Summertime Pantry Challenge 2013

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Ever wonder how to save money on food costs? A pantry challenge, cooking from what’s already in your fridge, freezer, or pantry, is a a great way of eating on the cheap as well as wasting less.
pantry challenge sum 13

It’s that time again. Pantry Challenge time! Are ya ready?

For years upon years, I’ve spent a couple months a year eating down the kitchen storage, also known as “cooking from the pantry.” Each January and July, I spend time using up what we have and hopefully saving money in the process.

The challenge has taken several different forms over the years. You can read about past challenges here: Jan 11July 11Jan 12July 12, Jan 13. Over the years I’ve also written a fair number of articles to illuminate the ideas of a pantry challenge.

What is a pantry challenge?

Here’s my working definition of a pantry challenge:

A pantry challenge is a focused, but limited, time to “eat from the pantry.” Rather than buying groceries like I normally would, I focus on what we already have. I build my menus around the ingredients I’ve been avoiding using. Sometimes this is something that is cumbersome to prepare or something that I’ve been too lazy to be creative with. The pantry challenge helps me deal with those items — and teaches me not to buy it again. I end up saving money because I’m not buying more; I’m using up what I’ve already purchased.

Enchilada supper


The meal pictured above? It was created from randomness last summer. The enchiladas are cheese and green chiles with a sauce I made myself with a few pantry staples. It was a meatless meal that cost a few bucks to feed our family. And it was delicious!

Over the years, I’ve seen great results from this bi-yearly practice. Not only do I save money on food, but I also use up things that are just annoying me in the freezer and cupboards.

A 2-Week Challenge

This summer, I’m doing it a little differently. I’m only going to do a 2-week challenge. Two weeks is long enough to make a dent in the grocery bill (I hope) without burning me out. Summer is full of outings and opportunities for “fun food” so I don’t want to exasperate my family with too many experiments in the kitchen.

Are you along for the ride?

pantry challenge calendar

I’m starting on Sunday the 7th. July is a pretty long month, so it’s going to be “a challenge” to cut our costs, especially when I’ve been used to overbuying. I’m hoping this will break me of that.

This week is business as usual, sort of. I assigned $200 for this week’s grocery shopping since I’m doing some freezer cooking to make dinners easier. Then we’ll spend two concentrated weeks, trying to keep costs down, using up what we have. I’m hoping to keep those weeks under $100. That means going without a produce box for a couple weeks this month — I chose weeks 1 and 3 to put the box on vacation. Then in the last two weeks, I’ll hope that I can buy just what we need (or take advantage of sales if the numbers crunch appropriately).

Short story for the month:

  • week 1: $200
  • week 2: $100
  • week 3: $100
  • week 4: $150
  • week 5: $150 ($75 of this will count toward August’s spending since the week ends in the middle)

Projected total for July: $625

I walked through Costco today, calculator in hand. I only bought the things that I really felt would add to our meals this week. I put back a few extras. It was still more than I thought it would be. But, I also bought olive oil and romano cheese that will last for two months. It will even out in the end, but hopefully, July won’t take too much of the hit.


Make a goal for the pantry challenge.

Here are my plans for the challenge:

1. Spend less.

See above rational.

2. Get the refrigerator in order.

Our fridge and freezer have been unwieldy for several months. Too much randomness being shoved in there and then forgotten. I function better in the kitchen — and so does my family — when I can see white space in the side-by-side. I’d like to cut down on the randomness and clear some space.

3. Do some maintenance on the appliances.

Our refrigerator is now 11 years old. The deep freeze is about 16. Who knows when they will kick the bucket? I’d like to make sense of what’s in them and make sure that they are running efficiently.

We finally yanked the soda pop shelves from the door of the fridge. We don’t stock bottles, so they were useless. Hubs just ordered a new shelf to replace it so we can make better use of the door space. The ice maker shelf needs some help, too. Might be time for a replacement.

I bought an energy meter last year and then never really figured out how much energy the freezer was using. Time to get serious about that, too.

I’ll be defrosting the deep freeze as well.

4. Get perspective on my shopping habits.

Years ago I got in the habit of buying as much as I could at one time so I wouldn’t have to go back to the store. I had lots and lots of little people; I was in survival mode!

