Take the Efficient Kitchen Challenge to Save Money

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Time is money, they say. Can you save money on groceries when you save time in the kitchen? Yes! Take February’s Efficient Kitchen Challenge and see!

kitchen timer on counter next to jar of tulips

Hey there, folks! We’re wrapping up the January Pantry Challenge and gearing up for a new Grocery Savings Challenge to start on Saturday. Pantry Challenge participants saved 100s of dollars this month. I can’t wait to see what y’all accomplish in February.

If you’re new to the Grocery Savings Challenges, here’s the deal:

In 2020 I’m hosting a new grocery savings challenge each month, each challenge designed to help you hone your shopping and cooking skills, eat great meals, and, of course, save money on food.

logo for grocery savings challenges

Each challenge is designed to help you enjoy real food, real easy, on a budget.

These savings challenges, hosted here on Good Cheap Eats, are free to participate in. Just show up, take the challenge, and tell us how it goes for you. It’s as simple as that.

Each month features:

  • A grocery-savings challenge developed to help you save money on groceries during the month, but also throughout the months to come
  • Recipes and tips to support you during the challenge
  • A “before” post where you can share your goal for the month
  • An “after” post where you can share your progress and accomplishments
  • A themed giveaway to help you continue your grocery savings efforts – everyone who participates in a month’s challenge will be entered to win.

If you haven’t already, sign up for our mailing list and get the printable list of all the year’s grocery savings challenges.

I hope you’ll join me in February as we endeavor to be more efficient in the kitchen!

plate of chicken pot pie and green beans on set table

February Efficient Kitchen Challenge

February’s Efficient Kitchen challenge is a little different than other savings challenges you might have done. 

Efficient kitchen?!

Efficiency is about being productive without waste. Sometimes it indicates speed, but not always. Its focus is on accomplishing your purposes (eating great meals) without waste.

Wasted money. Wasted food. Wasted time. 

Clearly wasting money is the opposite of saving money. But food and time? Yep, they boil down to wasted money also.

How wasting food is wasting money:

Since most of us buy the food we eat with our own money, we are wasting money when we waste food.

Did you know that Americans waste up to 40% of the food they buy? If that’s happening at your house, you could save up to 40% on your grocery bill. Of course there’s wiggle room here because sometimes we leave food behind at restaurants, but you get the drift.

Save food, save money.

rainbow slaw meal prep

What about time?

In our day and age, time is an equal opportunity resource. Everyone gets the same amount of time. And these days, it would seem that everyone is time poor.

How does time effect your grocery budget?

Consider the reasons that people eat out or spend big bucks on meal prep services and pricier convenience foods? They don’t have time to cook.

But, what if you had some time-saving tricks that allowed you to eat an affordable meal at home? You’d save money, right?

Save time, save money.

pouring raspberry vinaigrette onto salad

So, this month’s challenge is to get efficient in the kitchen so that you can save money on groceries. Be productive without waste.

How can YOU get more efficient in the kitchen?

We’re going to dive deeply into the topic of saving time and resources in the kitchen this month.

But, for now, consider a couple things that you can do NOW to get you going in that direction. Below are some ideas to get you started.

Remember: You don’t have to do them all!

Even one or two of these practices will help you save money on groceries this month.

vegetables and turkey stock ingredients in slow cooker

Ways to save food this month so you waste less:

  1. Plan meals you know you like! If you enjoy it, you’re not going to let it go to waste.
  2. Develop a system for storing leftovers that works for your family. Use them up within 3 days.
  3. Plan meals that build on one another so that you’re not wasting ingredients. 
  4. Repurpose extra ingredients and leftovers in new meals.
  5. Continue your pantry challenge.
  6. Shop with intent. Go with a list and don’t buy anything unless you have a plan to use it.

