Pantry Challenge Day 26: Running Out of Steam

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This is Day 26 of my month-long Pantry Challenge series  where we’re eating down the pantry (and freezer and fridge) to use up what we have, rotate stock, and save some cash. I’m running out of steam.

I’m thinking that I’m going to call the Challenge to an end on the 28th. Today I felt like Old Mother Hubbard. Not wanting to torture the family or myself too much.

Breakfast was the kids’ request of crepes. Easy and fun and everyone loved it. I enlisted FishPapa’s aid in cooking them up and even FishBoy12 got into the act. Yes! I might not have to do the cooking next time.

At lunchtime and dinner I found that we were out of key things that I had planned on for the meals. We ended up going out to lunch. It was already 1 when I started rummaging in the kitchen and coming up short.

In the late afternoon I headed to the store for cheese and chips so that I could make chili. That was super.

See? Running out of steam. I’m thinking I won’t plan such a long challenge next time. It’s fun at the beginning and then feels burdensome.

Day 26 Menus

Breakfast: Crepes
Lunch: Fast food
Dinner: Quickest Chili in the West, with chips, cheese, and sour dough bread

This post is part of a month-long Pantry Challenge series. You can read more about my goals for the challenge here.

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  1. I hate to hear you sounding defeated! You’ve done AMAZINGLY well.

    You can’t judge by the past – your kids have grown [I have ONE 12yo boy and can’t keep HIM fed!] and you do this regularly so now there’s not this endless wealth of “OH! THAT’s what happened to the filet mignon” stuff hidden in your big freezer

    Pish and tosh – excellent work – shout it from the rooftops FOUR WEEKS of a pantry challenge!

    • @cherie, I’m with Cherie on this one. I am one of those that can focus on the negative and berate myself. You continue to focus on being a good steward, pantry challenge or not and clearly care about what you and your family eat. Kudos and thanks for all the inspiration.

    • @cherie, thanks for your encouraging words. Since I pretty much started on the day after Christmas (just didn’t blog it), we have been doing this for quite some time. It has been a success. And I have to fight the need to apologize.

  2. Breakfast – Pancakes and sausage
    Lunch – Leftovers
    Dinner – Cod sandwiches with sweet potato fries

    I will be continuing the Pantry Challange into Feb. Still lots of good stuff in the freezer and pantry. Missed a week with going to Disney but think we have enough to get through the next two or three weeks easy with only buying some fruit and dairy. Love the Challange!

  3. I think you are right. I love it the first two weeks and then I get cranky. As long as I make an effort to use the “hard stuff” up during those two weeks there is no reason a two or three week challenge couldn’t work the same way. :).

  4. B: Ham scrambled eggs and oranges
    L: Sandwich, cottage cheese and peaches
    D: Carbonara, Salad and Foccacia

    Only a few dinner items were from the pantry. Pantry challenge is waning for me.

  5. Breakfast: homemade pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. These were delicious and a great way to use up some of the cans of pumpkin and bags of chocolate chips in the pantry.
    Lunch: leftover chicken salad (the last of it, finally!)
    Dinner: Homemade non-fried pinto beans in the crock pot, fried corn tortillas, and toppings. This was by far one of the best meals I’ve ever made! I’ve never fried corn tortillas before but they were so good!
    Our neighbor had a baby last week, so I made 3 cheese stuffed shells for them. Also used everything I had on hand. So, today was a great day!!!

  6. I’m with you. I have been doing a pantry challenge this month too (out of necessity since I paid off those Christmas bills!) and it has become difficult this week. My children commented this morning how we have nothing in our refrigerator and the pantry hasn’t been this empty – ever! I used the last of my white flour yesterday to make hamburger and sandwich rolls for lunches next week. I’m going to have to be pretty innovative for dinners next week but I have no choice since I have absolutely no money that I can spend on food until payday on 2/1. I still have some chicken in the freezer and pasta and sauces. I’m going to make tomato soup today (one of my kids favorites)! and I have some canned fruit that I will open to make some sweets for them. I know we will survive because we still do have food. My problem is that my oldest – with special needs – won’t eat many different foods so we have struggled with that. What keeps me going is knowing that there are others who are so much worse off than us!

    • @Suzanne, I totally understand that situation. We’ve been there before. How can we encourage you? Do you have any hard things to use up yet?

