How to Prepare for a Pantry Challenge

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Are you ready to clean up and clear out? And eat well in the process? Then join the pantry challenge starting January 1. We’ll be making the most of what we have so that we waste not, want not.

Twice a year for many years now, I’ve spent concentrated effort to “eat down the pantry”. By doing so, I limit my grocery shopping, I use up what we have, and I’m forced to be creative. I also learn to be more thankful for what we have. I realize how full my “empty” cupboards really are.

We Americans are generally blessed with full refrigerators. Yet, in her fabulous book on home cooking, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, Kathleen Flinn states, “as a country we collectively waste about 40 percent of the food produced for consumption.” Yikes!

I can’t argue with this. I just cleaned out my fridge. Due to poor planning prior to leaving town, I threw away several meals’ worth of food. Ugh. I need a good reminder to waste less and be a better steward of what we have.

Out with the old and in with the new, right? January starts in just a few days, so I’ll be starting a new “eat down the pantry” challenge as soon as the ball drops.

Care to join me?

Since the phrase, pantry challenge, can mean different things to different people, let me explain in greater detail. Please don’t get scared off before we approach the gate.

What is a Pantry Challenge?

A pantry challenge is a focused, but limited, time to “eat from the pantry.” Rather than buying groceries like I normally would, I focus on what we already have. I build my menus around the ingredients I have as well as those I’ve been avoiding. Sometimes it’s the meal that is is cumbersome to prepare or something that I’ve been too lazy to be creative with. Squash, anyone?

The pantry challenge helps me deal with those items — and teaches me not to buy it again or not to avoid it for so long.

Another fringe benefit to giving my pantry a good cleaning out/overhaul is that we save money, too. And January is a fabulous month to do that, is it not?

A pantry challenge can take many different forms and serve different purposes. It is basically the idea of cutting your grocery budget by a significant amount so that you can save money and use what you have. Sometimes this can be drastic; other times, it can be a chance to trim some fat from your budget.

An “involuntary pantry challenge” happens when weather, illness, or loss of income prevents you from shopping like you normally would. You make the most of what you already have.

By practicing this a couple times a year, I balance out my grocery spending as well as keep things in perspective in case I had to make my pantry work overtime against my wishes.

I’ve written several in-depth posts over the years. If you missed them or want a refresher, hop over here:

Preparing for a Pantry Challenge

There are a few things that you can do to prepare for a Pantry Challenge:

Make a few goals.

At the start of each pantry challenge, I determine some of the things that I’d like to accomplish. This has changed over the years as my shopping habits and the appetites of my family have changed.

(You can read about my past goals here:  Jan 11, July 11, Jan 12, July 12.)

By establishing some goals, I’m making it clear to myself what the point of this whole endeavor is. This month I hope to do the following:

  • Spend $600 or less on groceries to feed our family. We currently spend a little more than $800/month on food prepared and eaten at home.
  • Give my freezers and pantry a good clean out. The deep freeze needs to be thawed in a big way. I’ll have room to do a big freezer cooking session at the end of the month.
  • Use up those things that I have too much of or kind of wish I hadn’t bought in the first place. They are a weight on me, so if we use them up, I’ll feel better. Hopefully, this will teach me to shop better, too.

Take inventory.

By taking inventory of what you have in the fridge, pantry, and freezer, you know what tools you have to work with. You also have a chance to start out with a cleaned and (sort of) organized food storage.

I cleaned out the refrigerator today. I feel good knowing what I have to work with as I menu plan or prepare meals on the fly.

Plan meals.

Write a list of all the meals you could make with what you already have. You may be surprised that the list is so long.

Now add to the list the meals that you could make with just one or two ingredients yet to be purchased. This can be the start of your grocery list.

Be realistic.

When I first heard the phrase, pantry challenge, I thought it meant that I had to go cold turkey and not buy anything. You know we were doomed for failure that way. Over the years, I’ve learned what’s realistic for us to manage. Sometimes I’ve cut our spending in half; other times, I saved just a fraction of our budget, but we were good stewards with what we had.

Keep a record.