Ways to save time this month so you’re less likely to spend more on convenient/restaurant fare:

  1. Plan quick, 30-minute meals
  2. Choose instant pot recipes that you can lean on in a pinch.
  3. Plan for slow cooker recipes that you can prep early in the day when you have more time.
  4. Plan a meal prep session so you always have food ready to go.
  5. Recycle winning meal plans so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
  6. Identify what tasks you can delegate to others so that you don’t have to do it all.

spoonful of macaroni from an instant pot

Choose something to work on this month!

Which of those strategies can you adopt this month in the Efficient Kitchen Challenge? As I said, even implementing one of the items on the list will go far to help you save time and money. Especially if you do it consistently.

Me? I’m working on a few, but specifically these three:

  • eating down the pantry – there is still a bit of randomness in the cupboards and freezer that I want to be gone. I know that white space is my friend.
  • weekly meal prep – I love getting a head start on the crazy that is called my regular week. Meal prep helps me do that and then some. When I’ve got meals prepped I’m much less likely to go out to eat. Plus, meal times are so much more fun! I’ll share my weekly preps on Instagram this month, so follow me there.
  • delegation! – My kids all know how to cook, as does my husband. Any of them would gladly help out, but I tend to silo and forget to ask. I can save a lot of time by delegating dinner service, especially if I’ve already done the meal prep.

printed tracker for grocery savings goals

Don’t miss out on anything!

Have you signed up for the Good Cheap Eats mailing list? I recently sent out several printable worksheets to help you with this month’s Efficient Kitchen Challenge, including this fun savings tracker.

Check your inbox (and spam, too) if you know you’ve signed up in the past. If you’re not on the list, just click here to subscribe.

Okay, I think that covers everything. Ready to get started?

How will you save time and resources in the efficient kitchen challenge this month?

Choose a strategy from the list or another of your own making and commit to it this month. Share it in the comments so we can keep you honest.

About Jessica Fisher

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

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Comments

  1. Stephanie M. says

    Saturday, February 1, 2020

    My plan this month is to learn better how to build on meals using leftover ingredients that I have from another meal. We are avid leftover eaters already and we usually eat them the next day before I cook anything else. If there are still leftovers the third day, I will freeze what I can for another meal on another day. I don’t waste too much and many times, not anything, but there have been times where I will have some kind of ingredients from one meal leftover that I didn’t use and by the time I want to use it, it’s no good anymore. So this is what I want to focus on this month.

    • Planning meals with common ingredients is a great practice to work on, Stephanie. Can’t wait to see how it goes for you.

  2. Maureen says

    In January, my pantry challenge focused on using up the older items and eliminating waste. I only made a dent, so I will be continuing through February with both of those. I also plan to improve upon my meal prepping and leftover systems. I really need to avoid fridge tetris on a regular basis (that’s how things get lost until it’s too late) and not take a break from prepping when I get busy (because it actually saves me time). I think all of things really work well together, so I’m hoping for more progress this month.

    • A few years ago, I reorganized my fridge. Leftovers and meal prep go on the top shelf in clear containers. That way we know what needs eating and can easily identify it. Using opaque containers was a recipe for disaster.

  3. Lynn from NC Outer Banks says

    I am continuing on with my pantry challenge. I want to build on my success from last month although I did grocery shop today to buy some “must haves” and requests by DH.

    The other area I want to address is management of leftovers. I feel like I do pretty well, but there is room for improvement. I also hope to somehow organize my small chest freezer. Any recommendations in this area would be greatly appreciated!

    • Rae says

      I use a combination of plastic bins/baskets and reusable shopping bags in my freezer. I fill one reusable bag with frozen veggies, one with frozen meats, etc. The handles on the bags make it much easier to lift them out and see what is in the bottom of the freezer. Otherwise the items on the bottom get lost for too long!

