Pantry Challenge

Lessons Learned From The Pantry Challenge

by Sally on November 20, 2012

Much to my family’s relief, the Autumn Pantry Challenge is over. Though we struggled through last year’s challenge (I got crabby and actually gained weight), it was a lot easier this time around. I chalk that up to a more realistic weekly budget ($50) and an especially large stockpile of food to start.

I went about $5 over budget this last week. But I also got resourceful. We had leftover homemade hummus but no pita, so I made my own (recipe here):

I also used up a can of black beans for these brownies that everyone loved (recipe here):

I spent about $150 on groceries for the three week challenge–that’s a savings of $200-250 compared to my usual spending.

Top takeaways from the Autumn Pantry Challenge:

  • Keeping an inventory made all the difference. I wrote down everything I had in the freezer and pantry, divided it into categories like “meats” and “grains”, then crossed off items as I used them. When I planned out the next week’s meals, all I had to do was glance at my lists to figure out what I had on hand.
  • Meal planning. Meal planning. Meal planning. Mapping out each entire week in detail–and knowing I had all the ingredients I needed–made life easier and lessened my stress level immensely.
  • Sticking to my grocery list was painful but empowering. I shopped only for basics–that meant milk, veggies, and fruit, plus any additional ingredients I needed for dinners that week. When I spotted a great deal, I couldn’t stock up like I normally would. But spending so much less each week felt terrific.

If you did your own Pantry Challenge this month, how did it go and what did you learn?


Should beer and wine count toward the weekly Pantry Challenge grocery budget? Not surprisingly, my husband–who is no fan of the Pantry Challenge–emphatically says no.

If he’s right and it doesn’t, I stayed close to my $50 goal last week. I even hosted a neighborhood party–and I tried to use what I had on hand for the desserts, like 4 Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies (which were a big hit).

I also made Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake (recipe here):

And Apple Blackberry Crumble Tart:

Other highlights of the week included Homemade Mac & Cheese (recipe here), a particularly yummy batch (I use whatever cheese odds and ends I have in the fridge):

Homemade Hummus (recipe here) with Seasoned Flatbread (I sprayed the tops of stale flatbread with olive oil, sprinkled on some spice blends, and popped them in the toaster oven for a minute or two):

Week Three Meal Plan

Sunday: Indian Chicken with Peas & Whole Wheat Naan (held over from last week)

Monday: Burgers with Edamame, Salads

Tuesday: Farmer’s Market Chicken Kielbasa on the grill with Whole Wheat Noodles, Salads

Wednesday: Homemade Pizza, Salads

Thursday: Chicken Pad Thai with Broccoli

Friday: Leftovers/Clear Out the Fridge Night

Saturday: Grown-ups at a party; Ravioli and raw veggies for the kids and our babysitter

If you’re doing your own Pantry Challenge, how is it going?


Pantry Challenge: Week #2 Meal Plan

November 5, 2012

The good news is that I stuck to my meal plan pretty closely last week (read: Pantry Challenge: Week #1 Shopping Trip & Meal Plan). The bad news is that we had two last-minute events that busted my budget. One was an out-of-town trip that involved pizza delivery. Another was hosting a night time Nerf […]

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Pantry Challenge: Week #1 Shopping Trip & Meal Plan

October 28, 2012

It’s the first day of the Autumn Pantry Challenge! Today, I made trips to Aldi and my neighborhood supermarket and spent only $32 on groceries for the week (my weekly budget is $50 or less). Week One Meal Plan Sunday: Beef Barley Soup, Homemade Oatmeal Yogurt Rolls, Salads Monday: Leftovers Tuesday: Cod from freezer, Whole […]

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Join My Pantry Challenge!

October 23, 2012

I have a tendency to stockpile food (read: Hello, My Name is Sally. And I Hoard Groceries.). I can’t pass up a good deal, and there’s something comforting about having three extra canisters of oats on hand just in case. But at some point, my basement shelves runneth over. And my wallet feels especially empty. I […]

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The Pantry Challenge Postmortem

March 3, 2011

5 Lessons Learned: 1. It is not humanly possible for me to feed my family for $25 a week unless I resort to cooking ramen noodles and off-brand macaroni and cheese for dinner. With my Pantry Challenge budget, I could barely keep us in milk and produce. $50 a week would’ve been more doable–and still […]

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Pantry Challenge: Week Four Update

March 2, 2011

The Pantry Challenge is over, and not a moment too soon. While toasting a heel of bread this morning for breakfast (after discovering there was no cereal left) my husband turned to me and said in a rather unfriendly way, “It’s March 2nd. I’m done with this Pantry Challenge.” Alrighty. Message received. It hasn’t been […]

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Pantry Challenge: Week Three Update

February 22, 2011

Pantry Challenge Morale hit an all-time low around here this past weekend. The fridge–with little more than two apples, a  tub of plain yogurt, and margarine inside–was looking more single-gal-about-town than mother-of-two. My husband, growing increasingly hungry and crabby about my little experiment, reported one day that he’d eaten peanut butter toast for breakfast, a […]

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Pantry Challenge Update: Desperate Note from Real Dad

February 21, 2011

This is a stark depiction of the brutal living conditions that define a month-long pantry challenge. Antarctica. February 2011. Provisions running dangerously low. My Chunky Soup stash that would normally have lasted ’til winter’s end is exhausted. I struggle to find items for the already-meager lunches I take to work. No sweets or treats as […]

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Pantry Challenge: Week Two Update

February 16, 2011

My husband joked today that with the way this Pantry Challenge is going, he’ll soon be eating “pine needle stew” for lunch. And actually, that Hunger Games reference is a little fitting these days. We’re doing just fine with dinners, thanks to the chest freezer and Bomb Shelter. But otherwise, the pickings are exceedingly slim. […]

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