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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- You won’t be tempted to go to the grocery store.
Here was our meal plan:
- Hard boiled Eggs and Toast
- Scrambled Eggs
- Frozen Pizza
- Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
- Ham and Cheese Sandwiches
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- The kids were cool with it. They didn’t even seem to notice the bare fridge and hodge podge dinners.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!