Pantry Challenge Recap

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Pantry Challenge Recap

I’m stunned that January is over half over. I’m not sure what is going on, but I’m pretty sure that the flux capacitor has sped up time. Seriously.

We’re a couple days past the Pantry Challenge‘s end. Wednesday night the littles and I went to Sprouts for a fresh fruit stockup. Yesterday we hit Costco for dairy, pasta, and sandwich fixings. I put my feet up a bit the last couple lunches thanks to the sandwiches.

However, Mr. Puke arrived this morning. FishChick5 is so far the only one he’s been bothering. I’m hoping he’ll leave without wreaking too much havoc. He forced me to buy some tummy ache foods: applesauce, saltines, and juices to make homemade sports drinks. I don’t want to undo all our good real food progress by buying junk.

The fridge is full again, mostly with dairy and produce which will be gone pretty soon. However, that does make it a little tricky. Buying in bulk, particularly at Costco prices saves us money, but it puts us back into abundance, for better or worse.

This time around I didn’t really discover many great recipes, aside from the Cinnamon Toast Croutons and a couple stews. I made need to read back through the archives. I’m sure there was some brilliant meal along the way, but none are standing out.

I loved Kristin’s comment that they’ve discovered some new family favorites during the Pantry Challenge, using up what they have. Yay! That is what it’s all about.

Pantry Challenge RecapMushrooms

The Big Take-away

As you know, my big take-away was thankfulness. When my husband was a young boy and his parents were divorcing, his mom worked two jobs and sometimes couldn’t put food on the table. She would send the boys next door where a neighbor would feed them spaghetti with a little salt, no sauce or sides, just noodles. That’s a poignant memory for my husband.

We have abundance. Ours was not a TRUE pantry challenge. Some folks really do struggle to get from one paycheck to the next and keep food on the table. Obviously, I buy more than we need at a given time. We have more than enough.

I am grateful for what we have — and that I don’t have to count every ingredient every day to make it last.

That said, my dedication to Good Cheap Eats is renewed. No one should have to struggle to have nutritious AND delicious food. So, I’ll keep plugging away at finding ways to help us all stretch those dollar and still eat well.

How much did you save?

Like last time, I thought it would be fun to tally up how much we saved together. Last year at this time, we collectively saved over $16,000 by eating what we already had instead of buying more. That was divided over 74 families, averaging at least a $200 savings across the board. Who knew?

Fill in the form below. I’ll share the totals at the end of the month, since some people are going whole hog.

What was YOUR big take-away from the Pantry Challenge?

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  1. I am continuing with the challenge through the end of the month. We are going on a mini vacation tomorrow (on the train to Vancouver BC for two nights-we’re from the Seattle area) . The money we’ve saved on groceries so far-I’ve spent $0-will be happily spent in Vancouver. We have a vacation fund, but won’t have to tap it. Yeah!

  2. I’m planning to go to the end of the month as well… in part, making up for the week I was out of town. Thus far, I learned that we really have been eating out of the freezer as much as possible in the months before the challenge. There was plenty in the pantry, but not much in the freezer (especially in the way of proteins). This is a good thing. And if I can rotate the stash in the pantry a little better, I feel like we are managing our food well. 🙂

  3. I found that there were some meals that I had been waiting on to serve for fear of reaction from the troops- and the troops didn’t really react when I served them. As long as I served something I knew they liked with these other items they seemed ok. I also had a few nights where I served up two options. It’s not something I normally do in a house w only 3 people, but it worked out well for the purposes of cleaning out, and not having to go out and shop. 🙂

  4. Stephanie M. says:

    The biggest lesson I learned from this challenge was that I don’t need to have such a stuffed freezer in order to put a good meal on the table. There are plenty of meals I can make with what I have. So many times when I go food shopping, I stray from my list and when I see a bottom round on sale, I think to myself, pot roast sounds good to me and I get one. Then I’ll see something else like shrimp and think Shrimp Scampi sounds good, maybe I’ll make that this week too. Before you know it, I’ve gotten several things I hadn’t planned on buying and then I don’t cook those things that week anyway because something in my freezer lights up and I make that instead. In the meantime, the bottom round and the shrimp and whatever else I bought sits in the freezer till I get the craving for that food again. Then when I go food shopping next time, the same thing happens, until I have a freezer that’s so filled up, I don’t know what to do with it all. To me, the easiest place in the budget to save money is on food. I started living out of my freezer already in November when my husband was on disability for six weeks for a heart valve replacement. Since then, I have purchased very little meat with the exception of some things I needed for the holidays. When the challenge started, I thought this was just the kick I needed to be motivated enough to take this to the end and I will continue till I get there which should be in about three weeks or so. I have also realized that I can, in fact, get through the day without running to the store for something I think I need but really don’t. Lastly, I recently found a site where I could print out free weekly menu planning sheets. There are so many to choose from but these are colorful and cute and when my freezer is completely empty, I will start using them. The are now waiting for me in my “home management binder”. I don’t feel comfortable with a monthly planner but a weekly one I can do.

