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Groceries are expensive. It’s easy to walk into a grocery store for a few quick things only to find the total on your receipt is far higher than you expected, especially if you are used to buying goods like bacon, sausages, seafood, beef, and tropical produce.
Fighting the urge to buy stuff can be a challenge while walking down the aisles and being blasted with luring promotional signs of sales and clearances and a vast amount of different types of food to choose from. And let’s not even talk about temptation when doing it on an empty stomach.
With the recent events, it’s becoming even harder just to find things on the shelf. This is the perfect opportunity for many of us to shop our pantry and finally do a pantry challenge.
Not surprisingly, after heading home and getting ready to put away the new groceries, most people find themselves inside a pantry full of cans and jars of food that end up going to waste because they have overstocked their kitchen.
Worse yet, they stock up because they don’t realize how much they already have at home. Then when it is time to finally clean out the cupboards, food gets discarded or thrown away due to being expired or past its recommended shelf life.
How does this happen? It’s mostly due to disorganization. Most people just don’t plan ahead and don’t check their food inventory either. They just head to the store with no clue of what to get and end up getting things they did not need.
I know, I’ve been there. Multiple times. I do good for a while and then sometimes all it takes is one big grocery trip to throw things out of whack because I’m too tired to go and update everything.
There are numerous approaches to saving money when grocery shopping. One very effective one is the pantry challenge. This challenge is a great way to clean out your kitchen and start new habits. Are you up for it?
The great thing about a pantry challenge is you can do them as often as you want. They are especially helpful if you are like me and sometimes just don’t realize how much you have on hand.
The approach is to refrain from grocery shopping for a set time (a week, two, a month) and feed yourself and your family with meals prepared from what you already have at home (in your fridge, freezer, and pantry).
There’s a lot of planning and team effort behind it, but the reward makes it worth it. Just consider how much money you can save. But where to start?
Steps to a Pantry Challenge:
1. Set Ground Rules and Limits
The first thing to do is to set ground rules and limits. Decide on the time frame. This is your first time at the challenge, so it’s best to start with baby steps.
Try it for a week and then see what happens. If you like the results, try it for another week, and another until you reach a month.
2. What is and isn’t allowed.
The next rule will set what is and isn’t allowed to eat. Everything in your fridge, pantry, freezer, and home garden is a definite yes.
You can also allow yourself to buy fresh produce, milk, and other perishables. A diet based on processed food only is not recommended.
Of course, you can decide that even setting foot at a grocery store is a no-no. It all depends on you. Remember, the main goal is to clean out your kitchen before you go back to spending your usual weekly food budget.
3. Take Inventory
After setting your rules, grab a pen and pad and inventory EVERYTHING edible in your kitchen. Knowing what is already at home is the most crucial step to this challenge.
Some commonly overlooked items include:
- Salt & Pepper
You see, many of these items can be combined to make super delicious treats. Having a complete list ensures you are able to look at the full picture.
And now that you know what you have to work with, it’s time to get creative. Check your favorite food blogs, recipe books, Pinterest, and what not, to help you figure out what you will be eating the following week or weeks.
Try not to be too strict on what you allow yourself to purchase. If carrots are the only ingredient keeping you away from fixing a beef stew, then buy them but only if you know that you can resist the temptation to buy 6 other things before you hit the checkout counter.
Sometimes, its better to forget the carrots.
4. Set a Budget
Setting a small budget (of maybe $5-$10 dollars) for missing ingredients or fresh produce can be an effective form of helping you clear out your pantry. You can’t make anything edible with 17 different sauces, a can of beans, and a pack of sugar, can you?
Now that you know where to begin let’s consider the benefits of cleaning out your kitchen. If you’re still not persuaded to take the challenge, this list just might enlighten you.
Benefits of a Pantry Challenge
Save Money on Food
First and foremost, you will save money on food and make the most out of the cash already spent since you will cook using ingredients you already own.
How many hard-earned dollars are gone to waste every week just because you did not plan ahead (meal plan and shopping list) before setting foot at the supermarket? Consider other profitable and fun ways you can spend that cash.
Letting food go to the garbage is irresponsible and inconvenient for your wallet. With so many people on the planet struggling with hunger, it’s unfortunate that 70 billion pounds of food are gone to waste yearly only in the United States because of consumerism and carelessness. Let’s cut back on the spending and cherish what we already own.
If you haven’t been living under a rock lately, you probably noticed organization is a huge trend. But having your finances, home, and closet in order are not only fashionable, it’s also the key to leading a successful life.
Clearing the stockpile of cans, jars, bags, and Tupperware in the back of your kitchen will leave ample storage space for a new and minimalist approach to your kitchen managing.
Besides, don’t you just love all those cool images on Pinterest of clean and organized pantries with everything stored in transparent, labeled jars? Bye, bye clutter!
Try New Things
A pantry challenge will encourage you and your family to try new things. You’ll get to take better advantage of the ingredients you already own by trying out new and original recipes. You’ll also get to discover what are yours and your family’s favorite and least favorite foods.
You’ll perfect your managing skills. By knowing what food you already have at home and finding new ways to prepare it, you’ll be more creative and productive at handling your resources. You’ll also learn new methods of preparing dishes you didn’t even know existed!
Pantry Challenge Tips for Beginners
If you’re entirely new to meal planning, here are some extra tips to help you out:
- Use food wisely. It is a limited resource during this challenge. Try to spread out your ingredients during the week and using them on different recipes.
- Deciding on what three meals to cook daily for seven days can be overwhelming. Stick to planning only two or three days ahead, then reassess what’s left and prepare the following days.
- As mentioned earlier, expanding your recipe knowledge is a must to succeed in this challenge. Learning new ways to cook with ingredients like beans, or tuna, will entertain your palate and help you make out the most of your food. Let’s not forget eating should be a pleasant experience!
- You will be cooking with food that has been forgotten at the back of the shelf. How to know what items are still safe to eat? Food labeled close or past the “sell by” date is still good to eat, just check if it has a funky smell or weird texture. If it does, discard immediately. The “sell by” stamp is aimed for retailers, not for consumers. If you are past the date for only a few days, it’s safe to try. The “best by” stamp is a recommendation for the buyer to let them know before what date is the product at its best taste and quality. It doesn’t mean that it goes bad right away past this date. And finally, the “use by” stamp is directed to the consumer and states when the foods will decay.
- Learn how to make the most of leftovers and scraps. For example, stale bread can replace croutons; leftover veggies can be whipped into a delicious and healthy soup. Learning how to substitute ingredients is helpful as well. Baking soda for human consumption can be used instead of baking powder. A simple search online can help you find vast lists of food substitutions.
- Donate foods that you dislike to food banks or hand them out to your friends or neighbors. Never let food go to waste!
The Bottom Line
Succeeding in the pantry challenge is simple and fun. After doing so, you will never look at a full pantry and complain there is nothing to eat. And you will never again find yourself struggling with remorse when staring at the food bill.
You can always try it several times a year, especially if your budget is tight and/or you feel like you have overstocked your kitchen again. It can eventually become a habit if you develop a sharp eye and meal plan every week.
If you find yourself struggling during the first week of the challenge, go back to the long list of benefits and remind yourself of those extra dollars you’ll find in your wallet once you’ve succeeded in the test.
And if your family is not into the plan, motivate them with a treat if they stick to it, like a favorite non-challenge meal or even take-out! That’s a guarantee they’ll be in for the ride.
Good luck with your challenge!