What Is a Pantry Challenge- And Why Do It?

I've been posting recently on my blog about this pantry challenge that I'm currently doing, and a few people have asked me what exactly a pantry challenge is, why someone would want to do it, and how exactly one goes about doing it.

To be honest, there is no one answer for this question, because everyone that does a pantry challenge does it for different reasons and in different ways, however there is a general idea of what it means.

Essentially, a pantry challenge is when you try to use up the food that you have in your house instead of going out to buy more. You shop your pantry instead of shopping in the grocery store.

My husband and I have a point of contention in our frugal lifestyle- he thinks it is smarter to just shop for what you need when you need it; I am big into the idea of stockpiling. I buy things when they're cheap and then store them at home for when I need them, at which point in time I take them from my stockpile and have them at that cheap price instead of buying them as needed at a higher price.

A friend who heard I was doing a pantry challenge didn't understand the purpose of it- if I work hard to build up my stockpile, what is the point to try and decimate it- how is that frugal?

Well, there are a few reasons why one would choose to do a pantry challenge. As much as I like stockpiling, at this point in time my stockpiling ends up being relatively unused, since I am not cooking so many grains or legumes as I'm cooking mostly paleo for myself, hence a lot of fresh produce and fresh animal products. My family members who are eating non paleo tend to be eating a lot of cereal and rice cakes as their grains because I haven't had the energy to do more than that...
And so, the beans, lentils, rice, quinoa, and so many other things in my stockpile are just sitting there. Even before I went paleo, there were some stuff I wasn't getting around to using.
Therefore, part of my goal in doing a pantry challenge is to actually use the food in my stockpile that isn't getting used, because I am afraid it will go buggy before it will get eaten. I am trying to use up the things that have been sitting there, not the things I recently bought on sale and have no problem using up.

Additionally, another benefit of doing a pantry challenge is to free up cash. As much as I'd like our grocery bills to be low, they really haven't been lately, and that is putting a dent in our budget, and that is especially not good because we have a ton of extra expenses lately because of the purchase of our house. To try to improve our financial situation, my husband is working extra hours and I am doing what I can to lower my expenses, and the biggest one is the groceries. So cooking up what is in my house as much as possible, instead of going out grocery shopping like usual is going to help with that.
In short, another benefit of a pantry challenge is that it means you spend less cash on groceries that month.
Some people, before Thanksgiving or Christmas or similar try to do a pantry challenge, thereby spending as little on groceries as possible, and the money they'd generally spend on groceries gets put aside, and that money is then used for the extra holiday expenses.

Some people do pantry challenges when they purposely are trying to decimate their stockpile because they are moving houses and don't want to have to move an entire stockpile of food with them.

And some people do pantry challenges because they are broke, and simply have no money to go out and grocery shop, so they're just surviving on what is in the house until they have more cash.

Whatever the reason for the pantry challenge will affect the rules of your pantry challenge.

So how am I doing it, and how do others do it?
Some people do a pantry challenge but allow as exceptions produce, meat, and milk.... That wouldn't really work well for me as produce, meat, and milk is essentially what I'm buying anyhow.
What I'm doing for my pantry challenge is making a specific effort to use up things in my pantry. You've seen the quinoa and anchovy based recipes- those are things sitting around in my stockpile. I'm trying to make lentil and bean dishes as well, and not take the lazy way out and just make my family eggs for all these meals.
I also am challenging myself to spend less on produce and animal proteins than I usually do, specifically going for the lowest priced products and not for convenience. In addition, I am trying to up the frequency that I forage, to supplement our veggies and therefore reduce our produce bill.

I am not quite sure how long I'll be doing this pantry challenge, but I am having fun coming up with creative ways to make the foods in my cupboard that generally don't get eaten.

Do you do pantry challenges? What are the reasons that you do pantry challenges? What rules do you make for your pantry challenges? What do you find to be the hardest part of the pantry challenge? What do you find the most rewarding?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I'm doing a pantry challenge right now as well! I eat a strictly Keto diet but my family will eat whatever. Each year our goal is to clean out the pantry and deep freeze before the first of the year to prep for next year's stock pile. It's a great way to ensure a good rotation and to make note of any changes in my families eating habits. I'm allowing fresh produce and dairy because I don't have any good pantry substitutes for those. For me, the hardest part of these challenges is having to stop myself from purchasing stuff when it's "A REALLY GREAT DEAL". ;)~

  2. I just decided tonight that I am going to do a freezer challenge this month. My freezer is packed. It's one above/part of fridge. I'm mad at myself because I sold my small chest freezer a year ago because I thought I was moving, but I didn't. Anyway, I love doing these little challenges. I did my cupboards a couple months ago. I thought it was kind of fun trying to think of ways to use up the food. I also live alone so it's easier.

  3. I can never comment on your blog for some odd reason...

  4. I'm working on a pantry challenge of my own (some unexpected expenses have landed at a bad time AND there are just too many items on hand here right now for one person -- my responsibility and my opinion). I live in Southern California, so there is no likelihood that I will be snowed in or that produce will become unavailable any time soon!

    However, I'm not as disciplined as I need to be -- I'm fine with cooking with the grains and frozen/canned vegetables I have on hand, but then I seem to "need" (meaning "want") fresh spinach, or another onion, or some ginger, or some yogurt, etc., so I go to the grocery anyway! The produce that I buy does not get wasted, but it means that I'm not using the frozen/canned vegetables from the pantry!

    You have shared good ideas; I don't have the same dietary restrictions as you do, so I should have an easier time using down my pantry -- it just means postponing my plan to try a strict Paleo diet right now!

    Many thanks!

  5. I find that doing a pantry challenge is good for me to use up stuff that I just don't seem to use up--like some fancy rice given to us as a gift. I think I'll make a point to use that up this month! Thanks for inspiring. :)

  6. I just started on my pantry challenge. I'm doing it because I'm tired of hearing my husband complain about how's there never anything to eat but we have all this "junk". Also, I'm planning to start a really strict low carb diet to lose weight and 1st thing I gotta do is get rid of said "junk."

  7. We have a bit of a stockpile like laundry detergent, toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, etc... It came in handy when I was very sick for a long time and my husband didn't have to think about toiletries for several months. I also buy kids clothes shoes two sizes ahead, at one point I was in the hospital and he mentioned the kids were outgrowing their clothes and his parents were going to take them shopping and I told him which bins and where. My inlaws still took them out to pick a dress but they had enough clothes to get started. We still have a stockpile of of clothes, toiletries and the freezer is full. We have been doing Operation Eat The Food for a few weeks and are only buying dairy and fresh fruit/veg.

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