Jot down each day of the pantry challenge, what you serve for all meals, and how your family responds to those meals. We have discovered some of our favorite meals based on recipes I developed during the pantry challenge. I’ll be posting daily here on Good Cheap Eats our log as well as posting or linking to recipes that I use.

Make it a family affair.

One of my renewed goals as a parent and a home cook is to include my kids more in the meal planning and execution. I tend to hover a little too much. I hope to include the kids more in meal prep and part of that will be their taking stock of what we have and getting creative.

Give yourself a break.

Don’t freak out if you don’t meet all your goals. If you fall off the wagon, just brush yourself off and climb back on. Doing something is better than nothing.


Go beyond your comfort zone and learn to make use of the food you have. Waste not, want not, right? Read The Kitchen Counter Cooking School if you haven’t already, paying careful attention to Chapter 12 which is all about using what you have to your best advantage.

Be a good steward.

Most important of all, be a good steward of what you have. That, really, is the point of “eating down the pantry”. Only you can know what suits your family best. If you find a killer deal on grocery items that your family needs, go ahead and stock up — even if it is a pantry challenge. If you are sober-minded and know that deal won’t come around again, go for it.

Likewise, if you are tempted toward take-out, but know you have chicken that needs to be cooked, head home and do the right thing: cook that chicken. Save the take-out for another time.

About Jessica Fisher

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

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  1. Dana says

    We’ll join you but I’ve already cheated. I just did my monthly grocery shop, but my plan is to eat all of our meals from home, limit or hopefully completely cut out eating out which is killer for us. And being that we have leftovers from Christmas and my daughters birthday party our new years eve menu will be leftovers but presented as party foods, meaning the party foods I originally had planned won’t need bought or used from the pantry. Hoping that by having a good deal of leftovers to use up that we’ll be able to stash back a couple of the planned meals to use later on. Here’s hoping anyway. The ultimate goal is to save money and to divert that money towards paying off debts. LORD WILLING!!!

    • Jessica says

      @Dana, there is no “cheating” since you make your own rules.

  2. Jaime says

    I’m in. This will be my first pantry challenge. I’m excited to get creative, use what I have and save money 🙂

  3. This is perfect timing. I had already told my family of 9 that we were eating through our food stocks this month when I found your post on Facebook. I did this two years ago and we spent under $250 that month for all (then 8) of us to eat.

    We are selling the house and moving our music mission onto the road full time, so we really do have to clear out all the food–no half-way here! We have an added challenge of dietary limitations, which means I’ll have to buy food for the people that can’t eat what’s available. Still, we’re in! Looking forward to it, and I’ll spread the word.

  4. Funny, I was already planning this – just not so officially. So I’m in! We’ve spent quite a bit on food lately, because we moved in November and then there were birthday/Christmas parties in December.

    So I’m going to eat down the pantry in January, and then in February I’m going to do some batch cooking from your cookbook, which I got for Christmas! 🙂

    • Jessica says

      Sounds like a fabulous plan! 😉

  5. claire says

    I am really looking forward to this. We are moving in 2 weeks & I plan on bringing less food with us on the move. This is going to help out a bunch!

  6. Brandette W. says

    I’m IN too! I menu plan and grocery shop for the full month, only picking up necessities along the way if needed. But, with Christmas & our baby boy’s birthday since we are on one income while I stay home with our young son, we need to eat from our Pantry a lot more than we do. We typically eat out one day per week, Saturday. All other meals are from home. We have a VERY stocked pantry, fridge/freezer, chest freezer and basement storage. Due to the weather we get here, I always stock up on all necessities (except perishables) before true winter hits us in January so that I am prepared and the baby and I do not have to go out if we don’t want or can’t. I was caught off guard this past week though when we ended up getting a huge snow storm Christmas night and we were snowed in until Thursday. We were ok with many things stocked up on, milk was the only true thing we needed. My husband ran to Walgreen’s and found ONE gallon left Christmas day. They were wiped out ahead of the storm since everyone knew it was coming, yet we didn’t know how bad until it was already Christmas and all regular stores were closed. Needless to say, I stocked up on everything this weekend and we are good to go. That always makes me feel so good, I am a Grocery Geek too! ;0)

  7. Carla says

    Hmmm, will do what I can. The pantry was pretty bare to begin with as we were eating from it before leaving town for the holidays. I’ve already done a bit of shopping. However, I would like to endeavor to actually eat from what I already purchased so that fits. DH is home for another few weeks from work (teaches university) so that makes it more tempting to eat out while we are out playing. MUST EAT AT HOME–and I don’t mean Pizza Hut specials on take out. 😉

    • Jessica says

      @Carla, make your own goals. I make rules for only myself. The only “across the board” rule is to be a good steward. 😉

  8. Kim Kleber says

    This is the first year I have done this. I will try it though.