      • @Jessica, Thanks. I am seeing the end of the tunnel and we have some good staples in the freezer that I can use for dinners. We had hamburgers at home last night with the rolls and the kids loved them. I made banana bread (9 loaves) last week with about 10# of overripe banana’s that the cook at the daycare gave us because they were going to throw them out. So, after bringing some back to the daycare and my office we have some in the freezer for breakfasts (as well as some cereal and some left over pancakes frozen from last weeks pancake dinner- which even my special needs son loved!). I used the last 3 eggs in the house for breakfast sandwiches this morning. Looking to make some snacks for my kids without any eggs…hmm.

  7. Stephanie says:

    I agree I think you’ve done awesome!! We have boon doing the pntry challenge since th Sunday before Christmas. This week I went to the store and stocked up not a lot of meat but good staples and great dairy deals. I think we will see some meat deals come in with superbowl. I liked your idea of doing it earlier next year, we tend to like to stay close to home after the holidays and the sales are not that great either.

    I have also loved that you throw a baking day in periodically i am sure this helps to spice things up for the family.

    Keep up the hard work and don’t let your creative juices die just for the sake of the challenge or your family will be burned out next time. It will all seem worth it in FRANCE!!

    • @Stephanie, thanks for your encouraging words. I realized, though, that I can’t really put any cash in the France account. The pantry challenge is what helps me keep our grocery budget in check over the course of the year. Some months I go over our allotted $800 and this balances it out. But, that’s okay, because it will still help me over the course of the year.

  8. I too am tired of certain aspects of the Pantry Challenge.. but either way.. I’ll continue to eat from my pantry and freezer cuz thats how I always cook.. With the challenge I didnt give myself as much leeway as I normally have though.. Either way, its been mostly great for me.. I’ve got a couple dents in my freezer stash… I just need some more fresh whole food.. I can only stand dead (canned & frozen) food for so long.. the living enzymes make a huge difference in the way I feel.

    Yesterday, my best girlfriend’s first grandchild was born and I was at the hospital with them all day.. I’d had oatmeal for breakfast with coffee, I ate an orange & a handful of pepitas at the hospital and on the way home I stopped for burgers & fries.. Sitting around is exhausting, you know. 😉

  9. Thanks @Jessica. I just found a couple of cakes and cobblers to make with canned Peaches and no eggs. I love because you can search by the supplies you have on hand – as well as “without” things like eggs. I haven’t made a cobbler in a long time. Also just found frozen blueberries in the freezer and threw some chicken in the crockpot to make some broth for the tomato cream soup and to make some chicken and dumplings for next weeks dinner. Just talking this out has given me a lot of enthusiasm for making this last 4 days!!

  10. Starting December 26 or shortly after would work for a lot of people. Many have a turkey carcass for stock and leftovers from the big dinner.

    I think sometimes we restrict ourselves too much, which can make the challenge wear thin. The trickiest part is probably getting out of the store with just the cheese we need, or only eggs and milk. Or putting the shopping off for just one more day.

    I found it very helpful to be focused on planning with what I have. It took quite a while to build the stockpile. The challenge helped me to utilize it effectively. I have failed miserably during other challenges because everyone gets tired of “wierd stuff” pretty quickly when it is on the menu every day. This time I used most of the “wierd stuff” at the beginning before anyone noticed the fridge getting empty. No one mentioned anything about feeling deprived and I could switch back to something more typical in between. Deciding not to go to the store made me come up with alternative means to the desired end.

    I did replenish some things in my stockpile when prices were exceptional, so spent $136 there. Had I not done that I would have spent less than half my newly pared down grocery budget. However, I won’t have to buy those things at full price later, so I saved about $70 off future months.

    We had one take out night because of a last minute dinner guest and absolutely unstretchable dinner plans and the food budget was easily able to absorb it. We moved the scheduled dinner up a day so it all worked.

    I declare the challenge a resounding success! And I am going to continue with the basic premise. We’re having Caesar Chicken Wings tonight to finish off the last (ever) bottle of commercial dressing, Pulled Pork Sandwiches are coming up as soon as the crockpot finishes stock detail, maybe turkey pot pie to use some of the stock, with leftover mashed potatoes instead of pastry or biscuit topping……

  11. The problem with having a small family is that even if you get creative with various ingredients, they last so much longer since there are fewer people eating them. Thus, while this challenge – along with a rarely made New Year’s Resolution – has helped me finally use up some of what has been languishing in the pantry/freezer for much too long. Unfortunately, I can still easily do another month of this and probably still not use it all. Thus I will keep going, because I am really tired of some of these things hanging around. While I’m not quite at the zero financial line that Suzanne is, I’m pretty darn close, so it has been a double-blessing exercise. I’m totally in agreement with Kim, though, that I’m craving fresh produce now. That was my “breakdown” last week, actually, and I really loved those strawberries and bananas!

