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Pantry Challenge: My Update and Menu Plan (Share Your Progress, too!)


Well, we've officially been Eating From The Pantry for a whole week. And I'll admit, it's definitely been a challenge.

We always have surplus since I practice the "Buy-Ahead Principle" in my grocery shopping, but I didn't do a whole lot of shopping in December, so we actually started this month a little low on reserves.

I'm okay with that, though, because I wanted this to be a true challenge. A learning experience. Something to force me to be creative.

You see, I've been feeling stuck in a rut when it comes to cooking recently. I've been making a lot of the same things over and over again. Sure, they are good recipes–and we like them!–but too much of the same thing quickly becomes lackluster and boring.

So this Pantry Challenge and spending a few days eating at a gourmet chef's house has been exactly the motivation I've needed to experiment in the kitchen again. And while it was hard at first to get my momentum going, I'm starting to get all inspired. In fact, I keep coming up with new ideas and am beginning to wonder if the month will be up before I have a chance to make all the recipes I want to try with our pantry ingredients. I suppose that is a good problem to have.


We made a quick trip to the store yesterday to pick up fresh produce, milk, and cheese and then I made up a list of meal ideas for this coming week based upon those ingredients and what we already have on hand. These ideas are just to serve as a starting point as I'm giving myself free reign to be creative in the kitchen–so long as I can make the recipe with what we already have on hand!

Breakfasts Ideas:

Cereal x 3 (trying to use up some of our extra boxes of free or $0.50-$0.99 cereal!)

Whole-Wheat Waffles

Pumpkin Pancakes

Oatmeal with cinnamon, apples, and sucanat

Side options: Fresh Orange/Apple Juice, Oranges, Grapefruit

Lunch Ideas:

Creamy Mac and Cheese

Tuna Salad

Mixed Green Salad with Hard-Boiled Eggs, cheese & crackers

Chicken Nuggets

Fish Sticks



Side options: oranges, apples, carrot sticks, frozen veggies

Dinner Ideas:

Lit'l Smokies with Potatoes, Onions, and Carrots in the crockpot, Cornbread Muffins, Oranges, Chocolate Pudding

Sweet and Sour Chicken Stirfry over rice with Chow Mein Noodles, Apple-Pineapple Salad

Turkey Meatballs, Sweet Potatoes, Homemade Rolls, Corn, Grapefruit

Chicken Tetrazinni, Mixed Green Salad, Broccoli, Homemade Bread

Barbecue Chicken in the crockpot served on buns, Steamed Mixed Veggies, Twice-Baked Potatoes, Oranges

Homemade Pizza, Carrot Sticks, Apples, Brownies

Dinner out

Snack Ideas:

Popcorn, Crackers/Cheese, Fruit, Cereal, Homemade Funnel Cakes, Hot Cocoa

So there's my list of ideas to work from this week. I'll let you know how it goes. And if I have any colossal flop or discover a really incredible recipe, I'll be sure to let you know.

How's your Pantry Challenge going? If you've been blogging about it, be sure to leave direct links to your update posts below so we can all be inspired!

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  • Great job Crystal! I was feeling a bit unmotivated too, but after I realized that my meals were costing between $0.25 and $0.50 a serving by using my leftovers I am very motivated! Thanks for hosting this!

  • brandy says:

    I’m curious about the lil’ smokies in the crockpot meal. Can you elaborate? Are you just dumping it in there and cooking? I have a pack in the freezer that I would LOVE to use this week.

    Money Saving Mom here: I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ll be doing. 🙂 I usually make this type of recipe with beef sausage links, but I figured Lit’l smokies should work alright as well.

  • Michelle says:

    Useful site:
    Enter ingredients you have on hand and it will show a list of recipes from all over the internet that use only those ingredients.

  • I will also admit that it is a BIG challenge, but I am SO enjoying clearing out the freezer/fridge and pantry … woo hoo!! 🙂

  • I love the website it also has where you can put in ingredients you DO want and ones you DO NOT want and it will provide a list of recipes!

  • april says:

    If you have any cinnamon toast crunch on hand there is a good french toast recipe I recently used.
    Dip the bread in beated eggs and milk on both sides, then in crushed cereal, place in oven 450 10 mins.

  • Colleen Coberley says:

    I had a GREAT cook from the pantry day yesterday. I was excited that my Fiance actually requested baked macaroni for his birthday dinner. I had a few bricks of cheese from a gift basket I needed to use. Well, it was good until I realized i had NO CHEESE GRATER!!! We did one pound of cheese by hand with a microplane!!! I laughed after, it tasted even better knowing we all had to take turns with the cheese grating.