    • Jessica says

      @Kim Kleber, baby steps. Don’t worry if it doesn’t go the way you think it will.

  9. Lynn says

    I’m really ready for this. I’ve only recently started stockpiling and freezer cooking so this will be my first “use it up”. I’m very anxious to see just how much I can save on our grocery bill this month and how many meals I can make out of what we have. I may be even more excited about short or even no grocery trips some weeks. I dislike grocery shopping very much and would rather spend that time at the library or napping!

  10. Sandi says

    I’m in. I was doing really well cleaning out the freezer, then Thanksgiving and some great sales came along, and poof! Freezer’s full and budget’s empty. At least a bunch of it is prepared already and can just be thawed and cooked/reheated. Except the ice cream, of course. 🙂

  11. Mary Mills says

    I am in, and I am super excited!! I have worked hard canning and preparing food for the long winter (I live in MI). I am ready to enjoy the labors of my love, and save $$$. Thanks for the challenge and the opportunity!!

    • Jessica says

      @Mary Mills, it’s so hard to stop squirreling away stuff and start eating it. I have the hardest time using it all up.

  12. meg says

    i’m in and I need someone to keep me accountable so … whatever it takes! 🙂

  13. If you are starting Jan 1st I am in.
    I actually have to go food shopping as our cupboards are bare but this will be a great time to do this.
    We need to crack down on our expenses because of our debt. Eating out is out biggest “perk” but the costliest. Eek.
    I’m in!

  14. Heather Ratliff says

    Unintentionally, I’m in! In December I made freezer casseroles and didn’t use many of them, due to the holidays. So, I just made my monthly meal plan for January and will only cook 5-6 actual meals! Yea!

    • Jessica says

      @Heather Ratliff, I think that’s probably a good problem to have, right?

      • Heather Ratliff says

        @Jessica, Absolutely! I try to freezer cook like that so I always have some casseroles to pull out in the future.

  15. Jodi says

    So in! I always think of doing this and then go to the store or the drive-through. we are cutting pay this year so it’s a good time to get smarter about food!

  16. Laurie says

    I am in!!!

  17. This is perfect timing because I have no room in our freezer!! Yay!!

  18. Kelly says

    I’m in, but mine would be more aptly called a freezer challenge! Looking forward to being more cognizant of what we have and what can be done with it.

    • Jessica says

      @Kelly, I took inventory of the freezer today. I’m right there with you.

  19. Brandi says

    I’m in! I was planning on doing this anyway… I may or may not have gone a little overboard for Christmas 😉 So excited to see what everyone comes up with! I’m trying to lose some pounds so I’ll be getting produce and milk to make yogurt for sure… good luck everyone!

  20. Sherry says

    I’m in for doing the pantry challenge. I have to think now, my rules for how I will carry this out. Thank you for leading the way! Happy New Year!

  21. Love this! What a great idea! I coupon so I definitely need to clean up and clear out my pantry. 🙂

  22. I was just telling the hubby yesterday that we have a lot of meat in the freezer, so much so that I have forgotten all that is in there. This would make a great way for us to use it all up so count me in!

    • Jessica says

      @Victoria, I will try to check spam and release you from prison on a more regular basis. I have no idea why that is happening.

  23. I’m in! Love doing the Pantry challenge. No better time to take stock and save a little cash! Thanks.

  24. Mona says

    I’m in!! Love the Pantry Challenge!! Amazed how well we eat when we think there is nothing in the house during the challange every year! Will be nice to clean out the freezer and pantry. Will be in FL for one week of the challange but will continue the challange into Feb.