    Next week is going to be an incredibly long week, with 14-hour work days pretty much every day. Including Saturday. I have some freezer meals that I was saving to simply thaw and bake, which will help curb temptation to pick up something. We also have some of those “$5 for you if you buy $25 in gift cards” things from Christmas, plus we each have a Chick-fil-A calendar coupon card, that we have deliberately saved for this week so we could use the convenience of fast/quick casual food without spending out-of-pocket cash.

    Yesterday’s report:
    Breakfast: cereal
    Lunch: L/O lamb shank stew, mashed potatoes
    Snack: carrot sticks, cocktail peanuts
    Dinner: L/O turkey & dumplings

  12. Well I can’t stop it. We have no money till Feb 1.
    I did save some New York Steaks for the last meal. So I only have to come up with 4 more days. It was fun in a sick way – hehehe. I’m glad I was a part of it.

  13. We have serious medical bills sitting (of all places) on the kitchen table. Talk about inspiration. And we have many more still to come. Therefore, I am going to have to continue at least one more whole week, if not two. I did come home from church and look through some recipe books that I have made of things I hope to eventually cook. Tonight will start the new menu list. I have three picked out so far. And I have all the ingredients for them, or I think I have good substitute’s.

    Breakfast today: toast, eggs and bottomless pit had two pop tarts
    Lunch: chicken lasagna and garlic toast
    Supper: Mexican Salad

    Jessica, you have done well with this challenge. When you feel apologetic, just think of all of us that you kept inspired. If you think of all the food that we didn’t waste, we are an accomplished group. I am sure the grocery store’s are not happy with our success!

  14. You have been doing a great job! I think next year, we should start the day after Christmas. I always have a ton of leftovers to use up.

    We have been doing a pantry challenge of sorts for the past three months. It has been out of necessity due to an unexpected expense. We didn’t want to go into debt to pay for it. This morning I went searching in our freezer and found: 3 flat iron steaks, 2 sirloins, 3 beef arm roasts, 6lbs of ground beef, 4 pork roasts, 1 pork loin, 2lbs of bacon, 3 whole chickens and 4lbs of chicken sausage. I also found 10lbs of organic corn, 5lbs of broccoli, 2lbs of green beans, 2lbs of peas, 2lbs of mixed peppers and 5lbs of frozen blueberries. I still have 6lbs of jalapenos, 6lbs of onions, and 5lbs of green peppers in our regular freezer. I’m planning a visit to our organic meat supplier in March and I think I’m going to get more some chicken breasts and ground beef to round us out until our June visit.

    We are running out of olive oil, eggs, milk, half/half and fresh fruits/ veggies. Our first “real” shopping trip in two months will be this weekend. I can’t wait.

    Do you have any recipes for egg- free chocolate chip cookies? Or egg free quick breads? We are out of both eggs and flax seed. We do have bananas, apple sauce, pumpkin and mayo.

  15. This was a super great challenge for me, and I thank you for it, Jessica. I learned that I think I may do better to just keep a better inventory of what I have on hand and plan my meals around the “use what you have” philosophy week by week. I also do better if I am able to cook or heavily prep before afternoon bus on crazy nights (girl scouts, art therapy, daddy out of town).

    And, I am MOST proud of hanging my short-order-cook hat. Enough is enough. Even with severe food allergies, celiac’s, and autism in this house, these kids have to figure out to make do with what’s offered. So, I make one thing, and they can eat it or not, filling up on the portions of the meal they actually like. I try to make sure everyone has one thing they love on the menu and not introduce more than one hated item at a time. If they clear their plate of a super small portion, they can then have yogurt or cereal or PBJ. This, for now, makes the transition to “eat it or starve” more survivable for me and less miserable for them. Win, win, I figure.

    • @Hollie, that sounds like awesome progress! Did you see my meal planning post? I came up with a great strategy for color coding the meal plan. Wish I had thought of it sooner.

      • @Jessica YES! genius! Starting that this afternoon. Also, I pinned your emergency meal plan because I think that’ll help me tremendously. And, I so agree with the paper plate business. I started doing that over the summer, and it has absolutely helped me keep us eating decent when I feel like grabbing takeout. We use them perhaps four times a month, and I’m TOTALLY okay with that. There is no perfection, here. We need full bellies and a non-hollering-because-she’s-stressed-out mom. Period. Only those two things. Nutrition is a bonus and usually doable if the first two are in order.

