Tag Archives: pantry

Pantry Challenge – Week 2


To read earlier posts on this challenge, why I’m doing it, and how the first week went, go here:

Welcome to 2016!
Pantry Eating Challenge – Week 1

This is week 2 update.  Things are still going well.  I have to fight the urge to go grocery shopping almost every day, which I know makes me a total weirdo. 🙂  I went to the store twice this week, once for bananas, and then again because we were almost out of milk, yogurt, kefir, and fresh vegetables.  I still hadn’t used the asparagus I bought last week, but we went through milk faster than I thought we would.

What did I buy this week?

Dairy Fruit/Veg
Yogurt 3.9 Bananas (8) 0.6
Kefir 8.37 Blueberries 1.49
Gallon milk 2.69 Can pineapple 0.99
Spinach 1.49
Org. bananas (6) 1.82
TOTAL 22.34 Cucumber 0.99


The first store trip was just for the organic bananas, and I picked up a cucumber as well because I knew I had a little bit of dill left from 2 weeks ago.  Mixed with plain greek yogurt, it made an awesome topping for lemon pepper fish.  The second trip was Thursday, and I absolutely love that ALDI is on the ball with healthy offerings!  They now have many items from their own label which are gluten-free, organic, natural, etc.  They offer some of the best prices around.

Yogurts and bananas are a staple we go through pretty quickly.  The blueberries, to be honest, were an impulse buy because they were on sale and looked so good!!  And they really were, totally worth it.  Then the spinach was another staple item, and we were almost out of milk & kefir.  The pineapple was another impulse, because it’s high in vitamin C and I anticipated making smoothies at some point.  Or potentially another batch of cranberry sauce, because I still have about a pound of raw cranberries in my refrigerator.

The menu from this week included:

Jan 9 – Leftover seafood linguini
Jan 10 – Steak, rice, & steamed broccoli
Jan 11 – Lemon pepper breaded fish with cucumber dill yogurt and mashed potatoes
Jan 12 – Quinoa & red beans
Jan 13 – Beef roast, chopped potatoes & carrots, asparagus
Jan 14 – Shrimp fried rice
Jan 15 – Leftovers

Breakfasts included oatmeal with dried fruits & nuts, whole wheat English muffin with almond butter & jam, smoothies, or a fried egg sandwich on whole grain toast.  The bread products were purchased on super sale a while ago and in the freezer, as were the beef roast, steaks, white fish, and shrimp.  Potatoes can last for months at room temperature away from light, and carrots can last several months in the crisper.  Even if they start growing eyes or hairs, they are still edible.

Quinoa is a very healthy seed, and a whole grain.  I chose to use quinoa instead of white rice for the red beans, and it was a perfect match.  The beef roast I pulled out of the freezer and thawed in the refrigerator a day before cooking.  Fried rice is always a good choice, because you can add pretty much any vegetable ever, so it’s a good way to use up what’s about to expire and also you can spread out a smaller amount of meat to feed you several meals.  I used a pound of shrimp here, and the bag I purchased was two pounds, so I still have one more pound of shrimp in the freezer.

You’ll also notice that I incorporate leftover nights often, as well as taking leftovers for lunch.  I often make lots more than we need for one meal on purpose, because then I just pack it into single serve tupperware, and we have another meal just waiting to be heated up.  This makes packing a lunch super easy, and on days when I don’t want to cook dinner, we already have several different options available from the past couple of days.  Leftovers are an awesome way to cut down on the time spent cooking, as well as save yourself some money too.

Let’s see how this week goes!  Halfway there…



Welcome to 2016!


Happy New Year dear readers!

Time goes by so quickly, does it not?  Now is the time to reflect back on 2015, and look ahead to 2016.  What good things happened last year?  What do you want more of in your life this year?  Now is the time to assess what worked and what didn’t, and what changes need to be made to make your life more of what you want it to be.

As you reflect on the past 365 days, assess all the areas of your life: health, finances, and relationships.


Health can include your general fitness level, your diet, how often and what types of exercise you do, your visits to any doctors or dentists.  Do you see a general practitioner for a once yearly physical exam?  Do you see a dentist for cleanings every 6 months?

Take an honest look at your diet, your snacks, “grazing”, portion sizes.  No one will know but you so there’s no reason to not be honest.  How closely does your current diet over the past year reflect your ideal eating habits?

What steps can you take to improve this year?


Finances should cover how much you make from your main job and/or business, income from other side jobs or seasonal jobs, income from investments, as well as outgoing money.

How much do you spend per year, per month?  What do you spend your money on?  Can you lower any fixed expenses, negotiate a better payment on your cell phone, rent, utilities, or a better bank rate if your credit improved?  Can you take on a side job, baby sit, start a blog?

I recommend hitting the library and taking out finance books, or reading finance blogs. There is a HUGE wealth of information out there to help, no matter what your situation.  Whatever the problem, credit card debt, school loan payments, default, bankruptcy, divorce, or just general money management, you don’t have to figure it out alone.


