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9 Pantry Challenge Tips (Rock Your Next Pantry Challenge!)

Pantry challenge tips and tricks you don’t want to miss. These will make your next pantry challenge a total success (and dare I say, fun?).

I just came off of a month-long pantry challenge I participated in with a group.

woman looking into pantry for meal ideas, text overlay "9 tips to make your next pantry challenge bearable and fun"

We saved over $250 from what we normally spend on groceries for the month, and I had so much fun challenging myself to use up ingredients I had long forgotten about (or had written off).

The benefits were so awesome, that I wanted to share with you today the great pantry challenge tips and tricks I learned by going through the process myself.

First up, let’s go over a quick refresher on how a pantry challenge works.

How to Do a Pantry Challenge – In a Nutshell

Before we dive into those tips, let me just outline how to do a pantry challenge.

In a nutshell, you:

  • Set Your Challenge Rules: Decide for how long you will primarily eat from what you have in your home (one week, two weeks, one month?). Decide on what you will allow yourself to spend at the grocery store for the month (or by week). Will that amount include all household products, too, or just food? Make up any other rules you’d like to.
  • Set Your Challenge Goal: Decide on your goal. Perhaps you want to stick to a $25/week budget for just fresh veggies and milk. Maybe your grocery shopping spending is out of control and you just want to come in under the national average household grocery spending. It’s up to you, just make it a meaningful accomplishment you want to be able to say you did at the end of your challenge.
  • Keep Yourself Accountable: Find a way to track your challenge. You can track the number of days that you make it through. You can track the amount of money you spend throughout. You can take a meal planning calendar, and instead include one ingredient you want to use on each day (after doing your inventory, below). Use at least one tracking method to make yourself accountable, and stick with it.

While it’s pretty straightforward how to do one, there are definitely gray areas and strategies you should know about to make yours more successful, and even a little fun.

Let’s dive in.

Pantry Challenge Tips

Maybe you’re super excited to jump into your pantry challenge. Maybe not so much.

Either way, these pantry challenge tips and tricks below will help get you all the way to the end with a heavier wallet and a sense of pride at what you’ve accomplished.

Tip #1: Do it in a Group

I know, I know. You probably don’t think “fun” and “pantry challenge” deserve to be in the same sentence.

But keeping these things fun is really half of the battle when trying to stay motivated throughout.

That’s why I encourage you to not do a pantry challenge alone.

Get a group of your friends together to take part. Or, ask your sister or brother’s family if they want to do a month-long challenge with you.

You can also join the free challenge I did, which has an awesome Facebook group filled with enthusiastic and helpful ladies to talk to as things heat up (Shelftember Pantry Challenge).

Trust me when I say that doing it alongside others with the same goal will catapult your results.

Tip #2: Clean Out Your Pantry, Freezer, and Cupboards First

When I was a kid, we would wait years to clean out our cupboards. Seriously – it would be like this every-three-year event.

And do you know what we found?

All kinds of crazy things, like very expired foods, sticky syrup puddles anchoring down boxes of pasta, and droppings.

Don’t wait years to clean out your pantry. In fact, cleaning out your pantry is the first step I would recommend you take when doing the pantry challenge.

That’s because you’ll not only get some shiny shelves to look at (it’s always a good idea to clean up any space you want to spend time in), but you’ll be able to inventory what you have to eat during the challenge itself.

But don’t but all of those bottles and cans back yet. You’ll want to inventory your stock – Jordan Page of FunCheaporFree.com has a great free kitchen printable for you to use to inventory your freezer, cupboards, and pantry – and then reorder it completely (read tip #3).

Tip #3: Switch the Order

Now that everything is nice and clean, you’ll want to next switch the order of everything. Take whatever was in the back of your freezer, and place it front-and-center for you to use up.

Take the ingredients that are going to expire soon, and line them up in the front of your pantry.

Stack chronologically, from stuff that will expire soonest, to stuff that will expire awhile from now.

