Coming Soon: A Pantry Challenge

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Are you looking to buy some wiggle room in your grocery budget? Time for a pantry challenge! I hope you’ll join us as we use it or lose it.

bowl of broccoli cheese soup with plate of crackers

Hey Hey Hey! It’s time for another Pantry Challenge. I can’t believe it, but the year is coming to a close. It’s been a good one for us as a family, overall, particularly in the kitchen.

We’ve made some progress with our updated budget, learned to get more organized with meal prep, and my personal accomplishment…. I’m rocking the homemade sourdough bread.

Artisan sourdough bread with natural yeast (no commercial instant yeast) was something I got interested in last winter. I’m pleased to say that a year later, I can make some really good bread — as well as sourdough crumpets and pizza! I’ll be sharing recipes and methods later this month.

It’s only fitting to do so during our annual Pantry Challenge, the time when we focus on using what we have in order to save money, avoid waste, and get our acts together in the kitchen.

Why do a Pantry Challenge?

A Pantry Challenge is akin to decluttering your house. You find all the stuff you’ve hidden in the nooks and crannies of your kitchen and you use it up. Not only that, you get to decide whether it’s worth buying again.

I’ve learned so much over the years by doing a Pantry Challenge. Do these ingredients “spark joy” in my life or are they a pain in the rear to use up?

Yep, I learn what not to buy as well as what items are winners to keep on hand.

Years ago when we were deep in debt and struggling to get out, I did a pantry challenge out of necessity. The cupboards got really bare as we diverted the grocery money we would have spent to pay for other more pressing needs.

Guess what? It wasn’t so bad. I learned that hoarding food doesn’t get the bills paid!

Every year I’m reminded anew how blessed we are and how a few ingredients really can stretch to feed a small army of children.

markdown groceries on kitchen table

What are the rules for a Pantry Challenge?

The beautiful thing about a Pantry Challenge is that you get to make your own rules! Set some goals for how this challenge will SERVE you.

My goals for this year’s challenge:

My goals for this year’s challenge are pretty similar to past years’. I have a lot of excess in the cupboards and freezer that I can stretch to last us several weeks. We’re rich on baking ingredients as well as frozen proteins so I hope to use a lot of that up and save money on our grocery bill in January.

This year we averaged $1100/month on groceries for our family of 8 to eat most meals at home. I’d like to see if I can lower that to $1000 in the new year.

Our general budget has gotten pretty tight in the last few months as we anticipate a possible rent increase (up to $1000/month). We’re trying to accustom ourselves to those numbers now as well as sock away that extra money for a possible down payment on a house.

A mortgage in our neighborhood would be more than the rent increase, so we’ll have to be pretty strategic in our spending to make that happen, but at least we’ll be in a better place to handle an increase in rent.

I’d like this year’s Pantry Challenge to set the tone for the rest of the year and for me to see how low I can get our regular grocery spending. Practicing my frugal chops during a pantry challenge will help me do just that.

What can you expect from this year’s Pantry Challenge?

I’m doing the Pantry Challenge a little bit differently than in years past. So that I can focus my best efforts on the members of the Kitchen Winners Circle, I’ll be sharing my daily menus and strategies in the community chat forum and helping members maximize what they have on hand so that they can see real success this month.

I hope you’ll join us there!

I’ll also be posting here on Good Cheap Eats a weekly recap of what we eat and how I win (or learn) in the kitchen. Watch for those posts every Saturday in January.

Stay tuned for upcoming recipe round ups as well as more tips to make your pantry challenge a success.

