How to do a Pantry Challenge Right Now

3 sheets of a freezer inventory checklist with many items written down, some crossed off as it was used.
I keep this on my fridge as a reminder of what I have buried in the freezer. I’ve been using it for a few months and love it!

The Pantry Challenge is the brainchild of GoodCheapEats. There are good resources and recipes on the website that Jessica Fisher has put together since she’s been doing this for over ten years. (This is my first one! However, I have some good ideas to get you started)

Step 1:

Make a list of goals/rules.

Perhaps you want to use up what you have in your house (of course), but also reduce your budget for groceries this month by $100. Maybe you only want this challenge to last two weeks, or have a rule where you can’t eat out. It’s up to you and what your family needs.

Here are my goals:
1. Finish our freezer meals (I made excess when meal prepping and froze them in order to have more options when I didn’t feel like cooking. It’s been a few months, so we really need to finish them.)
2. No spend grocery month June 3 – July 3.

I didn’t want to limit myself/Chris by not eating out at all this month, however, we’re both committed to using up what we already have. So, if we do one date night or a friend invites us to dinner, we don’t have to say ‘no.’ Building in some flexibility is important to being successful.

Another thing to consider is whether you will only buy a few perishables- milk, bread, produce during the challenge- or none at all. I opted for none, even though that’s kind of crazy. We just ran out of milk and creamer, so that means mac n cheese and other meal options are off the table. If we had kids, I’m sure I would allow for some perishables. However, we have some fresh fruit left and frozen produce, so I think we’ll manage.

Step 2:

Take stock of EVERYTHING that’s in your pantry, cabinets, fridge, and freezer.

I got pretty much every single thing in all those areas, except some sauces in the fridge. I know what I have there and if I’m meal planning, I can quickly glance to double check. You can do something similar, or you can be very strict about this part. I don’t recommend skimping on any other area, though.

In order to make it through the challenge, you have to really know what you have to plan meals. This is the perfect time to toss and declutter. (By the end, I had 3 trash bags full of things to toss, and 1 full of recyclables- YIKES. It had been too long since I’ve cleaned everything out)

I used a Word doc to type my inventory in. I’ve seen people use notebook paper or their phone’s notepad app. Here’s a cute pantry/fridge/freezer inventory you can download.

Check out my inventory here. I’ll update it in real time, so you can see what I’ve used and how I’ve organized it. I’ll do a closing post on the pantry challenge next month to fill you in on how it went, my tips, and recipes I used.

Step 3:

Plan meals ahead of time.

I’m not suggesting that you plan out all 30 days (but you can), I’m just suggesting that you use your resources wisely before you run out of options. If you use up all the meats in the first two weeks, you’re out of luck for the remaining time. If you don’t use your perishables first, that’s wasted food.

Use a monthly (or weekly) meal plan calendar to start plugging recipes and ideas in right away. Remember to build in slots for leftovers! Here’s an editable monthly meal plan calendar.

Super Cook is an amazing resource that will give you meals based on your pantry ingredients. (This may be a good tool towards the end of your challenge where you might have exhausted some creative thinking.)

Making soup is a great way to use up multiple miscellaneous items. Stone soup is a good catch-all. You can make it vegan or meaty, and you don’t need every ingredient listed for this recipe- it’s very versatile.

Good Cheap Eats suggested stretching meat with potatoes, beans, and rice. Think of other ways you can get protein or starch into your meals to be extra filling. Ration out veggies and fruits. Also, try some meatless meals – maybe every Monday.

Go back to comfort/quick/easy dinner ideas: sandwiches or burgers, pasta meals, casseroles, salads, and slow cooker meals.

Would you try the pantry challenge? Have you before? What tips or tricks do you have to be successful?

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