Are you a little short on cash this month? Or are your pantry and freezer stuffed with a bunch of random ingredients that you have no idea what to do with? There’s a simple solution! Try doing a pantry challenge!
Since my stockpiling and couponing method of shopping often leaves me with plenty of food, I try to challenge myself to cook from the pantry and freezer for a few weeks a couple times a year.
Your pantry and freezer might just be a gold mine of delicious meals too!
The nice thing about doing a ‘cook from the pantry’ challenge is that you can adapt it however works best for you. As part of a more general ‘no spend’ challenge, you could skip going to the grocery store completely for a week or two, and eat only what you have.
Or you can supplement your freezer and pantry ingredients with fresh produce and meat, but challenge yourself to lower your grocery budget to just $20-25 a week while doing the challenge.
How you choose to organize your pantry challenge is totally up to you!
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How to Save Money This Month By Doing A Pantry Challenge
To jump start your motivation, let’s start with the many benefits of cooking with what you have.
10 Advantages of Doing a Pantry Challenge
1. You’ll have a chance to be creative
If you’re stuck in a meal planning rut, cooking with what you have gives you the opportunity to be inventive. Maybe those packets of soy sauce from the Chinese takeout place could be combined with other ingredients to make a tasty marinade. Or maybe you’ve never thought of having pancakes for dinner.
Try being more creative with your meals. You might find some real winners!
2. You can discover new recipes
I have two resources I love for creating new pantry recipes. The first one is a website called Supercook. You just enter in the ingredients you have, and it provides a variety of recipes you can make with them.
My absolute favorite app for cooking with ingredients you have is the Dinner Spinner app from All Recipes. You choose what type of dish you’re looking for (main dish, side dish, etc.), the ingredient you have, and ‘ready in’ (such as 20 min., slow cooker, etc.), and it gives you a list of recipes.
I put in Main Dish, Pasta, and 20 minutes, and it provided 148 recipes.
3. Reduce clutter
A big advantage to cooking with what you have is that you’ll declutter your kitchen in the process. You can pare down the items in your pantry and freezer (by a lot!) and start fresh when the challenge is over.
4. Less waste
Food waste is a big problem. If you find yourself throwing out expired food all the time, doing a couple pantry challenges per year can remedy that. You can use up those items that are approaching their expiration dates, and actually get your money’s worth!
5. Be more mindful of what you buy
Once you see which of your pantry items are collecting dust in the back, you’ll realize what not to buy going forward.
I’m definitely guilty of buying things just because they’re a good deal from time to time, but it’s not money saved if they go to waste.
6. Cut down on impulse purchases
Do you have a habit of adding things to your shopping cart that aren’t on your list? I think we all do it. By staying out of the grocery store and ‘shopping’ your pantry instead, you will eliminate those impulse purchases.
7. Save time
We all know how much time grocery shopping can take. From making your list, driving to the store, fighting the crowds, standing in line, driving home, and putting it all away, food shopping can be quite the time-consuming endeavor.
Save yourself a couple hours this week and use what you already have at home. Read a book, play with your kids, or (gasp!) take a nap instead.
8. Learn how to make do or go without
This isn’t really something we’re too familiar with in the 21st Century, but people used to be a lot better about learning to make do with what they had.
I love this Depression era quote:
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”
A little discipline and thriftiness is good for you!
9. Discover old favorites
While digging around in the pantry or freezer, you might discover some family favorites you’d forgotten about. Those hidden gems can be added back in to your meal planning repertoire from now on.
10. Save money
The most obvious and glorious advantage of doing a pantry challenge is the money you’ll save. If you usually spend $100 a week at the grocery store, but can skip (or greatly reduce) it for a week or two, that’s money you can use for other things.
Add it to your emergency fund, Christmas budget, or credit card bill to stretch it as far as you can.
If you do a pantry challenge 4 times a year, and spent $50 instead of $200 on groceries for a 2-week period, that’s an extra $600!
How to get started with a pantry challenge
Now that you know the many advantages of doing your ‘cook from the pantry’ challenge, here’s how you go about doing it.
The first step in a pantry challenge is to take stock of what you have. Once you know what you have to work with, you’ll start feeling like you can really rock this challenge.
I recommend making a list of what you have, so you don’t finding yourself hunting around every night before dinner. In fact, you’ll be far more successful with your challenge if you make a meal plan.
Toss & tidy
When taking inventory, toss items that are unusable, very expired, or that you will just never eat. There’s no sense in holding on to things that are of absolutely no use.
This is the perfect time to tidy up your pantry and freezer. When you put everything back, be sure to put like things together, with everything facing forward.
You could even give the shelves and packages a quick wipe down if necessary. No one feels like making meals out of ingredients from a cluttered, dusty pantry.
Make a list of meal ideas
Once you’ve taken stock of what you have, you’re armed with the information you need to make your meal plan. (Tip: Download the Meal Planning Kit above to make this process smoother.)
I recently went through our pantry and freezer, and quickly jotted down 31 dinners ideas! I made one column for Meal Ideas, and one for Need to Buy. That way I could write down any odds and ends I’d need to complete that meal next to the dinner idea.
If you have most of the ingredients for a meal, you could pick up the thing or two you need while you’re at the store getting produce. For instance, if I buy chicken breasts (when they’re super on sale of course), I can add several extra dinners to my meal ideas list. I’m still using up pantry ingredients, but the challenge is much more doable if adapted realistically.
Tip: I always buy meat at its rock bottom price and use my Foodsaver to preserve it in my freezer without freezer burn. You can read my Foodsaver review and tutorial here.
Ok, you’re ready! You know what you’re working with, have a tidy pantry and freezer to cook from, and are equipped with a list of the meals you’ll make. At the end of your pantry challenge, you’ll have spent less time at the grocery store, decluttered your pantry, and saved a ton of money.
I know you can do it!
Tools that help save me time and money in the kitchen:
Meal planning posts to get you started:
- 10 Easy and Cheap Meal ANYONE Can Make
- 5 Easy Meal Planning Strategies for Beginners
- How to Get Started Meal Planning: 10 Super Easy Tricks