Every 3 months or so, our family does a 10-day pantry challenge. Why 10 days, and how does it help us save money and eat healthy? Here are all those answers and more.
Near the end of August, we decided to run a pantry challenge. These are always motivating, creative, and bring out a lot of nostalgia for the days when we basically ate our kitchen bare every single week.
Pantry Challenge Rules:
If you’ve never done a 10-day pantry challenge, here are the basic rules:
- Do not go grocery shopping between now and the end of the challenge. Whatever is in your pantry now is what you have to work with.
- Do not buy for the week ahead in anticipation of the pantry challenge. It’s okay to make a quick run at the beginning for fresh produce or a few odds and ends, but the goal is to clean out what’s already in your kitchen. No points for pre-buying everything you need!
- Try to come up with meals that are well-balanced. This might take some forethought and creativity.
- Have at least one friend who is doing it with you or is at least interested enough that you can send photos of your weird food to them. This gives you accountability and makes the process a little more fun – because if you have to eat soup made from spaghetti noodles and last summer’s frozen brussel sprouts, at least you can laugh about it with a friend.
Why Do a Pantry Challenge?
You can have several goals or reasons for doing your pantry challenge:
- You ran out of grocery money and have to make due with what you have.
- You are trying to save money for another purchase or expense.
- Your pantry and freezer are out of control. Time to clean house and start fresh.
Pantry challenges can save you money because they turn whatever your goal is onto a game.
With clear rules and a set end-date, you stay focused and don’t burn out. If you ran out of grocery money, a challenge stops you from going over budget. If you’re trying to save for another purchase, the grocery budget is one of the most flexible areas of our monthly budget.
Or maybe your freezer and pantry are so full that it’s costing you money to run a chest full of food that you never eat. While we usually stock our pantry and freezer with the best intentions, sometimes we need a strong nudge.
A pantry challenge helps save us money by making us use the food we already have and stops us from buying food that we don’t need.
Why Do a 10 Day Pantry Challenge?
10-Day pantry challenges are my favorite. They last long enough to get me reacquainted with the recesses of my freezer (usually on the hunt for any meat we have left), but they don’t last so long that the troops I cook for start rebelling.
Of course, you can do a month-long Pantry Challenge if your space needs a serious purge or you want to save even more money. When you do those, I recommend setting aside a very small amount of money each week to buy a few staples – fresh veggies, milk, or whatever minimal items you need to make full meals.
How to Have a Successful Pantry Challenge
Here is what I have learned about how to have a successful pantry challenge.
Of course, everyone is different, so you might find other tips work better for you. This is what works for me and my people.
Pantry Challenge Menu Plan
As a general rule, I don’t love menu planning. Instead, I keep simple staples on hand, have a basic idea of what we want to eat in a week, and I just plan meals the day before – long enough to take the meat out to thaw or soak some beans.
This doesn’t work in every season, but it is what works for us right now.
However, clean-out-the-pantry week requires a detailed menu plan. Otherwise, I’ll sit in my full kitchen and feel like there’s nothing to eat – because there’s nothing “easy” or obvious. But the reality is that the kitchen IS full, and there are plenty of elements to make great food.
Here was our menu plan this week. We didn’t follow it exactly, but the thing about making your own menu plan is that you make the rules, and you can change it however you like.
Clean-out-the-pantry week requires a detailed menu plan. Otherwise I’ll sit in my full kitchen and feel like there’s nothing to eat – because there’s nothing “easy” or obvious. But the reality is that the kitchen IS full, and there are plenty of elements to make great food. . . . This is part of our #cheaphealthycostco experiment: buying food in bulk meant we have lots of food but no grocery money the last week of the month. . . . I’ll try to share all of our pantry meals on Stories this week. Follow us there so you don’t miss a thing! . . . . #cleanoutthefridge #cleanoutthepantry #pantrychallenge
This is not the week to win any health-foodie awards or try any gourmet meals.
Try to make sure they are fairly well-balanced. Go ahead and use those frozen veggies in the back of the fridge. But don’t worry too much if you aren’t eating the rainbow every single day.
Have a Well-Stocked Pantry & Freezer
For many years, I didn’t do pantry challenges because we basically ate our kitchen empty by the end of the week.
There was just enough food to make it to the next pay cycle. There is no shame in that, and I am grateful for and proud of how we made it work those days.
If that’s you, be proud of yourself and embrace these days. Sure, they are difficult, (so painfully difficult) but they are building some good stuff in you. They won’t last forever.
If you aren’t sure how to even start building a frugal, real food pantry and freezer stash, I wrote about it here. Using these methods will help equip your kitchen with the simple elements to make really good, healthy meals.
I don’t advocate over-stockpiling so that our pantries are out of control. That is not saving money and it’s not being a good steward of your resources. But every now and then, we get to a point where we need a reset.
That’s where a 10-day pantry challenge can save you money and steward your purchases well.
Doing a pantry challenge forces me to face any unhealthy buying patterns I’ve picked up and I always come out on the other side with new goals and a fresh perspective for the coming months.
Whether you need to stop from going over budget, to save money for another expense, or you need to use what you already have, a pantry challenge can help you save money and eat healthy.
What You Can Do Now:
Have you ever done a panty challenge?
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