In theory, this is good. The fewer times you go to the store, the less money you spend. Inevitably, you buy something that you don’t need and therefore, overspend. So, stay out of the stores.

I’m trying to figure out if I am truly buying what I need or if more impulse purchases are sneaking in. I’m hoping that this challenge will give me some perspective on that. Keeping my calculator in hand and paying careful attention to purchases should help.

2013 pantry challenge copySo, there you have it. There are my goals for the pantry challenge. Feel free to join me or just watch from afar. Over the month, I’ll be sharing different ideas on how to make your food storage work for you and save you money.

Are you in?

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  1. I am so in. My husband and I just got a huge car repair bill (1500$) for my just paid off car. We normally spend 350- 400$ a month between groceries, household essentials, and dog food. Then another 200$ eating out. I’m hoping to cut the 550-600 to 300$. We just went through the deep freeze and threw away a few things yesterday. I also pulled out some frozen meals and things that we need to go through. I’m confident we can do this!!!!

  2. G’day! I will be viewing from afar, true!
    but was also thinking of making July a cook out of the pantry and freezer too!
    Don’t have the full steam ahead energy to do for two weeks straight…
    I think what you are doing is GREAT!
    If you would like me to do a blog post or two…I can tie in and promote your site and those who join your challenge too!
    Cheers! Joanne

  3. Maureen says:

    I’m in desperate need of this, so I’m definitely in. We are on vacation next week, so I’ll join for week 2 and continue through the end of the month. I really need to get rid of old items and lots of odds and ends. Thanks!

  4. I’m in, but my goal is going to be a bit different. Our grocery bill is too high, so my goal is to use up what we have while spending some of the money to stock up on in season produce bought in bulk to save for the winter so our bill won’t be so high then. Does that make sense?

  5. I’m in! We are going to be away for the month of August, so I’ve already set myself a challenge to reduce our frozen foods to what will fit in our refrigerator freezer. Last night, we had pasta with (frozen) pesto sauce, (frozen) shrimp and (frozen) butterhorn rolls. Tonight, it’s (frozen) tuna carnitas with tomatoes and onions, and I’ve already used up some frozen mango by having a smoothie for breakfast 🙂

    Will you be sharing recipes/ideas for the challenge? I’m looking forward to playing along!

  6. I really want to try this. I tried at the beginning of the year, but didn’t last very long. Hopefully this time I can do the whole 2 weeks. My DS breaks up middle of next week, and then the girls the week after, so it will be a good way to ready for Summer.
    Food costs seem so high now in UK, and I am hoping to get the kids to help me work out costs of so many things over summer.
    I’ve been trying to lose the last 20ish lbs of baby weight (DD is 3.5yrs!) and I have lots of different ingredients from the various different plans – low carb, whole30 etc, that need using up.

    • Jessica says:

      A pantry challenge is a great time to use up the randomness. Makes for some very “interesting” meals.

  7. Yes, Yes I agree!! This is the fresh season in MI, it only comes once a year!! So I too will be focusing on eating what I have available in my cupboards and freezer, but will be taking advantage of all the yummy seasonal food. This week is red and black raspberries (the black are very inexpensive, park along side a country road and pick!!), next week blueberries. So making room in the freezer is my goal, not necessarily setting a dollar amount. You make perfect sense to me!!

  8. good timing, I just spent 2 hours yesterday straightening up my upstairs food storage area. While my freezers are bare(minus 5 pounds of ground chicken and frozen veggies) I plan to keep July as simple as possible…we have baseball finishing up, band camp, a birthday, and the last weeks of summer vacation happen all in July. Hopefully that will translate into a lower grocery bill.

  9. I am in! Three freezers to go through and organize. They are not bursting at the seams, but they are a bit chaotic and I’d like to put some fresh produce of the season in there instead of the miscellaneous junk that is in there now. I feel like if I use things up, I can get a clearer picture of where to stock up. Let’s do it!

  10. I’m joining along but will try to do this as part of a 30 day no-spend/no-spend challenge I’m taking on. We need to become more mindful of our finances in general and get ahead of the paycheck to paycheck stress. I will buy dairy and produce and any special buys that will make more budget sense for us in the long run. I’m trying to shave at least $175 off of our normal $500 grocery/diapers/toiletries/household stuff budget.