For us, what made the most difference was in the snacks area of our pantry. I couldn’t believe all of the older snacks I had that were half-eaten, but just kept getting pushed further back as I put new snacks I purchased each week on top of them.

In fact, for three whole weeks, we didn’t purchase a single snack during this challenge. We simply ate through the older ones that were now seeing the light of day. Ka-ching!

Hint: This also offers a great outline for what to cook next as you work on the challenge.

Tip #4: Know where to Source Recipes Based on Your Ingredients

You can’t just go to a popular recipe site and pick out any old recipe that you want when you’re doing the pantry challenge.

That’s why it’s important to know where to go to plugin in your specific ingredients on hand, and bet recipes you can make.

These resources seriously cut down on headache, and temptation to just hit the store (or drive-thru) in the middle of your pantry challenge.

You’ll also want to check out my article on 17 non-perishable dinner ideas.

Tip #5: List Out Meal Plan by Effort Required

During your pantry challenge, you’re going to struggle at some point with the amount of effort required to get dinner on the table.

It’s only natural. Maybe it’s because you’ve got an afterschool activity to get your kids to and you all won’t be home until 7:00. Maybe it’s because you had a really long day of appointments, and you won’t feel like making a meal.

I get it.

That’s why I think it’s a great idea to list out your weekly meal ideas by effort required.

For example, one of our weeks looked like this (listed from least effort to most effort to create)

Then, choose based on your time and energy levels. Got a Sunday afternoon to spend more time in the kitchen? Great – choose a more energy-intensive meal to make, and also prep for one other meal for the week, too.

Is it Friday night in a loooonnnngggg week? Choose a batch freezer meal you just need to put into the crockpot.

Tip #7: Pair a Bestseller with “Ho-Hum” Ingredient

Not everything you’re going to cook during your pantry challenge is going to be exciting. Or at the peak of freshness. Or taste to everyone in your family.

To make the challenge endurable for everyone, I like to pair together a bestseller ingredient or bestseller side dish with something that I know everyone thinks is “just okay”.

For example:

  • I like to make an awesome pantry dessert – like a mug cake – if I know the meal is not particularly exciting.
  • I like to add in a zesty salad dressing I make from scratch if we’re going to eat canned veggies (like green beans).
  • I might pair the best-selling, homemade garlic bread with spaghetti and meatballs (since we’re not too keen on spaghetti and meatballs)

Just find a way to include a best-seller in your otherwise practical (but not exciting) pantry meal.

After all, keeping your kids, you, and your spouse satisfied is part of what’s going to help you get through the entire challenge duration.

Tip #8: Make a “That’s Easy” Challenge Escape List

There will be nights when you don’t want to cook. There will be lunches you don’t want to prepare.

This is totally normal.

In order to keep your challenge vows, pre-create an “That’s Easy” list of recipes that are super duper easy to do.

Like, ones that:

  • Are already prepped and in the freezer (freezer batch meals) and you can just throw it into the crockpot or oven after you defrost it
  • Are less than 15 minutes to make (you likely even have enough ingredients for these 15-minute Tex-Mex Wraps I absolutely adore)
  • Are put together quickly from leftovers in the fridge (stir fries, sandwiches, pasta, etc.)

Tip #9: Take Part in the Spaghetti Jar Challenge

You’ll likely feel a sense of gratitude during your pantry challenge.

Many of the women in the challenge group I took part in did – it made us realize all of the bounty we already had, and how blessed we were to be able to CHOOSE to do a pantry challenge to save some money (instead of our pantries being all we could afford to eat from).

Do something about that by cleaning out a few of those spaghetti (or other sauce) jars, and filling them with blessings for others. Here’s how I did the spaghetti jar challenge many years ago.  

Pick from these pantry challenge tips above, and take action on them. Each pantry challenge you do, use a new one. You'll become more and more successful, with practice. And don't forget to have some fun with this – in fact, several ladies said doing this challenge actually brought joy back into their kitchen and meal-making!

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 10 years, her money work helping people with how to save money and how to manage money has been featured in Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here.