  25. Carol says

    I’m in. Need to pare down the pantry and freezer and save some $ in the process. Monthly menus already done, too.See my blog for menus:

  26. april says

    Im in…I do plan to use most of what I have on hand, but I know my meat supply is low so Ill be looking for good deals on that this month, otherwise trying to build all my side dishes from stuff in the house already

    • Jessica says

      @april, remember you make your own rules. Just be a good steward.

  27. We’re in! I’m going to get an inventory and a meal plan and set a budget slashing goal.

    Thanks for hosting this! 😀

    • @Jessica B.,

      So…as I’ve never done this before, do we post the button on every day that we mention the Pantry Challenge? Or, do we make a point to post it weekly? I apologize for my ignorance – I want to do this right, so I figured I should ask. 🙂

      • Jessica says

        You can do whatever you want. It would be nice to link back over here, but you certainly aren’t required to do so. 😉

        • @Jessica,

          hehe…as the hostess of the challenge, it would be nice to present you with some kind of hostess gift – even if it’s only a digital gift of link love for the google search engine. 🙂

  28. I am in. We have to buy new car tires this month, so it would be great to save on groceries to help offset some of the cost.

  29. LOVE doing this!

    We had already decided to do a Pantry Challenge in January after having to pass up on some really good meat deals in December because there wasn’t any room in our freezer! UGH. Never mind that digging through the mass of “stuff’ in the freezer to get to one wanted/needed item has gotten to be a chore – the organizational system I had fell by the wayside. We also have a hugely stuffed pantry and our kitchen cupboards need to be cleaned out as well (spilled honey anyone?). It’s definitely time!

    Not to mention the extra “kick” to the 2013 budget we get from doing this!
    Thanks Jessica!

  30. Holland says

    I have completed my inventory. Wow, do I have a LOT of rice and pasta.
    I have started making menus. I will be throwing rice, oatmeal and pasta into lots of dishes.
    My goal is to only buy fresh fruit and veggies for January!

    • Brighid says

      I’m in too! I’m going to try to stick to buying just fresh fruits, veggies and dairy products. We’ll have to see how making sandwich bread goes if I’m going to take that off the list also. But yes – it’s a freezing cold, extra busy month for us so it should work out well.

      What will I do with all those hot peppers I froze in August when the garden just kept yielding more and more peppers?

  31. KimH says

    Im definitely in.. My pantries are overflowing and its time to maintain some sort of control..
    I appreciate your pantry challenges since I feel compelled to join them. Thanks! 🙂

  32. Shara says

    I’d love to join in! We had sort of planned on doing this anyway.
    I’ve started some of the prep work and intend to inventory everything over the next few days.
    I’ve just got to come up with my guidelines and go from there.

  33. Joining in again this year. This year I find myself in a much better place pantry wise. I realized after the last pantry challenge that I hoard food. What I’m afraid of I don’t know–I’ve never had to go without. Anyway looking forward to cutting back and figuring out a couple of meals using those lentils that have been haunting me.

    • Tracy says

      I know all about the lentils, I must have four large packs of them, and my family does not really like them, so I am going to have get creative as well to get some of them used up.

    • Jessica says

      @MissMOE, I have a hard time using it all up, too. But, I confess I love an empty refrigerator. That means I’m not wasting stuff.

  34. Alycia M says

    Count me in! I’m off to take inventory…

  35. I love doing this every year. I use it as a time to use up the end of last year’s stockpile so I can make room for this year’s.

    I just got your book too and am so impressed! I already made the chicken cacciatore stew, and can’t wait to try more. I’m so glad you included so many vegetarian recipes too.

    • Jessica says

      @Jillian Kay, thanks for your encouragement. I’m glad you’re enjoying the book.

  36. Sara Z says

    I am in. I need to clean out my freezer. We have a deer and beef that is processing so we need the room. Our pantry is also overflowing. The only things I plan on buying is milk and few produce.

