A Meal Plan for Week 1 of Our Pantry Challenge

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Our meal plan during a pantry challenge comes (mainly) from what we already have.

A Meal Plan for Week 1 of Our Pantry Challenge - We're eating what we have so we can save some money.

So, here we are ready to start another pantry challenge. Not sure what that is? Go here for all the details.

The short version is that for the next two weeks, I’m going to try to create meals from what we already have instead of buying more. A cursory glance at our food stores shows that we’ve got sufficient baking and grain items, a mediocre amount of dairy and veg, and a middling amount of meat. There are lots of odds and ends in the freezer.

My goals for the pantry challenge are manifold:

1. Eat up enough of the stuff in the freezers — I have one side-by-side and one deep freeze — so that I can defrost the deep freeze.

2. Rotate our stock and use up the random things in the pantry, especially the specialty items on the condiment shelf.

3. Save some money on groceries.

Since I’m still planning to buy milk, eggs, and fresh produce, I’ll still be buying groceries, but hopefully, I won’t need to buy too much else. We shall see, eh?

As I mentioned yesterday, there are five key ways to prepare for a pantry challenge. If you haven’t reviewed them yet, they are:

  • take inventory
  • plan some meals
  • buy necessities only
  • cook something
  • bake something
  • think of all the money you’ll save

Following these steps will ensure that your pantry challenge is a successful one.ย 

This round I’m doing something a little different. In past challenges, I’ve focused on my deep freeze instead of the little bits of randomness in the side-by-side.

But, really, I want the side-by-side to be the staging area for suppers. I want to be able to plan my week’s meals, pull those ingredients from the deep-freeze, and have a place to store them during the week — and in the kitchen — until I need them.

With my new approach to the challenge, I won’t end up overlooking those little bits of randomness and I can move back toward using the side-by-side as a holding station for things I want to use each week.

Best laid plans of mice and men, eh? We’ll see.

Tackling the side by side with a meal plan

A Meal Plan for Week 1 of Our Pantry Challenge - We're eating what we have so we can save some money.


So, with this in mind, here’s my inventory of the side-by-side:

  • frozen, uncooked shrimp
  • whole wheat tortillas
  • hashbrown potatoes
  • tomato soup
  • leftover meat sauce for pasta
  • cooked rice
  • roasted corn
  • corn tortillas
  • enchilada sauce
  • leftover tikka masala and coconut rice
  • bacon
  • roasted vegetable sauce
  • bread crusts
  • satay sauce
  • frozen fruit
  • kielbasa
  • chicken broth
  • sirloin steak
  • ham steak
  • frozen egg patties from Good Food Made Simple

In the pantry, I know I have pasta, rice, beans, muffin mixes, canned tomato items, crackers, and rice cakes, among other favorite pantry staples.

Out of that, I’ll make these dinners and lunches for the next five days. I say fiveย since we’ll be heading out of town for the weekend and mooching off friends and family. I didn’t realize that when I scheduled the challenge — Oops! But, I’ll be packing snacks and meals for the road so we don’t spend too much money traveling. Pantry Challenge on the road?

My people just might freak.

A Meal Plan for Week 1 of Our Pantry Challenge - We're eating what we have so we can save some money.


Anyway, here are the meals I’ve got planned for the week:




It will be hit or miss with the vegetable sides and fresh fruit. But, I need to clear some space so that I can think straight.

Be sure to join me tonight (7/6/14 at 5pm PST) for a Pantry Challenge Q&A on Facebook.

What’s on the menu at YOUR house this week?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe great meals don't have to be complicated or expensive. There's a better way, and it won't take all afternoon.

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  1. Tiffany R says:

    We are going out if town for the week starting Monday but I have some pantry items that aren’t moving that I’ll take with us. I’m going to use some odds and ends cereal, nuts and raisins to make a trail mix for the kids to snack on. And I’ll bring some other snacks that aren’t moving – they will eat anything on the road. There is also some oatmeal that needs to be cleared so we will be eating that for breakfast while we are gone.

    This weekend we cleared some slightly freezer burned hamburgers (no one noticed) and leftover pancakes from the freezer. I am hoping to also use up the last of the fresh vegs before we hit the road.

    I can’t wait to see what everyone is using up. My family isn’t too thrilled to be in a pantry challenge but they’ll survive!

    • No family is thrilled with a pantry challenge. I think the trick is to stay ahead of them with premade meals and snacks and to be as creative as possible. Have a great trip!

  2. Marla says:

    We’re starting the week’s dinners off with The Best Fish Recipe, along with some frozen zucchini fries. Also on the menu will be meatballs cooked in the slow cooker with spaghetti sauce. I’m also finally going to thaw the “mystery casserole” that somehow missed being labelled! For breakfasts, we’re going to concentrate on eating up our breakfast bar section of the freezer…..energy balls, simple egg cups, frozen donuts and burritos. Lunches will include salmon patties, black bean patties and hamburgers.

    • Tell me about zucchini fries. I’m going to try stuffed zucchini since my mom brought so many.

      • Angela says:

        We make zucchini fries by slicing zukes into long strips – sort of like fries – then breading them and shallow fry in coconut oil. You can bake them too, but the crunch factor isn’t the same.