  11. Charlene says:

    I’m in. I just made a batch of freezer meals and barely had space to put it away. I don’t have a lot on my pantry shelves, but I’ve been changing over from processed foods to making my own. I do need to go through my side-by-side freezer and my medium size freezer to find what space I do have.

  12. I am in! I am starting as of the first since we have a lot to use up. Like Donna we have 3 freezers and right now they all seem to be stuffed as full as we can get them. Looking forward to another pantry challenge….and saving some money. We have been averaging $300 a month except January when we spent less than $70! Can’t wait to see what July will bring! Good Luck everyone!

  13. Im in for the most part.. but I tend to eat from my freezer & pantry most of the time. Its just the way I roll..
    I’ve got a 20 week CSA that started 4 weeks ago, so I’ll have lots of fresh veggies for several months.. Yesterday I made Broccoli & Cheese soup & Cauliflower Bisque and froze them in individual size containers for lunches. Then I made Smoked Mozz, Artichoke & Garlic Sausage Soup with Kale & Chard and canned them.. and for supper we had a pot roast with kohlrabi, potatoes, & onions.. Today we’re having Stuffed Kohlrabi Rolls -think Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. Hope they turn out well..

    Dont plan to do much shopping this month since my freezer is still pretty full. I will of course be buying eggs, milk, creamer & bread.. Other than that, not so much unless I run into a really phenomenal deal on something that I can either can or stock up on. Stocking up at rock bottom prices always take presidence over anything else in my world.

    • You have a shareable recipe for that sausage soup? That sounds delightful.

      • Here is a link to the first time I made it.. I buy the chicken sausages that are flavored with different spices.. This week was Smoked Mozz, Artichoke, & Garlic Chicken Sausage & then added all my greens. I just use whatever greens I have on hand. This week it was kale & beet greens… The week I wrote out the recipe, it was dandelion greens & chard I think. Just add whatever you have on hand that sounds good to you. I use some canned white bean soup with ham that I made last year but you could use plain white beans or your favorite bean.. The beauty of this sort of recipe is that you just use what you have.. Its all good! Enjoy!

  14. I’m in, but since it’s July and we have a garden and a CSA box, my goals will be a little different. I need to bring my grocery bill down quite a bit to average out a few really high months from the spring when I gave birth to baby #8. We’ve also started to switch to once a month shopping, so for the two weeks of the challenge I’ll need to stretch to my husband’s next paycheck anyway (which will come on the 19th and not the 15th like I thought; those 4 days might be tough!) So what I’d like to do is to make the most of my garden and CSA box for those two weeks, as well as some of the bulk food I’ve been able to order over the past month or so. I’ll be getting a big order of fruit in the middle of the month to put into the freezer, but my goal is for it not to put us over budget!

  15. All in! 🙂 Love these pantry challenges of yours. THANK YOU!!!

  16. I’m in. My garden usually picks up in August so I like to play along with your July pantry challenge in order to make room for putting up some of the good stuff.

  17. I’ve been wondering the same thing about the way I stock up “so I don’t have to go back to the store.” My crazy grocery budget has been popping at the seams the last month or three and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why! Last week I realized it might be those impulse purchases–“in case I run out of flour” type things–that are adding up. I hate shopping twice in a week, but maybe not as much as I should hate going over budget 🙂 I’m definitely going to be trying the pantry challenge for this week (not sure I’m in a place to do 2 weeks). Looking forward to seeing how it goes!

  18. Heather M says:

    You know I’m in. As in as I go… still buying fresh, etc. And I’ll be going until August 2. Then we head to CA and NY for the month of August, with only a few days at home(lucky kids have grandparents who live where vacationing is awesome– San Diego by the beach, and just outside of NYC, so it’ll be a great month. Which will also include college visits for the rising senior daughter, who is determined to go to college in SoCal). Looking forward to the daily updates!

