Pantry Challenge Recap

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Did you participate in our Pantry Challenge? How did it go? Were you pleased with the results?


I’m thrilled to say that we spent $143 for the two weeks, down from a typical $400 for that same time frame. I think this is the first Pantry Challenge that I didn’t reach my goal of emptying the deep freeze.

Since we still have lots to use up, we could go on with the challenge for quite some time. However, I’ve got some recipes that need my attention, so I will need to shop a bit more. I will continue working from what we have at the same time. Hopefully, I can return to the challenge before we leave for Europe in the fall. It would be great to leave the freezer empty and unplugged while we’re gone and save more money for the trip.

One of the best parts of doing a challenge like this publicly is interacting with you guys. I absolutely LOVED our Facebook Party. That was super fun.

For me, the Pantry Challenge was a welcome respite from cooking. I was able to delegate the cooking to my kids since I wasn’t creating new and exotic recipes.

pantry pasta

This was a meal mostly prepared by my 13yo. This is an old standby good cheap eat: pasta with meat sauce, green beans, and rolls. Everyone gobbles this down with very little leftover. As it should be…

And I was thrilled to get feedback from different folks:

From Melanie:

Thanks for the motivation for the pantry challenge. I stock up on food (frozen and canned), and then have trouble using it all before it expires. We are preparing for a move, and I told my husband we were going to do a pantry challenge, which we’ve tried before and failed. I have been highly amused by his response. Where before he turned up his nose at many of the dishes I would prepare and would complain when we ran out of things he liked (like butter), he has now embraced the idea of not buying any groceries except milk, eggs, and bananas. I have been busy working and have no motivation right now to think about preparing elaborate meals from what we have, but my husband seems to enjoy the challenge. He told me today as he made breakfast that we must “have the motivation and the dedication to meet the pantry challenge!” Who knew I had to use the word challenge to get him on board?

From Hollie:

hollie's freezer

From Jackie:

Tips for preparing the freezer for a pantry challenge.

We’ll be doing another Pantry Challenge in January. I’ve got some really good ideas on how to help folks save a bundle of money after the holidays, so stay tuned!

How did the Pantry Challenge go for YOU?

Tell us in the comments about your general experience and how much money you saved.

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  1. I didn’t do a real challenge, but rather identified some pantry and freezer items that needed to be used. Seeing white space in my freezer makes me happy and I don’t have to worry about items falling out when I open the door. Plus, I used up ALL of the ripe bananas that were stashed in the freezer. Success!

  2. Ha! I love Hollie’s picture!

  3. I was able to do an inventory of the garage pantry … haven’t made it to the freezer(s) … pantry challenge continues with HOPEFUL minimal spending!

  4. Stephanie M. says:

    Hi Jessica: This was the second time I participated in the challenge; the first was last January. Last time as you remember I had five months worth of stuff in the extra freezer and that’s how long it took me to finally be done with it all. I told myself that I would never allow that to happen again and I’m proud to say that I haven’t. That said, I still accumulate things in the freezer and the challenge keeps me motivated. From the time the challenge is running, it helps keep me honest and I find that I put extra effort into using up what we have rather than buying more. I normally spend between $300 and $400 every two weeks; that’s only for my husband and myself; I see that you spend about that much for a very large family. During the last two weeks on the challenge, I was really diligent about what I was doing and spent a total of $88.39. Clearly, I’m buying way too much. Even though I try to keep to a meal plan, when I get in that store and I get an idea for something that really sounds good to me, it’s quite common for me to buy what I need to make that meal and this disrupts my plan. This kind of thing causes me to have unused meat in the freezer because I didn’t get to it when I planned and sometimes, it sits there for a while before I cook it. I also end up with unused things in the refrigerator that I was planning on using for a particular meal and didn’t. Then I have to come up with something that will utilize what’s in the fridge before it goes bad. At the end of the last challenge, I continued on until I had absolutely nothing in the way of meat in the freezer, very little frozen veggies or much of anything else. There is not an abundance of meat left in the freezer but I am going to use that for sure before I buy any more. I am going to continue on again and make sure that I continue to challenge myself until everything is gone which really should be in less than 2 weeks.

    Thanks for the challenges and all of your inspiration. Thanks also for so many wonderful recipes and tips. Not too long ago, you said in a post about home made hamburgers to make a little dent in the center to prevent shrinking. We tried it and it worked! The looked like hamburgers when they were done rather than meatballs. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Enjoy your trip in the Fall. I will keep on checking Good cheap eats and I look forward to participating in the next challenge next January.

    Stay healthy and happy! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Stephanie M. says:

    Sorry, when I sent the last post, I made a typo in the e-mail address. This one is the correct address.

  6. Megan D says:

    We’re pushing on with the Pantry Challenge. Only spent $31 at the grocery store this week (we were out of town and missed the Farmers Market….combined my $20 grocery and $20 Farmers Mkt but still stayed under budget!). We had much more meat in the freezer than I realized so we’re still doing great; probably be able to do the entire month of July with no problem! I really want to do a defrost on the freezer so I’ve got the motivation to keep going.