      • Lynn from NC Outer Banks says

        Rae, the idea of reusable shopping bags is a good one. I certainly have plenty of them.(never met a bag I didn’t like 🙂 As I eat the freezer on down I think I’ll try this. I’ve never separated the items in my freezer in any form, so this might really help me. Had I done this, I would have known I was short of vegetables as I began the PC. It was on the bottom that I discovered pounds of bacon I didn’t know I had! Someone mentioned fridge Tetris and I definitely have freezer Tetris. Thank you for the good suggestion. I’ll keep you posted as I implement it.

    • Tasty says

      Hi Lynn.

      One thing I often do when i go thru the freezer is move things that I REALLY want to use NOW is move them into a basket that sits at the top of the freezer (I have chest freezers) and/or move stuff into the little freezer over the fridge where I really work from day-to-day.

      My aim always is to get that little freezer EMPTY. I have never managed it!!!!

      • Lynn from NC Outer Banks says

        Tasty, I’ll have to try this idea of moving higher priority items towards the top in a basket or bag. I do move items from my chest freezer to the refrigerator one like you. I use the refrigerator freezer for more short term storage and the chest freezer for long term. I would like to get EITHER freezer emptied for once. Feel like that would be such an accomplishment! That’s what I’m hoping for as I continue on with the PC. Fingers crossed!

    • Alice E says

      I use paper grocery bags to organize my freezers, keeping meats, veg and fruits separate and if I have a large stock of meat I also separate ground meat from steaks, roasts and chicken. I have used some reusable bags lately when I restock veg, since it makes it easy to use the older ones first. I’ve done this for years and started back when my hubby was going deer hunting and brought back all the meat at once. The paper bags fit in my freezer nicely and the meat fit in them neatly as well. Years ago I used a couple of boxes to separate out some of the contents of the chest freezer. I do like the chest freezers better than uprights, but organizing them makes them much easier to use.

      The important thing is that the organization works for you. I’ve seen bins and stuff used in online videos when I googled the topic, but most of them take up more space than I like. The nice thing about bags is they are thin. I like the paper bags because they don’t collapse inward as many of my reusable bags do.

      • Lynn from NC Outer Banks says

        Alice E, the paper bags would be another option of organizing my freezer. It may be that a combination of reusable plus paper may work in my chest freezer. It’s till a mess in there until I can finally eat it down. I’m still working on it and staying out of the stores for the most part. Making progress but it is a slow go. When I get to the bottom I think the bags will be really helpful going forward. Thank you for your suggestions!

    • Yep. I second what Rae says. When we had a chest freezer, I used bins originally but moved to the reusable shopping bags. I used different colors to sort the items. Since we have a freezer in the house, it’s my goal to make that a staging area for items I know I’m going to use up soon.

  4. Heather M says

    My goals for February are to:
    -continue my version of the Pantry Challenge and keep spending way down(I will replace items we really need if they are gone, take advantage of the Costco Salmon coupon, buy fresh produce/other perishables as needed, and if we run out of proteins from the freezer before the end of the month(possible) I will start to restock them.
    -plan meals better so we actually use up some of the randomness in the cupboards. I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants for a while now in the kitchen. I actually do pretty well with that, but if I plan better I might clear out some space in the cupboards. even though I like to keep a decent stock on hand, it’s likely too much. Plus random things we really don’t use or need, so I should figure out how to incorporate them to use them instead of toss them.

    Looking forward to seeing how the month goes!

  5. Heather M says

    Oh, and also to better put to use my Instant Pot, and put my new blender/processor to work. I’ve not really had a decent blender or food processor ever, so always hesitated to try things that called for those appliances. I now have a beautiful new one I got for my birthday and I already used it for both the crust and the pureed fresh raspberries for the raspberry lemonade bars I made last weekend. Guess I really have three goals.

    • Pat says

      Heather M– I’m with you on making better use of my Instant Pot. I use mine for hard boiled eggs,rice and beans. I think I’ve had it for 2 years and that’s all I’ve used it for.

      • I’ve started adapting old crockpot recipes for the instant pot. I still like the slow cooker, but if I’m behind on my plans, the IP is a great back-up plan.

