What is a “Pantry Challenge” and What Have I Done?

The Saturday after Christmas, I saw a post from someone I follow on Instagram saying they were going to begin a pantry challenge, and asked who wanted to join along.

I had just spent the last couple of days in a bit of a daze, after the blizzard and septic failure, and when the last of the company had returned home, I looked – in total awe – at the copious amounts of leftover food in our fridge.

Our last trip to the grocery store had been December 26th, and it was for some bacon and some spinach and artichoke dip. Hardly a haul by any means, but based on our fridge and freezer at the time, we wouldn’t have had room for much else.

I immediately jumped on board with the pantry challenge, for the sole reason of being absolutely intentional with the food we already had. I didn’t want it to simply go to waste, and I figured with as much as we had, we’d be good for a long while.

The goal is to use only what you have on hand, for as long as possible, and avoid trips to (and therefore excessive spending at) the grocery store. I read the post, and set a 45-day goal for our household. Then I asked Brent if he was on board, because I already was.

A little side note: When most people join things like a pantry challenge, or a fitness challenge, or whatever kind of challenge it may be, they do a little work up front, evaluate what they need, plan a bit, and then commit.

When Val sees things like a pantry challenge, she does zero work, commits 150%, charges down the mountain, and then several days in, stops to wonder if maybe she should have done a little work up front, some evaluating, perhaps even planning. Val is very much Ready, Fire, Aim.

It was a few days in when I thought about coffee, milk, cream, and yogurt. Those don’t keep – or last – forever, and perhaps I should have banked some before launching head-first into a challenge. Brent made an executive decision we would still buy milk and cream as needed, which I was relieved by. We have bought one gallon of milk, and we’ve been out of cream for a while, so milk may be our only exception in this.

I’m realizing how much food we have. With a full garden, a canning addiction, and a full freezer bringing joy to my eye, we really have ridiculous amounts of food stores for our family, and how much of it would normally go to waste, either sitting in the fridge or freezer too long? We buy too much of one thing, not enough of another, and we justify it because we have chickens who will eat whatever we won’t, and a compost pile that will take whatever we won’t give the chickens.

Technically we’re not “wasting” any of it. But still…

I’ve learned to be intentional about future purchases. This is a practice I intend to be more disciplined in. This also calls for being more intentional with meal planning, which drives me crazy, but really is so helpful in avoiding or eliminating waste.

My goal is to spend next winter eating solely out of our food stores, with the exception of dairy products. If we can work all summer and fill our freezer and cupboards, surely we can avoid trips to the grocery store for longer than a 45 day stretch.

Today has been 20 days since our last grocery purchase. We are officially out of bacon, and while that does not set well with me, I’ll survive. Breakfasts have been either eggs or oatmeal with toast. Lunches are usually leftovers or sandwiches, or a Trim Healthy Mama shake of some sort for me. I’ll show you a list of what we’ve had for dinners each night, though keep something important in mind…

I came down with the flu. And when I say “down” I mean, I was sicker than sick, and I’m still actually trying to fully recover. I didn’t cook for five nights, but Hubs still stayed true to the pantry challenge. He’s amazing… in so many ways. Please tell him so next time you see him.

So while I was sick and I desperately wanted some cranberry juice, or even a little apple juice – we didn’t have any, and I didn’t even voice those desires, because I didn’t want to lose the challenge.

Another side note – this is not being judged and no prizes are being awarded. This is a challenge I have set for myself, therefore “losing” is not really a thing. But again… Ready, Fire, Aim. Flu or not.

I’ve only kept track since December 31st – but know that prior to that we were simply eating Christmas leftovers. I can’t remember and haven’t logged all of the sides we’ve had – so forgive some of the gaps.

Dec. 31st: GF Pasta, chicken, Alfredo sauce
Jan. 1st: Chicken tacos with beans, cheese, sour cream, salsa, lettuce
Jan. 2nd: Brinner (breakfast for dinner) – eggs and bacon and sausage
Jan. 3rd: Tuna patties, buttercup squash, spinach with Ranch, GF biscuits
Jan. 4th: Cauliflower crust pizza and cauliflower crust cheese sticks
Jan. 5th: Taco salad/nachos with all the fixins
Jan. 6th: Chili w/ kidney beans
Jan. 7th: Turkey burger patties with cheese
**Also took snacks to 4-H meeting this night: cheese and crackers, lefse, prosciutto, chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin chocolate chip bread**
Jan. 8th: Sweet & Spicy Drumsticks, rice, steamed broccoli
Jan. 9th: Brinner – eggs and sausage
Jan. 10th: Chicken, Bacon & Ranch Caulirice with cheese
Jan. 11th: Beef Stew
Jan. 12th: Meatloaf
Jan. 13th: Leftovers
Jan 14th: Skillet (sausage and eggs cooked in a skillet, topped with melted cheese) and applesauce

Now because I got sick and the menu got a little shuffled, we’ll most likely be having pork chops tonight, and pork roast tomorrow, but that’s okay. We have the food and that’s what counts.

Thursday night is our supper club gathering, for which we’re hosting (and which I also forgot about when I jumped head first into the challenge). But have no fear – I’ve got it figured out.

We’ll serve Cheesy Potato & Beef Soup, and either Chili or Beef Stew (or maybe both?), homemade breads, and a dessert or two. I’ll make enough to feed eight adults and all 11 kids. Without. Going. To. The. Grocery. Store.

Just 3 weeks and a couple days until my 45-day timeline comes to an end.

And I will celebrate our success with some bacon.

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