  7. Thanks s o much for the challenge. Our freezer is more than half empty now, and we’re going to continue the challenge with the ultimate goal of leaving it empty and unplugged when we travel next month. It’s been fun!

  8. Colleen says:

    I haven’t started yet, but reading how everyone has done and actually sitting down last week and looking at our food bill(in and out) I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the total, I am ready to start this week. I will go as long as I can minus fresh vegetables, milk, eggs, and butter I know we can go 2 weeks if not 4.

  9. Paula Antonetti says:

    My fridge challenge went pretty well. I didnt have to throw alot away from the 4th of july. So now I am busy canning tomatoes and probably the last of the strawberries for the year. Hoping I can get them done before they go bad.

  10. I was doing a semi-Pantry Challenge as I made some concessions during VBS week, namely sandwiches for lunch, cereal and toast for breakfast. I am going through a lot of freezer odds and ends as well as canned goods and pantry items. I haven’t tracked the $ part so I’m not sure how much I’ve saved, but I know its made an impact. You could do a partial Pantry Challenge where you focus your meals around using up what is in the freezer while purchasing the ingredients to make the meal complete. I always like to leave my freezer unplugged while on vacation as well. It gets defrosted and saves $. Thanks for sharing your challenge with us!

  11. I scrubbed out that gloriously empty and defrosted freezer upon our return from mini-vacay. Used up more buttermilk and the last of the frozen bacon and blueberries in pancakes for supper tonight. Plugged freezer back in this evening and will begin the refill next week. Have at least a dozen baked good mixes and a pie shell to fill. That’ll all make for easy lunches during the first few weeks of school. Thank you again, Jessica, for teaching me how to use my freezer and love my family with REAL food.

  12. Thank you Jessica for another great challenge. I will be continuing into August as I’m still not seeing enough white to defrost my deep freeze. We have spent a total of $63.15 so far for the month of July. Our normal budget is $350. so we have a pretty good savings. Have only bought milk, produce, fruit and ice cream. hehe Had to have it……I have been baking rolls and bread and had a few packs of muffins and bagels in the freezer that are about used up. Pantry still full enough to cover us for awhile. Hoping we will be under $100 this month and still eating well. Will be glad to join you if you do another one before you trip, if not have a wonderful time on your trip.

  13. Shannon says:

    I am going to keep going as well! My kitchen freezer is half-empty (and much more organized now!) but the garage one is still quite full. I would have to add up my receipts but $75 at Farmers Market ($25 of that was two quarts of raw honey) and then probably $60 in the grocery store the past two weeks – milk, bread, OJ, produce, some coupon deals too good to pass on. For good or bad, our garden is in full production so freezer clean out has gotten ignored on many days as we ate cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, etc. A lot of vegetarian meals this past week! Froze 20 lbs of peaches so that did not help but had to get them while they are so sweet and good!
    Thank you for the inspiration! Fall would be a great time to repeat it – all those good stews and soups you can just throw together with freezer leftovers!

  14. i may not have an empty pantry or freezer, but I did successfully get the freezer defrosted, cleaned, re-organized and wow–it looks fantastic! and, the bonus is that I put an inventory list on the door.

    yay me! thanks for prodding me to do this.

  15. I commented last week how much I was enjoying this blog and all the comments about the pantry challenge. I committed to use what is in the pantry, freezer, and the garden produce and only buy absolute necessities. Will be carrying on a little longer. I did have to buy buns and a few items for family dinner with all the grandkids and their folks this weekend. By the way husband and I are retired and things like the pantry challenge remind me of what we had to do between paychecks when we first got married.

  16. This pantry challenge came at a horrible time for me, so I was not able to fully participate. However, using up what I already have has been a goal that I was working on prior to the challenge starting, so a great many of my easy-cook and precooked freezer meals are just about gone. I have mostly raw meats and veggies left in the garage freezer now, with some odds and ends in the fridge freezer. The fridge itself does not have a lot in it right now, which is not pleasing to the teen that has been home the past 2 weeks and gets hungry. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m going to need to make a bunch more freezer meals come August when I’ll actually be home for more than a few hours at time.

    I just checked my banking records. (super easy when you put everything into Quicken) I have two grocery budget goal amounts: the attainable one, and the ‘would be nice if I could keep it down to this’ one. On a positive side, I am YTD 6% under the lower amount! I’m super excited to see that. I hope I manage to keep it like that.

  17. Heather M says:

    I love love love the Pantry Challenge. I always accumulate lots of ingredients over time in the pantry and freezer and they need to get used before expiring. This time around I’m actually continuing on through July 31 and also one week in mid August. We will be traveling Aug 1-Sept 9, or at least I will (except that one week in the middle), since I’m taking our oldest to college while the other two will head home for 8th grade & work. And I’m the cook. I’ve only purchased milk, bread/hamburger buns, and fresh produce since July 1, and kept the costs low. Yay!