  • Stacy says:

    I was wondering what that picture is of? It looks soooo yummy!

  • Amy says:

    Thank you for hosting this. It’s fun to see what we can come up with. So far we’re $50 under budget. Not as low as I thought we’d be but we bought 4 lbs of salmon & tilapia so we could keep eating some fish this month. I’ve actually been less stressed when making my menu plan & I thought it would be the opposite. Thanks to you & Jessica for inspiring me to try the pantry challenge!


  • Andrea says:

    I was wondering the same thing as Stacy. I would love that recipe!! It looks really good.

  • cwaltz says:

    The mac and cheese link doesn’t work for me. 🙁

    It says forbidden.

  • Brandy Fisk says:

    I gave myself a $20 grocery limit for this month (yeah crazy I know) and to my surprise I’ve spent less than $4 so far. I have to go to the store today and pick up some milk and some free-cheap items so I’m sure I will spend the rest today. The good news is my freezer is half empty (or half full:) and I will do a baking day tomw. to use up some of my pantry stockpile and then I will have some more homemade goodies in the freezer(yeah).

  • Jen says:

    Crystal & Brandy – I did just that last week. We had a leftover package of smoked breakfast links (basically the same as Lil Smokies) from Christmas morning. I cut each into two pieces, put them in the crockpot with potatoes, carrots, an onion, and half a head of cabbage. Seasoned with a little fresh ground pepper and sea salt, some mustard seed and coriander. Oh yeah, I also added a can of low sodium chicken broth for the liquid, but you could probably use water too.


    Good luck and bon appetit!

  • Mary says:

    The link for the creamy mac and cheese is broken. Do you mind reposting it? Thanks!

  • We started out with 200 pounds of potatoes this month. We ate 50 pounds this week! We had potato gnocchi, potato donuts (so good!), baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, oven-baked french fries, hash browns, minestrone soup, au gratin potatoes, and fried diced potates with onions. We went through a lot of ketchup this week . . . .

    We some awesome things to eat! I roasted a turkey, we had tangerine-pomegranate chicken (from the tangerines and pomegranates we harvested from our garden), tried a new recipe for pumpkin gnocchi, ate lots of leftovers, had oatmeal, and really enjoyed our meals!

    This was our third week of eating from the pantry. We won’t be making any trips to the store for a while.

    We had a warm week, and I planted seeds for lettuce, swiss chard, spinach, turnips, radishes, and carrots this week. If it all grows, we’ll have fresh things to eat in a couple of months when we’re still ating from our pantry.

  • Megan says:

    I’m having a good time with this challenge. So far we’re doing great and enjoying the extra space we’re generating as the stockpile goes down. My husband is gone for two weeks so we won’t be using up so much but every little bit helps.

  • Laura says:

    We started a bit early and are just finishing Week 2 and we’re doing well. My kids love that they don’t get dragged to the supermarket these days!! We still have a lot of stuff to use up!

  • Beth says:

    Last week I made instant mashed potato-potato soup (used evaported milk for the liquid and 1/2 the amt of potato flakes called for to make mashed potatoes). I also made shredded pork fajitas and will reuse the frozen leftovers tonight for tortilla soup. I also made my own version of alfredo sauce–sour cream, milk, dash of garlic salt, dried basil and served over pasta with mixed in left over ham lunch meat, and peas. It was surprisingly good! I will probably run out of meat before I run out pantry staples. We are so blessed!

  • Ellen Drake says:

    Thank you for the update; it’s so encouraging to know that we’re all in this together! We are on day 8 of eating from the pantry. I was feeling a little un-inspired this morning, but I took a second look at my pantry and freezer and came up with a great list of meal ideas for this week as well. Reading your post just sealed the deal for me to try and make it through this week. thank you!!!!

  • Hi All, I am loving the “Eat from the Pantry Challenge.” I have posted a couple of updates on my blog. My kids are even getting into this, too!

    Crystal, this is fun!

  • brandy says:

    Thanks Crystal & Jen! I might just try that this week. 🙂

  • Emily says:

    This isn’t specific to January’s “Eat from the Pantry” Challenge, but I’ve recently been trying to use up half-opened pasta boxes, pretty much empty peanut butter jars, unopened cans of obscure ingredients, and the like.

    Rather than leaving these ingredients up on their regular (out of the way) shelves, I moved these food items to a shelf in our “plates/bowls/glasses” cabinet. Because I access the plates/bowls/glasses frequently, I’m seeing these random food items frequently and that motivates me.

    By keeping these foods I want to use up more visible, I’ve been incorporating these foods into recipes more frequently.

