Pantry Challenge Update, Week 1

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How did the first week of the Pantry Challenge go for you? Here’s my update for eating down the pantry.

Pantry Challenge Update, Week 1 - How did the first week of the Pantry Challenge go for you? Here's my update for eating down the pantry.

A Pantry Challenge is a fixed season (a month or a few days) during which you focus on eating up what you have instead of going out to buy more. All too often we go shopping because we’re bored or lack inspiration, not because we truly lack something.

When I was a newlywed, I was a serial overbuyer. Instead of using what we had, I regularly went to buy more. We’d go out to eat instead of eating what was in the packed-to-the-gills fridge. Weekly I threw away food that I had forgotten I had. It made me sad, but I was so ignorant.

It wasn’t until about thirteen years later; my husband had been unemployed for several weeks (he was a general contractor) and we realized we were up to our ears in debt. Rather than charge more on the card, we decided to make do with what we had.

That first month I thought I was so fancy because I only spent $300 on groceries. In 2007, $300 could go pretty far to feed a family of six, but I had no clue. Eight years later, I’ve got a clue! And I’m so happy about it. We’re able to eat well without wasting or overspending. It takes a lot of planning and exertion to cook from scratch and remake leftovers into something new.

I still chucked some leftovers this week. Sad. But, I know that we are learning and getting better with our resources.

Pantry Challenge Update, Week 1 - How did the first week of the Pantry Challenge go for you? Here's my update for eating down the pantry.

So, here we are into our second week of the Pantry Challenge. This is my fifth year in a row of doing this whole usewhatchagot thing. If you’re just joining us, check out this post about the Pantry Challenge.

Week One Meals

That’s what my fridge looked like yesterday morning. That’s pretty empty by FishFam standards. We were out of eggs, lettuce, and almost out of milk. Running low on salt, too. Those are necessities around here.

I don’t think that my family really minds the Pantry Challenge. It hasn’t impeded our eating habits, but it’s only the first week. That said, we still have quite a few items to get us through for quite some time, but a few purchases to make things easier are sometimes called for.

We had some great meals during week one, recipes that were based on ingredients we already had. They didn’t all go according to plan, but it worked nonetheless:

Pantry Challenge Update, Week 1 - How did the first week of the Pantry Challenge go for you? Here's my update for eating down the pantry.

Week Two Meals

Groceries So Far

I actually made five stops for groceries this week. At each stop I tried to buy as little as possible, but I ended up needing to go more often. Hopefully, this next week will be better. Here’s the Grocery Geek report in short:

Pantry Challenge Update, Week 1 - How did the first week of the Pantry Challenge go for you? Here's my update for eating down the pantry.


I headed to Costco on Sunday for milk, yogurt, cheese (mozzarella, pepper jack, and cheddar), butter, honey, turkey breast, honey, frozen berries, and wheat bread.

Total spent: $100

Pantry Challenge Update, Week 1 - How did the first week of the Pantry Challenge go for you? Here's my update for eating down the pantry.


At Sprouts I bought milk (two different kinds as well as an extra small one for FishPapa to take to work), buttermilk, bananas, limes, potatoes, kale, and cilantro.

Total spent: $24

Walmart (not pictured)

After the movies one night, I stopped at Walmart for broccoli, eggs, and bananas.

Total spent: $7

Pantry Challenge Update, Week 1 - How did the first week of the Pantry Challenge go for you? Here's my update for eating down the pantry.

Sprouts (again)

I wanted to go for lettuce and 20-cent grapefruit. My husband wanted cereal and milk. That’s what he eats at his break and lunch most days. (And yes, I love it that he’s willing to be so frugal!)

Total spent $12

Pantry Challenge Update, Week 1 - How did the first week of the Pantry Challenge go for you? Here's my update for eating down the pantry.


Going into Week 2, I wanted some provisions. I wrote a list and stuck to it, except for the clearance buys: Craisins for 79cents and 49-cent energy bars that FishBoy17 bought off me. I knew he would want them.

FishBoy12 was my escort and did a great job checking the list. We bought milk, FishPapa’s cereal, eggs (1 dozen was free with digital coupon), salt, lettuce, kale, coffee, mushrooms, cake mix (free with digital coupon), green tea, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, broccoli, pears, bananas, and yogurt.

