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Eat From the Pantry Challenge: Are You Ready for an Adventure? (Guest Post)


Guest Post by My Friend Kelly

Let's face it: we're all busy. No matter if you are married, single, in a
career or working at home, mother to seven, one or none, we all have enough to
fill our days and then some. Maybe the thought of adding one more challenge to
an overflowing Resolution list is too much to consider right now.

Relax, the Eat From The Pantry Challenge isn't boot camp. Crystal and Jessica are quite the opposite of
screaming drill sergeants. These are women who are willing to spend
considerable time and energy to share their struggles, successes, and failures
in order to encourage us.

This month-long challenge doesn't require you to
create a blog, starve your children, or eat leaves and wild roots. It's closer
to finishing the unread books on your shelf before buying new ones.

At the end of November, I embarked on my own challenge to clean out my pantry
and freezer. I am proof it can be done even if you’re not a master baker or planner.
If this pantry month seems too difficult let's start with a new perspective.

This is not a challenge, it's an adventure! Adventures are fun and exciting,
full of surprises and exploration. Here’s just a taste of what you might learn
on this adventure:

Re-discover Creativity

Remember the days when an empty plastic container and cardboard from the paper
towels could entertain you for hours? Or times in college when you made pasta
in the coffee pot and grilled cheese sandwiches with an iron?

It's time to get creative
again! Whether it's breakfast for dinner to finish up some pancake mix, using
stale bread for croutons
, or finding substitutes, cooking is about enjoying the
process and breaking out of the mundane.

Creativity comes when you have seventeen cans of tuna and need a new recipe.
Creativity is testing new sauces on pasta and trying new recipes, ingredients,
and styles of cooking. 

Discover Thankfulness

As we settle into our routines, grocery shopping can become a tedious chore.
Take this month to focus not on what you don't have in the pantry but what
you do. Instead of focusing on the deals you might miss, enjoy the ones you
found already! It's simple to grab chili on sale and celebrate a great
deal but it's a little harder to make chili and cornbread or chili on a baked
potato three times a week to use it up.

Look at all the opportunities we have to buy food and utilize discounts,
coupons, and rewards. It's easy to take that for granted. When was the last time
your family gave thanks for having a local grocery store, fresh produce, and the
funds to pick up a treat or two?

Discover Usefulness

Once you embark on the Eat From the Pantry "Adventure", try a little trick I call 'spelunking.'
Simply dig through your stock and find something you can use in place of going
to the store. Crunchy salad toppers can be used in soup. Top macaroni and cheese with the last
tablespoons of bread crumbs. Turn mushy apples into
applesauce and juice into popsicles.

Try Amy
Dacyczyn’s Universal Casserole Recipe
. Or, if you get stuck without an “essential”
ingredient this site
on substitutions is one of the easiest to reference.

I know my great grandmothers would be ashamed to see the amount of food I
let spoil each week. They didn't waste; the mantra was to "use it
up!" In that spirit during my Pantry Month I rescued a ham from the work
potluck that was to be thrown away. Ham omelets, sandwiches, added to beans and
soup helped stretch many meals. If you're thinking your stock can't possibly
last 31 days give it a shot and find out how long it WILL last. The worst that
can happen is you'll find your answer.

Discover Giving

Crystal has connected her savings to a charity, would you do something similar?
Soon we'll be collecting 2009 receipts and income information for taxes. Do you
find yourself wishing you could give more in time, donations or money? Food
banks are struggling this year so whether you donate some of your savings of
that can of creamed corn you don't want to eat, this is a great time to give

How about making a Saturday trip to a soup kitchen to
volunteer your time? Encountering people in your own city who really do
struggle for daily meals can add some much-needed perspective.

Discover Purpose

What are you saving money towards in 2010? Do you have a family vacation, new
baby, cash-only Christmas plans, or need new clothes?  Remind yourself with
pictures posted on the fridge that represent your savings goal. When you sit
down to a meal get excited about your next adventure and what it means for your
family. If you have kids, talk to them about the importance of paying back
debts, saving for summer camp, or giving to others.

Check out some books on frugal cooking, there are hundreds available from the
library and paperback book swap
for just the price of postage. Or check out a new food blog for recipes that
utilize what you have on hand.

Re-discover Family Time

When you've got all you need right at home to prepare and share a meal, the
time really does center around family. Instead of running out to pick up one or
two things, find a substitute and create a new tradition–you may even
discover a new taste when you introduce variety!

Set the table, light a candle, and share about your day. And don't dismiss
family time if you're single like I am; use this time to decompress and relax.
Enjoy your quiet time and then call your parents or a friend and ask about
their day. Or pick up some nice cards and write a note to a friend or family

What I discovered

While I've never had a baking day or tried to prepare a month's worth of food
in one weekend, I survived the month of December without grocery shopping. When
I found myself thinking of eating out or running to the store for “just one
little thing” I would immediately challenge myself to recreate the meal at
home. And on the days when I was busy and pressed for time, a bowl of soup and
peanut butter with jelly sandwich worked just fine.

