The TDS Pantry Challenge How-To

  • Welcome to the TDS Pantry Challenge!


    If you have never done or heard of a pantry challenge, the idea is to only eat and prepare meals using things you already have in your kitchen for a specified period of time in order to avoid spending money on food. At the end of the challenge, you hopefully have accomplished two main goals, to put some extra cash in your pocket and to clean out and organize your pantry. And these are just two of the perks. Take a look at 8 Reasons to Do a Pantry Challenge to learn about other ways a pantry challenege can benefit you and your family.


    So exactly how do you go about doing a pantry challenege? Just follow these 6 steps:


    1. Decide how you will structure your pantry challenge.


    For some people a pantry challenge means no spending on food whatsoever. For others, it is limiting weekly spending to a small amount, such as $25, to purchase perishables like milk and veggies. There are a few factors that will determine how you structure your pantry challenge. Do you have an abundance of dry goods on hand but no meats stocked up in your freezer? Does a hectic schedule leave little time for meal planning? Is it important that your family continue to eat fresh fruits and veggies during the challenge? Use these guidelines on Choosing Your TDS Pantry Challenge Parameters to structure a pantry challenge whose parameters are strict enough to help you meet your goals for doing the challenge without making it so impossible or unpleasant that you throw in the towel after one week.


    TDS Pantry Challenge


    2. Make sure your family is up to the challenge and understands the 'rules.'


    You are likely to have the best success with a pantry challenge if your family understands exactly what it will entail and how it can benefit everyone. If you simply tell them you will not be buying any new food for 4 weeks, your kids may panic that they will have to go without snacks at some point. Or hubby might be tempted to start a secret meat stash as he envisions a month of meatless meals. Your family might not feel the same excitement as you do over the thought of avoiding the grocery store or finally having an organized pantry. But tell hubby how much money you hope to save and offer to use a portion of that savings to reward the kids with some special family outting if the challenge is sucessful and see how quickly they decide that a pantry challenge just might be a great idea after all.


    3. Invite a friend to do their own pantry challenge along with you.


    A pantry challenge pal can provide a bit of moral support when you want to vent about your kids' complaint that your homemade granola bars are not nearly as good as the ones from the store, as well as trade one of her 5-lb bags of rice for 4 of your 15 boxes of pasta to help get you both through the challenge.


    4. Inventory and organize your pantry.


    It is important to know what food you already have on hand so you can start planning how and when you will use it. You will need to inventory your pantry/cupboards, fridge and freezer. Make a list of everything you have and how much. This list will be invaluable as you plan meals. Then figure out what you don't have. This will help you decide if you will need to allow for minimal shopping during the challenge or if you might wish to stock up on a few things before the challenge if you think having them on hand will help your family stick with it easier. For instance, if you know hubby will be hitting up the fast food drive-through too often for hamburgers and thus negating your savings efforts if he has to go a too long without beef, then get some ground beef and maybe a steak to incorporate into meals during the challenge. 


    As you inventory your kitchen, take notice of how much, if any, expired food you find and have to throw out. One expired can of evaporated milk isn't going to break your budget too much, but if the food you have to throw out adds up to several dollars, you might want to look into ways you can stop food waste once the challenge is over. We have several articles in the TDS library that can help.


    Also pay attention to any item of which you may have an overubundace. If you have enough oatmeal on hand to feed your kids breakfast for the next 8 months because you stock up every single time it is on BOGO, you likely need to come up with a system for how often and how much to buy. This can help you trim your food budget and minimize the chance food could expire before it gets eaten.


    5. Plan you meals.


    You need to take the inventory list you made in step three and start to plan out what you will cook and when, how many meals it will make, etc. If you are attempting the challenge for 4 weeks, you will basically need 28 breakfasts, 28 lunches, 28 dinners, plus snacks planned to get you through the challenge. And don't forget about beverages. Yes, that is a lot! You do not need to plan everything at the start of the challenge, but you do need to get a good idea of how and when you will prepare your food so you have more than just pasta left the fourth week.


    If you have never been much of a meal planner, this step might be the most challenging of the challenge. Especially when you first try it, meal planning can seem overwhelming and be time consuming. But it can also be one of the most effective tools you can learn to keep your grocery budget to a minimum well after the TDS Pantry Challenge is over. The Dollar Stretcher has many articles on meal planning that can help get your started or give you some great tips for making it easier if you already do your own meal planning.


    6. Assess what you have learned during the challenge that could help you cut your food budget on a go forward.


    A pantry challenge can teach us a lot about ourselves in regards to how we manage our kitchens and grocery budget. Maybe you learned that your pantry disorganization causes you to buy things you already have on hand but cannot easily find. Or perhaps you discovered that your kids are just fine drinking water after you ran out of juice during the third week or that hubby loves lentil tacos just as much as beef tacos when they are seasoned the right way. Use these discoveries to help you lower you food budget on a go forward.


    If you are ready to get started, go here Choosing Your TDS Pantry Challenge Parameters to take the first step of the challenge.


    See how other pantry challengers are doing and exchange tips and helpful advice.

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