Pantry Challenge 2014

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Pantry Challenge - Taking time out of the new year to focus on what we have and eat down the pantry and other food stores.

The first time I had a successful pantry challenge was 2009. Now, we’re looking at 2014. So, I guess this is the fifth January in a row when I’ve set aside time to focus on what we already have instead of what I want. That’s a good attitude to conclude the holidays with, don’t you think?

In the early years I assumed that a Pantry Challenge meant you couldn’t buy anything, but had to subsist on whatever randomness you had in the cupboard. In many seasons that has, indeed, been the case. Somedays you just gotta make do.

The last five years of doing a successful challenge have been characterized by reducing my grocery budget and turning my eyes toward what we already have. I still allow myself to pick up odds and ends, but I do try to make do, but without feeling stressed about it.

What’s a Pantry Challenge?

A Pantry Challenge is simply a devoted time to eat down your food storage so that you can

  1. save money
  2. avoid waste
  3. shop better in the future
  4. spend less time in the store.

Past challenges have encompassed the entire month of January or July. By the end of the third week I start to feel jumpy and my family starts complaining. I run out of steam and rely on eating out instead of going to the store which is counterproductive to the challenge.

Pantry Challenge - Taking time out of the new year to focus on what we have and eat down the pantry and other food stores.

Last summer, I reduced the challenge time to 2 weeks which proved to be a positive experience. My kitchen and my stockpiling habits just can’t seem to keep up with my kids’ appetites. They are a lot bigger than they were five winters ago!

A 2-Week Pantry Challenge

So, this challenge, for me at least, will only be two weeks. I am pretty confident that we can shave a good portion off our grocery spending, but still allow some wiggle room at the end of the month. Here are my personal goals for the challenge:

1. Spend $200 for the two weeks, or $600 for the month.

Since my target grocery budget is $800, I’m allotting myself $200 to spend for our family of 8 in the next two weeks. After that, I’ll allow $400 for the remainder of the month. I may feel like I’m on a roll and keep going with the challenge, but I want to set a realistic goal.

My pantry and freezer are really not that full and I don’t have a ton of baking supplies on hand. There just haven’t been too many killer deals on the foods I want us to enjoy on a regular basis. I’m trying to reduce our processed foods as well as increase our whole grains and “real food”.

2. Freezer control.

My refrigerator freezer has become a holding tank for lots of random items. I want to get those things used up. I want the large freezer to be emptied so that I can defrost it.

3. Make room for healthier ingredients.

I’m currently doing some interesting food reading that has me reconsidering some of my habits that I’ve loosened over the last year or so. Ideally, I want to do more homecooking, buy fewer processed items, and transition us to more whole grains and natural sweeteners. I’m going to have to get creativity on sourcing some of those items, but I know that good health is worth the investment.

Pantry Challenge - Taking time out of the new year to focus on what we have and eat down the pantry and other food stores.

In the meantime, there are some processed items lurking in my cupboards that need to go. Eating them up and moving them out is a good option.

So, my goals for the challenge are not huge. I would like to say, “I’m only going to spend $200 on groceries this month.” But, that is just not realistic for our family at this time. I don’t think we’ve ever been able to pull that off, anyway, especially not with four boys over 9!

If you’d like to do a little more reading about eating down the pantry, check out these past posts:

Feel free to leave questions and comments below. I’m happy to chat and help you troubleshoot your cupboard and what you can do with what you have on hand. There are lots of past posts that answer lots of questions, so be sure to browse the archives if you have time.

As always, I’ll be posting every day what I make, what we use up, and how I’m freaking out. 😉 So tune in, eh?

Will you be joining the Pantry Challenge?

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  1. I am in. I started my inventory today. Fair amount of meat in the freezer including left over ham from Christmas. Good amount of baking supplies in the cupboard except for a lack of whole wheat flour. Not much in the way of canned or frozen fruits and veggies. I will need to make a trip to the store for some fresh fruit, milk and bread. My goal is $75 a week for the first two weeks of the month. After that we will re-evaluate the stockpile, budget and willingness of my family to continue for another week or two.