As for relationships, this spans everything from work to friends to family to spirituality.  And most importantly, your relationship with yourself.

If you have family members with whom you do not have a good relationship, ask yourself why.  What can you do to mend those relationships?  Do you need to forgive, or ask for forgiveness?  Do you need to show compassion or interest?

Are you happy with your current friends?  If not, think of ways to bring the kind of people you want to be around into your life.  Maybe you could join a book club or sports group, or hang out in libraries or take a dance lesson.

Do you love yourself?  Do you know what makes you happy, and take the time to do those things?  When you are fulfilled and happy and joyful, you are more able to give and love others.


My 2016 Resolution?

I have decided I will challenge myself to not buy any pantry staples for the month of January.  At first, I thought about trying to live solely from what I already have in the house, but then after discussing with Mister Epicurean, I realized we need certain staples that basically must be bought fresh.  Mostly yogurts (which he goes through about 7-10 per week), milk/creamer, and fresh veggies.  I can rely heavily on frozen and canned produce this month, but I do like having fresh salads and adding things like avocado to burritos.

Therefore, the challenge this month would be to meal plan and cook out of my freezer & pantry, and to have only $20 per week of “fresh” foods budget.  Our average food budget monthly is $400, so to cut that down to 1/5 is pretty great!  Of course, that $400 usually includes “stock up” purchases, such as when canned beans were on sale last week for $0.49, and I bought a case.

This challenge has several purposes:

  • Help clear out space in the freezer & pantry
  • Evaluate what I buy too much of, or not enough of
  • Challenge my creativity in making meals
  • Save us significant money on groceries

By doing a pantry-clear-out challenge, it will help me to realize I have a lot more food hiding in plain sight that I thought. We all have those half-boxes of pasta, a can of corn shoved behind something else, some spices or condiments bought for a recipe but never used, or used once.  Now is the time to reach back into all the dark corners of the cupboards, and down to the bottom of the freezer, and see what can be used.

This month will also help me to see what I have stocked up on far too much, and what we use more often than I thought that I could consider stocking more of.  For example, if I think I have more than enough canned tomatoes, and we run out by week 2, I will know that going forward.  Or if I count 20 boxes of pasta to begin with, and at the end of the month we still have 19, then I should probably stop buying so much pasta when it’s on sale.

The final two points go together well, in that creativity saves you money.  Like I mentioned earlier, the half-used ingredients?  Figure out a way to combine them into one meal, and you have not only saved food from being throw out (which creates waste, takes calories out of the food system in a way that helps no one, and is basically like setting dollars on fire), but you also have created an almost-free meal.  If you never used those ingredients, they would be wasted. Instead, you have eaten again for the same amount of money you already spent & had in the house.

So, this is the challenge, which started on Jan 1st.  No stocking up, no matter how good the sale, and only $20 per week maximum towards fresh dairy & produce.  I won’t even be buying any meat, I will be using what I have in the freezer.  Good thing I just recently cleaned it out & reorganized.

Wish me luck!


How about you, any goals for 2016?  Any Resolutions for this year?  Feel free to share your goals & progress!


How to Build a Pantry Immediately Under $50


This is an article on how to start building a pantry immediately, with very little up-front cost. If you already have ten years’ worth of canned beans in the basement, that is awesome, but this article is not for you. I am writing this article to the people who:

  • Are tired of looking at bare cupboards.
  • Can’t sleep at night because they just used up their last box of <insert boxed food here>.
  • Just like to be prepared for stuff.
  • Would really love to have the makings for a meal readily available without having to go to the store.
  • Want to eat real food, without spending a lot.
  • Know winter is coming.
  • Like to save money!
  • Want to have some kind of food around no matter what.
  • Don’t have much money to spend building a pantry.

asian spices & sauces

Whether you are preparing for a hurricane, tough economic times, flexibility in meal planning, or just because you know you’d sleep better at night, you can start building a pantry right now, and for less than $50 per person.

A pantry by definition is a room or place in which food is stored as an ‘extra’ or backup to the kitchen. There is a wide variety of ways      people build pantries, from an extra can of soup on the top shelf to a maximum-prepper-root-cellar type pantry with hundreds of freeze dried meals, and everything in between. If you have a few boxes of ramen under the bed, that’s a pantry. If you have a stash of your      favorite cookies hidden somewhere you don’t have to share, that’s a pantry.

Home Canned Tomatoes

This article will give you an exact idea of how to build a pantry in one shopping trip, for less than $50 (per person) which could provide  enough calories to survive for 1 month. But, keep in mind this is “survive”, not eat like you’re on a cruise ship vacation. It is, however, way better than ramen noodles, and is real, healthy, good food.       (Heck you could even just use this as your personal “less than $50 monthly grocery shopping list & meal plan” any time).

Prices are based on stores in the New Haven, CT area.  Prices may vary based on where you are located, sales and/or coupons, and time of the year.  Feel free to make certain substitutions tailored to your situation.  If you have access to free or cheaper foods, stock up on those as well (for example, a garden, barter system, foraging, etc).

