January Pantry Challenge wrap up

Almost week after the end of the January Pantry Challenge, here’s a wrap up…

The challenge was undertaken in an effort to avoid wasting holiday food, get the pantry organized, and save money. I’m happy to report that all three of those goals were accomplished! It was actually incredibly easy, and I don’t think we threw out any food during January (we did toss a bit of bruschetta this weekend that I made a few weeks back and we’d already eaten twice). Also, we didn’t sacrifice nutrition or taste one bit, because I made sure we ate plenty of fresh fruit every day, fresh spinach once a week, and salad several times a week. I also planned a lot of tasty meals, along with many of our favorite staples. You can read about the plan here, along with update #1 and update #2. There are recipes in each of those posts that I won’t include again here.

How much did I spend? Drumroll, please… A grand total of $215!! That’s incredible for two people who ate almost every meal at home. The total includes meat, dairy, fresh fruit and vegetables, and other staples bought during January. We went out to eat twice (Mexican food both times), and were invited out to dinner at friends’ houses three times. I am really happy with this total, since I normally spend about $320/mo. Before I started trying to waste less food, my grocery budget was $400. I can honestly say we are not eating any worse, just wasting less, cooking from scratch more, and buying fewer snacks and packaged food.

What did I learn? Mainly that I should be doing this routinely, namely keeping track of pantry and freezer items and making sure we use them in a timely fashion. It’s so much easier to do with an organized pantry that doesn’t include items that had almost become invisible, they’d been passed over for so long. And it’s much easier to waste less food when your pantry and freezer aren’t stuffed to the gills. Also, there are some things that can save a LOT of money if you make them from scratch, for instance fresh bread. We only eat a loaf every week or two in our house, but if you have children and go through a loaf every day or two, you could easily spend a huge portion of your grocery budget on bread. Baking your own bread isn’t that time-consuming, although it would be very difficult with a full-time job away from home because it does require waiting for it to rise, etc. But if you work at home, work part-time, or are a stay-at-home mom (or dad), give it a try – it tastes much fresher, and costs pennies per loaf. I’ll post a few examples in the recipe section below. And by the way, if you’re a stay-at-home dad who reads this blog, please make a comment or send an email. I really would love to hear from you.

Here are some recipes suggested by readers:

Artisan bread in five minutes a day website

Olive oil in five minutes a day bread

A month of meatless meals

Banana ice cream

Apricot-peanut couscous

Homemade granola

In addition, many readers suggested books and websites, and offered great tips and advice and meal plans, so I encourage you to check out the Comments section of the previous posts if you want to do your own challenge any month of the year.

January went by so fast that I didn’t get to anywhere near the recipes and meals I had planned, so I’ll be continuing it into February. I still bought plenty of fresh food, so we weren’t deprived of nutrition or taste in any way. If I do spend a little more in February, it will be on fresh fish. We both love it. The challenge was not only incredibly easy, it required almost no extra time. The ten or fifteen minutes I spent planning meals were made up for by shorter grocery shopping trips.

My two biggest aids in this challenge were our crockpot and my new Love Soup cookbook. The crockpot makes so many pantry meals a piece of cake, and I love coming home to delicious smells and dinner ready to serve. If you have a crockpot, check out A Year of Slow Cooking. I love it! And soup is one of the tastiest and most nutritious ways to stretch your budget. I made soup three times in January, and each time it was at least two meals. Both of the recipes I tried from my new cookbook were incredible and will definitely be repeats in our house.

Did you join in the pantry challenge? How did you do? Did you come up with any new recipes or menus? I’d love to hear about your successes and challenges. Please share your thoughts and ideas, along with recipes, in the Comments section.

Thanks to everyone who joined the challenge and those of you who shared your tips and recipes along the way!


  1. says

    Wonderful post. I love making soups, homemade bread, and using the crockpot. Also enjoy making casseroles that are big enough for planned leftovers.

    I need to check what we’ve been spending on food. We don’t waste anything, and make many items from scratch, so I expect it’s fairly low . . . but $215 is awesome.

    Thanks for the link up! Bon Appetit!

    • Angela says

      Nancy, I love making casseroles too. They have a bad rep, and of course can be awful, but I love a good casserole. And I love having leftovers that are even tastier the next day.

  2. says

    Thanks for the reminder to start working on my pantry! We aim to spend about $250 a month on groceries, though last month when we included eating out, it was WAY over. This past weekend we had a bunch of people over for a super bowl party and so our fridge is stuffed. I need to figure out how to eat healthy and still incorporate all this less healthy food we bought so that it doesn’t go to waste!