Total spent: $73

MTD spending: $225

So far in the Pantry Challenge, I’ve spent $225. I will probably need to buy cheese, tortillas, eggs, milk, and lettuce again before the week is over.

I foresee the biggest challenge being keeping up with all the kitchen work. I hope to get some good prep work done today. The week promises to be busy: 3 doctor’s appointments, 2 interviews, a business dinner, and regular life homeschooling 6 kids. Yikes! Say a prayer for me. I have no idea how this week will go down.

How’s the Pantry Challenge going for YOU?

What challenges do you anticipate in the coming week? Meet you in the comments!

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  1. Hi! I didn’t officially start the challenge until a few days ago, but I have been doing and “eat down” of all storage spots in my house since Jan 1. I am a serial buyer and packrat, daughter of a serial buyer and packrat who cleans out what she doesn’t want and brings it to me whenever she visits. I also have a couple of friends who can’t stand to KEEP anything for long so they give me food too. Thus, way too much food. Yes, I do bring what I know we won’t/can’t eat to the food bank.

    I usually spend $350-400 every 2 weeks at the Commissary for food/non-edibles for 5 people and 2 dogs. This month I spent $200 on the 1st to stock up on mostly things like tp, dog food, and dairy. And I spent $29 at Bountiful Baskets co-op for fruits and veggies which will definitely last all month. I expect to buy in the next 2 weeks: bread, eggs, tp, one bottle of maple syrup and possibly a gal of milk. Thus my monthly will be half or less of my normal budget.

    I’m going to do a second monnth of this for sure. Next month I expect to buy tp, dogfood, maple syrup, eggs, milk, and cheese. Hopefully nothing else.

    I did try your Lawnmower Tacos, using those “Dorito Taco Shells” in it and the kids loved it! Good thing too, since they hate those Dorito shells and this let me hide them, plus use up some bone broth from the freezer.

    Today’s menu was bacon, eggs and fruit for breakfast. Mom is bringing lunch. Dinner will be leftover whatever Mom brings since she usually brings twice as much as needed.

    Yesterday I made something yummy. I diced 2 raw beets, 1 large carrot, and 1 large apple (all past eating raw) and baked til soft. It was really good! I have more apples going bad so I may make apple butter in the crockpot. I always add extra cinnamon. And I’ve added other fruits that are turning, like pears, to the apples. It’s still good.

    • Oh, and does anyone have ideas for using up dry pancake mix? I know dipping and frying in the wet batter. Mom gave us a 10 lb bag of it a while ago and we just don’t eat pancakes often. Thanks!

      • Waffles?
        Can you add to it for a muffin mix?
        (And we go through honey & maple syrup like no one’s business… though we have cut down on sweet consumption.)

      • AnnaM, I just tried a search for “muffins pancake mix” and found MANY recipes for muffins using pancake mix as an ingredient. Found recipes from Pioneer Woman, Taste of Home, Krusteaz, and many other links. Besides muffins, perhaps you could use in quick breads and snack cakes.

      • Thank you all! I will try using the mix in muffins and breads. I’ve never made homemade waffles but one of my sons eats Eggos every school morning, thus the maple syrup. I’ll try to make them myself, I suppose.

        I had a good coupon for the Doritos Taco Shells and was really surprised when no one would eat them.

        Thank you again,

        • Homemade waffles are definitely the way to go if he likes Eggos. You can make a ton, cool them on a rack and then freeze them. He can reheat them the same way he does his Eggos.

          • Thanks! I’ll definitely try to make them then. Personally, I think Eggos are nasty and taste like cardboard. But it’s hard to convince an 8 yr old. LOL. What’s funny is Mom visited over the weekend and had gone to some small appliance clearance sales. She gave me a little waffle maker that makes them in animal shapes. It’s good to know that pancake mix will work for this. I’ll probably try it this weekend. Maybe I can figure out a way to sneak in some mild veggies into the mix too.

        • It’s been a few years since I bought a mix, but I’m pretty sure brands like Bisquick give slightly different directions for waffles, typically a few more eggs and a bit more oil.

    • Sounds like you go through maple syrup like we do. Started the challenge and realized we are basically out of our No2 medium. Will have to use up the No1 we have, but isn’t as good for cooking.

      Sorry, don’t have any creative ideas for dry pancake mix.

      We love roasted beets, haven’t tried them with apples though. I may give that a try. Thanks for sharing AnnaM.