  37. I’m in! It’s been a tough and crazy year at my house. I’ve been in the purge and organize mode the last week or so and plan to clean out the pantry on 1/4 (last day of my vacation, sniff, sniff). I made a good dent in the freezers the month of December but will continue to use things up and will have to get a little creative while still trying to stay on my food plan (low carb, high protein, lots of veggies). I reactivated my Abundant Harvest delivery but will only receive a small basket every other or even every third week if I get overloaded.


    • Jessica says

      @Laurie, I’m keeping AH through the challenge. That will be our source of veg. Hoping it won’t be all squash!

  38. Ok, ok. You twisted my arm… Our family is in, too! We have so much unused non-perishables that it’s pathetic. You don’t want to know our grocery/Costco budget each month. For 3 people, it’s HUGE!! And then, I can overspend on groceries, too. 🙁 So, not only will this challenge help keep down the monies thrown out to groceries, it will help us recover from Christmas! Phew… I am so glad I found your post! 🙂

  39. Allisha says

    I’m in! We live 1 hour from a major city (where we do our grocery shopping), so we usually only grocery shop 2 times/mth anyway, but we just stocked up, and except for staples (bread, milk, cheese, fresh fruits/veggies), I see no reason for us not to stick to it! My pantry and freezer really are stocked

  40. Nikki says

    I’m in! We generally don’t spend too much monthly since I make a monthly menu and do my best to stick to it. By creating a menu for an entire 30 days (30 dinners + 8 breakfasts and 8 lunches – the kids eat breakfast and lunch at school; we eat leftovers for lunch at work the next day), it cuts down a lot on what we spend. I’ve shopped both ways…buying the whole month at one time (with dairy products and breads getting bought weekly) and also buying weekly for just those meals. I spend less buying monthly but sometimes it’s not worth it to have to store it all! I buy the kids school snacks once a month and hit up the meat sales when I can (those BOGO really add up to big savings), which cuts the spending down for the following months meals. I know it’s not feasible for everyone to do that, but we really struggle financially so I do every little thing that I can. In December, I spent $387 for our family of 4 for the month, plus an additional $75 on holiday extras. I have a ton of things in my pantry that I really need to clean out, so I’m excited to join this challenge!

  41. I’m in!

  42. Creativeme says

    I’M in! My freezer is ready to burst and my pantry is a mess so this is a great exercise to do right now. The post Christmas Samson is always a food overload. Thanks for the suggestion.

  43. YES!!!!!! I LOVE joining you each year. LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!!

  44. I decided to do this yesterday when I figured out there would be absolutely no overtime on my husband’s check during this pay period. What a rude awakening. After figuring I only had $40 to last for groceries for two weeks I thought I’d better get on the ball and shop from our pantry. When I found your post this morning it was like a ray of sunshine. Sharing always helps me stay on track and I’m sure I will find lots of encouragement and ideas.

    • Jessica says

      @Camille, I love it when I’m a ray of sunshine. 🙂 You can do this!

  45. Kristi F says

    I’m in… I love this idea !!!

  46. Michelle says

    This is the first time I have officially done the pantry challenge, and believe me, we have plenty to use up! Lookng forward to the seeing how much we can save this month, especially after Christmas spending. Just looked through your book last night, deciding which recipes to add to the monthly meal plan.

  47. Something like this has been on the To Do list for a while. I’m in!!

  48. I can’t seem to find your button html. 🙁 Can you advise me where to look please? Thanks!

    • Jessica says

      I don’t have the memory resources for folks to hotlink to the photo. So, if you right click the button and then hit save, it’ll be downloaded to your computer. Then you can load it into your post. Thanks!

  49. I am soooo with you this year! I really stocked up over the last 4 months and now it’s almost too much. I really need to focus on what I have and make it work for me instead of spending more money on groceries. I am very excited to see what I can do with what I already have.

  50. Heidi says

    I am in! This is the first year I’ve really tried to stock my pantry, the first year we’ve had a chest freezer, and the year I changed my cooking style. (Meaning I still have some stuff around from my old style that I have been avoiding using.) I am SO in!

  51. I am in – except I am carrying it over to other areas as well. A no spend month is in the works for us!

  52. Rebecca says

    I’m in. That comment you made about using up those items that you’ve been avoiding…10 cans of fat free refried beans…what was I thinking? I see a lot of burritos being consumed this month!