  2. My freezer has odds and ends. I really need to get rid of all of that :). I will probably have to buy some veggie and meat, but I think I can significantly reduce the bill for a few weeks 🙂

  3. Vanessa B says:

    A two week pantry challenge sounds just right. My freezer is so full I couldn’t fit a book of matches in there. I have a bunch of random oddities I’m not sure what to do with; frozen asparagus from last spring’s garden, a lot of frozen roasted poblano chiles, 18 boxes of cereal, and more. Any suggestions on what to do with these things?

    We need to use up some boxed stuff since I’m trying to cut back on processed foods for my family and try gluten-free again for myself. I’ve been feeling pretty yucky and I’m convinced it’s gluten. I think $50/week is generous for a pantry challenge.

  4. I’m in!!! Again, the freezer, fridge and cupboards are stuffed. So I really need these Pantry Challenges…may have to start having three a year instead of two. Other than milk and fresh fruit we shouldn’t need much and I hope to go the whole month…or longer.

  5. My most FAVORITE part of Fishmama blog life! 🙂

    I am SO in!

    I have three goals:
    (1) retrain my family to EAT IN.
    (2) clean out full freezer in basement to defrost and clean
    (3) stockpile baked goods. My kids love those ungodly little bites, that I can easily and more healthfully make. We also do super well with prepping bags of cookie dough balls. At the very least, I want to stockpile LOTS of both of these. I also have about three dozen bananas to turn into banana bread, which my kids and I don’t eat, but can serve as teacher and neighbor gifts, etc.

    THANK YOU!!!

  6. For the first time (after years of watching you do it), I’m in! My freezer is disorganized with odds and ends that need to be finished off. That’s true of my pantry as well. We are expecting our first baby in March so now is the perfect time to get my freezer and pantry organized before I stock up again by freezer cooking.

  7. I think I am in too …pantry and freezers are stuffed and like everyone else I need to get the processed stuff moved out. I have not set a budget yet but will need to do fresh produce and some dairy. Thanks for doing this again … I know it gets harder as the kids get older! 😉

    • It’s more that I’m not shopping so far ahead these days. I used to have tons of canned and frozen items, but now we’re using a lot of fresh ingredients. The fridge is seemingly always full, but not the long-term storage. Weird.

    • As the kids get older..

      Ummm, yeah! Girls age 20, 18, and 12, one in college, another driver and itrequires another set of parenting skills competing with kitchen time.

  8. Jenny from the MItten says:

    Yes, we will be doing this too! I think we will be continuing this through the end of March though. We will be moving in April and I do not want to drag 3 full freezers from here to there. It is fun to see what you can make. We “had to” do this a lot in college. I have found that spices are my best friend.

    • Here’s to moving empty freezers!

    • cheering you on as you empty your 3 freezers!!! moving freezers EMPTY is the way to go. had a friend try to move a combination fridg-freezer full of food and it DID NOT handle the move. much was wasted. may you learn(gain) from her pain(loss).

  9. I’m in too! I have spent so much on groceries the past couple of months. I plan to sit down and make a meal plan for January this morning. Hopefully I can even stock the freezer with some easy meals for when I return to work next week.

  10. I am in…sort of. My husband and I are continuing are weight loss endeavor and neither of us want to compromise that. But I do have a freezer full of meats, veggies and other random bits that I will make a more concerted effort to use up. Organizing the freezers was on my goal list this week anyway, so that’s good timing!

    I also have a 3.5 year old and 22 month old to feed. I’ve also been trying to cut down on their intake of sugar and too many grains. I usually feed them pretty healthfully but have slacked some in the past few months. I would specifically like to get back to making them homemade wheat bread. That will help me feel a little better about giving them pb&j a few times a week!

    • I cheat and buy the whole wheat bread from Trader Joe’s. It’s $2/loaf and has only whole wheat flour, water, honey, cracked wheat, salt, and yeast. I know it’s cheaper to make my own, but I can’t keep up with the demand otherwise.

      Happy baking!

  11. I have read your posts on this in the past, but never felt compelled to actually join in the challenge. This year – we are all in.

    I am choosing items I already have on hand, especially those that have been with us for awhile, and making them into meals before I buy more. Last night’s supper had my husband wondering why I paired the side dish and main dish together. “Eating what we have on hand” – and he smiled.

    We also want to start giving more this year ( and I know that I am going to have to revise the whole grocery budget.

