A Month’s Meal Plan for the Pantry Challenge

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Wondering how to plan for a Pantry Challenge? Here are the strategies I’m using to help make our “eat-down-the-pantry” month go well.

Meal Planning for a Pantry Challenge - Wondering how to plan for a Pantry Challenge? Here are the strategies I'm using to help make our "eat-down-the-pantry" month go well.

This month we’re undertaking a low-spend, Pantry Challenge kind of month. My hope is that we will spend a few hundred dollars on groceries and focus on using up what we have –without anyone freaking out too much, myself included.

Yesterday I spent a huge chunk of time menu planning. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, taking inventory and planning are critical to a good pantry challenge. I am counting on the time investment paying in big dividends throughout the month.
Here’s how that all went down:

The Meal Planning Process for a Monthlong Pantry Challenge

1. Inventory.

I think that taking stock of what you have is pertinent to your having success in a pantry challenge. Even after one day, I find that having fresh knowledge of my supplies helps me think in different ways. An ingredient inventory is a must-do.

Meal Planning for a Pantry Challenge - Wondering how to plan for a Pantry Challenge? Here are the strategies I'm using to help make our "eat-down-the-pantry" month go well.

2. Meals we can make.

After I made a list of the things we had in the freezer, fridge, and pantry, I brainstormed list of meals I could make from those ingredients. I flipped through my copy of Good Cheap Eats: Everyday Dinners and Fantastic Feasts for $10 or Less to get ideas. Since I already had a mental framework for ingredients, it was easy to identify which recipes would work for our pantry challenge.

3. Four weeks of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Once I had my meal ideas rolling around in my head, I plotted them out on three calendars. I printed out three copies of this monthly meal planner and devoted each one to breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I’m hoping to simply have a grab-bag of snacks available rather than serve a specific snack each day.

Meal Planning for a Pantry Challenge - Wondering how to plan for a Pantry Challenge? Here are the strategies I'm using to help make our "eat-down-the-pantry" month go well.

Obviously, I need to buy another color ink cartridge for my printer.

Some of these items will be subject to change since my people may eat more or less than I anticipate at this point. I might also have overestimated my supplies as well. Time will tell, eh?

4. Each week at a glance.

While I think a month-at-a-glance is good particularly for bringing variety to breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, I also wanted to see how the meals of each whole day would work out. Once I’d finessed the meals, I put together a week at a glance sheet. It’s not as pretty as the others, but it will do the job.

Meal Planning for a Pantry Challenge - Wondering how to plan for a Pantry Challenge? Here are the strategies I'm using to help make our "eat-down-the-pantry" month go well.

5. Lists of things to prep.

In addition to listing each day’s meals, I made a list of things to prep. (You can grab this printable meal prep worksheet if you want to be fancy.)

I’m notorious for forgetting to thaw, so I don’t want that to be an issue this month. I’ve got a list of things to thaw as well as reminders for thinks to prepare in advance so that actual meal prep can go easily.

FishChick8 and I spent some time doing this on Saturday. She is thrilled at the prospect of all this cooking.

The Meal Plan for the Month

Meal Planning for a Pantry Challenge - Wondering how to plan for a Pantry Challenge? Here are the strategies I'm using to help make our "eat-down-the-pantry" month go well.


I planned a type of rotation for every five days. You’ll recognize the pattern. We have a lot of oats and corn ingredients on hand so those are kind of dictating the challenge.

Meal Planning for a Pantry Challenge - Wondering how to plan for a Pantry Challenge? Here are the strategies I'm using to help make our "eat-down-the-pantry" month go well.

Egg Plus Salad Sandwiches


Lunches may be all over the map. In order for school to go well, I need to have few interruptions. That means more sandwiches and easy-prep meals. Here’s the plan:

Meal Planning for a Pantry Challenge - Wondering how to plan for a Pantry Challenge? Here are the strategies I'm using to help make our "eat-down-the-pantry" month go well.


