Pantry Challenge: Week Two Progress Report

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We’re doing a pantry challenge this month, making the most of what we already have in the kitchen. We’ve got a few goals for the challenge. Head here to read the daily log of how we’re eating, too.

Last week was crazy, but fun crazy. Our friend Jacob was here for 6 days. It was a blast to have him with us. We did the beach, the movies, Legoland, the beach, and lots and lots of street hockey.

His mom promised him lots of great food when he came to my house. I’m hoping we didn’t disappoint. Several meals last week were fairly haphazard and thrown together since we’d been out earlier in the day. And there were a couple nights when things just really didn’t go according to plan.

I’m learning more about myself, my shopping habits, and my food storage through this month’s pantry challenge:

1. We prefer easy meals.

The meals that my kids gobble down are the simple ones: smoothies, sunbutter sandwiches, pasta, quesadillas, eggs, cheese and crackers, etc. As a result, the things that we run out of regularly are things like yogurt, tortillas, eggs, crackers, bread.

The things that I have loitering in my pantry and freezer? Potatoes, chicken broth, vegetable soup, rice, quinoa. Things that take work.

I’m going to need to get on my game to be creative. This pasta salad took a little work, but it was nice to have on hand. I need to do more of this, turning those above lingering ingredients into summer salads.

2. I’m still learning this dance of healthier foods and budget living.

I’ve had plenty of practice with the budget living thing. And the healthier eating thing. Just not together.

Oh sure, our diet has improved slowly but surely over the last four years since we paid off our debts. But, I still have some ways to go until I hit the sweet spot.

Currently, I’m trying to apply what I know about bargain shopping to eating a cleaner diet. Unfortunately, the price points are still higher. This is not because it costs more to grow organic produce. It doesn’t cost that much more. But, the government subsidizes conventional farmers and not organic farmers.

I know. It makes no sense.

I struggle with spending more money on individual food items than we used to. I second guess myself if I don’t buy strawberries at 99 cents, instead waiting for organics to go on sale for twice as much. $2/pound is not a bad deal, but it’s not a killer deal — for conventional — though it is for organics.

And I know that it doesn’t always make sense to other people. So I feel like I have to justify myself. Even when I spend $260 less per month than the thriftiest price the government can come up with. I know we all have different situations, priorities, and incomes — and yet I still care what people think.

3. I can still do better.

That said, I can be a better manager of my resources. The fruit is overripening before I can get my people to eat it. I can’t stand waste, so I need to be more on top of that. I might not have been a good idea to buy extra peaches last week.

The heat is on to use it or lose it.

So far this month I’ve spent half my normal budget. I’d like to curb my spending a little more this next two weeks so that this pantry challenge is profitable in more ways than just emptying the freezer.

How’s the challenge going for you?

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  1. My goals were to use what we have, incorporate more veg, and minimize grocery trips. So… I think I’ve done pretty well at using what we have.

    Not much waste here, and when I do have to throw out a cucumber that’s past its prime, it goes into the compost pile. So we can’t eat it, but it will still benefit us in the long run. (like my justification???)

    More veg…still working on this one. The garden has slowed, so there aren’t as many tomatoes, and the cucumbers are all but finished. However, bell peppers and eggplant are coming in, and they require a little more creativity.

    I’m not sure yet if I’ve spent less, though I do feel like I’ve shown lots of restraint in my spending. I had to go to the store the first week of the challenge to get items for a fruit salad to take to a big gathering, and to get crackers, cheese, and milk. I’ll have to go get more milk this week. We are going through it.

    Can’t believe July is half over!

  2. destiney says:

    well i have 4 young kids and a husband who is never full, so we rarley have things go to waist. but for veg n fruit when they get to the almost getting to ripe stage i always just freeze my fruit for veg or make then into fruit pops. and the veg i will head to allrecipies n just add them into my recipe finder to use them up. not saying things dont slip threw the cracks potatoes always seem to go bad when im not looking! but i am pretty new to the whole real food thing, i will admit im from a real meat and potatoes family and it wasnt until my mom ran into alot of health issues that are mostly stemmed from a life of red meat and fat, that i started to worry about our diets. and sadly where we live the only hope of organic frits and veg is threw our bountiful basket org. so i can still squeek by with about 350$ for grocerys a month give or take. but i have to admit that takes serious will power lol. our walmart is evil they put all the debie snacks and potato chips right acrost from the bread lol.