Coming Soon: A Pantry Challenge from Good Cheap Eats

How you can join in:

Here are some of the ways you can participate in the Good Cheap Eats Pantry Challenge for 2019:

  • Get the Pantry Challenge ebook. I’ve put together a quick and easy guide to help you do a Pantry Challenge on your own. You can purchase the instant download here.
  • Sign up for my emails. During January, I’ll be sending out specific tips and tricks to help you make the most of the food you already have in your cupboards. Sign up for the emails here.
  • Follow me on Instagram. I’ll be sharing my pantry challenge adventures on Instagram stories, @jessicagfisher.
  • Watch Kitchen Winning. I’ll also be chatting about the challenge in this month’s episodes of Kitchen Winning.
  • Join the Kitchen Winners Circle. January’s focus in the Kitchen Winners Circle will be the Pantry Challenge. Naturally. I’ll be offering personalized coaching to folks in the circle and sharing my daily menues from our family’s Pantry Challenge. We’ll also be chatting in our private chat forum about what we’re making each day and getting help and inspiration from each other. On Monday, January 7, 2018, I’ll also be teaching a master class on how to make the Pantry Challenge work for you so that you can make the most of what you have. The class is free to all members of the Kitchen Winners Circle.

I hope you’ll join us!

The Pantry Challenge has always been great fun as well as a great way to save money on groceries. I’d love to have you join us!

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. Jayne Hunter says:

    Looking forward to participating again! We have a new refrigerator ordered, so the emptier it is, the easier it will be to transition to the new one. One question…when I click on the instagram link, it says “sorry, this page is no longer available.” Any idea why that may be happening? My instagram is j.hunter.50 – is there a way to add me on your end? Thanks for doing this challenge every year – I really enjoy the reset!

    • So glad you’ll be joining in! I’m not sure with that link. It works for me. Maybe just search @jessicagfisher on IG?

  2. Ah, it’s a shame I’ll miss your daily pantry challenge posts! I’ll also be doing a pantry challenge. I’m looking forward to cleaning out and defrosting the freezer (and maybe selling it?). Here’s to a fun and frugal 2019!

    • I’ll still be posting weekly! ?

      Why will you sell your freezer?

      • I’ll look forward to your weekly posts. I love following your pantry challenge. I’ve also gotten into baking sourdough bread this year so I’m eager to see how it’s coming for you. I’m using my freezer less and less. Two of my kiddos are away at college so I’m doing less bulk cooking and, in general, making simpler meals. I think I can get by with just the fridge freezer now with only two adults and two high schoolers around (our son and our exchange student). Also, there seem to be more shopping options around me now so less need to stock up on a deal — can always find a good price if I really need it. And if it’s not a good price, do I really need it?

  3. Laura says:

    Definitely in need of s pantry challenge here! Looking forward to following along.

  4. Tastycook says:

    I too am disappointed that without joining the Kitchen Winners I will miss the daily posts about the Pantry Challenge. I have followed the Pantry Challenge for many years and look forward to it.

    • I’ll be sharing daily on Instagram and posting weekly updates, so there will plenty to see! 🙂

      • Tastycook says:

        Sorry, I don’t do Instagram / Facebook / Twitter etc!

        • Tami says:

          Me either…..bummer!

        • Sandi says:

          So glad to see another social media holdout! Following a few blogs is the closest I come and even those aren’t very many any more.

          • Joa In Iowa says:

            I too am not on Facebook or Instagram. Will definitely look forward to the weekly posts.

    • Katie says:

      I agree with you! I love following every January and partipating in our own way, but am not interested in a membership site at this point. I hope on IG we can still see what everyone else is eating!

      • Lily says:

        Same here! I dont do social media but I look forward to the pantry challenge every year.

    • Susan says:

      I agree! Very disappointed that the daily camaraderie of the pantry challenge (one of the goals of which is to save money) is moving to a paid membership site. I was looking forward to the group for my pantry challenge this month. As I don’t do the social media, Instagram, etc., I hope the weekly updates are pretty thorough!

    • sws says:

      The kitchen winners is super worth it. A great group of people and year long support. With additional resources. : )

  5. Karen J says:

    I am going to miss out this time after many fun years of the group challenge. This year we leave Jan 1st on a month+ road trip from our home in Washington state to the warmer climates of Arizona and California exploring if we want to become snowbirds. I’ll be focusing on healthy road snacks and simple meals as we will be in a combo of condos, motels, and visiting the warm weather relatives. Looking forward to reading your updates!

    • Have a great trip, Karen! What an exciting time of life you’re in!

