Budgeting

Save Money and Declutter with an Eat Down the Pantry Challenge

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An eat down the pantry challenge is a great way to use up the things in your pantry and save a bit of money. This week I took on an eat down the pantry challenge for both reasons.

An eat down the pantry challenge is committing to eating what you already have in your pantry or freezer for a specified period. It means meal planning without grocery shopping and sometimes putting together meals reminiscent of an episode of Chopped.

A couple weeks ago I opened my pantry and realized just how full it was. It was all things we use. But we aren’t using them because I keep buying more groceries each week!

I also was looking for a way to save a little on our grocery budget. We have family coming in to town next week and I know our grocery budget will be much higher because we’ll be cooking for a larger group.

So I decided it was the perfect time for an eat down the pantry challenge. This is the first time I have ever done one of these challenges. I shopped from both my pantry and my freezer.

I’m not huge into stockpiling and I don’t shop at big box stores like Costco and Sams so I rarely have huge amounts of food in my pantry and freezer.

With that said once I started looking into the pantry and freezer it shocked me at how much food we actually had.

It turns out I’m not as good to sticking to my meal plan and shopping list. While I’m usually on budget, it’s clear that I am still buying extra, and it has added up.

An eat down the pantry challenge is a great way to save money on groceries and clean out your pantry and freezer! #budget #frugalliving

Getting Ready For the Pantry Challenge

I knew that if we would be successful with this challenge I needed to plan and plan well. Here are the steps I followed to get ready for the eat down the pantry challenge.

Take An Inventory

First thing is first. Get into your pantry and freezer and create an inventory. This is also a great time to get rid of anything expired or that can’t be used. I took a notebook and wrote down everything in the pantry and freezer and how much of those items I had.

pantry inventory list for eat down the pantry challenge

Pick Your Time Period

Deciding how long your eat down the pantry challenge will be based on your inventory and how much money you want or need to save. The most common time periods for an eat down challenge range from 1 week to a month. I chose one week, but I could have probably done 2 weeks if family wasn’t arriving at the beginning of the second week.

Create a Meal Plan

Based on your inventory come up with a meal plan! See what you can combine that makes sense. This might require some creativity and maybe some searching for new recipes. You can also try sites like https://www.supercook.com/#/recipes and http://myfridgefood.com/. You can enter the ingredients you have and it will provide you with recipe ideas.

The planning part is absolutely crucial to your success in this challenge for 2 reasons:

  1. You know you won’t run out of food by the end of your specified time period. As I was planning I tried to make sure I had better meals mixed in with the shabby meals. Initially, I had all the good stuff at the beginning of the week and towards the end of the week it got sad.
  2. You won’t be tempted to go to the grocery store.

Here was our meal plan:

Breakfast:

  • Pancakes
  • Oatmeal/Cereal
  • Hard boiled Eggs and Toast
  • Scrambled Eggs

Lunches:

  • Frozen Pizza
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
  • Ham and Cheese Sandwiches
  • Leftovers
  • Salads

Dinners:

  • Penne Pasta, Vodka Sauce and Sausages (this was meant to be one dinner but turned out to be a lot of food so it was 2 dinners. Yay!) Served with salad and frozen vegetables
  • Grilled Chicken with Rice and frozen vegetables
  • Split Pea Soup with Quesadillas (the kids cried about the soup but ate it anyway)
  • Macaroni and cheese (for the kids) Leftover soup
  • Chicken Paprikash with rice and frozen vegetables
  • Ravioli with side salad topped with leftover grilled chicken

Decide If You Need Anything From the Store

For our challenge the answer was yes. I needed milk, some fresh produce and lunch box necessities for the kids (things like sandwich bread and lunch meat). I set myself a $40 budget for these items and I squeaked in at $39.41. I did not buy anything that would be required to make a meal work based on my inventory. If I didn’t have an ingredient for a specific recipe I either left it out or had to think of a different recipe.

These are the only groceries we purchased for our eat down the pantry challenge

Lessons Learned From the Eat Down the Pantry Challenge

First off, we successfully completed the challenge for the week. A lot of the things I learned this week surprised me.

  1. Just like when you go on a no-carb diet and you know you can’t eat carbs all you want is carbs. It took a lot more resolve than I thought it would to not just run to the grocery store and pick something up that would spice up the admittedly bland meals we had a couple of times. I also craved all the things I didn’t have that I normally buy.
  2. The kids were cool with it. They didn’t even seem to notice the bare fridge and hodge podge dinners.
  3. Even when I felt like we had no food, we had enough food. Having a detailed meal plan reassured me we in fact had enough even though our fridge and pantry seemed bare.
  4. I realized just how many extras I buy that we end up not eating. I am huge on meal planning and am (mostly) good at sticking to our grocery budget. But it seems that I am still purchasing extra pantry items I don’t end up using all of or any of! This was an eye opener.
  5. You can save a good chunk of change with this challenge. I spent $39.41 this week and my normal grocery budget is $125 a week. So I was able to save $85.59. I also saved by using up what we had before it expired or went bad because throwing out food is wasting money too!

