I love doing a food challenge every now and then!
Here is one I particularly love doing – and a challenge especially suited for frugal vegans! The “Eat The Pantry” or “Pantry Challenge!” It’s a challenge where, for a certain length of time, you commit to eating what’s already in your pantry!
The best time to do a Pantry Challenge, is usually in the first months of the year (before fresh spring produce starts singing its tempting siren song).
Another possibility is mid-Summer, for those who have gardens.
A third is early fall – to clear up some pantry space and save up some cash before the holidays.
Frugal vegans – vegans in general! – tend to have overflowing pantries.
We’re used to stockpiling ingredients. “Hmmm … canned beans for 37 cents? Limit 12? OK, I’ll take 12. Can always make hummus, chili, burritos, bean bowls, and black bean soup.”
We buy in bulk – dried beans, rice, quinoa.
We travel to specialty stores (The Greener Apple) and ethnic stores (India Grocers) that are veg-friendly. Since these visits are often a special trip, we stock up while we’re there.
And, specialty vegan products can be hard to find. Products appear and disappear off supermarket shelves. We grab our favorites when we find them. Since these products can be expensive, if they are on sale we grab more!
How about those buggies of “clearance items” that you find near the entrance to supermarkets on weekdays? Those buggies are like crack! Y’all know what I mean … those carts filled with random and discontinued items … like jars of wildly discounted vegan Thai paste and Indian simmer sauce and microwavable quinoa meals and cans of coconut milk and Tasty Bite entrees that have outdated packaging …”Only $1.25? Yes, I’ll try it!”
And then there’s the “what if I get sick?” or “what if it snows?” (News flash! We have to this day NEVER had a blizzard in Charlotte.) So we stock up when Amy’s or Well Yess soups go on sale … JUST IN CASE … and then we don’t get sick. And we don’t get snowbound. So the soup just sits there. Aging quietly in the cupboard.
The Benefits Of Eat Your Pantry:
Less waste. You’ll be eating those canned vegetables BEFORE they expire, and that frozen fruit BEFORE it gets freezer burn.
Save Money. Eating from your pantry instead of grocery shopping each week is a quick way to build up a little extra in your savings account. You will also save money by not visiting grocery stores.
Let’s face it – don’t we all overspend a bit at grocery stores? Today’s modern grocery store – at least in Charlotte – is more than a place to buy human food. So that old chestnut of “eat before you shop“ really doesn’t help.
Just to get my weekly staples …
I walk by magazines and books … “Ooooh, a new vegan magazine!” or “Ooooh, a retrospective on The Cure!” or …“Ooooh, a magazine devoted to JRT’s!”
Pet supplies … “Ooooh, maybe I should pick up some new toys and treats.”
Personal Care/Cosmetics … “Ooooh, didn’t realize they were selling Alba Botanica now! And Zuzu lipsticks are ON SALE? And they have Starlet. And they have Sin.”
Creativity. Once you finish up all those frozen veggie burgers, you might be inspired to make your own from canned beans. You might start making your own hummus. You might start using dried spices more creatively to add variety and pizzazz.
Time Savings. By Week Two you’ll be dipping into your stash of canned and frozen goods, which has already been washed and chopped!
Additionally, think of the time you’ll save by not making those weekly shopping trips. Which, for me, usually involves … meal planning, checking the specials and sales, and checking for coupons. As well as the actual time spent driving to and from, and being in the store.
Better Habits and Awareness. You’ll walk away from this challenge with a better understanding of how much food you and your family REALLY eat, as well as what you actually LIKE eating. I’ve known more than a few new vegans who dutifully followed the “pantry basics” guidelines in the front many recipe books – only to find they really don’t like quinoa or brown rice. Or they stock up on dried beans, and find they really don’t have the time/energy/inclination to fool with them and are happier with canned beans.
You’ll also come away with a few new (and often more frugal) meal ideas and recipes.
How Long Should You Eat From Your Pantry?
That depends on what’s in your pantry – and the size of your family.
If your cabinets and freezer are loaded, you can continue the challenge longer than someone who has less stored food.
And a large family will go through a pantry faster than a single person or a couple.
My recommendation is a month if possible, but at least two weeks. That’s because the first week will be easy. Most of us have enough food stashed away to easily get us through that first week. It’s the second week, after you’ve eaten all your fresh fruits, veggies, and Gardein, that things will become a little harder! The third and fourth weeks, you will have to become more resourceful and creative. It’s also in these last two weeks you will figure out where your “holes” are and what you need to plan better. Of course, you can always choose to continue on longer!
No Grocery Shopping At All?
Some hard-core proponents of this challenge say No GROCERY SHOPPING AT ALL!
I think it’s ok to cheat – just a little. But with some rules.
You can buy groceries if it helps you use up your stockpiled stash. For example, plant-based milk (for cereal, smoothies, recipes) or some sort of bread (for veggie burgers, hummus, etc.) Fresh onions and garlic go a long way toward seasoning canned or dry beans. Basic spices like salt, pepper, and sweetener if you run out. If you have six jars of pasta sauce, it’s OK to pick up a box of spaghetti noodles. But NOT OK to also pick up a bag of Boca crumbles and a jar of Follow Your Heart parmesan “cheese.”
You can buy groceries if you have a “hole.” The purpose of this challenge is frugality, but health is important, always! If you choose to take this challenge longer than two weeks, you may find you still have plenty of canned or frozen vegetables, but no fruit. So go ahead and buy some fruit – just choose inexpensive options. For example, a bag of apples or oranges or a bunch of bananas – not cartons of winter strawberries. Or, you may find yourself out of green vegetables. Buy some, but search out what’s on sale.
Do not go grocery shopping more than once a week.
Stick To A SMALL Budget! The amount is up to you – and also depends on the number of people you will be feeding. But, a typical planned outing for a carton of plant milk, bread, a box of spaghetti, a bag of onions, a bag of apples, and some bananas should be less than $20.
I started this challenge again March 1st. Do it with me or just follow along to get insights into pantry planning – and lots of product reviews!