    Last, but not least, I have also felt very convicted about the foods we eat and the impact it has on the land, etc. Lots to learn, but I am excited to dig in.

    Thanks for your inspiration! Happy New Year.

  12. I did a freezer inventory yesterday in anticipation of this! Been following for YEARS and will publicly say I’m in this year! Need to save $ for 16 year old daughter’s summer ballet pursuits, so I’m starting with the pantry challenge. Main goal is $75/week for groceries for our family of 8 and no eating out.

  13. I just found your site in the last few months, so this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to join the challenge. Today, I am going to inventory the freezer and make a basic menu. For our family of 5, our normal grocery budget is $125 but I am aiming for $50 for the next 2 weeks.

  14. I am in. Been trying and got sidetracked with good meat sales.
    Plan to keep track on my own blog ( also.

  15. “I’m happy to chat and help you troubleshoot your cupboard and what you can do with what you have on hand.”

    –what’s this you say? Minne-so-tans have fresh CSA produce boxes about 5 months of the year. I have a bag of frozen salsa verde that I’ve been afraid to touch because I don’t want to waste it’s yummy goodness on a failed experiment or just a marinade. And I still have about 6 butternut and acorn squash stored in a cool place. Any Ideas?

    –also, I want to keep 3 homemade salad dressings on hand so that recreating the wheel every night doesn’t seem so daunting resulting in not eating the produce and eating nachos instead. What 3 oil n vinegar types would you recommend? How/where should I store them?

    “and how I’m freaking out.”

    — you know what freaks me out? I’ve got your book, I read your blog, I get thrilled, and then I freak out because cooking so many new things gives me anxiety and I don’t make your stuff.


  16. JOELLYN A says:

    Yep…I’m in…Need to clean out my freezer and we are getting back on the wagon and eating healthier again. Have not been very good in the past couple of months and have spent WAY too much on groceries. I should only need to by dairy and produce for the next couple of weeks or more. YAY!! 🙂

  17. my freezer is so disorganized and I have no clue what’s in there, so Im in. (not to mention, the grocery spending has been insane!)

    my goal is to still buy stuff, but use what’s in my freezers up also(hopefully, that’ll result in a lower bill for the month)

    Im also working with a oven quit working :/

  18. A 2 week challenge is perfect!
    We have a bunch of freezer/pantry stuff that needs eating… But I had to give up dairy & sugar & soy & etc for the baby’s sake, and so I keep buying new stuff while the pantry languishes. So my goal is to cook up meals using “forbidden” ingredients, package up & freeze meals for the hubby to take to work, and then figure out a good menu plan that fits my current dietary needs. So the first two weeks I’ll use up the “bad” things, and then the last two weeks I’ll get the plan under control!

  19. I’ve mapped out my month here:
    It’s more a “controlled-spending-not-so much-eating-out” challenge!

  20. I love, love. love Pantry Challenge and am in my 5th year.
    Basically for me it’s a chance to
    1. organize, clean and find out what I have (too much!)
    2. get out of stores and break the spending streak of December
    3. be creative, while trying to eat somewhat healthily
    4. have fun with friends-several of my friends pantry challenge and we get together to share our “interesting” end of the month recipes
    This year is going to be easier than some due to food I already have. I am budgeting twenty dollars for fresh veg/fruit and milk, but will try not spend all . There are only the two of us at home.
    We do stick with our schedule of Saturday breakfast out and wine/beer coming out of entertainment budget. Bring it on, Pantry Challenge 2014!

  21. I’m in for the challenge! I’ve got my menu planned out for the two weeks 🙂 What is the salad pictured above with the cilantro on top of it? I looks awesome.

  22. I’ve been following your blog for a couple of years, but haven’t joined in for a pantry challenge until now. We have a full fridge freezer and a full upright freezer in our basement, both of which need to be cleaned out. We are mostly vegetarian, so no meat in them, but lots of vegetables from our garden to use up.