I will absolutely do an eat from the pantry challenge again, though next time I would like to try two weeks!

Moving forward I also will be much more mindful about my weekly grocery shopping!

 

A pantry and freezer challenge is a super easy way to save money on groceries. This frugal tip is easy and effective!
A pantry and freezer challenge is a super easy way to save money on groceries. This frugal tip is easy and effective!

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22 Comments

  • Reply candy March 11, 2019 at 6:29 pm

    This is why I do the first in first out method. Everything is labeled. Do master mixes helps to use up many pantry items so they don’t go bad. I do food storage all the time and am always prepared but label and date.

    • Reply Jill March 12, 2019 at 12:58 am

      That is a fantastic idea! I love this idea and may just have to consider implementing this method as well.

  • Reply Kelly Bolen March 12, 2019 at 12:56 am

    OMG! This is awesome! We did this with our refrigerator and freezer over the winter!!!! I love it!

    • Reply Jill March 12, 2019 at 1:07 am

      It was amazing. I totally recommend this for anyone looking to clean out their pantry and freezer and save some cash!

  • Reply Disha Smith March 12, 2019 at 1:30 am

    I love the idea of a pantry challenge! I’m challenging myself to come up with some creative recipes to make from what I currently have in my pantry.

    • Reply Jill March 12, 2019 at 6:51 pm

      I love that! I was surprised at the tasty meals I was able to pull together with a little more effort.

  • Reply Colleen March 12, 2019 at 2:31 am

    I’ve never heard of an “eat down the pantry” challenge but it’s kind of what I’m trying to do in my house — just not in a challengey way! I do like being able to slowly empty the pantry and freezer of things that have piled up for a while to make space for more exciting food later 🙂

    • Reply Jill March 12, 2019 at 6:53 pm

      The challenge was really good for me because it forced me to really think outside the box and commit to clearing out the pantry and fridge. It was a good lesson and moving forward I’ll be incorporating a lot of what I learned in a less challengey way 🙂

  • Reply Danielle March 12, 2019 at 4:11 am

    I am so lazy…..I have only done this when moving house and I have to say that some of the meals were “Interesting” I need to do this again as I tend to stockpile when there is no reason to.

    • Reply Jill March 12, 2019 at 6:54 pm

      I’m with you! That’s why I made it a challenge, otherwise I wouldn’t have been as successful with clearing out the pantry and freezer.

  • Reply Michelle March 12, 2019 at 11:29 am

    I need to do this once a month for sure! We have a slightly large family so when we shop we sometimes get more than we need (to satisfy everyone, LOL) but this is a great idea! I’m excited to try it (and save money in the process)!

    • Reply Jill March 12, 2019 at 6:55 pm

      Yes! I was really surprised at how I was able to save and how little the kids actually complained about not having the usual foods in the house.

  • Reply Bailey March 12, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    It takes SO much resolve to eat down your pantry without shopping but it’s SUCH a good idea! It’s been a long time since I’ve done this but you’ve inspired me to do so again.

    • Reply Jill March 12, 2019 at 6:56 pm

      You are right Bailey. It was a lot more challenging that I thought when I started!

  • Reply Sara Ross March 12, 2019 at 5:52 pm

    I have done this before and it is amazing what I find in my pantry or freezer. I make a meal plan every week but sometimes we decide to grab a bite out or get invited over to a family members house for dinner, so not everything gets made like originally planned. I just went grocery shopping yesterday and spent a little more than normal so I will have to keep this in mind for next week!

    • Reply Jill March 12, 2019 at 6:57 pm

      That happens to us too. Sometimes I have grand plans for dinner and life happens and I end up not making the original meal so we’re left with the extras. And all those little extras add up so quickly!

  • Reply Wendy, Little House Simple Living March 13, 2019 at 11:50 am

    What great tips!!! I have a binder that I keep an inventory of all my pantry and freezer items. We’re building a new home so I’m determined to keep it organized and use what I have lol.

    • Reply Jill March 13, 2019 at 3:04 pm

      That is the way to do it! Now that I’ve completed this challenge I’m really leaning towards keeping an inventory.

  • Reply Sharon March 13, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    Like Marie Kondo for your pantry…. but I’m not sure I could eat my way through mine 🤣

    • Reply Jill March 13, 2019 at 3:05 pm

      Ha! That’s why I’m sure I could have gone 2 weeks rather than just one. Once I got in there it was really amazing how much stuff I actually have!

  • Reply Ashley March 13, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    I love myfridgefood! I have used their site a few times when my current meal plan fails me. I love this idea!

    • Reply Jill March 13, 2019 at 3:06 pm

      Yes! It’s a great tool for finding meals with what you have.

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