    • Kathy in Denmark says:

      I hope you have a great trip, Karen, and that you find out if you really want to be a snowbird 🙂

  6. Terry calkins says:

    I’m in again. Or should I say still in. I practiced the pantry challenge the entire year of 2018. My budget is 50.00 a week or 2600 a year. In 2018 I spent1684.95. saving just over 900.00 from my budget. We spent just under 1800. On new appliances in November. The grocery savings have paid for half. My goal is to pay off the other half in 2019, plus save 600.00 for a trip to the coast.
    I’ve transposed all the Christmas leftovers into additional meals except for half a ham which is now frozen.
    Yesterday I thawed out a 4# frozen pork loin. Cut 4 one inch chops from the center. Sliced the rest into 4 inch by 2 inch fingers that I marinated then baked for char siu.
    Today I thawed out a smoked turkey leg, added it to an onion and a pound of pinto beans. That will be dinner tomorrow.
    Dinner today was grilled pork chops and a green salad. There are half the chops left for another meal.
    I’m excited to read about what all of you are doing. Happy 2019. Let’s all make it a good one

    • Great job, Terry! You are a pro for sure. Congratulations on doing so well in 2018!!

  7. Sarah Gallop says:

    Yaaassss Pantry Challenge!! Very needed as we’re full to the brim and I’m ready to start putting a dent in it all! Looking forward to connecting with all of the wonderful “pantry challenge regulars” whonparticilate every year!! Thank so much, Jessica, for giving us this awesome way to stay uplifted and hold each other accountable!

    • I love your enthusiasm, Sarah. Thank you! It’s infectious. Good luck working through what you have!

  8. Terry calkins says:

    Happy new year everyone.
    Yesterday’s shopping trip was pantry challenge driven. Mostly fresh veggies, a little dairy, some spices and a whole chicken. I made a pot of rice and a pot of beans as well as a big pot of chopped apples. A smoked turkey leg flavored the beans. Today I will break down that whole chicken, freezing the separate breasts, legs and thighs. The rest will go into a pot for chicken stock along with that turkey bone. Now I’m prepped for many days of quick meals. Let the pantry challenge fun begin

  9. Kathy in Denmark says:

    I’m in as well! Like some of you I will miss the daily posts, but am looking forward to the weekly posts in stead 🙂

    Happy New year everyone!

    • Thanks for understanding, Kathy. My life is very full these days with teaching four of the kids at home. I’m so glad you’ll be joining us. I have Burning Love Mashed Potatoes on my meal plan this month. 😉

      • Kathy in Denmark says:

        Believe it or not, I am not in the mood for “Burning love” right now! I have had a lot more traditional Danish Christmas food this year than normal and am craving our ususal dishes right now.
        However, I suspect that may change as the month goes on – mashed potatoes and bacon IS a winning combo, after all 😉

  10. Lynne says:

    I’m excited for this Pantry Challenge! My goal is to reduce my grocery spending by half this month so I can save for my “new bedroom floor” fund. In the past, I wouldn’t have thought twice about putting the expense on a zero percent interest credit card, but I really want to walk into the store with cash in hand this time. I’ve already started freezing side dishes, using up a lot of grains and dried beans that have been sitting in the cupboards. I have at least 10 sides ready to go. Here’s to hoping we all have a successful Pantry Challenge month!

    • Yay, Lynne! You are on fire! So excited to see what you accomplish this month!

      And as a debt-free advocate, I’m so excited for you to cash flow this project. There’s such FREEDOM in doing it that way! Yay!

  11. Debra says:

    Are these gluten free recipes?

    • Pantry challenge recipes are really up to you, how you prep them. I don’t personally limit myself to GF, but lots of people taking the challenge do.

  12. Kathy from Ohio says:

    I’m in too., really enjoyed last year’s and hearing from everyone.

  13. The Man Crew is in! The cupboards and cold storage are filled to the brim with odds and ends and random ingredients. My goal is to empty the deep freezer enough to defrost it, cut our normal grocery bill in half for the month (from $900 to $450 for our current family size of 3 teenaged boys, a young 20-something man, Hercules and me) and get back to simple balanced meals after the excess of Christmas parties and MamaK having a “moment” and relying of carryout for a few days. Looking forward to your IG posts!