    • Sarah says

      I love my food processor! I use it to shred blocks of cheese (cheaper than pre-shredded) and I also use it to chop bags of carrots and celery and onion – I store them separately in the freezer for soups and other cooked dishes. There’s only two of us so one bag of celery lasts an eternity otherwise and makes cooking super fast!

      I also use to to make cauliflower mash and

      • Heather Lawless says

        I am curious on the food processor use for celery. Mine always gets freezer burn. I,ve had some health issues so I got behind the last week.

        • Alice E says

          I’m going to chime in on freezing celery. If I’m not using right away, I cook it, either by itself or with carrots and onions, and freeze it in bags or containers the right size for one use with the liquid. The liquid protects it from freezer burn and adds to the soup or whatever. If I’m not using it for something where I can use the liquid, I thaw it and add the liquid to a container I keep in the frig freezer of broth and liquids to add to soup. This lets me use up the celery before it goes bad which is otherwise a problem with just two of us.

    • Lynn from NC Outer Banks says

      I need to chime in with use of the Instant Pot. I’ve had mine for a year now with mixed results. Didn’t do a roast nearly as well as my good ol’ crock pot, but did okay with getting from dried beans to cooked. So an additional goal for me as well.

      • I haven’t liked roasts in the IP, either, but it seems to do okay with stews and my sauerkraut pork recipe.

  6. Sandi says

    We actually don’t mind leftovers which is good since I’ve never learned how to cook for just 2 people. I always end up with 6-8 servings of something. However, I’m not good about re-purposing them into something different so could really work on that a bit.

    Since I joined the PC a little late due to work travels, I don’t feel like I made much progress at all in that area. I will most definitely be continuing on that. I’ve been focusing so much on increasing the veg/fruit quantities that I had little of that in the fridge/freezer to start with and used it up pretty quickly. My PC rules allowed me to purchase those items to go with using up the other things we already had and I’m a little surprised how much I ended up spending for just fresh produce. I thought I was keeping to reasonably priced, in season type items, but wow. I might need to curtail it back just a tad. Then again, the last purchase was heavier than usual and made on 1/30 so that will probably last a good part of Feb.

  7. Pat says

    I also plan on continuing the pantry challenge and using up the proteins I already have.
    I want to continue working on incorporating leftovers that don’t get eaten into other meals and working on better meal prep and planning.
    As far as food waste–we’ve had very little this month. The only biggie is lettuce. I think salad kits are going to be our friend. The bags are just the right size for 3.

    • Good to learn that about the salad kits! Sometimes they can be problematic for people in terms of waste.

  8. Sarah says

    This month I am going to work on reducing waste by only making things that I know we like and I also want to get better about leftovers.

    I try to freeze at least two portions of soup/stew/beans immediately after cooking. If we have leftovers, I package them in individual containers, so I can easily freeze them if we don’t finish them right away.

    I made a list of meals that should carry us through the month (in addition to the usuals like eggs for dinner). I don’t have any excuses for takeout now.

  9. Karen J says

    My goals for February are….
    1. Continue with pantry challenge, however not with my self-imposed austere budget that I had in January. More fresh vegetables for sure.

    2. Cook for the two of us as to not have so many leftovers and to limit portion sizes. I don’t mind cooking big soups or chilis as it freezes well, but want to cut back on other meals.

    3. Meal plan. Today I reorganized and inventoried the freezer and pantry and wrote down dinner possibilities on the February calendar. i don’t plan breakfasts or lunches. We always have oatmeal or eggs and lunches are on our own, leftovers or whatever.

    Not a February goal, but a comment. I received an Instant Pot as a gift three years ago and have used it exactly twice. Currently it is in our fifth wheel as it seems all RV owners rave about them. Hasn’t been used there either. I guess I just love my crock pot and rice cooker too much so don’t see a need. Maybe someone can convince me to give it a go this month.