    • Angela says

      Jackie- That’s kind of what we went through last month, we had LOTS of party food and leftovers after the holidays. My advice is to freeze whatever you can right away, and label food carefully and keep track of what needs to be eaten first. My husband responded really well when I put up an Eat Me! tag in our refrigerator and I put the food that needs to be eaten there. He always goes there first for lunches or snacks. You can search it on my blog, I did a whole post about it. Good luck!

  3. says

    Did you get to try the apricot-peanut couscous? Usually in the winter, I skip the fresh apricots (because there aren’t any!) and just use the dried ones. I’d love to hear what you think.

    You’ve had me thinking all month about using up what is in my cupboards. While I didn’t officially join in the challenge, I consciously used more of the stuff that I already had! Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Angela says

      sfmom- I didn’t make it yet, but it’s on the list! One reason was that I had to buy both broccoli and peanuts, and I was trying not to buy too many new ingredients. But I do have couscous, and dried apricots, and will probably make it this month. I know I’m going to like it. Thanks for the recipe, and thanks for commenting. I’m glad the challenge was inspiring to you. That happens to me sometimes, I sort of soak up information and even though I’m not actively decluttering or going on a diet or whatnot, some of it becomes a habit just by following along with someone else.

  4. bev smith says

    I’ve been watching this challenge over the last month and there is one thing i have learnt that if mother dont cook in my house no one does. And im not a stay at home mum either. However when i plan and use the food ive bought ive saved money and we’ve eaten better. Unfortunately my food cupboard and fridge/freezer often look near empty most of the time but you bet i can always make a meal out of next to nothing. One book you may not have heard of is ‘Beyond Baked Beans’. I think its very much a english book, but its a student recipe book that doesnt look like its supposed to and the recipes are good too. Thanks for a little of extra encouragement though.

    • Angela says

      bev smith- I know what you mean about no one else cooking – I think many moms refer to it as their kids (or even husband) saying, “there wasn’t food, there was only ingredients.”

      You must be a great cook if you can make a meal out of next to nothing. I have a good friend with that talent, it’s amazing.

      And thanks for the book suggestion- I will check it out.

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. says

    My goal for January was to spend less than $100 on “outside” food and I succeeded. We still have lots in our pantry, freezer, and canning shelves, so I’m continuing this through February with a similar financial goal. We did use up a lot of “older” things.

    I wanted the extra cash ($100 off our usual “outside” food budget (for two adults) — I grow and preserve a lot as well as make most things from scratch) for a possible car repair, that turned out to be unnecessary because a mechanic told me the windshield blade only needed tightening and not a motor replacement as I dreaded. However, our washing machine self-destructed during the month and we got its official death sentence today. Fortunately we were able to take advantage of a sale and get a new — and the extra money will be going into that.

    • Angela says

      Anne- That is an impressive food budget! I don’t grow food or can preserves, but I cook from scratch whenever I have time. I think it’s a lot healthier, in addition to saving money.

      That’s great that you were able to lessen the sting of the washing machine death with the money you saved on food. I also had an unexpected expense in January, so was glad to have trimmed the food budget so it wasn’t as big of a deal.

      Thanks for participating, and for commenting!

  6. Lilypad says

    We’re actually moving very soon, so I’m still trying to use up pantry and freezer items. I found some chocolate espresso bark i the freezer that was leftover from a holiday party (leftover chocolate—sounds like an oxymoron to me, I don’t know how that happened other than my son is not allowed to eat that particular recipe because of the caffeine!) so that was a sweet surprise. And I had a ton of homemade bread crumbs that were unearthed there as well, but those were turned into a delightful vegetarian “loaf” with red onions and cheddar with veg gravy on top…mmm. It was the remnants of some weird bread that didn’t turn out quite right several months ago. I’ve only started baking yeast bread in the last year and I haven’t made any sickly orphan loaves in a while as I’ve gotten better at it. . I don’t want to waste good bread in the breadcrumbs, and I certainly don’t want to buy cheap icky store bread, but I need to make that loaf again soon…Glad to hear you saved money. We need every penny for moving and I also love the challenge of coming up with meals just from the weird assortment that’s left.

  7. says

    I have tried to just spend $50 per week and we eat pretty healthy meals and a good variety. I have done that over the past year and it has saved me a lot of money. We started with 4 people and are down to 3. I did have a question for you. Do you still try to just by used and only buy new from the exceptions on your list? What do you do for gifts and Christmas?

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