    • What a blessing to have the cupboards filled to the brim! Can’t wait to see what you cook up this month!

  14. Sandi says:

    Well, boo. I knew my grocery splurges had gotten a little excessive but every time I reviewed the monthly spending, I kept thinking “Oh, it’s close, it will average out” and it turns out, it didn’t. I was aiming for $225/month for food and the final total for the year average topped out at $233.50. That’s $100 higher for the year than I wanted. Gah!

    I’m such a numbers geek though, I pulled records for the past 10 years. Historically, Jan is my lowest spending month, followed by April/July (very similar totals) while May and Nov are clear winners for the costliest months, with Nov consistently averaging $100 over budget! As the 10-year average is still just $228/month, though, I guess that really isn’t bad for 2 adults. Still, time for the pantry challenge to get that Jan bill nice and low again.

    • You were close, though, Sandi! And didn’t you have some freezer issues along the way? I still think you’re doing great! Keep up the good work!

  15. Cindy says:

    I’m in as well!

    I too looked forward to Jessica’s daily posts but I’ll stop by for all of the partcipants updates and inspirations until the weekly Saturday posting from Jessica.

    On to the 2019 Pantry Challenge !

  16. Stephanie M. says:

    I’m also in for the pantry challenge. I started mine yesterday. In fact, I put myself on a “no spend” on anything unless it’s necessary for the next two weeks. That means not only food and trips to the grocery store but everything in between. So far so good.

    • Nancy says:

      I’m so glad you are joining again, I was just a reader last time but enjoyed your comments so much I wondered if you had a blog?

    • Great job, Stephanie, as always. I look forward to hearing your reports!

  17. Melissa in GA says:

    I am in as well! We did lower our spending for 2018 but I kept the pantry full.
    We are facing a job loss in 2019 so we have pulled back on all expenses. Our new monthly budget is $150 to include the $32 bag of dog food. My dad also helps with a monthly commissary trip since he lives rent free on our property.
    Also, Zaycon went out of business last June taking away our bulk meat buys. We bought some meat from a processor in a nearby town and hubs got a doe in November giving us almost 30 pounds of venison. The freezer is quite full as is the pantry. We did put up red potatoes, tomatoes, greenbeans, zipper cream peas, broccoli, pears, blueberries, peaches, strawberries and apples this year. Some is canned and the rest is frozen.
    Looking forward to seeing everyone in the weekly posts!
    Also, we started our challenge on December 14th.

    • Kathy in Denmark says:

      Good job keeping the pantry full even with a lowered budget!

      I think it sounds like you are well prepared for the job loss, although that must be very hard.

      I hope everything pans out and that a new job comes along soon!

      • Melissa in GA says:

        Thank you Kathy! We are very rural since we moved 2 years ago, hopefully he will find something close to home and doesn’t have to travel anymore. Taking this in stride, he is 56 and it’s hard at that age – you feel like your too old to compete anymore.

        We are truly blessed in so many ways and I am sure we will make it thru.

        Good to see you again this year Kathy, I always enjoy seeing your posts!

  18. Dennise Fields says:

    I can’t wait! I need to clear out 2 of my 3 freezers and take inventory for sure! I got an electric smoker for Christmas and I’m looking forward to using that on weekend to smoke out some of the meats that are hiding in the freezer ?
    We’ll also be getting back to low carb/keto now that the holidays are over. We’ve been in maintenance since July but I’ve gone overboard the last few weeks ???
    Back to healthy eating and clean pantry for 2019!

    • So glad you’re with us, Dennise! Sounds like you’ve got some great possibilities to work with!

  19. Terry calkins says:

    Yesterday was a successfully January 1. Breakfast for hubby. Banana pancakes, an egg and sausage. I just had stewed apples and steamed rice. Lunch was veggie soup and a salad with a boiled egg. Dinner was pinto beans soup.
    All bits and dabs from making chicken stock went to the dog. The bones went to the chickens.