    This Challenge I’ve been creative and tried new recipes(I always tweak them, though, making them my own and adapting based on ingredients on hand). And some of them were HUGE hits and will go into rotation now. The hubs is STILL talking about two new ones he just loved.. A spicy chicken soup and a spicy Basque-style chicken (yep, we like spicy). I still have quite a few more new ideas to use in the rest of my Challenge. Tonight will be an adaptation of a Thai style baked chicken and veggie dish. Yep, more spice and chicken, but these have been pretty much the only chicken dishes I’ve made the entire Challenge, since the freezer wasn’t overloaded with chicken like it usually is. Super pumped still with the fun and creativity. Looking forward to these last 10 days and the week in August. My freezer(which is a top freezer, no deep freeze in our house, sadly) will be emptier than it’s been in ages, and ready for costco packs of fish, chicken, etc, and once I’m home in September. And I won’t have to cram them in. And I’ll be able to fit some cooked items for once! Which I never can. Win-win!

    Congrats to everyone who did what they wanted to do this Challenge!

  18. Maureen says:

    Like many, I will be continuing on until I can defrost my chest freezer. I also plan to set my fridge freezer up like Jessica has mentionedโ€ฆso that it contains items we use almost daily and as staging for the coming week’s meals. I’ve done that before and it works well, but is too full at the moment to function that way. I think I saved almost 50% of our regular grocery spending in the last two weeks. I could have saved more, if I hadn’t purchased so much produce, but since it’s peek growing season it is worth it. I also reduced waste quite a bit, by being more focused. And, I reduced the amount of odds-n-ends in the freezer.

  19. My dogs Oreo & Willow would like to thank you! When I inventoried & went through my fridge freezer, I found some homemade dog treats that had gotten shoved to the back!

    We are continuing the challenge through the end of the month. I have been able to use up a lot of odds & ends that were in that fridge freezer. My deep freeze is still pretty full; some of that is storage for things bought in bulk. I have been using up some of the regular food in it. Planning a big fish fry for this weekend to use up some fish caught by my hubby & sons on a recent camping trip.

  20. Dennise says:

    Thanks for the challenge! I did OK on the pantry but my local store had 10lbs of ground beef for $1.99/lb so I bought 2! I divide them up into 1lb packages, label and put into freezer. Sometimes I cook meat balls, taco meat or sloppy joes and freeze. I will continue to work on using what’s in the freezer but also watching for great deals on meat ๐Ÿ™‚
    Even tho I’ve been working a crazy schedule I’ve only purchased milk, fresh fruit and veggies and some snacks we needed for our weekend getaway.

  21. Tiffany R says:

    We are still doing the pantry challenge and will continue until the kids go back to school on August 7th (it is the only reason they are looking forward to that date). I set up my challenge a little differently this time as I allowed myself to use 1/2 my normal grocery budget to buy whatever we needed. So, for the first two weeks I was able to save $160. We used $100 of that to do some repairs on the house and the other $60 went into my grocery stock up envelope. I am hoping to have atleast another $160 from the next two weeks. Tomorrow is eat the fridge day so hopefully that will clear some of that out. Thanks for doing this Jessica. I love reading all the posts and knowing we are all doing the same thing at the same time. Fun!

  22. I only did it for one week because we had company over the weekend/this week and I didn’t want to subject them to experiments ๐Ÿ™‚ But I spent less than $40 at the store for that week (usually $90) and we still have plenty in the freezer to do it again, at least as far as meat goes!

  23. Thanks again for hosting the challenge Jessica. My husband and I actually start to look forward to it. Mostly because I bake so much :)! We have spent $130.11 of our $150 budget and have no plans to buy more groceries until the 1st (except maybe ONE gallon of milk). At this point we are 24 days strong, and know that we can make it! We have save about $400 this month, and that will go to replacing some items that were stolen from the hubby’s vehicle a few months ago. Cant wait for January!

  24. Thanks for hosting the Pantry Challenge, Jessica! Reading how everyone is faring makes the Challenge more enjoyable. This was my first time participating in the Summer Challenge, and I had mixed results. I really struggled to stay on track, although I did manage to clean out some freezer space, reduce the number of condiment bottles and saved a couple hundred bucks. I definitely am more successful with the Winter challenge and look forward to joining in the fun again. I posted my wrap-up on my blog if anyone is interested.

  25. Thank you for this! We actually have been doing this on our own for about 2 months after I lost my job due to lay offs. I’ve been cleaning out the pantry and the freezer and usually any meat we buy is from the 50% of bin at the grocery store and the very occasional trips to Costco. Last weekend we found 10 lbs of ground beef for .99 cents a lb so I bought two and split it into 1/2 lb packages and flash froze it, then into food saver packages. I also found boneless skinless chicken breasts for .89 lb so I bought 15 lbs and divided that up into 2 breasts per package and off they went. There are only two of us so it goes a lot further.

    I already baked a lot and usually have bread loaves flash froze and ready to be baked, along along with pizza dough. We’ve saved about 65% of our normal grocery bill and will keep doingit

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