The Pantry Challenge

Productive Mama Bottom Line:  Smart for budget conscious families.

Read on to find out how to save a bundle AND get your pantry organized.
Read on to find out how to save a bundle AND get your pantry organized.
  • Saves grocery store trips
  • Saves money
    • For that month’s groceries
    • For a charity goal
    • For a trip or family goal
  • Avoids wasted food
  • Helps you organize and clear out your pantry and/or freezer
  • Helps you rotate food staples or emergency food storage
  A pantry challenge is when you use existing food stores and resources to make your meals.  You don’t go to the store to buy anything new for your meals.  There are several great reasons to try a challenge.  The first is the money savings.  You’re shopping in your own home and have already paid for these items. There’s no outlay.  This is great if you are having a tight month or need to save money for a big family purchase.  It can also be tied to fundraising.  You can take the money you usually spend on groceries and donate it to a food shelter or other worthy cause.  The next reason is that fresh start.  You can clean out old non-perishables and stocked items.  Whether you’ve overstocked on a great sale of dried beans or want to clean out the depths of the deep freezer, you can be sure to use what you’ve purchased in the past. You are making a solid effort to not waste money AND food before it expires.  A pantry challenge is also smart before taking any kind of extended trip. You save money, as well as clear out the fridge and pantry before being gone and letting the food go to waste.  Finally, such an endeavor can also be a creative challenge.  It will require you to come up with new meals, interesting combinations and maybe even make some new items from scratch.
In considering a challenge for your family, first establish the “rules” of the challenge.  Can you go to the store at all?  How often?  Will there be a maximum number of visits allowed?  Are you allowed to buy some items? Some people make allowances for dairy and fresh produce.  Do you have a maximum dollar amount you can spend for the duration of the challenge?  What will that duration be? A week?  2?  A month?  Sometimes this will be dictated by necessity. Sometimes you will have more flexibility.  Because your family is unique, your rules will need to reflect that.
Now we move on to preparing for the challenge. You may want to start by joining with friends. If you gather a network of friends, you can all support each other, especially toward the end. You can also pool ideas for recipes.  Or perhaps even trade items.  Once you have your network in place, start by taking inventory.  Write down everything in your pantry, cupboards, cellar, freezer and wherever else to stash food items.  You can also write down any items an indoor garden may be producing.  Even just herbs will help.  Another great source of nutrition you may have on hand is sprouts.  You can sprout during this time to provide fresh, living food without even going outside.  Now use your list to plan, plan, plan.  It’s probably easiest to start with dinner.  Highlight the main ingredients around which you can build meals.  Write those down with space around them to fill in the other ingredients needed to complete the recipe and the meal.  Cross of the ingredients as you “use” them in each meal.  You should have a list of meals now to take you through your challenge.  Now consider breakfast and lunch and even snacks.  Do the same for them.  These may be a bit more repetitive. You may want to write down something like “Oatmeal – 7 breakfasts.”  Or “Tuna sandwiches – 2 lunches.”  Since you’ve done all this planning so far, go the distance!  Get out your calendar and fill in the dates with the meals that would work for each.  You will now be freed from any planning for the entire challenge!
As you plan, consider researching some substitutions you might need.  Pizza sauce and eggs, for instance.  Some people also stock up on needed items before the challenge starts.  You may find you need to fill in the blanks of some recipes.    If it seems to contradict the spirit of the challenge to you, you can try to forgo it or buy the absolute minimum necessary.
Use your creativity, your friends and the internet to find recipes that will work with your pantry items.  As you set your menu or as the challenge is ending and the pickings are slim, check out or These websites let you enter your pantry ingredients and find recipes that use what you have.  Even if you don’t use the exact recipe, they may spark some ideas that might work for your family.
After the challenge, write down how much money you saved.  Estimate how much food you didn’t let go to waste.  Make a list of the new recipes and combinations you tried.  This small exercise can stretch you in many ways. You can use what you’ve learned as you return to your normal food routine.  And you can certainly do another pantry challenge when life requires and know you will survive!

Need some help getting started on a Pantry Challenge?  Stay tuned for when Productive Mama runs them.  You’ll get super useful materials and guidance. I pride myself on making in NON-STRESSFUL!
K.C. in Abq:  Your pantry challenge has been a blessing to me. I will be able to do all of my holiday baking and meals for family and friends WITHOUT going to the grocery store. I will only need some fresh fruits and veggies for the next month and maybe longer.  We are able to donate $300 to families living in hotels to help with them with groceries.  Thank you!

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