Have you ever tried to do a pantry challenge and failed? Same here. There’s a specific way to tackle this journey, so I’m going to share how to do a pantry challenge the right way.
What is a Pantry Challenge?
If you’ve never heard of this before, let me explain how a pantry challenge works. Basically, you decide to only eat the foods from your pantry, cabinet, fridge and freezer for a certain amount of time.
Most pantry challenges last for a month, since it is the perfect amount of time to save up money, make a meal plan for the month, or use up any items that may be expiring soon.
When Should I Do A Pantry Challenge?
The best times to do a pantry challenge are when you are overwhelmed by the amount of food in your house, or when you are finding that you are throwing out more food than you are actually eating.
You may also want to do a pantry challenge when you are close to a big savings goal, and need just a little bit more money to hit it.
These challenges are great when you have more month than money, and need a creative way to use up the food in your house before the next payday.
Does A Pantry Challenge Save Money?
That’s a great question! It all depends. The way most people do pantry challenges may actually have you spending MORE money in the long run. This is why I want to share the tips, tricks and hacks to doing a pantry challenge that will not only save you money, but give you the best bang for your buck.
Now, let’s getting into the steps to doing this challenge the right way. Ready? Let’s go!
Decide on ONE Area To Tackle
This is where most people get it wrong. They decide that all the foodstuffs need to be used up, then they get overwhelmed.
Decide which area you will “deplete” during the challenge. Will you focus on eating down the items in your cabinet? Is your freezer too full, and you need to start eating up those items?
There should be one main area you are looking to tackle, and the other areas should only supplement that main area.
Take Inventory Of It All
This may take a bit to do, but you need to write down the items you have available in your house right now. Write down proteins first, then produce (including canned and frozen items), and then grains.
Once this is done, make a mark in front of items that are perishable, or need to be used first. These will be the items you eat during the first few weeks of the challenge. When you see the items that are marked, you’ll also start to see where you can make easy meals.
Make Your Meal Plan
Yup, I have to mention the magical meal plan. We’ve shared how to meal plan in 5 minutes, how to meal plan for the month, and we even have a quick e-course in our Full Life Bundle that shares how to meal plan for the year.
Meal planning when doing a pantry challenge is ESSENTIAL. I see many people take pantry challenges day by day, because they don’t do the inventory step or make a meal plan.
Remember the items I told you to mark in the step above? Those will be the items you meal plan with in the beginning. Fresh or perishable items need to be used up before they go bad, and this will help ease you and your family into the challenge.
Getting Creative Is Important
Another red flag when I see people taking on a pantry challenge is they pick the same meals for each week. No! This is the time to not only get creative with your meals, but try new things (or recipes you haven’t made in a while).
For example, during one of our pantry challenges, I had a ridiculous amount of ground cinnamon and cumin in the pantry. From that challenge, I was able to create one of our favorite recipes — Instant Pot Moroccan Pork Loin.
One challenge got us to use up some cans of crushed pineapple and a packet of wontons, and the recipe that was created during that time was our now famous pineapple cream cheese wontons.
Don’t be afraid to get creative! If you’re struggling with what to do with the odds and ends, and need recipe ideas, join our Facebook group! It’s full of women who have rocked pantry challenges before, and are always available to help.
Pantry Challenge Rations Are Key
Many moms I speak to say their kids could never survive a pantry challenge because they eat too much. They also say that they have never even tried to do a pantry challenge. Say what?
Here’s the thing about kids: as long as you have something available for them to eat, they will oblige by your rations.
Did you know that you ration food to your kids already? If you buy them fruit snacks or applesauce pouches for school lunch or snack, you have been using rations for a while. Heck, if you put a small tupperware of applesauce in their lunches, that’s still rationing.
This is not new to you, nor is a deprivation of food. The best way to combat the idea of rationing is to always have snacks.
Remember The Snacks!
Snacks are the way of life when doing a pantry challenge. Depending on your home, these snacks might be on the healthy side…or not (no judgement). The big hack is to always have something available, and to set a snack time.
Another quasi-tip is to embrace desserts, too. I don’t list this as a pantry challenge must-have, but my kids have always been excited about pantry challenges because they know snacks and desserts are mandatory in our home during that time.
Snacks can be as simple as homemade oatmeal banana bites, smoothies, microwave popcorn that’s been in your cupboard for a while, or sliced vegetables with a homemade yogurt dip. Don’t overcomplicate it, but be sure to include snacks (and desserts).
Wait To Order Extra Groceries
You will need to order grocery items to help you get through the pantry challenge. I’m specifically mentioning ordering your groceries because that is a secret hack to rocking this challenge.
If you can, please do not go into a store. Most of us do pantry challenges because we’ve spent months going into the stores, and buying things we didn’t need or never used up. Don’t put yourself in that position again!
Here’s another hack: wait as long as possible to fill in the pantry challenge pockets. Use up as much as you can (or substitute items) before ordering your items.
Amazon Fresh and Amazon Pantry are amazing when it comes to getting items you need to fill in those blanks without going overboard. Things you may need to replenish mid-month or towards the end:
- fresh vegetables (be careful not to over-order these)
- cooking oils
Push Through The Last Week
Don’t give in that last week! You’ll be so close to finishing, and you’ll look in your fridge/freezer/pantry and say “well, that was good enough.” No! This is the week where you may be almost over the challenge, but it’s also the week where you will be able to look at your bank account and see the difference you’ve made by eating out of the pantry.
Review the amount of money you’ve saved by not going to the grocery store. If you have a hard time seeing a difference, go through your bank statement and see how much you spent on food last month. That’s an indicator of how much you’ve saved during the challenge.
That last week is for using up any last items left in that main focus area, and also planning what you will stock up on during your once a month grocery shopping trip. Yup, you need about a week to focus on how to stock up your pantry after a challenge. But, that’s the fun part.
You Did It! How To Know You Rocked The Pantry Challenge
That’s it, my friend! You’ve now finished your challenge, and you did it the right way. How do you know that you rocked it?
- you focused on eating up one area, not all the food in the house.
- snacks were a mainstay for most of the challenge
- your bank account reflects your hard work
- you’ve tried at least 2 new recipes, or re-visited recipes you haven’t made in ages
- you are excited to re-fill your pantry, and only buy items you know you’ll use
I’m proud of you. You took on the pantry challenge, and you are better for it. If you try these hacks, I’d love to know how you’re doing! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.