  53. Tamiko says

    Count us in for the challenge. Looking forward to learning and experimenting with the food we have.

  54. Barbara Walker says

    I’M IN!!! Been waiting for this and can’t wait to read the posts. I have a made our January Calendar of Meals (now hanging on the frige), and have a $200 ($40/week) budget for groceries. Most of my spending will be for milk and fresh veggies.

  55. Gia says

    I am in and this is perfect for us right now! My freezer is full of produce and protein from our CSA and garden this year!

    Quick question: When do you run a total for your groceries? At the end of the week?

    • Jessica says

      @Gia, I almost always post a Grocery Geek post on Saturdays.

  56. I’m in! I was already planning to eat mostly from the freezer/pantry in January, and then I came across your challenge button on Pinterest…. perfect timing!

    My goal: one “normal” shopping trip (not enough meat on hand to last all month), and other than that, just trips for milk/ fresh fruit & veggies.

  57. Tessa says

    This is a great challenge! I am completely on board and am looking forward to reading and sharing progress! Thanks so much for doing this!

  58. Sunny C says

    Hey Jessica;
    Thank-You so much for posting this, as I am on board with you, 100%!!! My freezer is cramed full of meats, and I have been trying to use up what I have since I purchase everything on sale. I am so proud to say that I follow the ads, and I buy what we like to eat on sale, sometimes a huge mark down sale, also! That is why my freezer is so full!
    I also have a pantry that has most anything which I will need to eat out of with my freezer, and I am hoping to not purchase much of anything except for fresh fruits, milk, bread, potatoes, ect. I would really enjoy being able to save more money, this New Year, as we have had a few issues arise, which have cost us a good chunk of cash. We are currently having some plumbing work done, and SIGH it is so expensive!!!
    I want to be able to resist shopping at the stores, and following the ads, as one of my goals for 2013 is to use up what I have and to save more money!!!
    I am also trying to make some room in my freezer, as my sister in law has a huge Meyer Lemon tree, and she said that no one takes them…..This is a huge dream come true for me, as I could use those lemons, year round, as well as I wish to try any Recipes, using them. Maybe some of the other reader know of some Recipes using Meyer Lemons???
    Thank-You again, as I am hopeful that I can perform this Freezer/Pantry challenge for SEVERAL months!!!!!
    Happy New Year Everyone!!!! 🙂

  59. I’m in, and we’re off to a good start today! Thanks for hosting this pantry challenge again!

  60. Juana Guzman says

    I’m in!!!! Its my first time and I hope I can resist taking trips to the market. Can’t wait for any tips out there to help out 🙂

  61. Sara says

    I am in!!!! My goal is to cut my grocery budget in half….from 800 to 400 and save that 400 for my emergency fund. My freezers are full since there were alot of good deals on meat in November and December so now I will reap the rewards of my stockpilling. I also have alot of canned goods that I need to use up. Can’t wait to here what everyone is cooking! I started yesterday with Boston baked beans (with old northern white beans that were in the back cupboard….they were yummy!) and I made a minestrone soup with leftovers…..humm…..what is next!

  62. Carolyn says

    I’m in. I”m already nervous, but I’m in 🙂 I can’t say I’m well-stocked, but I do have food in the pantry that needs to be used. This might be the year where I really do get a handle on what I spend AND what I spend it on!
    Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Jessica says

      @Carolyn, don’t be nervous. And don’t think you can’t shop. Just take inventory of what you have and focus on using that first.

  63. Jenny says

    I’m in — for the third year in a row. I look forward to starting off the new year with very few grocery expenses and a cleaned out pantry and freezer. Thanks for inspiring us again.

  64. Candice Cannon says

    I’m in..this should be fun. Daughter back to school Sunday, house guests left New Years and we still have a ton of food in the frig to start week 1 and extra meals I made up from leftovers in the deep freeze (such as Beef Pot Pie made of remaining pot roast and veggies..made a pie crust and froze it and many others) for week 2. Then, I can start on the pantries. Putting up food from the gardens is extra work in the summer/fall but well worth it once winter hits.