Always be on the lookout for opportunities for urban foraging like an overhanging apple tree, rogue tomato plant, whatever. Also, many plants we consider weeds are edible. Just be sure to read/watch enough to know what you are doing before eating      anything wild you pick.

Stocked freezer

This plan is meant to provide enough food for one person for three meals for thirty days.  Most meals will be very simple, but will be enough to survive. And this is real food, not freeze dried astronaut ice cream. You could eat any of these suggested meals at any time.  If you have more room in your budget, you can add more “comfort” foods like sauces, spices, dried fruits, desserts, snacks, or other items you desire.

I’d recommend ALDI if you have one near you. (Go here to see their locations). They have the most consistently low prices overall for packaged and even fresh foods that I’ve seen. Otherwise, find the store nearest you that has good deals. Follow general grocery rules, like shopping produce that is in season, making a list, buying in bulk when the prices are low, etc. to save even more.

Purchase per person:

  • 3 cans chicken — 2.97
  • 5 cans tuna or salmon — 5
  • 15 lbs beans (any type) — 8.50
  • 5 lbs rice — 2.99
  • 5 lbs potatoes — 1.99
  • 1 large canister oats — 2.29
  • Tortillas (12 pack) — 0.99
  • 10 bags frozen vegetables — 10
  • 2 cans any type fruit — 2
  • 1 jar pasta sauce — 1
  • 1 pound pasta — 0.88
  • Dozen bananas — 2.22
  • 1 jar peanut butter — 1.49
  • 1 jar jelly — 1
  • 5 cans diced tomatoes — 4.40
  • 2 loaves bread — 1.70

Grand Total: $49.42

These items can sit wherever you have extra room, and you know they will be there in a pinch. You can also add any items that your family specifically goes through a lot of, such as chickpeas, eggs, or a certain spice mix.

Be sure that you use these items prior to their expiration dates by incorporating them into what you already cook. There is no sense in spending even a small amount of money on food that you end up not eating. A list of many suggested meals using these items is below.

Suggested meals:

And if you happen to have a pantry already, hopefully this list can help jump-start your creativity. Just a few simple ingredients can quickly come together to create a satisfying meal for far less than you would spend outside the home. Having a well-stocked pantry means you can have a snack or meal ready to go in minutes, and without having to wait in line or drive 30 minutes.

Counter covered with groceries

To continue to build your stockpile, simply pick up one extra item each time you go to the grocery store. Add two jars of pasta sauce to your cart when you only need one, and now you have a spare. When there is a great sale on peaches and you can afford to, stock up. That way you keep your overall cost lower, by purchasing frequently      eaten items in bulk when the price is low. Just don’t get too crazy, you don’t want to buy way more than you will ever eat or buy things you end up hating and throwing away.

Also keep an eye out for mark-downs on products that are about to expire (like meats & fresh vegetables, but use or freeze ASAP), slightly dented (I’m lookin’ at you, 10 cent dented cans of soup), or out of season (sprinkles in the shape of a leaf are still sprinkles in the summertime). One extra can or bag at a time can make a big impact on your yearly grocery tally. And you will get the satisfaction of knowing that you have a buffer of food for whenever, whatever, happens.

(Title picture is of pantry items used to make Salsa Chicken Soup)

Desperate times call for creativity

As I’m sure you all know, sometimes in life a situation arises in which you are more financially pinched than normal. Even the best budgeters with decently padded savings accounts can’t anticipate things like home repairs, doctors bills, or car problems. Such is the situation I found myself in when a knocking sound in my car lead to one part needing to be replaced, which then lead to several other parts needing replaced, until the source of all the problems was found and I had to replace that as well!

All said and done, nearly $1000 later, even with parental help (bless their hearts!) my budget belt is tighter than it has ever been before. That, compounded with a soon upcoming move to a new apartment, meant a stock-taking of my fridge/freezer/pantry was in order.

The goal: By August 1st, have used up every edible in my apartment, purchasing as little extra as possible. This means the meals I will be eating will be sure to get interesting!


I have actually found that sometimes, the best meals are the ones where you just open a cupboard and say, ‘ok, what can I do with this?’ With a bit of inspiration from Allrecipes.com (one of my favorite recipe websites) I did just that, opened my cupboard and came out with:
1 can chickpeas
1 can diced tomatoes
Dried onion flakes
Chili powder
Garlic salt
1 cup white rice

Step 1: I boiled the rice, and meanwhile drained the chickpeas and simmered them with the diced tomatoes for about 10 minutes. I added about 1 tbsp of chili powder and 1 tbsp of the onions. For a bit of extra veggies, I threw in about 1 cup of frozen corn.
Step 2: Once the rice was done, I separated it into 3 individual portions and poured the mixture over the rice. And you know what? It was actually really delicious! Slightly Indian in taste because of the chili powder, the texture of the beans mixed with the tomatoes and sweetness of the corn was very satisfying. And I got 3 meals out of it!
This mission may be easier than I thought. =)