Pantry Challenge sounds like a program from Food Network or Cooking Channel, but it’s not. (If it were a program, I’d probably watch it; I really enjoy cooking shows, especially the ones involving competition.)
According to the Medium Sized Family blog,
a pantry challenge is when you choose not to buy groceries for a set time…Instead, you use up the food in your house until there is nothing left to eat.
For a variety of reasons, I decided to do a modified pantry challenge during my second house sitting job this past November. (I’m calling it a modified challenge because I wasn’t dead set on not buying groceries until I had nothing left to eat. I just wanted to make big dent in what I had before I shopped again.)
First of all, I was going to spend three weeks in a small town sixty miles from the nearest city. I suspected food prices were going to be high in the little town, and I was right. Since I arrived in town two hours before my appointment with the people I was house sitting for, I browsed at the town’s regular grocery store and the town’s health food/natural food/ hippie food store. The prices at both places were substantially higher than what I’d grown accustomed to paying at the outlet supermarket chain I’d shopped at all summer. I was glad I’d gone with my instinct and stocked up on everything from eggs to zucchini in the city where I was able to get things at a lower price.
Saving money is a big reason people do the pantry challenge. Jessica from the Good Cheap Eats blog says,
By focusing on what you have you will save money in not buying more. You also avoid the grocery store which means you reduce your impulse purchases, again saving you money.
Impulse buying can definitely be a problem for me, so I know Jessica is right that I save money simply by staying out of the grocery store. I can easily imagine myself popping in to the store for just a package of tortillas, then deciding to buy milk, which would mean I needed cereal, and on and on. Deciding to use what I had before I bought anything else certainly kept me away from the temptation to buy items I didn’t really need.
I believe in stocking up, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can get a bit out of hand. When I was living on the mountain, I didn’t want to run out of staples, like black beans for instance. So every time I went to the discount grocery store, I’d throw five or six cans of black beans into my shopping cart. I knew I wasn’t wasting money because I’d eat those beans eventually, but I had no idea how many cans I was really hauling around. My pantry challenge allowed me to do a much needed inventory of my food supply.
The easiest way to manage the challenge was to haul my pantry into the house. My pantry consists of several transparent plastic storage tubs made by Sterilite. I have two large tubs (one for proteins and main dishes, the other for side dishes and fruits and vegetables), two medium tubs (one for my dishes and bowl and utensils and cast iron skillet, the other for breakfast food and tea) and two small tubs (one for condiments and spices, the other for snacks like granola and energy bars).
One reason I chose these particular tubs were the latches that secured the covers. Several of the handles have broken off, so they are less desirable than they once were. On a whim, I contacted Sterilite and asked them if I could buy new latches. A customer representative contacted me a couple of days later and asked where exactly the latches had broken. I explained the situation, and she said while Sterilite does not sell replacement parts, she would send me new latches free of charge. SCORE! I guess it never hurts to ask.
In addition to these transparent tubs, I have three smaller tubs that hold up my bed and serve as backup food storage.
Bringing the tubs inside encouraged me to clean them. The tubs (especially the lids) were really dirty after being in the van all dusty summer. Having the tubs in the kitchen, near the sink, made cleaning them much less of a hassle. I took all of the food (mostly canned goods) out of the tubs, took inventory, organized the items into categories that work for the way I cook, then scrubbed the tubs and lids with soap and hot water. I let them dry completely before I put any food back in them.
Since I was on the cleaning train, I took the opportunity to wash my two small plates, bowl, spoon, knife, three forks, cutting board, collapsible funnel, folding-handle camp cup, and tiny cheese grater. When I’m in the forest, I mostly use the spray-with-soap, spray-with-water, wipe-with-paper-towel, method of cleaning, so it was good to be able to soak everything in hot soapy water, then do a thorough scrubbing.
As I did my inventory, I was able to isolate the food I don’t want to keep. I’m pretty good about eating what I have, but there were a few items I’m going to donate to a food bank or a free pile. I have a couple of cans of cream of mushroom soup I bought on sale 2-for-$1, but didn’t care for when I cooked with one can of it. I have several bags of banana chips that I don’t much like and a can of tomato sauce I can’t think of a way to use. I bet someone will be happy to have the stuff, and I’ll be glad to pass it on.
I’ll head to the land of scratch-and-dent groceries soon. It’s good that I’ve used up most of my canned goods and know what I can use more of, because it’s almost time to stock up again.
You can learn how to prepare for a pantry challenge and learn why one frugal blogger doesn’t do the pantry challenge anymore.
I took the photo in this post.