Tips for a Successful Pantry Challenge

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Looking for ways to save money on groceries? The answer may lie in your pantry cupboards, fridge, and freezer. Have you overbought? Time to use it up!

Tips for a Successful Pantry Challenge

Last month our family did a Pantry Challenge. We focused on using up what we had first and then supplementing with fresh items like dairy, eggs, and produce. We ate super well, so well, in fact, that my kids and husband didn’t even know that I was technically “scrimping”.

Obviously, I’d done some good grocery shopping in the previous weeks and months, so much so that there was excess, but all the same, there are some tricks to making a Pantry Challenge work.

Tips for a Successful Pantry Challenge

Here are the things that I’ve learned over time that have really helped us “eat down the pantry” and not feel deprived:

Tips for a Successful Pantry Challenge

Soup is good food.

Almost anything can be made into soup. Follow my instructions for Stone Soup and you’ll see how easy it is to make a meal from odd bits of things.

Once you’ve made a big pot of soup and enjoyed it for supper, package and freeze any leftovers in 2-cup portions for easy lunches and snacks.

Tips for a Successful Pantry Challenge

Baby Cakes

Baking is your buddy.

Make your own bread, biscuits, pizza dough, cookies, cakes, muffins, or waffles. There’s no end to the number of things you can make with a bag of flour and some leavening. Plus, you’ll save tons of money. Keep in mind that dessert makes any odd meal go down better.

Tips for a Successful Pantry Challenge

Creamy Turkey Enchiladas

Give leftovers new life.

There are some leftovers that folks might fight over: pizza, enchiladas, cake. And there are other leftover items that you might not be too keen on. Provided that they are fresh, you can easily turn them into something a little bit different and a whole lot tastier.

Tips for a Successful Pantry Challenge

Go meatless.

Meatless meals can save a bundle, especially when “sale” meats are currently running as high as $5/pound. Beans and rice made the basis of many a meal when we were working to get out of debt. To this day, my kids do a happy dance over Bean Tostadas.

Tips for a Successful Pantry Challenge

The secret is in the sauce.

If you know how to make your own salsa, salad dressings, gravy, enchilada sauce, or mayonnaise, you can rock the simplest meals.

Tips for a Successful Pantry Challenge

Stretch meat in your meals.

If you’ve already got meat in your fridge or freezer, stretch it so that it lasts over several meals. Add chopped chicken to stir-fry or soup. Use half the ground beef typically called for in a recipe, and stretch it with beans, potatoes, or rice.

The Bottom Line

A Pantry Challenge is a great way to use up the items that are languishing in your cupboards. While some folks tell me that they NEVER buy more than they actually use, I personally think those folks are in the minority. Most folks who take the challenge are pleasantly surprised that they are able to stretch what they have so far.

You save money, waste less, get creative, meal plan better, and learn to shop better during a challenge. Most importantly, you realize how much you really have. There are so many great things to learn from a Pantry Challenge!

For our family, it was a good month. While my husband and kids were taken aback that I wasn’t shopping for a lot of food, they were even more surprised to learn how much we had saved: $650!

Our regular monthly grocery budget, loosely based on the USDA’s estimated food costs for a family of our size and ages, is currently $1200. We took a big hit with the rising costs lately. My six kids are aged 17, 14, 12, 10, 8. We eat mostly whole foods, a lot of organics, but not all. We are home for most meals since I teach our kids at home.

Taking time to eat down the pantry is a great way for us to cut back on spending and save some money.

What makes the Pantry Challenge successful for you?

Let me know if you have any questions about how to do a PC.

About Jessica Fisher

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

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  1. annie says

    Whike i was waiting for the GMA segment to air, I paged through your freezer cookbook for the first time in forever. Lawnmower taco is in there too. You looked great BTW….like watching a true friend on TV.

    That segment inspired me to be even more intentional with my grocery spending. I’ve been rationalizing more organic items while shopping these past weeks, but now my cash is gone and there are 4 days left until payday. Time for some creative pantry cooking this week.

    • Annie, thanks for tuning in. I totally hear you on the getting creative part. Only four days? I bet you can rock it!

  2. Stephanie M. says

    What helps make my pantry challenge successful is having it stocked with basic foods that we eat such as pasta, canned goods, tomato sauce, baking supplies. My freezer does not have to be loaded in order to create good meals. I just need a good variety of different meats, poultry, some freezer meals, and some veggies but not so much that everything falls out when I open the door. 🙂 Between what I have in the freezer and what I have in the pantry and fridge, I can always come up with something to put on the table. In addition, having a strong mindset and being determined to stay out of the grocery store unless absolutely necessary is key. For me, the whole point of the pantry challenge is to use up the stock, not to keep adding to it.

    • Like I’ve said before, Stephanie, you are the queen of the pantry challenge. 🙂

      • Stephanie M. says

        Aww, thanks Jessica but I can’t take all the credit. You are my inspiration and for so many others as well. Thank you so much for your wonderful blog site. It is so informative and inspiring. Also, I wanted to tell you I saw you on Good Morning America. How special is that? I’ll bet you never saw that coming when you started your blog. Congratulations and you look great! When I watched it, I saw your lawnmower taco casserole and printed out the recipe which I’ll be making later next week. I know my gang will love that for sure. Stay well and happy, you and your family! 🙂

  3. Janel says

    I totally agree about baking. My family always loves a meal more when I make some fresh bread to go with it. It’s so much cheaper than storebought stuff and tastes so much better.

  4. Ashley French says

    Thanks for the tips! I have been trying to do a pantry challenge since the beginning of January… week our grocery bill was$18. The other weeks have not gone as well. I think in general we eat lots of fresh veg and fruits. Our budget is $500Can for two adults and two young boys…..but we are usually over that by a little, though I do think we are spending it on quality food, not processed and packaged food. We eat at home 95% of the time and I cook or bake a lot myself. Still I feel that my pantry challenge has not acheived the goal of saving money so that we can later buy better meat, etc. We did recently sign up for a local farm’s CSA program and I do plant a veggie garden in the summer. So, thanks for the encouragement! Love your website and books Jessika!

  5. Heather M says

    What makes the Pantry Challenge successful for me is also continuing to buy fresh produce and dairy items. Then I plan around what I have (over) stocked in my cupboards and freezer. This time around I’m still going pretty strong and it’s Feb 12. I’m using up more from the pantry and freezer than I ever have before and it feels great! And also proves just how much food we keep and that we will always be ok food-wise. Well, unless I never restock anything. But I will. Once the proteins are about gone. And we are getting there, little by little. Oh and also, I love to try/adapt new recipes, so I look for new ideas based on what we have. Really helps a ton.

  6. ALL of these tips make my pantry challenges a success! Thanks for sharing your recipes.

    I’m still trying to get my internet to let me watch your GMA segment. I can’t wait to see it!

  7. Karen J says

    I so love Pantry Challenge month and look forward to it all year! (strange, I know) I’ve already inventoried and made my monthly meal plan. I am way overstocked, as usual from December. I mean, two people probably do not need seven packages of chocolate chips and twenty-seven cans of beans. My goal this year is to pull that top shelf, haven’t used, strange stuff and use it up in some creative way. One thing that works for me is to immediately recycle the Wednesday grocery ads without looking at them, because it is hard for me to pass up a “good deal” even if I don’t need it. So let’s all have some fun!

    • FOMO over the sales is real! I had to remind myself this morning that we don’t have any room for me to go look at the clearance at Ralphs.

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