You will find yourself accomplishing more on this adventure than you ever
thought possible. Case in point: I've gone 31 days without Starbucks coffee!

In the end I still survived and I'm stronger for it. I
certainly believed I'd be down to mustard, olive, and spaghetti sandwiches by
now but I'm eating just as well as before. I've learned a lot of lessons which
I share on my blog.  And I’m looking
forward to reading what y’all learn as well.

Are you up for a little adventure?

Kelly is a 25 year old single homeowner living in Northern
California. Despite a high cost of
living and tough job market, Kelly has created a cozy home without acquiring
debt. Now just $3,000 away from eliminating
student loans (the last of consumer debt), Kelly looks forward her first trip
abroad, thrift store decorating, and teaching financial awareness. Kelly blogs at My Friend Kelly.

photo by ex.libris

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  • Billy says:

    Although this is not a new idea, it’s always inspiring to hear other people take this challenge. I’m actually thinking about taking it on in April…after I try out a few other money saving ideas. The question is- is it really worthwhile to clean out your pantry (by eating out all of the stuff), if you’ll just generate a HUGE bill the next month when you need to restock? This is a question I’m trying to resolve before I try it myself…if you have any insights, please let me know (or share with everyone)!

  • Leah W says:

    I started the challenge of eating from the pantry on the 1st. This is the first time ever that I made a meal plan otherwise I knew I would never make it.

  • Carrie says:

    I was not planning on doing this challenge, but I haven’t really grocery shopped since it started. It’s just too cold out, and we’ve just been too busy with the holidays and with the kids being out of school. Call me an accidental pantry-eater, lol.

  • Shelah says:

    good ideas and well-written!

  • cindy diaz says:

    This year we picked all of the grapes off of our grapevines. My husband and I hated to see food hanging from the vine go to waste again this year. I froze them because we did not have time in September to make jelly. I bought freezer pectin at Walmart on clearance last week for $1 a packet and We just took a bag of grapes out of the freeze and made homemade grape jam that will last us for two weeks! What a yummy treat in January for my family.

  • chris says:

    That’s awesome!

  • Awesome post. My husband and I are moving next month – so this challenge came at a great time. We are eating everything we can so we can pack lighter and not have food spoil during our 600 mile move. We will go ou to eat probably twice a week but only to go to grocery store twice for milk and perishables.

  • Sarah says:

    Thanks, Kelly! I enjoyed your list of lessons learned on your blog as well!

  • anoo says:

    What a wonderful post !!
    Very inspiring

  • Amy says:

    I am so on board with this- (so far so good)…but I have a bunch of home-canned salmon staring at me in all its healthy yet oily, smelly glory.
    Are there any great books on frugal cooking that you would recommend? Anybody have a favorite one?

  • Elizabeth says:

    Great ideas. It’s true that pb and j or pasta with butter “sauce” still counts as eating. Faster than running out to the store!

  • travelbugmom says:

    I cook almost every night and that requires a lot of trips to the grocery store – but, I find that I ALWAYS overbuy and have many things accumulated in my pantry and freezer. When I first heard about this concept (money saving mom), I embraced the idea and adapted it for a few weeks last year. IT REALLY WORKS and I was shocked at my creativity…..thanks for the adventure.

  • Colleen Coberley says:

    @Amy-Salmon cakes!!! Just find a crabcake recipe you like and substitute well drained salmon for the crab!

  • Wendy says:

    I may just have to try this….my pantry needs some cleaning out!

  • Kate says:

    Thanks Kelly and Crystal, I also had my own pantry challenge last month before moving home and I was amazed (and convicted about my wastefulness) by how much food I had just piled in a cupboard. This series is helping me continue with what I learned and try to make it a regular habit to use up what I have before buying more.

    It’s good to hear from another single girl too, kelly – I thought I was the only one reading this blog;-)

    Kate (in the UK)

  • Angela says:

    We are doing the pantry challenge as well. I’ve already got my month planned, and we should have everything on hand that we could need… and if not, I know how to substitute! 🙂

  • Meg says:

    Sounds like a cool challenge!

  • Sarah J. says:

    I too am participating in this adventure. I’m 4 days in and decided to take pictures of “before” so I can really see the difference “after”. I’m also trying to post what we do eat so that I feel accountable to someone other than my family. It’s my extra incentive to see this through and stay balanced!

