The End of the Pantry Challenge

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A Pantry Challenge is a great way to use what you have, save money, and be more creative in the kitchen.

One of the things that I love about a Pantry Challenge is that it forces me to be creative. In this last month, I created several recipes with what we had on hand that I wouldn’t have normally made.

They were winning meals, too. That enchilada supper made me feel like a rock star chef. I didn’t have any enchilada sauce, so I made one. Yikes! That was very cool.

There were several meals that felt like I could go away with $10,000 on Chopped. And in reality, that’s what a Pantry Challenge really is: putting a hodge podge of ingredients together in a cohesive (and tasty) way.

In fact, one night at dinner we talked about the origins of the Caesar Salad. Legend has it that Caesar Cardini, a San Diego chef who also ran a restaurant in Tijuana. Late one night a large crowd from LA came in and his larder was empty, save for a few random ingredients.

History was made from a Pantry Challenge!

OK, so you see my passion for the creativity that springs from such a challenge. Our own challenge wasn’t quite so earth-shattering, but I hope to go back to some of these recipes I created in the midst of it.

How’s THAT for a productive challenge?!

I feel like we ate really well during the challenge. My family knew something was amiss because we ran out of milk and eggs more often without my up and running to the store. In fact, on the last day of the challenge, I made egg-free pancakes. I had forgotten that I knew how!

My oldest son thought that I had gone over budget and wasn’t buying anything more. I was glad to hear that since it meant that he was mindful of not complaining that we were out of things. What good kids I have!

I was actually reminded of a lot of things.

  1. I could feed my family for $600 a month.
  2. Feeding my family on $600 a month takes a lot of work, time, and creativity.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time that it takes to do this every month, but I’m glad to know I still got my chops! And if our budget changed, I know that we’d be okay.

Here’s the rundown on my goals for the month:

Keep an inventory. I did an okay keeping track of what we had. I kept my little freezer inventory on my desk and consulted it each week while I was meal planning. That helped me be mindful of what we had and what I might still need to buy at the store. I’m hoping to keep this habit going forward.

Thaw the freezer. This is the project for today. We’re picnicking at the beach this afternoon, so I can pull out the extra boxes of ice and ice packs and use those in the cooler. The contents of the deep freeze are moving to the fridge freezer while the big freezer thaws.

Use the house freezer better. I really like the practice of using the fridge freezer as a holding zone for the week’s meals. This worked really well. Going to keep that habit, too.

Enjoy the produce box. Honestly, the produce box is a pantry challenge/game of Chopped every single week. There’s always something to surprise. I’m thankful that we’re in a season of fun stuff like corn, green beans, etc. As soon as those become “add-ons”, I’ll be buying extras to fill the freezer with.

Save some coin. If you read yesterday’s Grocery Geek post, you’ll know that we shaved a good $200 off our grocery bill. We still have some food items going into the new month, so if I don’t go too crazy, we should be right on track to staying on average this year.

How did the Challenge go for you?

Let’s chat in the comments. How did the Challenge go for you? If you didn’t participate, do you see this as a viable option for you? Why or why not?

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  1. The challenge went okay here. Eating out at lunch for my husband is something I think I’m just gonna have to live with. :/
    Goal #1 was use what we have… I think I was pretty resourceful here. I was mindful about using up leftovers (during the school year, they become lunches, but during the summer, it’s more of a challenge) and created some interesting dinners with them. That always makes me feel like I’m getting a free meal!
    Goal #2 was incorporate more veggies… okay here. For a couple of weeks in July, it was so hot that almost nothing was coming from the garden. But working in a meatless meal every week seems to be the way to go, along with choosing veggies for a side. Hubs & I had a chat about that, and he’s on board too.
    Goal #3 was minimize grocery store trips. Sigh. Not as good as I would have liked here, but ds is in a growth spurt and he is drinking serious milk (along with eating man-size portions). Since I choose to buy organic milk, and it is EXPENSIVE here, we took a little hit there.

    We could continue the challenge into August – and probably will, to a degree. 😉

  2. I feel like we ended the challenge pretty decently this week. With only one small trip to the grocery for staples, we ate everything at home (either new dishes or leftovers).

    Perhaps my favorite benefit of the challenge is trying new recipes. My strength lies in finding a recipe, then tweaking it to include the ingredients I have. We had a slow cooker veggie potpie this week!

