Let the Pantry Challenge Begin!

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Ready to save some money and use up the food you already have? Time to join the Pantry Challenge.

Let the Pantry Challenge Begin! Ready to save some money and use up the food you already have? Time to join the Pantry Challenge.

A Pantry Challenge is a concentrated period of time to cook from your pantry instead of going out to buy more. It can be a great way to save money, waste less, and still eat well. Years ago when we paid off $18,000 in consumer debt in 18 months, we had to be pretty resourceful, particularly in the kitchen which had the most adjustable budget.

A Pantry Challenge also serves as a reminder to me about how to scrimp a little and make the most of what we have. Should we ever return to hard times, I know we’ll be just fine.

I have spent the morning and part of the afternoon, planning for this month’s Pantry Challenge. This is our FIFTH January doing a challenge. I learn something new every time — and we always save some money.

If you haven’t already, consider this four step process to prepare for a Pantry Challenge:

  1. Inventory the supplies.
  2. Plan meals.
  3. Plan prep work.
  4. Execute the plans.

I am really excited to see that we can probably make it through the month with very few trips to the store. We don’t really have a ton of excess in the freezer, fridge, or pantry, but it seems that we have the right stuff.

Let the Pantry Challenge Begin! Ready to save some money and use up the food you already have? Time to join the Pantry Challenge.

I had four main areas to inventory this morning: the deep freeze, the side-by-side freezer, the refrigerator, and the pantry. It is so nice to know what we have and to have it a little tidier. Unfortunately, I did have to chuck a few things: random frozen bits that now appear way too small to have saved, pasta, beans, and rice that were a couple years past their dates (how did THAT happen?!), and some leftovers from the holiday that were overlooked.

Once I got all that sorted and counted, I started in on my paper work. I’ve got several lists going:

  • my inventory of all our food
  • a list of meals we can make with those
  • month-long calendars that list each of my breakfast, lunch, and dinner plans for January (breakfasts have a four-week meal-planning calendar, lunches have a calendar, etc)
  • week-long lists that combine each meal of the day
  • prep lists for each week as well as incidental grocery lists

FishChick6 kept me company while I took inventory and made my lists. I was amazed at how savvy she was about what meals we could make with the ingredients. Seriously. She pegged exactly what I would make with the items on hand.

Let the Pantry Challenge Begin! Ready to save some money and use up the food you already have? Time to join the Pantry Challenge.

I still have weeks two to four to finish mapping out for prepwork and groceries, but we are set for this first week.

My goals for this pantry challenge are as follows:

1. To spend as little as possible.

I have never been able to pull off a no-spend month when it comes to food. In the old days it was lack of will-power. Nowadays it’s more about the disconnect between my children’s ginormous appetites and the groceries we have on hand. We will need to buy groceries. End of story.

But, I’m hoping that we’ll be able to spend just a fraction of what we normally spend which lands somewhere between $900 and $1200 each month. Now that I have every meal for the whole month planned, I suspect that we will need to buy milk, cheese, eggs, and produce. Otherwise, we really can use up what we have.

A caveat: I think that a Pantry Challenge is a great reminder/practice of resourcefulness and making do. That said, my family sometimes struggles with the idea of “doing without”. We aren’t destitute, so why should we eat like we are? I’m hoping to stave off those feelings by doing a lot of baking and cooking, but also by keeping our dining out budget the same. A typical week has a date night, a family dining night, and a family meal out. I’m keeping these in our routine this month but will focus on meals prepped and eaten at home for reducing our expenses.

2. To use up as much as possible.

Right before Christmas, our landlords had a termite inspection. While there isn’t yet damage, there is evidence of termites. Boo! We see a possible tenting situation in our future. I’d rather not worry about the foodstuffs we have on hand — or have to bag them all up. So, it’s my plan to use up as much of what we have as possible.

3. To start today and go through the end of the month.

While I didn’t plan for it to start until tomorrow, the Challenge has already begun at our house. Yesterday I found us out of milk, honey, cheese, and a few other things that really make every day meals a little easier. The cheapest place for those items is Costco. It didn’t seem right to go crazy at Costco two days before the challenge, so I bravely restrained myself.

I budgeted $100 and only went over by $8 when I bought an extra 4-pack of butter. The other grocery stores already have butter jacked back up to $4 and $5/pound while Costco had it for $2.25/pound. I knew it was a stockupportunity. Butter and olive oil are the main fats we use, so I would rather buy it now at a great price, than buy it later for twice as much.

I’ll be posting my Day 1 tonight. Feel free to join me now or start tomorrow. I’ll be sharing my month-long meal plan tomorrow as well.

Remember that we’ll be chatting on the Good Cheap Eats Facebook page tomorrow, Sunday, January 4 at 6 pm. Come with questions and problems that we can collectively help you with.

What are YOUR goals for the Pantry Challenge?