  • Mar says:

    This is a really nice guest post. We are doing the eating from the pantry challenge for most part, but we will probably still buy a few items that are really good buys (such as the hot chocolate from Target that we got for 2 cents per box using the Target coupons last month – I won’t pass that up). So far we have had a leftovers night (tonight, no pans to wash – woohoo), used up a half-bag of tortellini, and made kuegel to use up some soft apples and some dried out raisins that I plumped up by soaking them in water.

    Billy, I understand your concern about just using up your food and having to buy lots of food next month. That’s why I’m not going to pass up the really good bargains. In addition, I have so much food right now that I think I can do this for the month and still have food left. I figure this way I’ll at least make some room and and be able to see what I have in there.

  • I actually did this type of challenge this summer. We actually cleared out the pantry and freezer and have been much more selective with our grocery shopping since then, so it didn’t lead to a huge grocery bill the next week. I think it made us more aware of what we have and how we use it. And, yes, it makes you very thankful for having so much.

  • Beth says:

    Due to a financial shortfall this month, I decided to do this on Saturday (before I read this post!). I wrote down all the meat I had in the freezer, and after cleaning out the pantry, I knew what was in there too. It was fun to be able to make a list of meals that will last our family of 7 for 2 weeks with just getting a handful of fresh things from the grocery store!

  • Kendal Hall says:

    Great guest post – checked out your blog …. how can I follow it?

  • Kami Alger says:

    Hey there, just wondering if you were doing a CVS or Walgreens post this week? Thanks for all you do for all of us frugal moms!!

  • CJ says:

    Kelly is far more reflective than I am. I too did a pantry challenge for the month of december. I did it for, as she said “the challenge.” I agree with her list of things you can learn from the challenge.

    Good luck to all those who are undertaking the pantry challenge!!!

    (I posted the details of my challenge on my blog on dec. 29)

  • Brandi says:

    Okay…I’m in! I have never taken the pantry challenge, but my freezer and pantry/cabinets are overflowing. I think we could make it two months. With exception of milk and fresh produce, as these are a necessity with two young children. I will be challenging myself to a budget of 100.00 (hopefully less) this month for milk and fresh fruit and veg.

  • Becca says:

    Thanks for this post! I am trying to be more creative, and using this challenge…no, adventure as an excuse to try new things and venture from the grilled cheese (we finished off the bread already) and quesadillas (oops, tortillas went bad for the first time…we had leftovers from a party we attended) my DH loves oh so much.

    A great way to use up leftovers is to repurpose them from the original dinner by adding other ingredients, so it doesn’t feel like you are having the same thing two days in a row. For example, I added mashed potatoes and corn to chicken, biscuits & gravy.

  • Christy Carden says:

    OK, but if we eat from the pantry and freezer for all of January, won’t that leave us needing to spend more on groceries in Feb. because our stockpiles will be limited?? Or do others have large enough stockpiles to still have a good amount left?

  • LMB says:

    We are doing the challenge week by week to see how far we can go. I will still look for great deals on meat etc. But we do need to use up several things so its a good way to rotate the stockpile too. Our meals are planned out basically for the month. Subject to change whenever I don’t want to cook what’s on the menu. Good luck everyone.

  • Patti says:

    I am joining in the challenge for a different reason – I want to clean out my freezer in case of a power loss. It seems like every time I have a full freezer, we have an ice storm and I lose it all! So far, so good – we’ve been using up meats we usually grill in the summer (I’ve been using my slow cooker to do them).

  • sarah says:

    I am having fun with the challenge!!!

  • Patti says:

    Amy: Baked Salmon Loaf
    2 cups cooked or canned salmon
    2/3 cup evaporated milk
    2 cups soft bread crumbs
    1 egg, well beaten
    1 tablespoon minced parsley (optional)
    2 tablespoons minced onion
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
    Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix ingredients just like you would meatloaf. Put mixture into a well-greased loaf pan and bake until center is firm, about 40 minutes.

  • VickiV says:

    I have been wanting to do this for quite some time, so I thank you for the challenge. I am looking forward to coming up with new recipes to expand my options as well as saving money.

  • Kelly says:

    Thanks everyone! I’m really enjoying Month 2 of my challenge, I still have plenty of food and I’m discovering new recipes and tricks every day.

    Kendal – I have an RSS feed on the blog or you can have posts delivered via email.

  • fairydust says:

    I have a stockpiled freezer that should really be eaten down, maybe not to completely empty, but at least half-way 🙂 One of my biggest dilemmas – literally – is the box of 10 lbs of frozen breaded chicken tenders. What WAS I thinking?! I had so enjoyed the 1 lb bag of these that we received in an Angel Food Box last year that when the AF folks offered the 10-lb box, I snapped one up. And in the freezer it sits. I am sorely tempted to invite my 22-yr-old son and all his housemates over some night for a Tenders Party or something… *smacks head*

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