  20. Harriet says:

    I am in…again! I look forward to the daily posts, so I was a little sad that they have turned to weekly. I do know it probably free’s up some of your time, so will adjust to your new schedule without complaint 🙂

    We have 5 deer in the freezer from the fall, so meat is pretty much set for the year, except for a few packages of chicken and fish. The only thing I really need is vegetables and fruits, both fresh and frozen, and dairy products.

    • Hi Harriet! So glad you’re joining in. Thanks for understanding. Believe it or not, those daily posts take a couple hours a day to put together. I really need that time for home, family, and work. Else I’ll die. Thanks for having a great attitude about it.

      Glad to hear you’ve got such a stash of meat. Yay!

  21. Terry calkins says:

    Breakfast yesterday for me was a brothy soup with some leftover beans, rice and some spinach. I made a regular breakfast for hubby. I’m trying to eat cleaner this year. Lunch for me was a big green salad with cottage cheese. Hubby had a bowl of beans. Dinner for me was pork fried rice with zucchini. Hubby had clam chowder.
    I had to go to town to drop off a birthday gift. Needed lemon juice so I went to the dollar store to keep myself out of the grocery store

  22. Stephanie P says:

    I’m another one that loved the daily posts, but I can try to use instagram, and I’ll definitely be here for the weekly posts. I’m not sure how I always manage to get so much food stashed in the house but I’m there again. Sadly some of it I know I don’t love (like cauliflower pizza crusts I bought and have a ton of), but I definitely want to get through my garage freezer enough to defrost it. It really needs done.

    Over the past year my ex and I divorced so my food budget SHOULD be lower but I haven’t lowered it much, so my goal for 2019 will be to lower it a bit. There are several ladies on here I’ve always loved following so hopefully I can still read some of their posts.

    Happy New Year everyone!

  23. Pat says:

    I am back in with so much food in the freezers and cupboards!!! I did join the Kitchens Winners Circle using grocery money that I saved in 2018. :–)
    Even though I dropped out last year our monthly average spending was $175 rounded up.
    Our housed hold is now 3 adults (2 males) and my 13 year old grandson every other weekend.
    My goals are to empty out the upright to defrost it and keep the same average as last year or go even lower. I also want to try at least one new recipe a week.
    I did plan my menu thru Jan 16 and have a small list of things to buy to get us there.
    It’s good to see some familiar names reading thru the comments.

  24. Terry calkins says:

    Yesterday was another good day of eating up the leftovers. I am trying to eat clean this year, but hubby will prefer normal meals. He doesn’t have the medical problems I do.
    Normally I fix him a nice breakfast then the rest of the day we fix our own. I make sure that there are plenty of prepared options for him to just warm up what he wants.
    I bought a fridge full of fresh veggies the end of the year. I made a batch of pork chops and a big pot of chicken and broth. I also made a big container of char siu. Yesterday my meals were mostly vegetables and soup. Lunch was a baked potato with chili and cheese. Dinner last night was a big tossed salad with canned salmon. Today I cooked a pot of rice and steamed a lot f veggies for quick meals.
    My breakfast was oatmeal with a chopped apple cooked in and the last ripe banana.

  25. sahmpaw says:

    I am glad there aren’t daily posts (new here) because I ain’t got no time for that. 🙂 As a homeschooling mama of little ones less screen time the better. 🙂 And for that matter I cannot fathom being glued to Instagram and trying to figure out that + twitter etc. Facebook is as far as I go for social media. That being said I believe I got the Pantry Challenge ebook many a moon ago as a freebie download or in a Homemaking Bundle. I have been doing a PC since summer ’18 out of necessity. Due to health issues/preference I have to buy all organic food and avoid gluten etc. So this is the way it has to be done. I may join Kitchen Winners down the road after the dust settles from the holidays.

    • Look forward to seeing you in Slack! Sounds like you’re plugging along well. Let me know how I can help!

  26. Terry calkins says:

    I personally miss the daily posts. It seems like a group of girlfriends getting together for coffee and exchanging ideas and encouragement

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