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In the last few months, before summer’s bounty, we like to have a little pantry challenge in my house…a challenge to eat up what’s in the pantry!
No, I don’t plan on eating EVERYTHING in my pantry; I wouldn’t want to clean out my stockpile completely! We try to eat up the things that might be expiring soon and eat up some canned goods that I plan on making more of during the summer. In other words…it’s spring cleaning on my pantry.
Challenging Yourself to Eat Down the Pantry
Eating down the pantry is a true challenge. The reason we all grocery shop so often is that we have certain recipes that we all love to make and eat, and we have certain ingredients that we need for those recipes.
Our pantries tend to be filled with things that we’ve purchased for many different types of recipes…maybe some that we only made once and still have the rest of the ingredients hanging out in there. Let’s face it: it can be a hodge-podge of things.
Since we very much dislike food waste, we need to have this pantry challenge each year to make sure that we don’t throw away our valuable grocery dollars. If you need a way to test your homemaking skills, this is a great way to start!
Cooking With What You Have
First things first…
You will need to start by actually taking a look in your pantry (or wherever you store food) and writing down or taking some kind of inventory of what you have. You won’t know what to cook until you know what you have!
I thought I was the only person who said “eating down the pantry or freezer”. I have been working on this since the first of the year. I agree fresh vegetables are a necessity but I am amazed what I have on hand. Not only does it save money, it also saves trips to the store where I pick up other incidentals I may or may not need depending on my mood.Linda, Little House Living reader
Get creative with old recipes.
If you can make recipes that you know your family already loves by just adding in similar ingredients or substitutions, that is the easiest way to eat up what you have. Sometimes, it’s as simple as making a lasagna dish using regular pasta instead of lasagna noodles. Be creative! (Try something like this Apple Cheddar Soup Recipe!)
Discover new recipes.
There are some fun websites out there where you can plug in the foods that you have in your house, and they will give you recipe suggestions. If you want to find some new recipes to use up those pantry foods, this is a great way to start. Here are some websites to try out:
Some of my favorite meals have been born during weeks where we were cleaning out our pantry! I think the saying, “necessity is the mother of invention” applies here because you can definitely invent a lot of neat recipes when you need to clean out a pantry. 🙂Jessica, Little House Living reader
Plan out your menu.
You should always make a meal plan, but when you are doing a pantry challenge, you almost have to plan out your menu in advance. It’s hard to just be digging around your pantry right before you need to have supper on the table and come up with something creative. If you are looking for a great service that will help you plan your meals by using your own recipes, you will love Plan to Eat. It will help you keep your recipes together and organized to be better prepared for your challenge.
Near the end of the month, we look at what we have leftover and that’s what we make meals with. If we ate out a bit much or didn’t use all of the ingredients those are put into next week’s meals so there is usually very little leftover by the end of any given week.Lindsey, Little House Living reader
These tips came at a great time for me! I have two weeks until hubby comes home from working out of town and we do our big stock up shop. I don’t have as much in the pantry as I do the freezer so I am challenging myself to clearing them both out as much as possible over the next two weeks. I think my first step is to make out a plan.Rachel, Little House Living reader
Don’t give up on fresh foods.
Fresh foods are a HUGE staple for us. During a pantry challenge, we do not completely go without fresh foods, but I do a few simple rules that we follow. First, I try to find “fresh” foods in the freezer and on my canned goods shelves before I add something to my grocery list. If I’m looking for some fresh fruits for snacks for the kids during the week, instead of picking up some apples like I normally would, I might add canned pears to our snack menu.
Don’t give up completely on fresh foods, but try to limit them to what you really need. We’ve found that lettuce for salads is a good, cheap, fresh food during a pantry challenge. We can still plan our meals around my “fresh” canned and frozen fruits and veggies, but adding a side of salad makes it seem like the entire meal is fresh.
Tip: Don’t forget about making your own Homemade Dressings. (Which you can usually do with pantry items!)
One of my favorite “least favorite” things to do! I only allow myself to buy fresh fruit, veggies, and coffee cream for a month or so every fall. We’ve actually discovered some of our favorite meals this way, but I hate doing it ~ thanks for the idea of making it a “challenge” instead of a chore – it’s all about attitude right?Carly, Little House Living reader
Come up with unique combinations of foods.
Cereal, maple syrup, and shredded coconut aren’t something that I’d normally put together, but it turns out that it can be a good base for a sweet/salty snack mix!
Remember, not everything that you try will turn out tasty, but sometimes fun recipes can be made with some very interesting combinations! (Like the Raspberry Cookies pictured above.)
A couple times a year my husband does an inventory of our freezer. He always discovers items we forgot we had. It is a good way to cut down on current grocery spending and also prevents waste. Who wants to eat food that has freezer burn.Savvy, Little House Living reader
A tip from LHL reader Sally…
Not only is eating down your pantry a good idea for what you’ve given, but it’s also an excellent practice for emergency training. I live in the area of the Cascadian Subduction zone in the Pacific NW, and this is one of the challenges given to CERT members (Community Emergency Response Team) and recommended to families. No pre-shopping – just let your family know and don’t tell them when it will start, just spring it on them one morning…sort of like an earthquake would do.
Our local emergency manager tried this at home-
There’s just him and his wife. He told her about his idea, and without going into it anymore, they pretended like the “big one” had happened. They were ok, but had to depend on what they had in the house. They wanted to see how long their food would last because we’ve been told here that we might have to be on our own for up to 14 days. The first thing they ran out of was water, so they cheated by using tap water (which was not available). I’m not sure if they used the water in their water heater before “running out” or not. Anyway, they were able to last three weeks with some pretty different meals toward the end. Oh, both worked, so part of the deal was that they couldn’t eat out and had to take food from home to work. It was a good experiment and might even be fun in a family situation.
I love this idea, thanks Sally!
Tip: Learn more about Building a Whole Foods Basics Stockpile to help in situations like this too.
Whichever methods you decide to use while you eat down the pantry, you will save money on your grocery bill, and your family might just find some interesting new recipes that they will enjoy.
More Ideas for Your Pantry Challenge
- Eating from the Pantry Stockpile
- More Eating from the Pantry Stockpile
- Eating Cheap from the Pantry
- January 2020 Eat From the Pantry Meal Plans and Grocery Budget
- Pantry Needs and Stockpiling (Plus Printable!)
What are some simple tips that you have for eating down the pantry foods?
This Pantry Challenge was originally published on Little House Living in January 2018. It has been updated as of January 2024.