Leave a comment about your goals for the Pantry Challenge below. Feel free to leave the link to your blog if you’ve posted about your challenge.

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  1. Vanessa B says:

    Wow, you’ve been busy! I made a combined freezer inventory and started a list of possible meals for the month. I really need to buckle down and plan out breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Technically I can claim that we are several days into a pantry challenge, the only purchase I’ve made this month is a dozen eggs. I will need to buy produce and milk very soon.

  2. I’ll be following! We kind of did a pantry challenge the first two weeks of December. I cleaned out things that were languishing in the freezer and bought minimally….in prep for holiday food that we are STILL eating off of. There are only three of us in the house now, four when the college kid is home so I am finding that two week pantry challenges work best with that small amount of people. I always look forward to the tips and tricks you share!

  3. Goals…
    Save $$
    Use what we have.
    Get a better handle on grocery budget in general.
    It is part of my Mean what I say year. LOL

    I am so excited.
    My first post will be live tomorrow.

  4. Michelle Porter says:

    I’m in. My participation is based mostly on funds plus I will say that I have a lot of random odds and ends to use up. This is my first time ever participating in one of these. I have enough meat on hand for the next 10-14 days. I plan on spending around $100 this month. Normally spend about $300 for a family of 4. Got my fingers crossed!!!!

  5. Stephanie M. says:

    My goal is to use up all of my meat and other items in the freezer to make room for new things. I also want to use up as much as possible from my pantry; pasta, beans, tomato sauce, etc. What I have in the freezer should take me through the month. My plan is to only go to the store for essential perishables, such as yogurt, milk, eggs and fruit and veggies, etc. I made some freezer meals today and also some cake using up the bananas I had in the freezer. We will be each eating a slice of cake today and tomorrow and the rest I will freeze for desserts later in the weeks and month. I have some home made breakfast items in the freezer such as breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, and muffins. Alternating between those and cold and hot cereals, I have plenty to keep my husband happy. Also in my freezer are homemade pizza bagels and an assortment of unused frozen appetizers from the holiday parties. They will make good lunches and snacks. I spend way too much money on groceries each month and there is a lot of room for improvement there. My plan is to be as diligent as possible and spend only what I really have to. My husband gets paid every two weeks and normally I budget $400.00 from each paycheck. I only gave myself $200.00 this time and it is sitting in my “grocery envelope.” This will now have to last me for the next two weeks. Looking forward to starting tomorrow.

  6. I’m in! We just moved into a new house, and I’m pretty sure I’ve already spent the equivalent of our grocery budget at Home Depot. My wife and I agreed to limit our grocery spending to milk and produce for January (and possibly February, but maybe after one trip to replenish essentials – I’ll need more eggs at the end of the month). Our housemate, who can’t eat gluten, brings home bread from work, and we have some fresh potted herbs. From the freezer and pantry, I can make the following:
    veggie chili
    soup (have turkey barley and chicken noodle frozen)
    turkey or ham sandwiches
    pumpkin bread
    rolls from bread mix
    cream of wheat / oatmeal
    ham & eggs
    bean soup w/ ham
    pasta w/ red or meat sauce
    chicken breast (any number of ways)
    BBQ chicken legs
    game hen w/ roasted veggies
    burritos (BRC, chicken)
    mac & cheese
    chicken & dumplings / chicken pot pie
    saag paneer / paneer butter masala

  7. I’m in. I want to use up what I have on hand, to try and save some $$$.

  8. Melissa M. says:

    I am in! I want to save money this year, stop ordering out, and go to the grocery store less.
    Thank You! I look forward to this challenge.

  9. inventory-done
    dinners for the month planned-just listed, not assigned to specific days yet
    I started on the first. I also have a goal of just staying out of stores period as much as I can. I put $40 in an envelope (four tens) and will see how far I can get by on that. I got Beth Hensperger’s bread machine cookbook for Christmas (yeah!) so hopefully will be making my own bread this month to supplement the store bought I have on hand. Looking forward to saving some money this month. Bring it on, pantry challenge!

  10. I’ve inventoried, shopped, and made a plan.
    We actually do pretty well using up leftovers and rotating stuff in the freezer (though I did find a few items I had to toss) but the pantry is another story.
    We’ve recently switched to a Paleo diet, which doesn’t lend itself as easily to using up stuff in the pantry unless it’s canned veg. So I know it will be an adventure.

    I’m going out of town for almost a week, so my guys will be on their own. I could make food for them to eat while I’m gone, but I’ve tried that before, and they end up going out and the food is still there when I get home… so I will leave them with a few leftovers, but let them mostly fend for themselves.

    That said, when I’m home, our goal is to eat at home as much as possible and spend as little $$ as possible!!!