    • My kids would love it if I bought Doritos taco shells! LOL

  2. Melissa F says:

    In our society (good or bad) we can decide on a whim what we want to eat, or not. A pantry challenge really gets you thinking about how much we buy that we may not necessarily need but just really want. Like tonight we are having Creamy chicken enchiladas – I really want fresh avocado but we are out. I certainly don’t want to send hubby out for some, but my son will be going by a store….do I want to ask him to stop or do I want to buck up and do without? I haven’t decided! lol

    I am pleased about how the PC has been going for us but I know how prepared we were for it. After such a rich holiday time for shopping and eating, we had a lot in our stockpile. I also enjoy seeing what everyone else is doing with their PC.

  3. So far I have used up half a bag of shrimp in a rice a roni type dish plus a shrimp and corn chowder, made a hash with leftover roast beef and gravy, pork schnitzel with thin cut boneless pork chops, muffins with a half bag of cranberries. We had chicken twice.

    I have to be off my feet so DH has been doing the shopping and some of the cooking. He doesn’t know we’re doing the challenge so bought the chicken because he knows what to do with it, and it was not frozen. I can live with that. I’ve got two grocery receipts for produce, including a bag of pomegranates for .50 apiece, cat food and the chicken, for a total of 66.93 and am missing one for milk and eggs which should be about $10, except it seems a tub of ice cream came along for the ride, so I’m guessing the missing receipt is more like $15.

    Last night was take out, which I am trying not to feel was a failure, because it gave my feet more time to heal before DH goes back to work next week and I have to take over again. Last summer’s frozen berries are disappearing into his smoothies and I’m hoping my sourdough starter will be ready before the last of the bread comes out of the freezer (need to make room for the pom ariels) Tonight is chicken burgers from the pack of ground chicken we unearthed and a bag of hamburger buns from DH’s last fishing trip. Neither will be improved with more freezer time. A salad (+pom) will finish off the lettuce.

    Good prices on non-food items like soap, toilet paper, epsom salts and cat litter will have us in the store before Thursday, so will replenish milk, eggs, produce at the same time to avoid an extra trip. Not saving as much money as I had hoped, but do have enough accumulated points to maybe make this shopping trip a freebie.

    For next week, I’m thinking taco casserole/salad for the tortilla chips before they go stale, a turkey soup from Xmas leftovers, and I’m sure there are halibut steaks buried in the freezer, too. Still lots of citrus, root veg, cabbage relatives, and frozen veg to round things out plus several meat options, so we can forgo lettuce for a couple days.

    Trying to figure out what to do with a large unsliced piece of peameal back bacon (Canadian bacon in the US?) It has served it’s freezer time. What was I thinking when I froze it whole??

  4. The biggest change for me this week is that Hubs & ds#3 will be eating at home while I’m out of town. They usually eat out when I’m gone, but Hubs informed me that he didn’t want to do that every night. So, they’ll go out one night (Hubs’ bowling night) and eat at home the other nights.
    This weekend, I made/prepped:
    Vegetable beef soup (ds#3 can have chicken tenders if he doesn’t like it)
    Ham slices & Swiss beans (which I know they will both gladly eat)
    Taco fixin’s for nachos or taco salads (or both!)

    I also prepped ds#3’s lunches for each day, while Hubs has everything he needs to make a salad. I’m leaving LaraBars for ds#3 for breakfast (with a big glass of milk, he’ll be just fine) and Hubs will eat his usual eggs & bacon.

    On my shopping trip, I bought honey, milk, eggs, lunchmeat, strawberries, bananas, apples, cheese, sausage, bacon, and a few other items. I also bought a beautiful roast, because I knew I’d need some proteins after using up some of my stores for the boys’ meals this week. It was on sale. 🙂 I spent $128. That’s the first grocery trip since before the first of the month. I feel pretty good about that.

    As for my trip, I’m taking protein bars, fruit, bottled water, and choc-covered walnuts for my trip. I’ll eat lunch & dinner out, but those meals will be reimbursed.

