so it would be harder with others grabbing things out that aren’t as committed to keeping up the inventory! Good luck this month and have fun with it! Thanks for bringing us along.

  3. Hi Jessica! I just wanted to thank you for the inspiration! I am doing my first ever pantry challenge. My goals are to become a more mindful, intentional grocery shopper and save some money this month. Are you going to host regular link-ups? I blogged about my first five days here: We also had to buy a few things to get us started, but I expect we’ll be good for the rest of the month.

  4. I had to laugh out loud at your “It may seem odd that I went to Costco during a pantry challenge. What is she thinking?!”

    Boy, do I hear ya… 🙂 But.. like you, Costco for me is a stock up trip. I rarely go there unless I know exactly what Im getting, and thats mostly meats, cheeses, coffee, & half & half.
    Several years ago, I would go in there & spend 300-$400 bucks at a whack and then wonder what on earth I bought that cost so much. 😉 Its a dangerous place for me, but I know it & keep my feet on the ground these days.

    I need to start cooking again. Its been so hot here & we’ve been so busy, that we’ve mostly eaten out. There are just the 2.5 of us here now (mostly) so its not killed us too bad.

    Im running low on meats in the freezer, but I think I want to really clear it out. There are a lot of things I’ll bypass and they need to be rotated out.
    If I had the energy, I’d love to completely empty both my freezers (big standalone down stairs, & the frig freezer) and reorganize & take a better inventory of what I’ve got. I’ll get it done one of these days.

    I only stopped at the grocery store (Heinins) for milk (1.5 gals= about $6) this week. 1 gal of regular whole milk for m’honey’s drinking pleasure and 1/2 gal of unhomogenized whole milk for my kefir.
    Our CSA box was gorgeous and full and I put some of it in the freezer, gave some to a neighbor, & dehydrated the zucchini for another day.

    I did the same thing with coupons about 4 years ago. I still have lots of freebies I’ve gotten (mainly cleaners, & other health & beauty items) for free or cheap but its rare to find some really awesome deals like we had before “that show”. It sure spoiled the fun.
    We gained at least 10# when I first started couponing because I bought junk I wouldnt normally have bought… that stopped about a year after I started & realized what junk I had brought in my house. However, I think I can get really good bacon right now for around $1.71 so I need to find my coupons & go check it out. 🙂

    Have a great weekend!

  5. Wow….cheese is expensive where you are. We have had some good deals on cheese here again lately though…I just paid 3.99 (for 2 lbs) for cheese that is made by Bandon (just like Tillamook) and $4.69 for another brand.
    I guess it evens out as your produce is cheaper!

  6. I am so bitterly jealous at your produce prices (1.49 for cherries!). And that you have tortillas at your costco. (I’ve been emailing them…. no we really don’t have any). But I wanted to point out that cascade is on sale next week. We do very well stockpiling things that are on coupon at Costco (though I admit, I would personally just buy the kirkland liquid kind). On my stocking list before this round of coupons expires: craisins, grahams, and diapers!

    I do also coupon and do not buy junk, although I will buy some processed items, especially if they are free. Last week I picked up at our grocery store pasta salad mixes (free), cereal (about a buck a box), salsa (I cannot stand the kirkland one), tortillas, etc. I admit that our budget is tighter lately but the coupon deals have been improving. Yes, really!! (sign of the economy) I have been trying to work through our freezer store and also trying to add more filler (rice, beans) to our meals. It seems like I am on a perpetual pantry challenge!!

  7. Samantha says:

    Costco protein powder is a great deal. I also buy our sunscreen there as we go thru a lot in my house. I wish we had Sprouts in Northern Cal!

    I agree…you have to keep the staples around otherwise you go crazy and spend more money.

  8. Courtney says:

    Your produce prices are incredible! I’m in Illinois and we pay at least double for many of the produce items you bought. Cherries are $4.98/lb. here and avocados very rarely go on sale for $1 apiece – usually, they’re around $1.50 each.