    • I realized something similar…with three young kids, there are a fairly limited number of meals that are crowd pleasers in my house. While I’d be happy eating the same 15 dinners each month, every month, the rest of my house wants more variety. In my effort to provide more variety with picky eaters I sometimes randomly pick things up at the store that I think we should try. Then, when we don’t try them right away they pile up in the freezer/pantry and I start to doubt that my peeps will like them. So, after I finish clearing out, my focus will be on purchasing our regulars. But, when I buy something to try I hope to have the discipline to actually try it right away. I also think that I am going to update and use my “favorite meals lists”, etc. that I haven’t been utilizing lately. Maybe this will help me to start trying one new recipe a week or something, too.

      • In my house we also have 15-20 meals that are crowd favorites that we always have, but we are definitely the adventurous bunch. What I do anytime I’m trying something new is to have a plan B that can be ready in 20 minutes or less like homemade pizza of leftover potpie or even PB&J…

    • I realized a few years ago that I would do the same thing. “It’s not on the list, but it is on sale and it sounds good.” A freezer-ful later… argh! Creating a list of what was actually in the freezer really helped with that. I don’t keep it as accurate as I would like (I haul everything out and do an inventory 2-3 times a year and then try to just write in or cross-off things that are added/deleted until the next time), but it is close enough that if I look at the online weekly ad and think it is a good price, I can check the list to see if I already have a bunch or not. I have successfully avoided quite a few of the “maybe I should…” moments since I implemented that list. My stand-alone freezer is in the garage but I keep the list on the fridge door in the house as it is easier to reference that way.

    • It sounds like this was a really fruitful time for you. I’m so glad!

  5. I feel like the biggest thing that I learned from this challenge was to embrace the white space. I had a freakout moment when I saw all of the white space in the fridge. I told the hubs we needed to go shopping STAT. We didn’t though. He reminded me how full both of our freezers were. We have only spent $16 at this point and we are holding out through the weekend before I hit the grocery store again.

    • In The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, someone recommends to put a favorite picture in the back of the fridge. If you can’t see the picture, you have too much! I thought that was pretty clever. Great job on your spending, or lack thereof!

  6. I am also continuing the challenge until the end of the month – so happy that so many others are doing the same 🙂
    I am using this challenge as an offset for a new routine when it comes to grocery shopping. I will try to cut my budget and be more mindfull of my grocery spending in the future. I don’t really have a lot of odds and ends in my pantry, but I do have a fairly large stockpile and a full freezer. I think the freezer is my biggest problem area, and I am trying to work on that, so I can start freezer cooking more and rotate the freezer stock better.

    It has actually been a little difficult to stay out of the grocery store, since some of the items which I need but have not seen on sale for a LONG time are suddenly all on sale! My strategy is to write a list with not only the items, but also how many I will purchase and a total of how much I am going to spend in that particular store. That way I will get the items I need without overbuying and I can stick to my budget!

    So my biggest take away from the pantry challenge so far is that I don’t really buy strange items which I don’t use, but I can be more mindful of the amounts I buy and I can definitely be better at using the food in my freezer AND be better at organizing my freezer! If I can accomplish this, I am certain that I will be able to cut my grocery budget, and I would love that 🙂

  7. I have too many spices that I do not use or do not use before they lose their potency. Going forward I am going to stick with the basics that I routinely use. If a recipe calls for something I do not usually buy I will try to find a close substitute or find a different recipe. I found an almost full jar of Chinese Five Spice that is now three years old in my spice cabinet right next to a bottle of two-year old summer savory. I always have cloves, cinnamon and pepper. Would I really miss the star anise and fennel that much in most recipes? My guess is in most cases three out of five of the spices would be just fine. As for the summer savory, I do not remember purchasing it and do not have a single recipe that calls for it.

  8. Expenditures this month have not been as nearly non-existent as I was hoping, but the purchases have been primarily fresh/perishables like milk, eggs, and salad supplies. We bought last of the season egg nog for the freezer per the kid’s urgent pleading. Since it is not possible to buy it in a few months, it was a reasonable item to go ahead and get. I bought some B/S chicken that was at an excellent price and I only had one pound at home anyway. I bought some spiral-cut ham that was on clearance for $0.97/lb and popped that in the freezer. It will still be good at Easter if we don’t get to it by then. I wanted the expenses to be 1/3 or less of monthly budget, they’ve actually been about 1/2. Of what I spent, however, a full 50% of it was on Jan 3 (including that egg nog), so good control of expenses since then.

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