We may have some pretty fancy dinners based on what I found lurking. I hope that my energy level is up for the task.

Yes, that was a lot of work. Oh my! I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten this specific in my meal planning for a Pantry Challenge. Here’s to it paying off!

What’s YOUR meal plan got on it?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Nancy says

    I’m starting out the pantry challenge with a pot roast, potatoes, and carrots in the slow cooker today. This will feed our family of three for three dinners, at least. Next up is the frozen turkey, which will stretch to turkey divan, turkey pot pies, turkey tortellini soup, and turkey/rice/bean enchiladas. I have three full weeks of dinners planned and most of the fourth week. I’ve only planned dinners because we’re all adults in this household on different schedules, and everyone fends for themselves for breakfasts and lunches.

  2. Cindy says

    My plan is to finish using up the holiday leftovers; Christmas Eve ham is almost gone (scalloped potatoes, ham and cheese sandwiches and omelets). Ham bone stock (2 quarts) in freezer for ham and bean soup later this month. Left over turkey will be used in enchiladas and possibly turkey/broccoli Alfredo.

    We do brunch on the weekends so yesterday was blueberry pancakes and turkey sausage and fruit; dinner was meatless spaghetti, romaine and spinach salad with the remaining chocolate chip mint ice cream.

    Brunch today is spinach, mushroom, feta omelets, bacon and bananas. Dinner will be chicken stir fry – broccoli, carrots, celery and onions with brown rice.

  3. jan says

    Started the Challenge on the 1st … made my life easier by pulling out THREE proteins from the garage freezer (ground beef, chicken breast and italian sausage) and based my menu for week around that … as much as I complain about the amount of food we have in this house, I’m glad when I do the Pantry Challenge because it’s not really difficult, just makes me be more focused to use what we have on hand! Not sure I could plan a whole month ahead of time but its nice to know WHAT you can make based on what you have on hand! First stop of the year at Aldis and spent $26 … that included 3 boxes of tissues, tp, 2 gallons milk, 2 dozen eggs and an assortment of veggies … kind of nice not spending $$$ for the holidays!

    • Rhonda says

      Hi Jan

      I also pull my proteins at the start of the week and get an idea of my weekly menu based on what fresh ingredients I have on hand and any items I am wanting to use up. Does make life easier to have them out. I like to plan week by week, I enjoy the flexibility and we waste very little so works for us.

  4. Stephanie M. says

    I don’t have a specific meal plan where I know what I’ll be eating each day. My freezer is stocked with a good variety of meats such as eye round for roast beef, bottom round for pot roast, a roaster chicken, a turkey breast, a pork roast, pork chops, flounder, bay scallops, thin chicken cutlets, boneless chicken breasts, chicken drum sticks, one package of ground turkey, 3 New York strip steaks, and sweet Italian sausage. I also have a few bags of frozen veggies, such as corn, green beans, and peas. I usually always have more fresh than frozen. I also have a variety of frozen appetizers left over from the holidays which can serve as weekend lunches when my husband is home. I have a good amount of side dishes in the pantry like beans, pasta, rice, boxed side dishes, etc. So really, my goal is to use all of these things and only go to the store if I need perishables and essential ingredients to prepare meals with whatever meat I’ve chosen. Most of the roasts will be eaten the second day same as the first and then turned into a completely different meal which will warrant several more meals. So I think I’m set up pretty well to not have to go shopping too much. I’m planning on an empty to nearly empty freezer when the month is over. 🙂

  5. Mona says

    We also started the Challenge on the first so our monthly menu is ready to go. All the prep work is done for the first couple days. Did run to the store today for cheese, bananas, lettuce, spinach, crescent rolls and onion soup mix for a total of $12.58.
    Our meals:
    Yesterday: Breakfast – Cinnamon raisin bagels with cream cheese
    Lunch – Leftover beef stew
    Dinner – Baked hake, noodles, green beans
    Today – Brunch – Bacon, fried eggs, potatoes and toast
    Snack – Crackers and cheese
    Dinner – Ree’s Chicken spaghetti with green salad

  6. Not a real meal plan but I went shopping & got tons of stuff because Mother Hubbard had nothing on me. This week we are planning on chicken parm made w/ crescent rolls, roast in the crockpot, pasta night, breakfast for dinner, chicken in the oven, baked with green beans & potatoes. I also got tons of stuff for lunch so I do not spend money eating out. Also got breakfast stuff so we are not stopping at our local WaWa for breakfast everyday.

