Meal Planning: The Benefits of a Pantry Challenge

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I’m entering week two of the pantry challenge. And you know something? I haven’t told my family. And I don’t think they’ve noticed anything different.

We also haven’t run out of milk. That could be part of it. Only time will tell for sure.

But, even though I made some grocery purchases this past week, I spent almost half of what I normally spend. Which has me thinking…. what have I been buying?

There’s a growing list on the fridge of things I’ve run out of, but haven’t found a good sale to justify buying more.

As I think of this Pantry Challenge, here are some of the benefits I am gaining from it:

Spend Less Money

I’ve set the grocery budget at $400 for the month, for groceries for our family of 8. This is $200 less than we normally spend each month on groceries. (We have a separate eating out budget that covers 2-3 meals of take-out per week.)

This past week, I went under budget, but we are rich in food. I have 10 pounds of potatoes, 10 pounds of bananas, 3 chickens, 5 pounds of butter, 6 pounds of cranberries, 6 pounds of apples, and other random items to show for it.

I think we’ll do okay on “less.”

Renewed Enjoyment of Bargain Shopping

Since I have less to work with, I seem to be more excited about the challenge of stretching what I do have. Great finds like buck twenty-five butter and 69 cent cranberries can do that to a girl.

I look forward to the hunt in a way that I didn’t back in December. Since I “don’t have to have it,” I don’t feel pressured to buy.

Increased Creativity in the Kitchen

While last week’s meals were rather plain, they were still tasty. And I enjoyed getting creative with  different dishes and making sure we enjoyed the meal — even if it was missing a standard ingredient or two. I felt like an adventurer making things I’d never made before like Cheesy Chowder with Butternut Squash.

More Intentionality

Thanks to the Challenge, I am making sure to plan better, to pull things from the freezer in advance, to count the hours before dinner and do I need to start the bread machine? Normally, I can get neglectful about those things.

The boundaries of my budget and the commitment I made not to go over help me not to just rush to the store for convenience items or to run through take-out. Plus, having an audience keeps me on the straight and narrow. 😉

That said, here’s my meal plan for the week:

9. Beef Enchiladas, Beans, Rice, Salad

10. Pasta with Red Sauce, Green Beans, Cornbread

11. Beans and Rice

12. Shredded Beef, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Green Salad, Biscuits

13. Soup Night, Popovers

14. Grilled Chicken, Rice Pilaf, Green Salad

15. Tamales, Rice, Beans, Salad

Are you taking the Pantry Challenge?

How do you make the most of what you have?

For more meal planning inspiration, visit I’m an Organizing Junkie.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe you can get great meals on the table -- and still keep that pretty smile on your face.

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  1. This is my first pantry challenge! It seems to be going well…so far corn, garlic bread, pizza, and stuffed shells are out of the freezer. A lot left to go, but am already thinking what freezer meals I can freez with the extra room!

  2. I went to the grocery store for cheese (my hubby & son ate it all making nachos!!) and milk.

    I am out of town at a conference Thurs – Sat this week, so I’m trying to set them up to eat well, but hubs loves to eat out! Realistically, they will eat out AT LEAST once.

    When I do this challenge, I’m always amazed at the things in my freezer – and like you, it requires me to be creative in using it up. But it’s fun! 🙂

  3. If you don’t mind me asking, what is your eating out budget for each week? I think I do pretty well on my budget of no more than $600/mo. for groceries (all meals at home) for 6 – 3 adults and 3 kids (16, 13, and 10). I haven’t done a pantry challenge in a while, but I’m pretty sure with just a few purchases we could go for at least another 2-3 weeks. Can’t participate this time, but maybe next time!

  4. I have not been to the grocery store in one week—a miracle. I am using the items I have. Today it took me about 5 minutes to make lunch: 2 flour tortillas, brown rice I had from the freezer, a partial can of refried beans, and cheese. I had never made burritos before, but that’s what we had today, and they were good.

  5. I’m so glad you posted this Pantry Challenge! I’ve gotten myself all over budget every time I go to the grocery store, due to buying too many “bargains.” I know I need to stock up, but I find myself stocking up each week telling myself I’ll save the next week, and then new specials come out and the whole cycle continues! This is great “food for thought.”

