The How’s and Why’s of a Pantry Challenge

June 23, 2014 by

dried goods

If not, this post will explain the what, why, and how of a Pantry Challenge. If you have, perhaps you will be encouraged to find your own reasons for trying one.

A Pantry Challenge is when you take stock of the items you have in your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator. You take an inventory of the food you have so than you can plan menus using what you have already purchased rather than making a shopping list and heading to the store.

There are many reasons one would want to do a Pantry Challenge. Maybe the food has run out before the paycheck, and you simply can’t go grocery shopping. Perhaps you want to save for a trip to visit out of state family, or for an upcoming vacation. Perhaps you are paying down debt, or saving for a large purchase. Maybe you want to put money away for Christmas, or give a generous amount to your favorite charity. Often, you just need to use up food before it expires, or so that you can defrost the freezer. The reasons for doing a Pantry Challenge are as varied as the way to do one.

Our family has done several Pantry Challenges for all of the reasons listed above. Now that you know the what and the why, let’s look at the how.

I have a small, family-owned grocery store in the tiny town I live in. I am incredibly thankful for our little store, as we simply couldn’t live here without it. It is, however, quite limited when it comes to selection. It is also a real challenge to feed a family of four (two of them rapidly growing teenagers) on a budget in a slow economy with the prices of our little store. I do shop there frequently, but when I have an opportunity to visit a larger town or city, I definitely take advantage and stock up.

This hasn’t been a great month for us, financially speaking, so I have no idea when our next trip to “the big city” and the nearest Costco (two and a half hours away!) will be. I need to feed our family with what we have on hand while relying as little as possible on trips to the local store. I will need to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy, but I will make the bulk of our meals from what I can find in the house. Some people set financial goals on how much they want to save, how much they can spend per week, etc. Those goals don’t fit my purpose at this time. Right now, I just want to spend as little as I can so that I am ready to really stock up on my next big trip.

First, I will take an inventory. With clipboard and pen in hand, I will check my freezers so that I can record how much of each item I have on hand. I will make lists that include meats, frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, juices, miscellaneous odds and ends that need to be used up, etc.

I will then check my pantry for dry storage goods and make a list of things like pasta, rice, beans, grains, canned vegetables, canned meats, etc. I will also check for baking items such as flour, sugar, oil, leavening agents, spices, etc.

Finally, I will inventory the refrigerator for fresh food, dairy products, condiments, etc.

The next step is to combine all of this information into meals, snacks, and desserts. As I am planning my meals, I have a list nearby so that I can write down the items I will need to purchase to make a complete meal or recipe. I will attempt to substitute ingredients for something I have on hand already, but sometimes it is necessary to purchase a few items.

Keep in mind that there are no hard and fast rules to a Pantry Challenge. It will vary, depending on your needs, goals, and resources. Let it work for you. It should be challenging in a fun way, not in a way that causes you stress. Hopefully, you will have fun experimenting and maybe even find some new favorite recipes or meals.

While there are many advantages to a Pantry Challenge, I have found one disadvantage that must be kept in mind. At the end of the challenge, when the food is gone and the cupboards are bare, all of that food will need to be replaced. You will need to consider this as you budget for your next shopping trip. For some people, this won’t at all be a concern. For others, however, it will be a huge consideration.

Set a goal, get creative, and have some fun!

Have you ever done a Pantry Challenge? Leave a comment and let us know how it works for you.

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10 Responses to The How’s and Why’s of a Pantry Challenge

    • Heather

      Remember the days when we just shopped by putting whatever looked good into the cart without considering the cost? While that was a nice place to be, I find that I am so much more thankful these days just to have food on the table. Agreed?

  1. Nancy JNancy

    I like the title of your post. I live my life in the style of the pantry challenge. As my Grandmother shared with me years ago, keep the staples in stock then you can always come up with something to make. Yet, I realize in a small store, that when the supplies get low, the creativity, becomes more difficult.

    • Heather

      That’s true, Nancy, the creativity can become difficult, but I like to look at it as a challenge. In the end, as long as the tummies are full, all is well, right? Thanks for reading.

    • Heather

      That’s the beauty of the pantry challenge – each family can do it in such an individual way. I agree that keeping staples on hand save so much time and money. Thanks for reading.

  2. Carol

    I too like to challenge myself to what I can fix without racing to the store. It is fun and yes, I too have come up with a few new ideas.

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