    • Heather M says

      Hard boil your eggs in the instant pot! It’s a game changer-they’re super easy to peel, and i don’t ever overcook them anymore either. I also like to make salsa chicken in it- just dump whatever salsa I have on hand and boneless/skinless chicken breasts, then after they’re done, shred the meat. It’s great for any mexican dish- tacos, burritos, rice bowls, enchiladas, salads, etc. and you can freeze portions for future use, especially with only two of you. I also want to use my instant pot in better ways, but these are two tried and true, excellent uses for it.

    • I have found it hard to make the switch, but on days when I forget to set the slow cooker up, the IP takes care of it for me.

  10. Angelica says

    I’d like to focus on preparing for the weekends. While I’ve been able to have food ready during the week by precooking meals the weekends really hit me. With three kids all involved with sports breakfast seems to always be picked up outside. It’s tremendously expensive as are buying snacks while we’re at games. This is what I need to work on this month! Efficiency so I don’t burn out when it comes to the weekends!

    • Yes! I’ve found that if I do a prep on Sunday and then another on Thursday or Friday, it really works well. Can’t wait to hear how it goes for you!

  11. Janet says

    You cannot be efficient in a messy, cluttered, overcrowded space. Awhile back I told my husband either the kitchen gets cleaned out or all meals henceforth would be eaten out. I have enjoyed cooking my whole life, but the kitchen was so overcrowded that was no longer the case. I showed my husband that 40% of my cupboards and drawers were filled with non-cooking stuff. For example, the cupboard filled with his mother’s china that had not been used once (no one is willing to hand wash dishes). Not to mention the cabinet full of art supplies. My “baby” is 15 years old. How likely is she to use crayons and play-doh? And then, of course, the drawer of office supplies and the good old junk drawer. Meanwhile, every time I went to get a frying pan inevitably something would fall out onto the floor. To his credit, I came home from work a few days later to find a full set of cupboards empty and ready for me to start rearranging. Having a well-organized kitchen has brought back the joy back to cooking I had lost.

    • Jenn in Seattle says

      Yay! I bet it felt great to see those empty cupboards.

      • Janet says

        Oh yes, it felt like Christmas morning seeing those empty cupboards ready to fill!

    • Heather M says

      Ok this is awesome! What a really fun thing to come home to-cleaned out cupboards! I have a small kitchen and this is definitely an issue. I started cleaning out a few shelves last night and will finish tonight or tomorrow- among other things all the random paper plates/napkins from various parties taking up valuable and random space so I made a new home for them, in a place where we will be able to find and use them, yet they also free up space in other cupboards where they did not need to be. Good luck with your organizing!

    • Great point! And kudos to your husband for tackling that!

  12. Hubby and I just finished talking about this …again. We decided to finish up leftovers or freeze and not waste fresh produce .

  13. Jenn in Seattle says

    I’m going to try the two day a week prep idea. I read somewhere that prepping food as soon as you’re home from shopping works well too. I don’t know if that’s feasible for me but I could see setting aside time on two days to prep.

    With the Pantry Challenge, I found myself in the kitchen often – most nights, actually. There has to be a way to do some things in advance (all in one go). So it looks like I’ve got some planning to do to see how I can make that work.

    • Meal prep has really helped me over the last year that I’ve been more intentional about it.

  14. lisa s says

    Wasting drives me nuts, so I’m kinda the queen of using leftovers already imho. However, meal prep needs tons of work. I’ve been better at it since Sam’s had a meal prep kit on sale that I bought. The times I’ve remembered to do it, has been life changing. So Feb goals are to meal prep all my produce when it comes in the house. I also hope to prep some full meals to dump in the crock pot in the mornings before work. And I’m going to make a goal of baking more bread; at $4 a loaf, I just feel like it will be worth my time to do this on the weekends. Also, I still have tons in the pantry/freezer, so I will be continuing the Jan challenge into Feb.

    • What was the meal prep kit from Sam’s? Was it a good example of how to do it yourself?