  19. Lee Anne says:

    I just found TWO extra roasts that I forgot I bought! How do you forget about 8lbs of beef??? We are going shopping Wednesday for a big party, but after that – that’s it! We have actually already been doing the challenge all this week, because of things going on for next week, but we’ll be back on track to finish w everyone else. So far the challenge did help me find a great Pinterest find – made pretzel rolls for our burgers last night instead of running out to buy rolls. So good!

  20. Tawanna says:

    I’m in! I have 3 freezers that could use a good defrost while it’s warm outside. I also need to organize and make room for bean and corn season.

  21. Theresa says:

    We just (last week) bought a new upright freezer so we had been “eating the freezer” for a few weeks already. BUT… my dry goods cabinet is another story! Thanks for the challenge!

  22. My family does something like this challenge twice a year to coincide with major temperature change. Here that makes it April and October. There are some foods and food combos that are so wonderful when it’s cold but when it’s hot…well the word repugnant comes to mind. It goes both ways–no one in my family eats ice cream in the winter.

  23. Megan D says:

    I’m definitely going to start on Sunday. My son’s birthday party is this weekend so there will be lots of leftover party food and sweet treats! Two weeks will be a great way to get through some of this stockpiled food.

  24. I’m in. I’ve been saying for the past two months that the outside freezer was in dire need of a clean out and re-org. I’m pretty sure my inventory list is wildly inaccurate at this point. Shelves are designated for certain types of foods but when it got full, things got shoved, and now it just needs tidying up. At least I did finally pull out and roast one of the two turkeys in there, which opened up half a shelf!

    I don’t know if you are interested in purchasing anything else right now, but Costco currently has an MSG and nitrate-free kielbasa in a mild roasted garlic flavor. It is seriously delicious. They are doing an open-to-close demo of it here this week (at least 7/1-7/3) and I think that is at all Costco stores. I don’t know if it is an item they plan to stock all the time or if it is just temporary but since I know you have trouble finding nitrate-free items, I thought I’d share.

  25. Jessica B says:

    I am definitely guilty of buying things I don’t need with the idea of avoiding running out of things. But the next thing you know, you have 3 rolls of aluminum foil and 6 bottles of salad dressing. Sometimes I can’t seem to stop buying/prepping things we aren’t eating, like making tons of chicken broth in July.. but we don’t eat soup in July. But my freezers are FULL and we went way way over budget last month so it’s time to cut back and defrost.

  26. I’m in and I’m so glad this is only a two-week challenge. Our fridge is pretty bare. I need to do a pretty big shopping trip this week. And July is a tough month for making meals out of random ingredients. There’s just so much summer going on.

  27. I’m going to try this. Hubby is not home Mon-Fri with this new work assignment. It eventually means more money but in the interim I had to take out of savings. The money I save will go to replace that money.

  28. We are in. I finally got my husband to agree we need to do this. Setting a goal of cutting our grocery bill in half this month as it has been getting out of control.

  29. Patricia says:

    I’m in – I went through two shelves in my refrigerator and threw into the trash bag about $50 worth of partially used veggies – watermelon and carrots and zucchini were at the bottom of a pile of other veggies & fruit and when I went to pick up the bags they were in, I pulled out rotted water clogged goop… YUCK! Then and only then did I realize I was throwing away money I couldn’t afford to throw away! My freezer is so stuffed that I couldn’t get anything else in – not only bad for the food in there but because I’m wasting electricity for which I’m paying prime money for. So other than for milk and the basics (eggs, etc) there won’t be any further spending for the next two weeks. I just bought a new crockpot and was going to toss out my small really old one but will simply put it away for baking cakes and a second/side dish.
    I can’t wait to start!
    I do have a question, if I buy fruit and fresh veggies on Saturday, is that OK?

  30. I am in!! I started this challenge for Winter 2013, and I finished it, but I never finished the weekly posts I wanted to do on my blog. This time around, 2 weeks is totally ‘doable’ for me and my readers (hopefully). Thnks again for facilitating this challenge. I look forward to seeing your ideas and everyone else troubles and triumphs!!


  31. I’m in!!! My family really needs to save money this month and this will help! How do I join u in this adventure?

    • Jessica says:

      Just do it. Read along. I’ll be posting daily updates starting on Sunday – a sort of food log. Chime in when you’ve got something to contribute. Ask a question in the comments when you’re stumped. If you have a blog or facebook, feel free to share the challenge with folks there. Glad to have you with us!