  23. G’day! I will look forward to what you do! I did a couple of blog posts called In My Pantry where I made meals exclusively from my pantry, no other ingredients added and was genuinely surprised how easy it was to do and hoe economical that month was too!
    Cheers! Joanne

  24. Christina says:

    The past couple of years I have thought abut joining you in the Pantry Challenge. One year I joined near the end of the month and went for almost 2 weeks. This year I am in from day 1 and I am going for the whole month. I am still recovering from a broken knee 3 months ago, but praise the Lord, I am out of the wheelchair and using a walker for the next 4 weeks. Since I don’t do stairs well right now, I had my 16 yo son take pictures of the contents of my downstairs freezer and 2nd fridge. I have my meals planned out for the entire month. I will need to buy fresh veggies, milk, eggs, coffee, bread, flour & dried beans throughout the month, but my 17 yo daughter works at my favorite grocery store. I plan to send her to work one day with a detailed list. This will keep me from buying unnecessarily. My meal plan just includes snack & supper on most days since my 5 children go to public schools and eat lunch there. Breakfasts are usually pretty simple on school days as well.

  25. I am in. This will be my third pantry challenge. The last one I extended to six weeks. I only plan on doing four, but the hubby is all in. So, if I can keep up the motivation we might do six weeks.

    Last panty challenge when the freezer was pretty much empty I bought a dry erase board (~$15) and nailed it to the wall by the freezer. I would say we are 90% good at marking what goes in and erasing what comes out. So the freezer inventory is good to go.

    I’m going to give us a $100 budget that will stretch to $150 if we decide to do six weeks.

    Our goals: continue to improve on being mindful while shopping. Save some money for various reasons. Retrain ourselves to eat at home after the holiday eat-out-a-thon. Empty the freezer that in six short months is so full that until yesterday I had to sit on it to close it!

  26. I am in!

    We have a full pantry and freezer after the Holiday, so we should be able to do at least two weeks.

    Kathy in Denmark

  27. Angela B. says:

    This will be my very first pantry challenge….I am so excited!

    I took inventory of the large freezer and the cabinets, I feel like I have a lot to work with right now.

    Thank you for all the tips and ideas from your blog…I look forward to reading it everyday.

  28. I’m in! My kids are gone today and tomorrow, so I’m going to try and get my pantry an fridge/freezer and deep freezer inventories so I can begin. Tonight, though, hubby is taking me out for date night, we’re using a gift card he was given for Cracker Barrel! 🙂

  29. I am in — but will start a bit late due to still having my daughter home for Christmas. I want to make a few of her favorites before she heads back to Spain. After she leaves the challenge is on. I have a too full freezer that really needs some attention. Looking forward to the challenge and seeing what meals I can pull together.

  30. I just found your website a few days ago (I followed a link from Frugality Gal’s blog!) I enjoy reading your posts! As for the pantry challenge- I am in! I do this a few times a year in my own home: use up what we have and get the freezer as clear as possible and plan meals around what we already have. Right now I have so many odds and ends items in my freezer and pantry that I need to buy items to make complete meals out of them but the grocery bill will be a lot less than usual if I fully concentrate on what is already here. It’s fun to know that a bunch of people are doing this challenge together. Thanks again for your blog! 🙂

  31. I’m in. I was doing great last year, whittling away at what I had in the freezer, up until about the middle of Nov. I took an extra PT job in retail for during the holidays. When I was working, I saw lots of great things on good prices so I stocked up, but meanwhile not much was getting used since I wasn’t home to cook it. Poof! All the free space in the freezer disappeared and the grocery budget ended up a good twice what it should have been for the last 6 weeks. Very happy to be using this to get back on track again!

  32. I’m in for 2 weeks. We have all sorts of little odds and ends in the fridge, freezer and pantry to use up. We’re planning to do the Whole30 starting mid-January. My goal is to not do any grocery shopping for the 2 week pantry challenge, clean out the more “unhealthy” stuff and then stock up on Whole30 foods!

  33. Heather M says:

    Back from vacation in NY at the in-laws and getting caught up on my favorite blog. YAY for the Pantry Challenge! I’m in, but only to a degree. I am about 2/3 of the way to a major weight loss goal and am continuing that endeavor. Needless to say, I need to make sure that my healthy eating (and my family’s) doesn’t suffer. That said, we have a freezer full of food and cupboards full of food, much of it healthy. So, we will be doing our best to spend less this month, eat out minimally (Can’t decide what to do about my birthday on Monday, since I don’t want to mess with my eating, and I just spent a week not being particularly perfect in that dept), and eat yummy and healthy meals. We need to be curbing our spending with our oldest starting college this Fall. Plus I’ll need a whole new wardrobe. And I don’t do thrift stores very well. I did already hit the grocery today for some fabulous deals (more than half off chicken breasts, plus we had fresh salmon for dinner, etc.) and spent about $112. I don’t anticipate spending more than $500 for the month, but we’ll see. Off we go…

    • Caught up on your favorite blog?! How sweet.