    • I used to love junk food. But, I’ve found that once we go off it for an extended time, we lose the taste for it. I went out of town without the fam for 4 days in may. Hubby bought junk and took them out to eat and they were sick of it by the time I got home. My experiment is working. Bwahaha!

      • @Jessica, I find the exact same thing! We went camping last week and I brought soda and some junk food for the kids as a “treat” and they both came home after three days of camping and said “No more soda! I want fruit!” I love it!

  3. Well… I hope you care what I think. Because I think you are a fantastic example. Yes, we are all in different phases, seasons, situations, etc.. and we all have different priorities. And it has been a huge blessing to me to get to watch you move through some of those shifts.

    I recently sat down with the husband to review the budget; he had sent me an email letting me know that we were consistently over in a couple categories, most notably grocery. My initial reaction was dismay and I immediately started questioning myself and beating myself up for not being a “good enough steward.” But you know what? He helped me see that I AM a good steward and I do a great job with our budget– as do you. Growing children and shifting priorities (not to mention rising food costs) necessitated a reallocation of funds. And that is totally okay.

  4. We ate really well this week, and I am still under my grocery budget for the month. Food prices are so high though! I rarely find things like peaches and plums for less than $1.99 per pound, even now, when that stuff is supposed to be in season! And organic? Forget it! We are in the middle of nowhere, upper midwest, and it almost always looks old by the time it gets to the store.

  5. Love your blog and your challenge, Jessica! I’m a household of one. Cooked up the freezer turkey. The meat is off the bones and back in the freezer waiting for meals. The bones are there, too, waiting for when I’m up for making soup. Took your cue and freed up the fridge freezer for just those freezer things I want to clean up for the week. No bread. Found a good quick flat bread recipe. Will make some wraps with the turkey and stir-fried bok choy, onion and garlic. Cranberry sauce on the side. Have LOTS of leftover Christmas pudding, and also pumpkin puree. Tried a small portion combining them together and heating. Tastes good. Great for a sugar fix during the challenge. Splurged on Orange-Banana Smoothie Pops ( Maybe I can make a pumpkin version!

    • Jessica says:

      @Donna, great job! I went ahead and made broth with my chicken bones this weekend, even though the last thing I wanted was more broth. LOL

  6. I’m trying to eat out of the freezer as much as possible as well. (need to make room for strawberries!) What do I do with frozen rhubarb?

    Use your quinoa in a cold salad–just basic vinaigrette and lots of grilled veggies. It will keep for several days of easy lunches.

  7. Did I miss it? Looking for the recipe for the beautiful picture at the top of this post! Pretty Please . . . with ice cream on top!!

    • Jessica says:

      @Elizabeth, it’s a sweet cherry crumble. Still needs some tweaking before I share. 😉

      • @Jessica,

        OK — I will extend you some Grace — although I don’t think it’s fair to post a picture of such a tantalizing looking recipe when you are still tweaking it! 😉

        We picked 31 quarts of blueberries last week — got to keep half. My husband wants me to make him a delicious blueberry cobbler. Any recipes for that??

  8. You can cut up the peaches and freeze them. I love to have frozen peaches in the freezer to make a quick peach cobbler or something.

    • Jessica says:

      @Kathy, what we don’t eat fresh, I will probably freeze. I don’t know that I like the taste of canned peaches. Thinking of making sorbet.

  9. Charlene says:

    Or you can use frozen peaches in smoothies. I also make peach freezer jelly. Quick, but very yummy. The recipe is in the sure-jell or generic brand pectin boxes. All you need is peaches, pectin, sugar, lemon juice, and a little water.

  10. We too go through the easy stuff faster…I often find myself doing more cooking out of necessity towards the end of the week. I also find it hard to balance a budget and healthy eating. We moved a year ago and where we came from milk was about $2.50 a gallon and here it’s about $3.75 so I’m having to adjust my grocery bill expectations. (Though many other things are cheaper in our new state so you win some, you lose some).

    • Jessica says:

      @Steph, there’s always a give and take, isn’t there? We see it here between Kansas and California. Property is cheap there, but we want to live here! LOL

  11. Yesterday I bought 5 lbs of peaches for 15 bucks for 2 adults and 2 toddlers. They’re nearly gone. When we have beautiful fruit like that we have a fruit smorgasbord. Why eat anything else? I slice it and serve with everything (usually as “appetizer”).