    • Belinda says:

      Please tell us what the mystery casserole turns out to be … I’m so glad I’m not the only one who forgets to label freezer meals ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Mona says:

    We are already 4 days into the Pantry Challenge and have a “long” way to go. Thank you Jessica for reminding us to be grateful for what we have! And to use it up not throw it out…lol

  4. Cheri A says:

    I am getting my inventory checked today and don’t feel like I have a lot in there right now. We will see. I have to bring a “new baby” meal to a family on Tuesday, so I am figuring that into the meal plan this week too. Lunches this summer seem really hard for me this summer. I need to figure that out really!

  5. Stephanie M. says:

    My inventory in the pantry and freezer are pretty extensive so outside of buying perishable staples, I’m good to go for the next two weeks.

    • Good for you! How is your husband feeling about the pantry challenge? I know your last one was pretty monumental.

      • Stephanie M. says:

        Hi Jessica:

        My husband is always happy when I decide to do this because it means less money going out the door on more “stuff” we don’t need. He, like me, really advocates using up food rather than wasting it.

  6. CeCee says:

    We actually started the pantry challenge on 6/10 so we are 7 days in at this point. I sat down yesterday and made our meal plan until the 13 and bought groceries to go with it. Our grocery budget for the month is $150 which is way lower than the 450-500 we normally spend. We do eat all organic poultry, eggs, produce, and dairy and try to eat all organic beef and pork (this can be harder to find). We also eat a very high protein diet because we are both weigh trainers. We spent 40.93 this week on milk, eggs, (lots of ) produce, & burger buns. Our meal plan is as follows:

    Breakfasts: Leftovers, Eggs, Cereal, Bacon, Pancakes, Fresh fruit & Protein shakes.
    Lunches: Mostly Leftovers, or Tuna Fish, PB&J
    Dinners: Chicken & Dumplings, Fried Pork chops, Korean Fried Rice, Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches or Hamburgers (whichever we eat this week we will eat the other next week)

  7. Melody says:

    I so need to inventory my side-by-side also, it suffers from the same syndrome, while the full freezer in the garage is getting choked with ice (why I skimped on a manual defrost freezer I will never know but we aren’t replacing it until it doesn’t work any longer)…..

    I keep trying to clear it but with only 3 people, it is hard to make a dent without putting things back in. I love your determination! Keep going…

  8. This is going to sound really strange, but using up the odds and ends in the freezer is my favorite part of a pantry challenge. All those little baggies all over the freezer sort of stress me out. I know – I’m weird. It’s kind of fun knowing other families out there are doing the same thing. Thanks for the posts.

  9. Betsy says:

    I’m in! Doing inventory today. We have quite a bit on hand so I’m in for at least 2 weeks. I will need to buy perishables but otherwise hoping to keep my shopping to a minimum. My normal budget for our family of 8 is $800, hoping to keep my total for the month to $400. I would really like to have some white space in my food storage areas! Haven’t told the fam about this challenge, what they don’t know won’t hurt them right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Will you be posting daily updates? I always love reading those!

    • Yes, I’ll be posting a daily update and folks can add their links each day if they are blogging their challenges.

  10. Jodi says:

    Challenge is underway! I would like to use most of the freezer meals I put up last month and empty the pantry as much as possible. We have lots of beef and chicken, peppers, onions, chicken stock, various tomato, pasta, brown rice, various baking ingredients…I think other than milk and fresh fruit and veg, we are good. (Garden goods should start coming on soon.) I am going for the whole month of July. Then in August I can start with a fairly clean slate for garden produce, sales and freezer meals. I am so excited to see how much we can not spend!

  11. Vanessa B says:

    I have so many bits of randomness in my fridge freezer I didn’t bother to inventory it. I now see that’s it’s necessary and will get on that first thing in the morning. I love the idea of using the fridge freezer as a staging area for my weekly meal plan, this could completely change my life.:)
    I got a great start on the pantry challenge today. I baked zucchini muffins and party mix. I’m about to pack my husband’s lunch for tomorrow. Meal plan is written but minor changes occur daily based on weather, leftovers, my mood, etc.

  12. Whitney says:

    Hi Jessica. Your Pantry Challenges are such an inspiration for me. I need the reminder to clear things out from time to time. I always throw odds and ends into the freezer for future use. Then they get pushed to the back and forgotten. I have a crazy amount of buns (hamburger, hot dog, etc) hiding in the depths of my kitchen freezer. I noticed you have bread crusts on your freezer inventory. Do you have any great ideas for using them (I know you make croutons a lot, right)? I’m thinking of an overnight egg casserole or something lie that, but I don’t know how buns would be instead of the crusty french bread that most recipes call for. Any ideas?

    • I’m going to grind mine as bread crumbs to use in baked shrimp. But I think you’d be fine with your egg bake. Just toast the bread first a bit.

      • Whitney says:

        Great tip about toasting the bread first. Thanks. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Your menus always look amazing! I posted mine here:
    So excited for the pantry challenge to begin!

  14. Carrie says:

    Thank you for this motivation! Odds and ends have been collecting in my freezer and I knew I needed to put some thought into pulling everything together to make some meals. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Nevila says:

    Hi Jessica,

    I found your website some weeks ago, and I was thrilled about the pantry challenge.
    I started it some days ago. It is very challenging since i am a working mom ( until 18.00 everyday) especially for lunch, but i think we have managed the situation quite well.
    Since i do not live in the US ( i live in Albania, a small country in the Balkans) it is a bit impossible to follow your recipes since some ingredients are not easy to find ( or they’re expensive)

    Now that you have started pantry challenge in the same time with me, I may find some useful ideas for dinner or breakfast.

    Thanks you

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