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:
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!