  16. Don’t give up! You (and your family) can totally do this! I believe in you! 🙂

  17. I will say that since the paycheck on Friday, I have been stocking back up. I bought the $18 worth of nuts, and yesterday I hit the bulk food store as they have a 10% off entire purchase that expires soon for $46 worth of items (most for Feb just 1 pkg of noodles for this month which I used today), and the grocery store $36 (again most for next month but fresh fruit). I did make the goal of turning off the little freezer. I spent 25% of my normal food budget (excluded are items that were purchased for Feb). And if you say that the nuts are for next month which they are, than well under the 25%. We only went out for for a meal 1.5 times (1x full family, and 1x half the family) spending $15 on out to eat.

    Jessica I like you started after Christmas (we still had a family Christmas on the 26th that we hosted we did buy drinks for it).

    What did I do with those frozen mushrooms and red cabbage I deep fried them into fritter type things yesterday with leftover corn and some celery and carrots. Tomorrow we are having strognoff to use up more of the mushrooms than they are getting tossed. And the bushel of oranges we bought in early Dec, are just about gone! And the boys’ pb&js are all made up for the week.

    Yesterday’s meals:
    b: pancakes (used up the rest of the home made mix) with zucchini or blueberries.
    l: vegetable fritters and a pizza
    s: grilled cheese on home made potato bread (yummy)

    B: scone mix I’ve had FOREVER
    L: chicken noodle soup
    S: usually popcorn

    Could I keep it going, yes! But I’m switching up the menu next month to a wheat flour free and a cane sugar free menu than also taking out beef, chicken, and fish consecutively each week. and will slowly add it back in in March. And all the meat (except 1 fish) will also be coming out of the freezer.

  18. Heather M says:

    This challenge has been wonderful, however anyone adapted it for their needs. I LOVED reading everyone’s comments, and of course, have been LOVING Jessica’s daily updates! Very inspirational.

    I feel derailed, since the microwave has gone on the fritz. But, I’m going to do my best to keep making it work all week until it’s fixed. And keep up my version of the challenge (I do not want to be tossing cans that are too old, like I did earlier this week.. Luckily I had to clean out the freezer over the summer when the Derecho came through and we lost power for 4 days. I was able to take a lot of my freezer items to a friend ‘s with power, but took advantage of the chance to dump ancient things… don’t want to dump food again!).

    This weekend’s dinners have been completely not in the spirit, for various reasons. Friday we ordered Chinese (the day of the microwave death). Jan 26th meals I’m reporting now:

    Breakfast: most people slept through/scrounged.
    Lunch: tuna sandwiches, bananas, potato chips, pickles
    Dinner: I was at a birthday dinner party at a restaurant ($25 was my share), and the hubby ordered a pizza for the other 3 at home. I thought that was fair.

    Today we got home at an odd time from church (2…. typically it’s 4:30), and hadn’t eaten lunch. We had a variety of food: tuna sandwiches, cheese and crackers, and I stuck the rest of the tortellini pasta bake back in the oven for others. This will be our main meal of the day, with salad I think. So I guess we’re back on track re the challenge. Am thinking I’ll put something in the crockpot in the morning, which means I better defrost the chicken in the fridge overnight! Must plan well with no microwave. And it’s a super busy week for me(not for the kids, but I have all sorts of meetings), so I’ll really have to step up the planning and pre-cooking/crockpotting, or something.

    For now, back to the piles of volunteer work items I’m busy with on the computer. This was my break. 🙂

  19. I think you’re doing great! I’ve never tried to make crepes, perhaps, I should give it a try. Just this morning, I was surprised to open my big freezer and see the bottom! Mission accomplished.

  20. MomofTwoPreciousGirls says:

    I have just been learning to extend my repertoire and really don’t keep stock pantry. I’m trying to start on the basics and work from there. However, I have checked in on here everyday and you did great!

    Maybe dong the pantry challenge for one week out of every month would do you good? This way you still use up some of your stores but you don’t have to get down to the really yucky stuff that nobody wants to eat! Then you could save on your budget EVERY month!

  21. Hey Jessica; Thank-You so much for doing this, as I have not cheated at all except to buy Milk, Bread, Potatoes, Rice and Fruit!!! I am planing to continue to keep doing the Pantry Challenge, as I still wish to keep saving more money and to use up my stockpile of foods, which are both in my freezer and on the shelves!!!!
    Thank-You again, as this has been such a Blessing to me.
    Take Care 🙂

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