  • I am officially inspired. Off to check out the challenge now!

  • Kathryn says:

    We’re trying to eat from our pantry this week, too, to help pay some unexpected medical bills. I always find that “breakfast for dinner” is a good meal for a pantry week. Almost everyone has pancake ingredients and a few extra eggs (for scrambling or frying) on hand. Just add some fruit from the grocery, and you have a balanced meal! And kids think it’s a treat to have pancakes for dinner.

  • This challenge has been fun so far. My freezer is full of meat but figuring out ways to use it with what’s in the pantry is proving to be a fun challenge. This week I’m roasting a 22 lb turkey that I got cheap over the holidays. I’m having fun coming up with some ideas for freezer meals for all that meat!

  • Katie L. says:

    Sorry for the double entry – can’t figure out how to delete my first one.

    So glad you’re hosting this challenge! It’s saved us a lot of money already!

  • Janet says:

    I can’t believe how much fun this has been! I thought my teenagers would give me a hard time but they actually have been enjoying it. I’m trying to stay at 10 bucks a week for groceries, last week I ended up spending 11.58 but 6.00 of that was for 2 cases of water for their lunches.

    My in-laws are even giving it a try

  • Rachel says:

    great ideas! I love this challenge.

    by the way. . .

    that fluffy pumpkin pancakes recipe makes the most DELICIOUS waffles ever! if you wanted to attempt pumpkin waffles again. I made a triple batch on saturday and by monday they were GONE! EVERYBODY loved them and we enjoyed having a little more taste of autumn. I bought up a case of organic canned pumpkin after the holidays so we are going to be enjoying pumpkin items for quite some time. 😉

  • Joyagg says:

    Using things from the freezer and pantry. It took me longer to make a 2 week menu, but is certainly saving money. I’m also trying several new crockpot recipes…saving money AND time – who could ask for anything more!

  • Thanks Crystal for the links to my recipes! Sorry my site was having issues earlier (saw that a couple people commented on the mac and cheese). It’s all better now…hopefully!

  • Martianne says:

    We updated our Eat from the Pantry Challenge and Weekly Menu today. I must say it’s really motivating me to plan and follow through on more budget-friendly meals for the family. Thank you. Now, what to do with CUPS and CUPS of FROZEN CABBAGE? Any IDEAS? Maybe you could leave me a few at so I can use them up in next week’s menu…

  • Ami says:

    I linked up. It’s so cool that so many people are doing this challenge. I also think it’s cool that there haven’t been any awesome deals at the stores I’ve been missing.

    Isn’t it wonderful that the internet can be a great tool to real work on the art of homemaking in a fun way?!

  • Patti says:

    We are enjoying the challenge… and I have only been to the store one time for essentials like milk and produce. We have had pancakes (must be a staple in frugal families!), made a white sauce from scratch for a chicken dish, and jambalaya made from bits of ham, green peppers, and tomatoes I froze last summer. A funny thing happened to us last week. My hubby and I decided to go out to dinner even though we were trying not to this month and it made us feel guilty. We decided if we were going to go out to do it right and get REAL pizza, not chain store pizza . We went to a brick oven restaurant and ordered salads and our pizza. When it came, the waitress informed us that it had been cooked “wrong” – the chef left the meat off of it. We were okay with that but he wasn’t so he cooked us another pizza. We ended up eating vegetarian and taking the meat pizza home for our teenager (who was thrilled!). This just shows that God blesses us even when we don’t deserve it!

  • Patti says:

    I am going to Walgreens this week for the toothpaste deal which will result in a $2 RR. Eggs are $.99 so I am going to get two dozen and find a cheapie filler for the other two cents. Might be searching the ads for milk and other staples during this challenge.

  • Carmen says:

    You’re an inspiration to me! I set a goal to go to the store only 4x this month and spend $25 each trip. So far, it’s working for our family of six. I have several freezer meals left from December. Thanks for all you’ve shared. It’s making a big difference in my thinking. Keep going strong!!

  • Carol D. says:

    I’ve been so inspired by you and Fishmama! I was only going to do a modified eat from the pantry, but when I did an inventory and started menu planning, I easily came up with 2 weeks of meals, and will still have plenty of pantry items to use up! I was totally amazed, and awakened again to the realization that God is an abundant provider!

  • Week Two and going strong. This week I was in a bind to serve a Mexican meal without tortillas or chips. So I made my own flour tortillas, with some success. They were edible, but not great. Still, I stuck to the challenge.

  • APRIL FOX says:

    Can I get the recipe for “Lit’l Smokies with Potatoes, Onions, and Carrots in the crockpot”?

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