  5. Stephanie M. says:

    The pantry challenge is going great for us. We are using up what we have and spending significantly less than normal. I normally spend $400.00 every two weeks. Over the last two weeks, I have spent $128.00. I still have a great stock of meat in the freezer and sides in the pantry and some freezer meals as well. I am watching my freezers emptying out but not to the point where I need to add anything yet. I am being strong and stubborn about not buying anything I don’t need but rather sticking to the plan of using what we have. Since I have a good variety of meat in the freezer and fresh and frozen veggies and salad stuff, I’m really not doing a meal plan. I just decide each night what we’re eating the next day unless it’s leftovers and take what I want out of the freezer. My kitchen refrigerator is the kind that has the pull out freezer on the bottom and it has almost nothing in it anymore; just a bag of 4 donuts, a small bag of pepperoni, 2 hard rolls, and some home made granola. It was pretty full at the beginning of the challenge. My stand up freezer in the garage is where I keep my meat and frozen veggies and such and some of the shelves are almost empty. I am going to see empty freezers at the end of this challenge if it kills me! 🙂

  6. Pantry challenge has been going really well so far. Our groceries up until this point have totaled $20, I picked up more eggs, yogurt, apples, milk and dish soap. Still going strong!

    So far we’ve eaten quiche, soup, broccoli and beef, assorted naanwiches, oatmeal… the list goes on and on. We are only two people so it takes a while to see the bottom of places, but I am going to do this challenge (into February if I have to!) until I clean out the above-fridge freezer and my cupboards.

    • I feel bad that I have spent so much so far when the rest of you have such low totals. But, seeing as we have been between $1000 and $1200 a month with the eight of us, I will try not to feel too bad.

  7. Doing alright here. Breakfast was a frittata with frozen spinach, frozen bell pepper, canned chilies, and bacon. Lunch was nachos. Dinner for the family will be sausage with pasta (probably spaghetti since that is what I have!) and broccoli, tossed in butter with Parmesan cheese. I will have some leftover taco meat and veggies since I am doing a whole30.

    I have plenty of meat but little starchy sides. No yeast to make my own bread, no corn, no cornmeal for cornbread, no potatoes, and hubby doesn’t like rice. I did make a list of the things I could make. Hoping to stretch our supplies until I can get into town in Saturday. I am planning to “shop” at my mother-in-law’s today for potatoes, milk, eggs, and canned creamed corn.

    I am looking for a way to use a jar of peach preserves. It is about 8 ounces, home-canned. I would like to make muffins with it but I am having a hard time finding a muffin recipe that uses peach preserves. Can any of you pantry queens help me out?

    • Here’s a recipe that I love for raspberry bars. They would be yummy with peach preserves, instead of raspberry jam. Not quite muffins, but I love them for snacks and breakfast, so a bit similar.

    • Stephanie M. says:

      Hi Demi:

      My suggestion would be surprise muffins. Here is the recipe:

      1 egg
      1/2 cup milk
      1/4 cup oil
      1 1/2 cups flour
      1/2 cup sugar
      2 tsp. baking powder
      1/2 tsp. salt
      various preserves

      Heat oven to 400. Grease muffin pans. Beat egg; stir in milk and oil. Mix in remaining ingredients except preserves just until flour is moistened. Batter should be lumpy. Fill muffin cups 1/3 full and top with about 1 tsp. preserves and more batter on top of preserves. Bake 20/25 minutes or until golden brown.

      Hope this helps. 🙂

      • Heather M says:

        Stephanie, I am soooo going to use this recipe! I have all sorts of jams/jellies and this will really help use them up! Thanks for posting.

        • Stephanie M. says:

          Hi Heather:

          I’m glad you like the looks of this recipe! 🙂 They are really quite good for breakfast. One word of caution though and this comes from experience. When filling the muffin tin with batter, put most of the batter at the bottom of the muffin (underneath the preserves), then just put enough batter on top of the preserves to cover it. Otherwise, if there is not enough batter at the bottom of the muffin, the preserves have a tendency to blow a hole in the bottom of the muffin and some of it leaks out onto the muffin pan. Do let me know how you like them! 🙂

    • Do you mean preserves like canned sliced peaches, or preserves like a jam? I’ve heard both usages of the term and am not sure which you mean. I don’t know about muffin ideas, but you could do a crumble if it is sliced or some oatmeal bars if it is a jam-style (which is what I am guessing you mean). Hmm, now I’m thinking I might make one with some strawberry stuff I have languishing.

    • I love it that you guys take care of each other when I can’t get to the comments as quickly as I would like. Looks like you’ve got some options.

  8. Things are going well.
    We are doing well. I was kind of worried about variety… and when I had to toss so much, I thought -OH NO! But, we are doing it and not too much complaining.