  65. Bridget says

    I’m in. I’ve followed you before and it does help. I plan to buy only fresh produce, milk, and eggs. We have ALOT of neglected food sitting around. Some stuff still even from the last challenge. I’m too much of if I want to shop a little I blow the budget.

    • Jessica says

      @Bridget, oh, honey. I found stuff from two challenges ago when I inventoried the freezer. [blush]

  66. Cathy says

    I just found your website a few weeks aga and find it very easy and encouraging. My first step is a Pantry Challenge….I am in……except when we eat at church on Wednesday nights which is only $4 for me and two kids.

    • Jessica says

      @Cathy, I don’t make the rules. You do. We’re still going to eat out, but hopefully, be more intentional. Sounds like that’s exactly what your Wednesdays are.

  67. Jada says

    I’m in, but getting a late start. Have my inventory. Making goals. I usually plan meals for the month, but this month, I need to clean out a bit of space in the freezer after purchasing salmon and cod from Zaycon that will be delivered Feb. 2. So, this is perfect timing.

  68. Kim Thomas says

    I’m in for the challenge…I think it would be a great idea for my family!

  69. I’m definitely in!! I work 4 days a week at an office job and am also a full-time student so I tend to grab a lot of food on the go. I have so much food in my cupboards/freezer that I know if I put my mind to it, I can make all my meals each week – even those days when I’m out of the house from 7 am until 9 pm and literally have all 3 meals away from home!

  70. Heather M says

    I’m so in. My modification will only be that I buy what fresh things we need. I was planning to do this anyway. Time to use up what we have before the expiration dates. Plus, I too trashed perfectly good food right before leaving town, and again today when we got home. I shopped, but mainly for fresh and needed items. Off I go!

  71. I’m in! This is perfect timing for this… our pantry and freezer are in desperate need of organization and emptying out and our budget would certainly appreciate the help now that we are post holidays! 🙂

  72. Mary says

    I am definitely on board. For those of you with IPhones- check out the Fridge Pal App – you can scan bar codes, manually enter expiration dates, find receipes using what you have on hand, etc !!! Initially it is labor intensive but now I know exactly what I have on hand – so I don’t wind up with 17 lbs of white sugar (LOL). My goal is to use up all those things I have accumulated in my pantry, fridge and freezer. Yesterday for dinner I made leftover roast beef soup and added frozen mixed vegetables. Hubby loved it. I did not have to buy anything new to make it – it was all in my fridge and pantry.

    • Jessica says

      Yeah! And thanks for the tip on the app.

  73. Colleen says

    I am so excited to have some direction on how to use up items in my pantry and freezer to make healthy meals and pre-plan with less agony and pain. Looking forward to all the good ideas! Thank you.

  74. OK, here’s my first post.

    We have a lot of food to eat, and a lot of time and money to save, so here goes! 🙂

  75. Great idea! Wish we could join but we do clean eating so our freezer and pantry are basically empty as it is. We are cutting out processed foods. We only eat fresh veggies, fruits, and meats. We do have pasta and cheeses but many of our meals are made up and fresh every single day! I definitely would try this though!! I’ve noticed I have a lot of stuff on hand that I didn’t normally think of to use!

  76. Lisa says

    Oh, here we go! I’ve tried this several times before without much success. This time I REALLY want to take a good stab at it!! We desperately need to defrost our chest freezer and there are tons of stuff in our pantry that is going old. I’m not sure why I can’t stick with it… easier said than done, isn’t it? Worth another try. : )

  77. April says

    So excited! My DH said I couldn’t buy anything for the freezer until what we have is gone. (He had to rearrange to actually get it closed last week). Came across your blog on Pinterest, can’t express how excited I am to find a group of us doing the same thing! Yay!

  78. Vanessa says

    Just found your site today and I’m thrilled. We are doing an involuntary pantry challenge this month due to an unexpected delay for my husband’s job. He’s self-employed and was without work for 10 days in December. I usually do a pantry challenge this time of year but have never committed to a full month. I like clearing out the cupboards and starting fresh. I enjoy the creative part of using what’s on hand. Neccessity is the mother of invention! I started with a list of meals that require no purchase and added meals that require only one or two more items. I was surprised to come up with 26 meals. Woohoo! Looking forward to following along with you through the rest of the month.