      I was just reading about a lady who lost a lot of weight, bought new clothes, and then kept losing weight and had to buy more clothes! I thought her advice was interesting:

      Congrats on all the progress you’ve made!

      • Heather M says:

        Thanks, Jessica! I found her advice interesting! I have done a few things, but I can’t imagine buying too much until I’m done. That said, I broke down around 40lbs lost and bought two pair of jeans at my favorite jean-buying place. Luckily there was a sale. I’m wearing them nonstop. They were snug when I bought them, not so much any more. I also just got a few new bras. Beyond that, I’m making do. I cleaned out my closet top to bottom of all the things I’ll never wear. Some things still work… cardigans, blazer-type jackets (but not all… these were things I couldn’t button but would wear anyway), etc. And lots of shirts still do the job. Since it’s winter I can wear cardis/jackets with them and i pin them in back to fit. It’s fabulous. I kept my favorites for this use. I have some tank dresses for dressing up that serve the same purpose. I also had lots of smaller items hiding way up in the recesses and I either tossed them for how dated they were, or if they’re classic wearable styles, washed and am now wearing them. That’s it until I’m done. Although my workout pants that used to be super tight are not so anymore and I might have to buy some soon. I’ve already had to toss some for fear of them falling off! It’s kind of fun!

  34. I am really at a great point to start a challenge. We are still in the middle of the big kitchen remodel, so don’t have a fully functional kitchen as yet. OH HOW I MISS MY KITCHEN SINK and counter tops to work on. Am hoping for three weeks, maybe a little less, to have the new counters installed and will then have a sink once again. I completely redesigned my kitchen moving some major appliances, sheet rock repaired from water damage done years ago, new paint, new cabinets, new counters, all new appliances and even a new window. Now I am going to be cutting every corner I can, making a few new ones, to help my bank account get over the cost. I cannot control my utilities too much, but I can control how much is spent on groceries and house hold goods. I am still loading kitchen ware in to the new cabinets as well. I had pretty much used down my pantry before the remodel so I would not have to find places to put food while the work has been going on. I bought a huge bill of groceries and household goods to restock the pantry and such so am now ready to start some challenges. I will be doing a few different challenges, this one included, but my start date will be as soon as I have a completed kitchen.

  35. I’m SO excited to be joining your pantry challenge & blogging about it again this year. Thank you for inspiring all of us to be frugal, creative cooks! 🙂 Happy New Year!

  36. In! – I will be moving in 2014 and definitely need to use up my pantry items.
    But I will have a delayed start. Due to having family over till late January, I will get serious around Jan 26th only …

  37. I have read about these pantry challenges for a couple of years now. I was going to do some freezer cooking over Christmas break, and when I looked in my freezers, I realized they were already full. Time to clean them out, for sure! So I am joining in for the most part. I will still be stopping for milk, eggs, bread (and brown sugar… I am out–which is almost a national crisis at my house!) 🙂
    I baked some squashes today, and plan to be making some pumpkin(aka squash) recipes tomorrow, much to my daughter’s chagrin. I pinned your pumpkin scones, and will also make the pumpkin chocolate chip muffins again.
    Also, just to be technical… this would actually be your 6th year of doing a pantry challenge if you started in 2009. Just had to throw in the technical stuff! 🙂
    Thanks for your blog. I enjoy reading it. You have been an inspiration to me, and have changed my cooking for the better! My family would agree–all except my daughter and the squash recipes! Have a great year!

  38. What a great idea! I’m going to tackle this in 2015, and have linked to you for giving me the idea on my blog

  39. day late, but not a dollar short. Doing the pantry challenge for the month. Cleaned both refrigerators with their freezers and both deep freezers. INVENTORIED it and the complete pantry (25 ft x 15 ft ).

    Been eating up the leftovers that was in the freezers and frigs until today…today is roasted turkey for dinner tonight and making acorn squash soup for lunch.

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