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Why & How To Do A Pantry Challenge

You’ve heard how doing a pantry challenge can save you a ton of money on groceries and now your wondering how it works…

No worries, in this article, I’ll explain the how and why, and everything in between to pulling off a successful pantry challenge.

What is a pantry challenge?

A pantry challenge is when you commit to not buy any groceries for a specific time period so you can focus on using up the food you already have on hand.

Just because it’s called the pantry challenge, doesn’t mean you’ll just be making meals and eating pantry staples, you can and should use up food from your fridge and freezer too.

The goal of doing a pantry challenge is to use up what you already have on hand to control food waste, save money on groceries, and clean out your food storage areas to get organized.

Below is a quick overview of how the pantry challenge works, but you’ll want to keep reading to learn how and why you should consider doing the pantry challenge as well as some tips and recipe ideas to make the challenge easier.

Pantry challenge overview

1. Decide on a time frame for how long you’ll commit to doing the pantry challenge

2. Set your no spend challenge rules for what’s allowed and what’s not

3. Take inventory of the food you have on hand in your pantry, fridge, and freezer

4. Create a meal plan using the food you have on hand.



Why do a pantry challenge?

Now that you know how the pantry challenge works, you’re probably wondering why you should do it, right?

Well, one of the main reasons most people challenge themselves to eat food that they already have on hand is to save money on groceries.

Just think about how much money you’d save by not buying groceries for an entire month. Would you save $400 by not shopping for groceries next month? Maybe $600?

That in itself is reason enough.

But saving money is only one of the many benefits of doing a pantry challenge. It also allows you to…

Control food waste by using up what you have on hand

Organize your pantry and declutter your fridge and freezer

Spend less time shopping which will also help to reduce impulse purchases 

Donate food that you know your family won’t eat to less fortunate

And as already mentioned, save money on food

How to do a pantry challenge


1. Decide on a time frame

The first you need to consider is how long will you be doing the pantry challenge. There are no hard and fast rules here.

You can challenge yourself to eat food you have on hand for a week, a month, or longer. The timeframe you decide on should be determined by how much of a food stockpile you have.

If your pantry is and freezer is jammed packed with so much food that you can’t fit anything else in them, a month might be a good starting point.

If your goal is to use up excess food to organize your pantry, fridge, and freezer, then a shorter timeframe might do the trick.

2. Pantry challenge rules

Next, you’ll want to set your pantry challenge rules. This too is totally up to you and your situation but if you want to accomplish a specific goal, you’ll want to set some rules.

Some people will do the pantry challenge with an exception that they allow themselves to buy some fresh produce, dairy, and other items that wouldn’t last an entire month.

I’ve also heard of doing the challenge with a small food allowance to buy certain foods. 

Of course, to save the most amount of money and reduce your food stockpile, strickly eating the food you have on hand without buying anything will give you the biggest benefits.

In the end, it’s really up to you to set your own rules and if giving yourself a bit of leeway will help you complete the challenge then that’s totally fine too.

3. Take inventory of food you have on hand

So, the next thing you’ll want to do is take inventory of the food you have in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.

While you are doing this, you might as well knock out three tasks at once and get rid of any food that you won’t eat while organizing your kitchen at the same time.

First, you’ll want to focus on one area at a time and you’ll want to totally empty contents and place on a large surface such as a kitchen table or island.

While you are at it, you might as well clean the shelves with soapy water. Next, sort your food into three categories.


The trash pile would be for food that is not good or has expired or that can’t be donated or given away.

The donate pile is food that is still good and unopened that can be given to a food pantry or church to help feed less fortunate people who struggle to put food on the table.

Lastly, you’ll have you “keep” pile which is the food you are going to utilize during your pantry challenge. 

As you are putting the food back into storage, write down what it is and how much of each item you have, this will help you to create a realistic meal plan.

Meal planning

4. Create your meal plan

The last thing you should do in preparation for a pantry challenge is to create a meal plan or at least a list of meals you can make based on the foods on your inventory list. 

Download these free meal planning templates to create your meal plan

This really isn’t a requirement and you can attempt to wing it as you go, but I wouldn’t recommend it since the better prepared you are will give you the best chance to getting through the month.

As you are creating your list of meals to make, you might realize that you have most of the food to make certain recipes but might be missing a specific ingredient. 

Since the steps above are in preparation for a pantry challenge, you can pick up a few things that you’ll need to make things easier. 

The one thing you shouldn’t do is go out and buy a month’s worth of groceries right before you start the challenge since obviously, this would defeat the purpose.

save money on groceries

Tips to survive a pantry challenge

Here are a few other tips to make things easier and help you survive your first pantry challenge.

  • Use up perishables first

This is probably pretty obvious, but you should try to use any food that you have that’s perishable before it spoils. 

  • Get creative with your meals

Just because a recipe calls for a specific food, doesn’t mean you can’t make adjustments to it. For example, tacos can be made with chicken instead of ground beef and you can swap out corn for green beans when making shepherd’s pie.

  • Try new recipes

If you have food on your inventory list that you aren’t sure what to do with, do a quick google search or scroll through recipes on Pinterest to find recipes. 

When things get down to the barebones and your freezer and refrigerator are empty, you might need to search for some dirt-cheap meals that can be made with pantry staples.

  • Find substitutes for missing ingredients 

If you have a meal in mind but are missing a key ingredient, look for a substitute so you can still make that dish. 

There are many substitutes for ingredients like using yogurt to replace sour cream or cider vinegar for lemon juice.  

  • Mix and match

One simple way to use up all your leftover ingredients is to mix and match those smaller portions. For example, you could use a mix of different kinds of pasta to make your favorite casserole dish or use both brown and white rice to make homemade soup.

  • Don’t forget snacks

My last tip is to not forget the snacks, especially if you have children. Imagine having to tell your kids that they can have another snack for a full month?

Pantry Challenge Conclusion

As you can see, doing a pantry challenge isn’t that hard when you prepare ahead of time. So are you up for the challenge?

Just think of how much money you can save in one month if you didn’t have to shop for groceries? If you decide to give it a try, leave a comment below to share how it went.

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Pantry Challenge