  9. I’m doing a pantry challenge this month too! We are moving at the end of the month and I NEED to empty the freezer so I don’t have to give all our stocked up meats and freezer meals away. I started freezer cooking about a year ago and have been following your blog and trying to rotate what we have and eat up the stored dried goods. the good thing about the dried goods is that they move easily.

    I still have two roasts, two whole chickens, 4 packages of ck breast, several pork tenderloins, plus a lasagna, several containers of spaghetti sauce (my own red sauce recipe) and a boat load of homemade chicken and vegetable broth! The problem is who wants to eat a roast or soup when its 100+ degrees outside? LOL I’m cooking for a family of 5, kids are 5,3,and 1. I think we will get through most of the freezer stash before the big move! So far I’ve only had to run to the grocery store for the necessities – milk, bread, eggs, some recipe ingredients (when we had most of what we needed at home!). I’m trying to see just how little I can spend this month.

    I’m also transitioning to a stay-at-home, one income family after the move, which is exciting and scary all at the same time! Living on a budget is not something I’ve had to worry about with both of us making a good salary. I’m hoping with what we will save by not paying for daycare and me commuting to work everyday that the transition won’t be too rough. I’ve set our grocery budget to $500/month right now and we’ll see how it goes. We ate out a lot when I worked (at least twice a week), but I also cooked a lot of meals ahead on weekends and freezer cooking from scratch so we limited our processed foods consumption. I made the switch to mostly organic produce and meats (not dairy yet) about 2 years ago. I’m hoping I’ll still be able to afford that after the move. My extended family will buy a whole cow and split it between us and BIL’s family so that makes beef affordable. I’m also going to do that with pork in the future.

    Thanks for all that you put on your blog! Love it.

  10. Hello! I love coming here to check in because I get some good grocery ideas! I just saw you mentioned needing to curb the bread budget and thought I would just ask if you have a bread bakery outlet nearby? We save SO much with buying our bread there….There are some healthy options too, like 100% whole wheat bread we like from Orowheat….
    You probably already know about this- I am no expert! haha
    BIG high fives to you for doing SO well in budgeting for a large family! We only have 3 children and it’s not easy! 🙂

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks for the suggestion. We had a great outlet in KC with fabulous prices. The outlet here (which has since gone out of business) had regular store prices. Big whoop! I can get a really good whole wheat loaf without soy or corn syrup from Trader Joe’s for $2 and the sourdough at Costco is $3-something for two loaves worth. But, we can easily go through one loaf in a sitting which means a lot of bread. Baking my own really is cost effective, just tiresome.

  11. Stephenie says:

    I’m so glad to see another pantry challenge! I hope it will inspire me. I have to admit that I’m feeling a little burn out from planning and preparing meals for my family. I feel like we’re in a rut with what we eat and I’m finding that the $500 we budget each month (family of 9) is not going as far as it could/should. Can I just say that an 11yo boy can consume an enormous amount of food and seems to still always be hungry! Wow! I wasn’t prepared for that. I preordered your cookbook today and I can’t wait to get it. I see the release date is early November which will make it the perfect birthday gift for me. LOL

  12. This week the pantry challenge went great! I don’t think my family has even realized yet what I am doing!! We had a bbq to go to on the 4th and I just pulled stuff from the fridge and made it work. Yesterday we had family up to work cattle and where I usually would have went and bought some extra stuff we just used what we had and no one complained! I think we even ate a lot healthier!! I managed to get our freezer above the fridge cleaned out and a few meals figured out for the week! It was great during a busy holiday to not even have to set foot in the grocery store at all, I’ll have to go this week but only because I have coupons for drinks and we will need them when we head out on vacation at the end of the month! This is a great challenge!!

  13. We’re just back from vacation and we’re doing a similar use up freezer and pantry items this month to help us with another challenge of feeding our family of 3 plus 4 pets for $200 or less this month. I hear ya about how this kind of challenge is altered a bit for different seasons of life and different purposes. I can’t wait to see how you do. Thanks for all of the tips along the way!

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