    Next weekend, we will go for produce and dairy and pet needs, but I think we are pretty good till the end of January.

    My biggest challenge is communication… I live with all men

  9. Enjoying the pantry challenge. I’ve noticed that we actually eat better during challenge month as I am more thoughtful about meal preparation. I have yet to buy any groceries this month, but my daughter did give me half a cabbage so I could make pulled pork for tomorrow’s dinner-we must eat it with coleslaw. I’m all planned for this week.
    Last night granddaughter and I made your homemade hamburger and hotdog buns. I’m also going to try my hand at bagels for the first time. I use a bread machine and the rest of the recipe seems manageable.
    I have three cans of TJ’s coconut milk. Any ideas?

    • We eat better in the first weeks of the challenge, too. It’s near the end when I struggle and end up getting take-out instead of going to the store. Your meal plans sound great! Can’t wait to hear about the bagels.

      I use coconut milk in coffee, in smoothies, and in rice.

    • I use coconut milk all the time for Thai inspired dinners. You could do a coconut curry chicken souo. You could poach fish in coconut milk. You could make a curry w/coconut milk. There are also baking recipes that call for it. One site you could search for ideas is Lots of healthy food and I’ve found several with coconut milk.

      • Hey, thanks for the ideas. I do have a chicken breast and a package of cod left in the freezer that I could use with the coconut milk. I think I might try to find a coconut rice pudding recipe as well. Gotta love pantry challenge!

  10. Thank you Maureen and Stephanie for the recipes. I will try both of them. I have several different jams and jellies I could use actually- strawberry, blueberry, etc. We just don’t eat a lot of jelly, except my son likes pbj but only with the store bought stuff. A dear friend gave me these and I have been at a loss for how to use them. Now I have some great ideas!

    @Sandi, it is a chunky jelly. There are definitely chunks of peach in it, but not sliced. Also not enough to make a crumble, but I might see if I have another jar.

    Dinner was a success I think. It smelled delicious and I heard no complaints.

  11. Stephanie P says:

    Our first couple weeks have gone well! I’m lucky in that we had already done our monthly shopping trip, but I know I can avoid buying a lot of things when I carry this forward! I am JEALOUS of all of your grocery budgets by the way! We budget $300.00 a month for three of us. It is not easy to stick to (and a lot of times we fail at it).

    I need to add up what we have spent for the month but I know it’s less than normal. I still go to the store once a week because I need fruit, fresh veggies, yogurt, and milk every week. But other than that we have gotten very little!

    We do need to buy taco shells I think this week, as we forgot to get them originally. I could try to make our own, but I know my husband won’t eat a “soft tortilla” taco – he’s insanely picky.

    Overall though going great and I plan to continue it in February, b/c I have just so much meat.

    • Before my son got really into nutrition we were at $800 for 8 of us. Shopping for cookbook ingredients bumped us up. Rising prices are making it more and more difficult to stay low. Hang in there!

  12. Our first week went better than I expected, given our crazy week. First back from vacation, daughter’s last week home from college, son had the flu all week, husband worked insane hours due to crises in his news beat (he covers the military and CIA for network news… You can imagine between a shooting at a military hospital and Paris terrorist stuff, not to mention myriad other “smaller” things, he was busy), plus it was my birthday and we had crazy weather (I know we weren’t the only ones!). I only spent $84, which was amazing for a list-vacation week. And we ate a lot of good food. I’ll not count our eating out/takeout because we had kind of planned on it. I’m almost done inventorying. And I’ll have to take a trip to costco later this week. But it will be for necessities only. And now we are back to a more normal schedule so I can cook and plan. And eat healthily! Yay!!!

  13. So far, so good! The pantry challenge has really helped me discover what we eat the most of in each category and what we can do without unless it’s for a special recipe (for instance, we use A LOT of garbanzo beans for curry dishes and hummus, but not nearly as many lentils – except in some veg chili). I have also been reorganizing my hallway pantry, bringing some of the more used items/need to be used items into a kitchen cupboard and leaving the hallway pantry as bulk item storage. There are only two of us and we eat a completely clean, organic diet. I hope to narrow down what we eat regularly and direct our budgeted dollars toward our most favorite items. We waste almost zero food and I have become really good at repurposing and building meals out of basic items (wraps, quinoa bowls, etc.). Food prep is key. Thanks for your help!

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