    • Jessica says

      Hang in there! I know those involuntary pantry challenges are rife with other concerns, too. You can do it, though. Sounds like you have a great attitude! (My husband was self-employed for most of our marriage, so I totally get where you’re coming from.)

  79. Susie says

    I just found your blog last night. We (as a family) have been talking about doing something like this for a while but we haven’t yet. I am jumping on the bandwagon today and not getting off (Lord willing) until we have room in our freezers! Thanks for the motivation and good reminders to be good stewards of the resources God has given us!

  80. RMFrancis says

    Im inn! My freezers are to full and so is my pantry. I cant wait to see how much money I can save. Also want to get rid of all the processed food in the pantry and eat more from scratch in the future. Thanks For the challenge

  81. Natalie Muoio says

    I would’ve so loved to try this out with all of you but I just today found your pantry challenge. 🙁 One big question I do have got you though how do you create your grocery budget? How do you establish a budget do you have a certain formula for this? I am eager too know, hope im not getting to personal..

    • Jessica says

      The bottom line formula is what you can afford without acquiring debt. But this chart gives you a good baseline: The numbers are national averages based on food costs nationwide when all food is eaten at home.

  82. Stephanie says

    I would love to do this…my freezer is busting at the seams. I might have to wait until March though as I have already bought a lot. We shall see…and I would love to cut down on my grocery bill…we are spending $800 a month for just 4 people and it is really frustrating me. My daughter was just diagnosed with acid reflux so this is making it a bit challenging for me and my son does not eat meat and is picky in several other ways. I a, going to try it though and see where it goes. Thanks for the great ideas.

    • Jessica says

      I’m confused as to why you have to start in March. Just focus on what you have this month and only buy the essentials. It’s okay if you “spent money” this month. The basic point is not to buy more.

  83. Anna says

    Over the years, I’ve been on the involuntary pantry eat-down plan a few times a year, having about $25 a week to feed 5 people and 2 dogs. Creativity is key! Unfortunately, I’m in one of those times now and have reached the “stuff no one wants to eat” level. So, I’ll check out your recipes and read up for moral support.

    Are you doing this in Jan 2014 too? I’ll probably be able to restock before then.

    Oh, and do you have a list of “scratch cooking” essentials? I have the stuff to make breads, pizza crusts, etc. Just curious to see if I’m leaving any basics out.


    • Hi Anna, bless your heart for making it work during really tough times. Yes, I plan to do some modification of this in January. And then we do it again in July.

      You might want to check this series: I wrote that after a pantry challenge, realizing what I really needed to have on hand. I haven’t made a checklist per se, but I should do that soon.

      • Anna says

        Thanks, Jessica. I will read that post too. Everything helps. Have a great night!

  84. Elizabeth says

    No pantry challenge for 2014?

  85. Traci says

    I’m in, let’s do this!

  86. Susan says

    I’m in!! I was planning to clean out the pantry this week – pull everything out, wipe down the shelves, etc… – my post holiday clean up. So, while I’m doing that, I’ll take inventory of the stuff I have and then look for recipes to use up the stuff I already have on hand. When I did this for my freezer in the fall, I created an inventory list in Excel (I’m nerdy like that), and it’s really helped me from buying foods that I already have in the freezer.

  87. Heather says

    I’m jumping in again this year. However, I can’t say that I’ve been really big into stocking up on groceries since last years challenge. But I’m going to try and cut our grocery bill in half for the month. Its a good thing I hit up the bulk food store today (OK I only needed brown sugar, cream of tarter and taco seasoning).

  88. Kassy says

    We have a potential move looming and my pantry as well as my deep freeze are overstocked. I just threw out a ton of veggies due to poor planning prior to spring break in addition to a family emergency. All this to say, I’m tired of spending money that I don’t need to. We have plenty of food to eat and I’m ready to put my energy toward healthy creative meals.


  1. […] over at Good Cheap Eats is running a series this month called ‘Eat Down the Pantry‘, pretty practical for those of us who are feeling the scourge of the holiday spending, do […]

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