Meal Planning: Wrapping Up the Pantry Challenge

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As you know, I decided to tackle a Pantry Challenge. My goals included to spend the first four weeks of this month, using up what we had in the cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer, as well as reducing my grocery spending. There were some good things about this challenge and some not so good things. But, all in all, I think it was a success.

Here are some of the things that I learned or was reminded of over the last month.

To be thankful

My original goal had been to reduce our grocery spending by $50 a week, from $150 to $100. I had a lot of meat already stockpiled in my freezer, so it wasn’t a huge sacrifice, but at the same time, that extra $50 a week gives me a lot of freedom.

Three years ago I spent $100 a week to feed a family of seven, with some very small children amongst them. This month I attempted that with eight hearty eaters, including one teenager. Need I say more?

While we certainly ate fine, it was a little more challenging and I missed that margin that the extra $50 gives me. Three years ago we were grossly in debt and I didn’t have a choice. Today I am very thankful that God has allowed us to pay off those debts and allow us some margin.

To manage my freezer better

I found some pretty strange things in the depth of my freezer, including three bags of chicken bones, meat dated last July, several unmarked sauces, and a handful of stray blueberries. How the berries escaped the bag, I’ll never know.

I am reminded to keep better inventory, to label, to make chicken stock right away instead of freezing the bones, and to rotate the stock more often.

I also have a renewed appreciation for my freezer alarm. It went off a few times in the transition of emptying and refilling. The idea of a full freezer melting strikes fear in my heart. And while it is certainly not foolproof, a freezer alarm is a nice back up to have.

To not obsess when it’s not necessary

Near the end of the challenge I found myself getting really frustrated about not having the fixings for easier meals. And whether it was “internet accountability” or my own sense of determination, it was humbling to just “give in” on Day 27 and go shopping early.

I realized that it wasn’t necessary to obsess over this fact. As Cheryl pointed out after last year’s challenge:

… the challenge offered a fun and creative way to take my menu-planning skills up a notch. But when it started feeling like we were in survival mode, and there was no natural disaster or financial emergency to force us into this mode, my husband asked me to stop the self-imposed challenge and return to the nearest grocery store.

I get this. And this post kept coming to my mind to relieve any qualms I might have had in shopping early. I did a happy dance all through the store, let me tell you.

Will I do a Pantry Challenge again?

Absolutely. In fact, I’m already thinking that July will be good since my freezer will most likely be full of cookbook creations by then. But, I’m going to leave some of me for later, and make it a two week challenge this summer.

How did you do?

I’ve heard some wonderful stories via facebook and my daily posts on Good Cheap Eats. So many of you have jumped in, given your pantries makeovers, and otherwise made the most of what you had.

This is so exciting — and encouraging to this mama who was feeling like I wimped out.

So, share how the pantry challenge went for you. Link up your post below or tell us in the comments.

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. Thank you for hosting this; I tend to do better when I’m in it with others! It’s only my son and myself AND 8 pets! I counted the pet food in there, too, and still came in under budget for groceries and drug store shopping!

  2. I did the pantry challenge also –
    every January, we pay tuition for hubby’s grad class, and recoup from Christmas, so tightening the belt is necessary. We were blessed with a couple of gift cards so we were able to treat ourselves to dinner out, but I cooked at home the rest of the month (except when I was out of town). It was challenging, but good for us.

    Looks like we’ll be doing another mini-challenge this month as we’ve had some unexpected expenses come up… lucky for me, my creative juices are flowing! 🙂

  3. My freezer was bone bare after using everything up prior to a 2 week Christmas Vacation. This month was less about the Pantry and more about getting back in the freezer cooking groove. Has anyone else noticed the price of food has skyrocketed??

  4. We hung in there and only went out to eat once all month (and I used a gift card deal that I got over Christmas) and the rest of the time I cooked at home. Since we just finished up Stage 1 of the South Beach diet (again), it’s really easier to cook at home anyway. And since I just started a job last week I am playing around with recipes for my crockpot, so that threw something else into the mix. While I didn’t stick to my budget goals, I did meet 3 of my 4 goals that I had set, so I’m pleased overall! 🙂 Thanks for this and I look forward to July! 🙂

  5. I didn’t do the pantry challenge this time around, but I am definitely intrigued and will have to give it a go. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I was doing great on the challenge until my beloved Steelers went to the playoffs. We hosted 2 huge parties and are getting ready for our 3rd. But is was good that I watched in others so I could spend extra on these. This is also our outreach for Christ. We had all the teens over for the one game, and missionaries for another.

  7. Jessica,
    Thank you for hosting this challenge. It really helped me organize my menu planning, freezer and streamline meal preparation. I am proud to say I stayed under budget too!

  8. so glad I participated!

  9. Truthfully when I do a pantry challenge it’s always a learning experience – each time I learn to be a better manager – each time I find at least one food I should not buy, no matter how cheap, because it doesn’t work for us [and therefore clutters up my freezer space because we never want to eat it!]
    This time around I had no whole chickens to face, but I did find that I have a ridiculous amount of cereal – much of which we’ll be eating and much of which has been migrating to the food bank to share the wealth. So I learned a few more things I tend to buy foolishly, tempted by the flash of a bargain.
    I also learned to keep trying things again with my kids [who seem to change their minds at the oddest times, and who rarely all agree!] because my son, who doesn’t usually like beef much, adores pot roast, but the girls, particularly my true carnivore, loathe it – but will happily eat it in combination with cheese!
    I get better each time with finding ways to make homemade convenience foods and meals that work with our busy lifestyle.
    So while I don’t think I saved dime one this month I did clear out some things that were annoying me in my freezer and learned some lessons that will help me save money in the future!

  10. Jessica,
    Thanks so much for hosting this series!
    I did my first ever month long menu plan and it was so liberating! I did save money, not as much as I was hoping, but still a sweet treat at the end!
    Loved it!

  11. Thanks for hosting this series! I can’t say that it was a total success, but I did learn a lot (and save a lot) and am excited to make some improvements to our meal planning.

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