Imagine this… It’s Saturday morning, and if you’re like most Americans, it’s time to sit down, and plan meals for your family for the next week. Your grocery budget is tight because you didn’t want to cook one night and ordered in so you’re probably searching Pinterest for “Budget Recipes”, or “Cheap Meal Ideas”, maybe that’s even how you found me. You’ve found a couple recipes that you think your family will eat, so you write them down and then start your grocery list. Next, you hit the grocery store that’s closest to home, get everything that’s on your list and probably a little more. Once you get home, take everything out and look at your receipt, you realize that you just spent way too much money on your groceries. Breaking your budget – AGAIN!
If this has happened to you, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, and it’s not a good feeling. You’ve just bought some peanut butter, and when you put it away, you realize that you already had 3 at home. You just spent $4 on something that you didn’t even need. Ugh.. so frustrating!
If you’re really trying to slash your budget, keep on reading learn all about The Pantry Challenge and download this free printable!
It wasn’t too long ago that this happened to me, and it made me really take a step back and look at just what exactly I had in my kitchen, so I took inventory! I weeded out all of the old, expired and unhealthy food. I either donated it, or threw it out if it was expired. Then I started writing it all down, which I then transferred to a Google Sheets document, and printed out to hang in my pantry. Being as thorough as I could, I inventoried everything in my fridge, freezer and pantry, along with my spice cabinet. It did take a lot of time, but it was a great opportunity to clean the shelves, reorganize and see just exactly what I had in the house. I was shocked by how much food there was just sitting in my pantry. Multiple cans of tomatoes, and pounds of dried beans, frozen ground beef and chicken, cheese, and lots of root veggies that last a long time. I had SO MUCH FOOD, and here I was about to plan a grocery list and buy more.
I decided then and there that before I created a brand new list for groceries, that I was going to shop exclusively in my own kitchen, and make whatever I could for the next two weeks – The Pantry Challenge. I am going to spend as little as possible over the next couple of weeks, using up the food that I already have sitting around, buying only things like milk and cream for coffee, and maybe a fresh seasonal veggie or two. Having a well stocked pantry definitely helps making the planning, and variety of the Pantry Challenge Meals much easier, but it’s also the key to a frugal grocery budget. A well stocked pantry doesn’t necessarily mean a large quantity of food, but means a large variety of foods to chose from. It also allows you to make a lot of substitutions for other meals, like using quinoa in a recipe that calls for rice.
What Is The Pantry Challenge?
With The Pantry Challenge, the goal is to use the food in your fridge, freezer and pantry with little or no need to go grocery shopping for the week other than for milk and cream of coffee (because as a Mom, coffee is ESSENTIAL). It’s purpose is to help you save money by having a week or two or even a month without spending money on groceries and reduce food waste by eating up what you already have.
There are a few different variations of The Pantry Challenge out there, so use what works best for you, your budget, your schedule and your family. The way I planned our Pantry Challenge was by using up all of the produce that I could right away, and then just adding a little produce, and like I mentioned above, milk to the grocery list, AND THAT’S IT!
A lot of people don’t allow for any shopping during the challenge at all, and I totally understand why. When you go to the grocery store, you’re tempted to buy more than what’s on your list, and the purpose of this challenge is to use up what you’ve got.
Is The Pantry Challenge Right For Me?
It’s simple. Do you want to save money on groceries? If you answered yes, The Pantry Challenge is right for you!
How To Plan Your Pantry Meals
Step One – Take Inventory
Your first step to plan meals is to take inventory of your kitchen. Download these free kitchen inventory printables to get started with your inventory. Be really specific when you’re writing down what you have. Instead of writing “crushed tomatoes”, write “28 oz crushed tomatoes.”
Step Two – Make A List of Meals
Look at what you have and make a list of meals that you can make with those ingredients. Most of us plan our meals around meat as the main ingredient. If that is how you plan your meals too, use this as your starting point. To stretch your grocery dollar even further, see if you can use the meat in multiple meals by not featuring it as the main ingredient. For example, make stirfry, using only 1 chicken breast for the whole family, and more fresh or frozen vegetables, or make tacos, and use only half of a pound of ground beef, and add a can of pinto or black beans to the meat. Use the other half of pound of ground beef to make a second meal of nachos or cheeseburger macaroni.
For me, I started by looking at my canned goods and realized that I could make a big pot full of Spaghetti Sauce! It doesn’t always need meatballs (although I did have meat), and 5, 28 oz cans of tomatoes, some garlic, basil and parmesan cheese go a long way! Write down these recipes on a piece of paper. Here’s a few of my favorite meals for The Pantry Challenge:
Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce
Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese
Eggs with Peppers
Pasta with Pesto
Egg Fried Rice
*Hidden vegetables not included in the recipes in this challenge, unless I have them.
Step Three – Plan Your Menu
Use this free printable to plan your menu for The Pantry Challenge. As I planned my meals for the week, I planned using my usual linked-meal planning method like I do for my Monthly Meal Plans. Ingredients from one meal are using in multiple ways across multiple meals. This is a good habit to get into when trying to shop on a strict budget.
Use the meals that you wrote down on the scrap paper to plan your menu, crossing out recipes as you use up the ingredients on your list. For example, if you only have 1 lb chicken breast, and you list 3 different chicken recipes that you could make with that chicken and your other ingredients, you’ll have to cross off all 3 chicken recipes from the list.
This is what my meal plan and grocery lists look like over the next couple of weeks:
Now things could change – depending on how hungry my boys get, or if Anthony has some friends come over and eat all of the meatballs in my freezer.
I also have a row in there for Anthony’s lunch. DJ and I are able to eat at home for lunch, and Anthony doesn’t always have school lunch, only on days like breakfast day, pizza day and his favorite school lunch, fish sticks!
Step Four – Create Your Grocery List
This should be very minimal if there even is a list at all. My list only had a couple little produce ingredients, totaling $5.52 for the first week. When you are creating your grocery list, look to see what you can substitute. Like, are you making the spaghetti sauce, and you only have dried basil? Just use the dried basil. It’ll save you $1.99, and the difference is very minimal that even your toughest critics won’t notice the difference.
Step Five – Relish The Savings!
Even if you only do this challenge for one week to clear out your fridge, you’ll be amazed at home much money you will save b y not going to the grocery store. If you can do this for two weeks or longer, you’ll save even more. Use the money you saved and would have spent on groceries towards a bill, or use it towards a trip to Costco, to stock up so that you have more no or low spend weeks like this.
Click the links below for FREE PRINTABLE planning sheets for The Pantry Challenge.
I’m really excited to get The Pantry Challenge started in our house, and I can’t wait to share the results with all of you!