Looking to find some extra money in your budget without feeling like you’re stretched to your limit? Tired of finding all those random canned or dried goods long past their expiration date in the back of the pantry? If you’re looking to free up some cash and waste less of what you’ve already spent, try a pantry challenge.
The idea of a pantry challenge is to eliminate or greatly reduce your grocery shopping for a specified amount of time by utilizing the food you already have on hand. It’s a great way to free up some cash while cleaning out those cupboards. You’ll be amazed how much money you’ll save and just how much food you already have without even setting foot in the grocery store!
There are no hard and fast rules for a pantry challenge. Only you can decide what will work best for your household. Some go cold turkey with no grocery store visits at all. They eat only what they have with no exceptions. Others still shop but reduce their spending drastically by only purchasing perishable items during the challenge. Do whatever is comfortable for your household as long as it keeps in the spirit of temporarily and drastically reducing your grocery budget.
The length of a pantry challenge can vary depending on how much food you have on hand when you begin. A month seems to be an ideal amount of time for many. Even if you don’t have enough to make it a whole month with no or only minimal grocery shopping, even a few weeks of a pantry challenge can do wonders for your budget.
I did my first pantry challenge back in May and bought only perishables like dairy and produce items for the month. Not only did I save about $250 by drastically reducing my grocery budget, I also refreshed my culinary know-how and my commitment to keeping our grocery budget to a low but reasonably comfortable level.
To begin planning a meal with what was on hand, I chose my protein first and then built the rest of the meal around that. Eggs from the fridge, meat in the freezer, or canned meats or beans got me started and then all I had to do was put together a few side dishes. Sometimes it was easier said than done! The longer I stuck with the pantry challenge, the harder it became to piece together a tasty, well-rounded meal from only the ingredients I already had in the house. There was a night or two where I became tempted to dash to the store just to pick up a few things to make a recipe when I lacked a few key ingredients, but I was able to stick to the plan with a little help.
Online recipe websites saved the day. Websites like AllRecipes.com, Epicurious.com , and SuperCook.com became my go-to sources when I got stuck. These websites allow users to input one or more ingredients and then provide a wide variety of recipes utilizing the given ingredients. The ingredients you input don’t even have to be the star of the meal. I found myself overrun with canned carrots and was at a loss as to what to do with them after my usual gingered honey or butter to jazz them up as a vegetable to accompany the meal. When I searched for “canned carrots” recipes at AllRecipes.com, I suddenly had 833 recipes to choose from, including side dishes, desserts, and hearty main dishes that utilized canned carrots. It took just one quick search to have a bounty of canned carrot recipes right at my fingertips. Utilizing the online recipe websites really helped me to follow and complete my pantry challenge goals.
So, if your wallet needs some fattening up or your pantry needs a slim down, consider trying a pantry challenge tailored to your household’s needs for whatever amount of time feels right to you. You’ll save money by reducing your grocery bill, waste less food, and expand your culinary horizons.
My first pantry challenge was such a huge success that I plan to repeat the challenge twice a year, once in the early summer and then again after the holidays. While I ran into a few challenges along the way when my list of ingredients dwindled, the online recipe websites kept me on track. The extra money in our budget and my cleaner cupboards made it well worth my efforts and I look forward to making a pantry challenge a regular part of our yearly schedule. Try one for yourself and reap the rewards!