What is the Pantry Challenge And Why You Need to Take it

by Cath

If you’ve been a follower for a while, you know how much I love a pantry challenge.

I’ve done several month-long pantry challenges and properly documented one pantry challenge on 2020 and another pantry challenge on 2018. Besides that, every month, I also stop shopping for a week and do a pantry challenge for just one week. It’s the perfect opportunity to use up what I have instead of buying more, that way not only am I saving money, but I’m also saving time.

While I do like to go grocery shopping, every once in a while it’s nice to not have to go (more time to knit!).

But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me first introduce you to this concept.

What is a pantry challenge?

jars with food

A pantry challenge is a challenge where in a defined amount of time, you are using up what you already have, instead of going grocery shopping. The challenge is to figure out what to do with the ingredients that you already have.

While it’s called a pantry challenge, the goal is to avoid going grocery shopping completely, is not only about the pantry! You should also use up what you have in your freezer and fridge!

On a daily basis, what happens when you don’t know what to cook for dinner?

Do you go to the grocery store to grab ingredients for something that’s quick to make, ingredients that you know will work for you even when you’re super tired?

When you’re doing a pantry challenge, you make the ingredients you have at home work.

There are so many times that we have so much food in our homes, yet we still go to the supermarket to grab something (and end up buying more than we originally planned).

I’m so guilty of this – leaving work super tired, buying something random so I can make something quick for dinner instead of using what I have – that’s why I’m also a big advocate for meal prepping.

The reality is that I don’t want to make decisions, so I default to the easiest: buy something and make a meal out of it.

During a pantry challenge, you cannot do this.

At first, it may seem too restrictive but it’s actually freeing, it kills possibilities. It helps you decide when you don’t want to. Because going to the grocery store is off the table.

Doing a pantry challenge is the best way to clean up the pantry, fridge and, freezer from everything you’re purposely (or not!) forgetting that you have.

It’s a way to challenge yourself to be more creative in the kitchen and also save some money.

Have I picked your interest?

Why you should do a pantry challenge

You save money

apple core following 4 stacks of coins
When doing a pantry challenge, you can decide to not to go to the supermarket at all or to go buy just fresh ingredients.

Either way, you are saving money.

A pantry challenge will help you stretch out your budget at the end of the month. If you’re trying out a recipe, instead of buying what you need, you figure out what can be used as a substitute instead.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how much you already have at home. Food that is more than enough to feed you and your household.

The main goal is to make you realize what you have and what you can do with it, instead of going for your go-to meals.

Ignored sad food

Let me also mention something else that is wasting you money: all the food that you’ve ignored for a huge amount of time that has now expired and most probably gone bad.

Are you buying food just to let it sit in your home until it goes bad? How can you save money that way?

There’s no reason to waste money and food. Which brings me to my next point.

Reduce food waste

lots of plastic bags on top of each other

Did you know that your food waste doesn’t decompose on the landfill? If you don’t compost, your food waste is going to the landfill, a place where your food waste doesn’t have enough oxygen to decompose in the best conditions. Food waste that decomposes in landfills releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide.

Reducing food waste can be one of the easiest ways to be more eco-friendly – it’s easy to think that you need to have more money to be more eco-friendly but reducing your food waste is one of the most impactful changes you can do that not only saves you money but helps the planet.

You probably have things in your pantry that have expired because you forgot about them.

It’s a way to clean out the pantry and use up those ingredients that are almost expired, that you completely forgot about it.

You don’t want them to go bad or expire, right?

By regularly doing pantry challenges, you reduce the likelihood of having those expired ingredients in the first place. Especially if you do it once every month or every couple of months, the “maintain pantry challenge” that I do once a month for a week helps me keep my extras to a minimum.

Remember that everything that you are throwing in the trash, it’s money that you’re throwing in the trash.

This means that you will get more out of your money, because you’re not letting food go to waste.

Cleaning the clutter

Another big advantage of the pantry challenge is that you are cleaning out the clutter.

Do you remember those ingredients that you bought for a fancy meal?

You’re left with several packages of ingredients that you never use and no idea what to do with them.

You don’t know what to make out of the rest of these packages, so you put them on your shelves and hoped that someday inspiration would strike.

Unfortunately, we’re most likely to use ingredients that we know how to cook.

By participating in a pantry challenge, these ingredients will shine. Because it’s the time to use them up and make the most out of them.

It all goes back to my first two points: you’re saving money and reducing food waste because you’re cleaning out everything that you don’t need.

This also means that the next time you go grocery shopping you have space for things that you love, instead of ingredients that don’t serve you. You don’t want your pantry and/or freezer to be full of these ingredients, they’re taking your very precious space.

Clear out your stockpile

pantry with various jars with food
If you tend to stockpile on food or have a ton of space (I will sometimes envy you as I live in a small apartment!), maybe you buy a little bit more than you need to.

You have extras to cater for emergencies.

There are also those things that you bought on a sale because they were SO SO cheap but then realized it was a moment of fogginess “why did I buy so much canned tuna when we don’t eat that much canned tuna?”, that sort of thing.

It’s not benefitting you in any way when you bought it for sale but don’t use it.

The pantry challenge is a way to nudge you into the direction of using it up, and maybe not buy it again because even though it was on sale, maybe it’s not right for you or for your lifestyle. There’s no point in stockpiling food that you’ll never use up.

A pantry challenge will help you use them and by using them you’ll probably remember to not repeat it again. The memory of eating that food for such a long period will help you remember.

Get creative in the kitchen

two hands above a dish

Let’s talk about the creative side of the pantry challenge because there is one. Otherwise I might not be talking about it, let’s be real if it wasn’t fun I wouldn’t do it as often as I do.

Mystery box challenge

Are you a fan of watching cooking TV Shows?

In most of them, there’s at least one episode that’s all about a mystery box challenge – a challenge where there’s a box full of ingredients that must be used in their dish.
There’s even a whole TV show that focuses on mixing unusual ingredients together, it’s called “Chopped”. I’m absolutely obsessed with this TV show, each of the boxes have so many unusual ingredients, it’s fun to see how they use ingredients like cheese puffs in a dessert.

The pantry challenge is very similar to these Mystery Box challenges, by giving you restrictions on what you can and cannot cook.

Infinite decisions = Infinite overwhelm

And if you think that giving you restrictions is a nightmare, I’ve found exactly the contrary. It gives me fewer decisions to make, less overwhelm, I have to make do with what I have.

It’s all about being creative, you’ll be surprised with what you come up with when you don’t have the option to buy a new ingredient to complement your dish.

Plus you’ll be sure to find new different dishes that you want to repeat. Everytime I finish a month-long pantry challenge, I’m left with new dishes as my usuals, some of them I’d never have considered without doing a pantry challenge.

How do you start a pantry challenge?

If you’re tired of wasting food you didn’t know you had, challenge yourself to a pantry challenge.

Truthfully, the only thing that you need to do is to stop grocery shopping for a whole month (or shop only fresh produce!).

However, I do understand how overwhelming it is to have so much food and not knowing where to start and how to use up everything you have during this time, that is why I created a guide just for this.

It’s meant to help you from the very beginning: first understanding and realizing what you have, planning and ways to come up with ideas on how to use certain ingredients. There are several recipes that can be easily changed to accommodate what you have and recipes that only use pantry ingredients (when you’re out of fresh ingredients).

But most importantly, I provide you with ways to enjoy this pantry challenge as well as put your family on board. There will be times that you want to stop doing this pantry challenge and with these tips, you’ll persevere and have fun at the same time.

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