  12. You are so awesome and creative with food! Looks like most of the stuff left is sort of “cold weather” type foods. If you can’t creatively use them now, save them for when the weather changes. Remember, growing boys eat LOTS and still stay skinny, they need lots of food. I admire your perserverance and good attitude. I think your grocery budget is admirable for the quality of food and number of people (and number of males) you feed. I love your blog and ideas!

    • Jessica says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Suzie. Honestly, it’s been a hard week for me. It seems there’s been criticisms on any number of fronts. And while the positive feedback far outweighs the negative, it’s sometimes hard to keep it all in perspective. Thanks for your encouragement!

  13. Jennifer says:

    I love this blog. My new favorite! I like how you “keep it real”. It’s okay to stray from the plan sometimes. I am also a mom of “many”. Five of them ranging from 7 to18.

  14. I think it’s important that you’re taking notice of your family’s eating and grocery spending patterns as you are. I figure that can only help!

    We’re still doing fairly well on our pantry challenge. We’ve used several “partial” containers of foods from the pantry and the freezer. We did do one “bigger” grocery store trip this week for produce and a few staples, but it was still reasonable and less than we normally spend.

    My main goal over the next two weeks is to really eat down the pantry so we have room to organize. Continuing to spend less than normal on groceries is a close second in priority.

    Thanks again for this challenge and the numerous ideas you share on this blog!

  15. Pantry challenge is going great, I am finally able to get a little of the ice off the sides of the deep freeze. My ultimate goal is to be able to defrost it completely but with only two coolers we need to keep eating! My husband got on board and has been using the grill and smoker nonstop! You have such a great selection of fruits and veggies at great prices I wish there was a way I could swap with you!!

  16. I love when I’m not doing this alone LOL

    I’m doing pretty well – it’s mid month and I’m well below midway through the grocery budget despite just picking up organic milk, some produce, etc

    My freezer is a little roomier – going in there in a moment to see what we can use up this week 🙂

  17. I’m not sure if another reader has mentioned this, but how about just pureeing those peaches and freezing cubes? Or even chopping up and freezing in chunks? Cubes of puree would make for excellent smoothies or additions to your yogurt/oatmeal bars, or even on top of ice cream (or IN it!). Frozen chunks can be thawed for pied or snacks later. Or can them!

    I think the happy dance between getting a good deal and eating better is always going to be hard to pull off. Keep it up though – you make so much stuff from scratch that it makes up for some of the cost difference. Don’t feel bad though for going store-bought now and then. Baking for 8 can really be time consuming and sometimes you just need a break.

    I wanted to add to Suzie’s comment about “cold weather” food. Would it be possible to take some of those items and reinvent them to warm weather food? I know it doesn’t really get cold in SD, so it’s not like you can hang on to them and do nothing until winter. What about using rice in some Cali-style tacos or a veggie stir-fry with the CSA veggies? Coconut milk, by the way, makes for an excellent substitution for water in rice. Or turning the quinoa into energy bites for snacks? Use the potatoes as a side for a burger night and stash aside one of those artisan loafs for a soup & salad night. You can do it! Not that I want to make more work for you, but it almost sounds like a batch cooking session may be needed to turn these “hard” meals into “easy” ones again.

  18. Roberta says:

    I know that you’ve mentioned that you don’t care for the texture of cooked peaches, but have you ever tried peach butter? We’ve made several batches when our peach tree has gone crazy (there are only 3 of us, and we can only eat and give away so many peaches–ha!). Jars of peach butter (and peach chutney) make nice hostess gifts as well. I use the recipes from “Better Homes and Gardens You Can Can” and “Ball Blue Book.” Like all home canning, the process is time-consuming, but the results sure are yummy!

    • Jessica says:

      What does it taste like?

      • Roberta says:


        Peach butter is sweet; it’s a bit like a cross between apple butter (are you familiar with that?) since it uses similar spices–cinnamon, etc.–and peach jam. It has the same consistency as apple butter since no pectin is used. We like it on toast, muffins, scones, etc.

        The chutney is a savory-sweet mix (sweet from the fruit; savory from the vinegar, onions, and spices). It’s good as a condiment on roast turkey or ham, as a spread on sandwiches made from roast turkey and ham, or as a spread for crackers when poured over cream cheese.

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