  7. Deb says

    This is perfect timing for us. We’ll have no income until February, so using what resources we have available (pantry, freezer, garden, etc.) will be key to not having a credit card blow-out. I was given a number of ham bones & are boiling them up today to freeze the meat & stock for soups. By doing this it will take up less room in the freezer & make dinner prep less mess. I need to do a good freezer inventory & make up our monthly meal plan. I plan only dinners as lunch is usually left-overs & everyone gets their own breakfast (porridge, Weetbix, or eggs.)

  8. Stephanie M. says

    Starting on Sunday:

    Breakfast – Hubby had frosted mini wheats; I had a mini bagel with L.F. cream cheese
    Lunch – Hubby had leftover pasta from last night; I had a salad
    Dinner – We both had roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn and dinner rolls
    Dessert: Home made banana cake

  9. Tiffany R says

    I love pantry challenges but I am doing this pantry challenge in secret. If I tell the family, all I will hear is complaining. So, let’s see how long it takes before the notice…

    Breakfast: Oatmeal (me & hubs) & Bagels (kids)
    Lunch: Using leftover grilled chicken – Salads w/ last of strawberries (me & hubs) & Quesadillas (kids) w/Applesauce
    Dinner: Sesame Chicken, Spinach (to use up before it goes bad), leftover rice & leftover broccoli. I thought they were going to complain about the leftover rice but no one said a word.
    Dessert: Homemade Chocolate Chip Scones in honor of the new season of DOWNTON ABBEY!!!!

  10. I’ve got our menu completed too – and I’ve already made some ‘adjustments’… 😉

  11. Sandi says

    breakfast: coffee
    lunch: buffalo chicken dip, crackers, half slice of cheesecake
    dinner: ham, scalloped potatoes, sauteed yellow squash
    Not the most balanced or nutritious, but used up things in the fridge

    Quick question about the photo on your FB page showing the jars of mixes… why do you not put the sugar in with the other dry goods?

  12. Thanks for the reminder that I’ve still never made crepes. My family had them once and loved them. It would make them very happy if I made them. I’ve been meaning to try your recipe for quite some time.

    I always have a column of meal prep ideas next to my menu because it helps tremendously to have a few things done ahead of time. Any time I find a few extra minutes, I will try to get something else on the list done. It helps me stay ahead and makes dinner less stressful.

    My freezer has 3 turkeys in it, so that will be the most frequent meat this month. Thanks for sharing all of your hard work in an effort to encourage and inspire us!

  13. Stephanie says

    I’m so impressed you even officially planned out breakfasts and lunches! I never thought to do that, though I’ll admit that we eat the same things every day for breakfast. I’m not sure if my calendar will post, but here is what I have. Definitely not quite as detailed! I take some sort of leftovers every day for lunch and my husband (working nights) sleeps through lunch. My son gets lunch supplied by the daycare.


  14. Jennifer says

    The challenge I have this month ( and for a few more!) is that four times a week, I have to go out at our regular dinner time to pick up one of the kids from their activities, so meals have to be fairly easy or very well thought out because by the time we get home, everyone is starving!! Had your turkey burgers this evening and they were yummy!!! Sean and I planned the meals for the next ten days, all based on emptying the freezer and a few trying your book’s recipes. “L’organisation épargne la sueur” as Lio likes to tell me.

  15. We’re joining you at the Little Homestead, with a link back 🙂 Great ideas, thanks!

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