      • lisa s says

        Oh, it’s just the rectangular and square class containers w/plastic snap-on seals, but it had a lot of pieces at a great price. I think it also helps me because all the pieces are clear. Most of my other storage/serving pieces were just random things I’ve collected along the way in life and most were non-transparent. Being able to see what’s in the fridge, rather than pulling containers all out to see what’s in them helps. I actually did this yesterday. I chopped all my produce (that can be prepped) after coming back form the store–Yay! This also helps me eat more salads.

  15. Roberta says

    I’m in!

    My goals are to:
    1. Inventory the chest freezer.
    2. Continue with the PC (freezers!).
    3. Clean/purge the kitchen cabinets, drawers, etc.
    4. Eat from the garden whenever possible (hello, oranges!).

    We’re pretty good at eating up leftovers, and I’m decent at food/component prep. I think I could be better if my freezers were actually functional instead of over-stuffed mysteries. I’m ok at meal planning, but new schedules/routines for the guys have been challenging this school year. I find I can stick to my shopping list best (not perfectly though) when I shop by myself–I guess it’s a good thing the guys are so busy. ;}

    • How nice to have fruit trees in the backyard!

    • Marci says

      yes to fruit trees! We had 2 bucket loads of oranges from my mother-in-laws tree. Its a Hawaii variety with very little acid. It was perfect for my flu. Im curious what you will make with these oranges… all i really go to was orange juice .. haha.

      • Roberta says

        We’re blessed to have several different types of fruit trees in our backyard (and friends and neighbors who share their backyard produce as well!).

        We’re eating lots of the oranges just sectioned or sliced. I’ve juiced a bunch given to us from a friend (they have a heritage orange-grapefruit cross which is too seedy to eat but makes great juice). So far I’ve made orange-ginger salmon and added orange zest to energy bars. I’m planning to make orange chicken, orange butter cookies, and whole orange cake. I may also experiment with swapping out the lemon juice for orange juice in a French Grandmother’s Yogurt Cake–I think it should work. I might also make cranberry-orange muffins. If I have time, I’d also like to try making orange marmalade and perhaps orange extract. I’m planning to zest them and store the zest in the freezer, and I’ll juice more.

  16. Marci says

    I did the pantry challenge on my own and saved about $600.
    My goals for this month :
    1. decrease our waste- Buying less groceries and using up food
    2. Adjust meal planning to our new schedule (3-4 dinners a week).
    3. Meal prep Sundays (like I used to)

    Been loving grocery delivery because I stick to my list…haha. The prices are slightly higher but I still saved $ overall in January by doing this, it saves me time and $. We have target, Times (local grocer) and Costco delivery within my area.

  17. Melinda says

    Pantry Challenge and Shopping with intent go hand in hand for me. It sounds funny, but I am trying to train myself to not shop the sales. That is how my pantry and freezer got overloaded in the first place. I have to say “I have enough of that right now, there will be sale on that again later when I will need it again. Making a plan is important too. My husband is retired and does some of the cooking especially when we have early meetings. My meal planning is getting stronger with the pantry challenge and we are starting to eat some of the things that have been overlooked.

  18. Alice E says

    I’m continuing with the pantry challenge trying to use up more of the grains on hand this year.

    I’m also slowly trying to identify kitchen stuff that I no longer use or need and donating it to charity. After all less stuff means it is easier to find and store what I need.

    I’m also trying to be more mindful of days I want leftovers for hubby to eat lunch when I’m not home or will be to tired to cook the next day and fixing meals without leftovers on days when cooking all meals the next day is practical.

    He works three days a week, and though I’m retired I volunteer four or five days a week so I need to be mindful of this when I plan meals.

    There are also a couple things around I can no longer eat and I’m planning to use them up this month on days I have leftovers I can eat. I do try to always have some leftovers packaged in single meal containers for when I lunch alone or I’m fixing something for him that I can’t eat.

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