As I’ve mentioned on facebook, I’m joining Jessica from Good Cheap Eats in her pantry challenge this month (read her most recent update here: Pantry Challenge Week #1). I read her post right after Christmas, but then forgot all about it until we got back from visiting family for the new year. I had already planned my meals and gone shopping for the week, so I just decided to start this week instead. That means I’m a week late, but hey, better late than never!
I first read about a “pantry challenge” about 3 years ago. I can’t even remember what site I was on, but I remember one thing: it was SUPER OVERWHELMING! The idea was to not even go to the grocery store at all for an entire month. I didn’t take the challenge. This was at a time when I was very heavily into “couponing,” and I had a LOT of food in my pantry: foods that we used all the time. I thought I could probably live out of pantry for a month. In fact, I was sure I could, but what about
- all the deals I would miss during that month? I wouldn’t be able to continue stocking up and all I would accomplish was depleting my pantry for a month.
- fresh fruits and veggies? I eat them / cook with them every. single. day. No way I’d want to go without them for a month even if technically (calorie wise) I could.
- if I got sick of the food in my pantry and needed a break?
Again, I didn’t take the challenge.
But when I read this from Jessica:
What a Pantry Challenge is NOT
- It is NOT a total abstinence of grocery shopping.
- It is NOT putting stockpiling on hold.
- It is NOT oatmeal and rice and beans until the cows come home.
I once thought this, and it was impossible for me to do a pantry challenge. Life doesn’t work that way. Nor does my pantry.
What Pantry Challenge IS
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’ve been avoiding using. Sometimes this is something that is cumbersome to prepare or something that I’ve been too lazy to be creative with. The pantry challenge helps me deal with those items — and teaches me not to buy it again.
I can do that!
This type of challenge makes sense to me! So, here I am and here are my goals with this challenge:
Goal #1: To find “holes” in my “home store.”
I use the items in my food storage / home store every day. I use at least one freeze dried product in most every meal. I often cook meals that are from 100% shelf stable items. And I love this. I love having a “home store” b/c it is convenient. It makes my life simpler and easier. But, I would also want my “home store” to be able to support our family should we not be able to afford groceries / get to the grocery store for a long period of time. And you know what? I don’t believe I will be any happier eating “oatmeal and rice and beans until the cows come home” in that situation than I would be now. I want to be certain I can create a large variety (at least a month’s worth) of great tasting meals out of what I’ve got stored in my pantry. I’m hoping this challenge will help me find things I’m missing.
Goal #2: Build my stockpile
I used to be the queen of couponing. Seriously. I spent an entire year writing a database to help me track prices / coupons and then entered each and every item from 5+ ads into that database each week for another year. Once that got overwhelming, I got a bunch of friends to help me with the data entry. I even turned it into a business. But then I got pregnant and sick and my husband lost his job. We moved. I couponed, but stopped tracking everything. My husband got a job and we moved back. I became a THRIVE Life (formerly Shelf Reliance) consultant and started making more money than I ever saved couponing, so I’ve done it less and less. Luckily, we had a HUGE stockpile of most common grocery items that we use regularly, but that stockpile is not quit as robust as it used to be! I’m hoping that by focusing on eating what’s IN my pantry, I can also focus on buying what NEEDS to be in my pantry without increasing my grocery budget (currently about $100 / mo).
Goal #3: Learn what not to buy
One huge temptation when “couponing” is to buy things you don’t really need just b/c they are cheap. Although I’ve tried REALLY hard not to succumb to this, I must admit I have on more occasions that I’d like to share. For example, I have a 3 pre-made macaroni grill pre-boxed dinners (like hamburger helper, but dressed up in a nice “Macaroni Grill” box). They been there for nearly two years now. We just don’t eat that kind of stuff. But we will this month, and it will teach me not to buy it again!
I actually had a lot of fun planning this out this week. I found a great new program called Plan to Eat where you can import / upload recipes and enter everything you have in your pantry / fridge / freezer. Then, you just hit the “cook from my pantry” button and up comes a list of recipes that use items from your pantry. They are even sorted by which recipe uses the most number of items. I had so much fun entering “onion, celery, bell pepper etc into the “produce” section of my pantry. When it comes to cooking, freeze dried really is just as good as frozen / fresh! Because of THRIVE, my pantry is full of all sorts of “fresh” fruits, veggies and meat that I wouldn’t have had if I had taken this challenge 3 years ago! Yay! Here is what we will be eating:
Saturday (today): Meatballs and side salad
Sunday: Cobb salad minus the bacon (not in my “home store” and not cheap!)
Monday: Tilapia with quinoa and green beans
Tuesday: Sweet and sour ckn over brown rice
Wednesday: Chicken parmesan with angel hair pasta
Thursday: Poppyseed ckn casserole
Friday: BBQ chicken sandwiches
The only things I had to buy for all those meals were:
Yogurt (I like the THRIVE yogurt dry, but it is too much of a pain to hydrate)
Avocado & grape tomatoes (for the Cobb salad)
Parmesan cheese (for the Parmesan Ckn)
I also bought some apples and pears and bananas for snacks. We love THRIVE fruit around here, but like to balance it with some fresh fruit.
I had everything else already in my “home store”
We will be using THRIVE milk, and I bake with powdered eggs. I will likely buy some fresh eggs eventually since we all really like over easy eggs, but right now we have 18. So, what did I do with the rest of my $100 budget?
I stocked up on what was on sale!
30 Bell Peppers @ $0.33 ea (precut and frozen ready for stir fry etc)
2 bags 10 lb potatoes for $2
10 Cheerios for just over $1 (with coupon)
30 Kiwis at $0.10 / ea (I got 30. We will eat some this week and freeze the rest for smoothies!)
20 lbs Chicken Breast at $1.99 / lb (not an AMAZING price, but I paid $3.99 a few weeks ago when I was out and it wasn’t on sale, so I got a bunch)
90 Tortillas at $2.59 for 30 (in the freezer now…)
I plan to do the same for the next 6 weeks. The things that are on sale each week will change and hopefully I will be able to fill up my pantry again which will allow me to better stay within my food budget each week.
If you are doing the pantry challenge as well, I’d love to hear you goals and / or how your first week went!
Read about other weeks of my Pantry Challenge:
January 12th Pantry Challenge Update
Feb 2nd Pantry Challenge Update
That’s a pretty impressive menu. I go to the store weekly and hate it! I need to re-do my system so I am only going a couple times a month. I’m sure I’d save money and actually use what is in my pantry!
Thanks Marci! We’ll see how this goes. I’m sure it will be much easier to come up with “impressive” meals this week than week #4! Going to the store twice a month would be so ideal!