    I need to crunch the numbers, but I know we spent less on groceries this month (a big goal), but I’m not sure how much less. I also didn’t clear out the pantry as much as I thought I would. Maybe I can extend that part of the challenge out for a couple more weeks!

    Thanks for the motivational boost here this month!

  3. Well, I started strong and then fell off the wagon HARD! Our eldest is in camp from 9-4 each day at a college that is almost an hour drive from here. 4 hours a day in the car with the little three meant TOO many drive-thru or WaWa meals. Plus, we had two birthdays in one week and a birthday party in between. All the work on the party made it easier to order in or go out for quick and easy in all this heat, even though we had easy meals in the freezer and everything planned out.

    But, I did learn a LOT. I need to have milkshake fixings at home, I need to drastically increase our meal repertoire (I think boredom made it easier to go out, too), and we need more fruits and veggies that are washed and ready to grab. When I’m in the car all day, I find it so hard to prep/eat at home, even if it’s frozen and easy. Why the heck is that?!?!

    Sigh. Not an epic fail, of course, but quite lackluster. We did clear out a lot of old snacks. I am gearing up for my own challenge of sorts in September.

    I LOVE these challenges, Jessica. I always learn so much and find myself energized to go another round with my brood.

  4. Michelle says:

    Ive actually made my own enchilada sauce on occasion! It started about a year ago when at 6pm I decided to make enchiladas for dinner. I’d already thawed precooked shredded chicken and realized we were out of sauce. Not wanting to load up the kiddo and knowing the hubs was going to be home too late to stop and pick some up, I hit the Internet! I found an easy recipe with ingredients i already had by emeril on While it wasn’t as convenient as opening a can, nobody tasted a difference, and it was great to know I had a backup in a pinch. Plus, it made enough for me to freeze half the batch for another meal! Love, love, love your improvising!

  5. I’ve been following your posts but a pantry challange here was just not doable this month. My kitchen in in the mist of a full blown (down to the bare studs) remodel and it’s going really slowly. We had to move our stove to a neighbors for storage and put our table and fridge in the living room. We have just a microwave and a toaster to cook with. I made a few precooked freezer meals before the remodel started but I only had two days notice that my contractor was ready to start so I didn’t have time to fill the freezer…we’ve been eating at Mom’s house and eating out alot. UGH…I’m sick of eating out and we have two more weeks until we have a kitchen again. At least it will be beautiful and I will have a HUGE pantry and my very first dishwasher! 🙂 I plan to fill my pantry with my saved up grocery budget and then eat from it for awhile. I can’t wait to cook 3 meals a day again 🙂

    At least the kids (7, 3 and 1) don’t complain about eating out and eating cold cereal for breakfast. They LOVE it. lol

  6. Mine went well, but it was a fiscal requirement, which sort of helped motivate me. 🙂 Due to some crazy (non-food) expenses last month, the budget was squeaky tight this month, and probably will be next month as well. I was hoping for 50%, ended up spending 40% less than usual. Produce is just so darn expensive, but seems almost mandatory in summer time! At least the freezer is finally opening up a little. I kept saying I wanted to clear it out, but then it kept getting filled back up. I’m finally getting out the stuff that has been in there for waaaay too long, which makes me happy.

    I just wish it weren’t so hot, because I really need to cook that whole turkey that is hanging out in there, but it is much too large for my crockpot and the thought of the oven on that long makes me cringe. It’s been in there since Dec, though, and it takes up so MUCH space, and it makes so much food that can be used in other things, that I’m gonna have to break down and suffer through. Perhaps I’ll slow cook it in the oven overnight so it might not be so bad? I should have cooked it back in March like I’d planned!

  7. deesselisa says:

    we didn’t do the challenge this month. it is an extra paycheck month for us, so it is when we stock up and splurge on steak and vacation and stuff we don’t normally indulge in. we went camping and tried your tri-tip sandwiches which were awesome! so we kinda pantry-ed it because i used the leftovers to make some awesome tacos. And we did grilled pizzas which was a pantry meal also. this next month will be our pantry month and i hope to use a bunch of your recipes for it. esp. the pasta one. i too have easter ham cubes frozen which i love. i use them all the time. i only have about two meals worth left. 🙁 thanksgiving will hopefully have some decent sales on ham. and have your heard of dry-tip steak. tri-tip was super expensive here in arkansas, but i bought it anyway because it was for vacation. but they had dry-tip which was cheaper and didn’t know if you thought it would work as well in the future.

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