  6. Last week I only went to the grocery store for milk, eggs, and bananas (my toddler loves his bananas). I stick to $50/week for our family of 3, and last week I only spent $11! I have to admit, that includes two dinners that friends provided. If I had cooked all the dinners I had planned, I would have needed another grocery store run. As it is, I’m going to do a big shop tomorrow but I fully expect to stay under $50 for the week!

  7. I am visiting for the first time. Funnily enough, I implemented the same thing last week and spent way less on groceries- what a great feeling!

  8. tuxgirl says

    Two questions:
    1) how do you store bananas so they don’t go bad? we don’t eat them fast enough, and they end up going brown!

    2) how often do you normally go grocery shopping? I usually go about twice a month for an actual trip, although on occasion, I might stop by to get just one or two things we need one more time during the month. Should I expect to need to shop more frequently when our family grows (currently it’s my husband, myself and my daughter)?

    • @tuxgirl,

      Hey! Don’t know if you’re a baker or not, but I simply through any bananas that don’t get eaten into the freezer – just as they are – no bag, no wrapping. When I feel an itch for banana bread or muffins, I pull them out and let them thaw in the sink. They work very well for baking. Hope it helps! Paula

  9. It wouldn’t be January if I went grocery shopping, it seems! (at least for the last 4 years).

    We still have 60 pounds of potatoes left (I bought a lot less this year; last year I bought 360 pounds and we were given another 150, and we ate them all between November-end of January)–so 6 days worth of potatoes at my house 🙂 I am trying to ration them out a bit so that they last longer.

    Last year we ate for about .70 a person per day (family of 8). We don’t go out to eat. Our pantry is looking wonderful despite our continued income decreases, which is a good thing, because I don’t know that I’ll be able to do much shopping this year. I hope I can. I might only get to go to the store for items that are totally free with coupons this year.

    Great deal on the butter!

  10. I made a two-weak plan for meals using the ingredients from my pantry, but often there are so many leftovers for the next day, my two week mealplan can stretch a few days longer! Great to be frugal after the december month!
    Love Amelie

  11. Yes, I am in week 2 now too … so far so good, no issues and since I’ve finally seem to have turned the corner on my cold, we ate pretty good this weekend, probably better than normal since it was intentionally planned. I do menu plan for dinners and stick about 80% to it, but now it’s intentional to use up what I have. Great job everyone!

  12. Wow, that is a great deal on butter. I would have stocked up too had I run into that deal.

    I’m not doing a pantry challenge, but I did switch to cash starting in january for groceries, so I am being more mindful. I always used a cc and paid it off at end of month.

  13. My biggest thing has been watching leftovers. The leftover spaghetti sauce for example became baked pasta on a later day.

    It’s tough. The first week was easy, and my husband didn’t notice until day 5 or 6. Luckily he is on board!!

  14. We stuck to it last week as well. I had actually started the last week of December before you posted anything, so, technically I’m on week 3, but this is only my 2nd week of writing up a meal plan. My sweet husband gave me the goal to use up the produce we had, and if we used it up without any going bad, we’d go to a great Asian buffet in the area with all-you-can-handle sushi & other yummy items. Now, here’s hoping a coupon for that place arrives in the time it takes for me to finish feeding us all that produce!

  15. I thawed out the turkey carcass from Christmas today, took off all the meat and boiled the bones to make broth. Then I made turkey noodle soup! I also have enough broth and meat to freeze for another meal.

  16. I started this Jan out on a freezer challenge also kinda by default….we were a little tight from Christmas extravagance! We’ve gotten milk since then, and one block of cheese, and next week I’m planning to go grocery shopping in earnest again. There are a few things I’d forgotten about in my freezer that have gotten us through.

  17. My weekly food and consumable budget is $100 too, but I only have a family of four! However, we rarely dine out. My husband usually comes home for lucnh or brown bags it. I will say my pantry actually run low this month because of the Christmas baking and enteraining. Now, I am trying to replenish without blowing my budget.

  18. Shell says

    We store bananas in a bag away from the light. I also read somewhere online recently that you need to break them apart where they are connected and they will last longer. You have to be careful not to break the peel. Ours usually last about five to six days, but I get them a little green.

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