  11. I’m in. Freezer inventories complete (I had been dreading that, as they are FULL). I have a lot of frozen portions that my family won’t eat, so my focus will be eating those up for my lunches all month. Also, I’m going to try to use up a lot of what we have and minimize grocery shopping. That will involve some extra baking, etc to make a meal they aren’t excited about a bit more palatable. I’m looking forward to cleaning out a bunch and plan to continue for over 6 weeks, so that we can start fresh when we return from vacation. I’m excited to follow along…thanks!!

  12. Heather M says:

    You know I’m so in! Just got home tonight from a week in NY. Have a freezer and pantry full of food, though fresh items are sparse. And the college girl is home one more week. She will continued to be spoiled and get some of her favorite takeout/restaurant items (namely chipotle). Where she’s in school, campus/dorm food isn’t great and it’s isolated so not much in the way of takeout either plus zero chipotle on the entire island and it’s her “life”. So we’ll indulge her this week, but only her. Except tomorrow when we go to a favorite family restaurant and Tuesday, which is my birthday. Otherwise, goals this month are: eat up what we have, cook/bake a lot of healthy food, only buy what we need(produce, dairy, etc) to save $$ after Xmas/vacation/winter semester tuition & room & board spending, plan well, try new things, and at the end have empty space in the freezer & cupboards. Whew! Maybe I’ll keep going into February to keep costs down and really empty out. Will have to play it by ear.

    Excited for all the posts to begin! Happy New Year everyone!

  13. I’ll be joining you with a modified version of a Pantry Challenge, as our situation has recently changed. We live in a very remote area so we’ve given up our Costco membership, as it is 2.5 hours away from us. (I wrote a post about this, if you’re interested).

    Usually, we travel monthly and really stock up on groceries. This year, I am going to try to stay local and buy as much as I can of what is on sale at our local grocery store. For now, my goal is to spend under $100 a week for our family of 4 by supplementing with what I have in stock already.

    It will still require me to be creative about using what I have on hand. It will be interesting to see how our new system works out compared to our old. Thanks for the inspiration, as always!

  14. I’ve been reading about the pantry challenge for a couple of years now and this is the first time we are going for the entire month.

    I posted about it and told my audience how you’ve influenced me so much, Jessica, and several women have told me that they’re in!

    Should be a really exciting month!

  15. I am in! I am doing a whole30 this month but I am focusing on using up meat from the freezers. Also hope to save some cash.

  16. Cathy Galloway says:

    I did this last year for the first time. I needed to defrost the freezer so I needed to empty it. That worked so well, I am going to do that again. Since there are only 2 of us, it took until mid-April to empty the freezer and I restricted my grocery budget to $100 a month until then. It looks like it could take me just as long this time. I guess my husband is right when he says I am a hoarder:)

  17. I love this idea! I saw a link to your post last week on another blog and thought, YES! I can do this! I printed out an inventory form and got to work. It’s posted on our fridge, and with the exception of fruits, veggies, dairy and a few snacks for the kids’ lunches, I am curtailing the grocery spending. I have some plans for dinners and it feels great to start using things out of the freezer and seeing how creative I can get with leftovers. I guess my main goals are to use up what we have (mainly food in the freezer and some stuff in the pantry that I keep bypassing intentionally). I did run to the store yesterday to stock up on eggs, fruits & veggies.

  18. I love doing this challenge. However, I did mine last month. My husband has been out of full time work since August. He just got a new job and we are thankful but it pays about $7.00 less per hour. So over the last several months I have done the my on pantry challenge. This is a great way to use up what you have a be creative. We do have a teenage son that is eating a lot more these days. So do the pantry challenge is a great way for him to assist in consuming what is the pantry. We found out that he does like more foods than he says he does. Good luck everyone.

  19. I had the outside freezer inventoried already. I cleaned out the fridge this morning. I’m going to inventory the pantry this afternoon. I have some beans soaking so I can make red beans and rice in the crockpot tomorrow.

    My “teetering on the edge” veggies all got thrown into a pot with chicken broth, then blended up so you couldn’t tell there were things like squash and zucchini in it, then used that as the stock for the soup with frozen veggies and quinoa and wild rice and a tiny shred of leftover chicken. It came out so tasty, I might have to make that kind of broth again on purpose in the future!

  20. Great job on your blogs! I’m in for the challenge this month. Wanted to thank you so much for the Good Chesp Eats cookbook too. I won a giveaway and am super excited to use your cookbook in conjunction with the challenge!! Thank you!

  21. Stephanie says:

    I just saw these posts, but I was planning on doing this on my own, so I’m definitely going to join in!

  22. I’m so in. We have lots of frozen items and meat to make it through the month. This is the first year that my husband has gotten a deer. I’m on the fence about what to do with the meat. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I’m in Illinois and the forecast for the next couple days is 4-8 inches of snow and below zero temps. I love this kind of weather it makes me feel like baking and I always feel inspired to make new things. I’m gonna try to stay under $100.00 this month. Thank you for all the posts. I look forward to the pantry challenge every year. Everyone is so creative. Goodluck!!

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