  32. I cleaned up my pantry this week, and I found some seriously OLD stuff in there (that got tossed). We were out of town last week and the week prior, so we took care of the perishable stuff before we left. My goal for this month is to eat as much fresh produce as we can (some from our garden, some from the farmer’s market) and to spend as little as possible, since that vacation was EXPENSIVE! 😛

  33. I’m in.
    There will of course be our meat CSA delivery on the 11th and milk, eggs and fruit to purchase.
    My main goal is to empty the freezer of any meat/fish and to make stock of all those bones that I have been saving up. This will of course refill the freezer with stock but we are out of both chicken and beef, all that will remain after today’ carrot soup(finishing off that 10lb. bag of carrots from the Costco) are 2 quarts of duck stock.
    Goal #2 is, Eat the Garden First! Time to explore just how many ways there are to cook green beans, zucchini and chard!

  34. I’m in. We are eating out way too much and grabbing groceries without planning ahead at all.

  35. G’day and as a friendly follow up, thank you for inspiring me to do!
    here is my blog post should you wish to view

    Cheers! Joanne

  36. bridget says:

    I’m going to go ahead the whole month with the exception of my husband’s bday. i will splurge on steak for him. I love doing your pantry challenge each year and it’s a really nice break from coupon clipping for me without overspending. Honestly we easily have enough food to go off of for the whole month.

  37. I am so in on this challenge! DH has been commenting a lot this week on how full the freezer is, and a lot of it is semi-random stuff that has gotten shoved in and never used. We both think we need a deepfreeze at some point, so looking for a good deal on one of those soon too so that we can really stock up on good deals on meat when we find them.

  38. Michele says:

    I’m in! We have an extended two month vacation planned overseas for the end of August and my hope is that I might be able to empty my deep freeze completely and only have one refrigerator plugged in (we have two). I need to use up all the freezer meals we that we have (probably about 15 total still in there), plus the randomness that accumulates. Plus just clear out the pantry of all the beans, lentils, oats, etc that I buy in bulk at Winco. I know that when I get back from our vacation I will be ready to start fresh and having a clean slate will be LOVELY! I still plan to use lots of fresh, seasonal items, but should only need to shop for produce and dairy. Here goes nothin’!

  39. Vanessa B says:

    I’m in! I don’t have much in my freezer and pantry but I think two weeks is doable. My grocery spending has been out of control so we need to get back to the basics.

  40. Christine says:

    I’m so excited! I was thinking about this for the summer. I’m a teachera nd I take the summer off for my own sanity and we live on hubby’s income. I added going back to school this year, so now I have tuition payments to make too. I always have a stocked pantry and freezer, so it’s time to use some of it p with a purpose! Thanks for getting this going!


  41. I’m in! there’s so much I’d rather do in the summer than go to the grocery!

  42. Sandra Price says:

    I have so many issues I need to address quickly…I don’t know where to start! Unexpected health problems suddenly messed up my finances and I need to stop spending YESTERDAY to get things back in order. first I have things in the freezer that were given to me I could not afford to turn down but have no idea how to use. Second I want to bring out all the bowls and switch to freezer bags ( I was told it really helps get more in there) Third I never have any idea what all in in there,where to find it or why I bought it sometimes lol. I think it must be ADD I have, I can’t seem to make this work for me. Is there any tutorial for beginners? Maybe a site to get recipes for 5 gallons of pumpkin puree?

    • Jessica says:

      There are a ton of recipes here, even for pumpkin. 😉 Let us know what you need to use and we’ll help. GCE Readers are great at commenting and offering help. I think I would start with finding out what’s for dinner based on what you already have.

      As for the pumpkin, go here: You can do this!

      • Sandra Price says:

        ooo thank you so much! I am trying very hard to get this done last night we had found frozen guacamole,salsa,cheese sauce, lentil taco “meat”and I had tomatoes in the garden and a bit of fresh spinach. soooo I invented the wildest taco salad for dinner that you ever saw, but hey! it was really good! I was so proud of myself ;p

  43. Better late than never! I’m in for the last 2 weeks of the month. This could get interesting. Good luck, everyone!

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