December 18, 2014

My No Spend Pantry Challenge & Meal Ideas

Sep18

The pantry door slid open and out fell two bags of tortilla chips with nothing more than crumbs sprinkled at the bottom. As I peered inside, I saw an additional open tortilla bag, alongside an open pretzel bag, potato chips bag and a slew of other unmentionables.

I’d had enough.

Things were tumbling out and our 14 year old daughter admonished, “It’s because you didn’t do that No Spend Things like you always do. You need to do a month of that no spend stuff.”

My jaw dropped. She knew? She remembered?

She realized the value that occurs when we eat up what we already have and stop treating our food like it’s our right to have what ever convenience food we want, whenever we want it?

“You are right, Ab, we are starting tomorrow,” I declared.

“Well, I didn’t mean you had to start right now.”

Yes, we are. We need to eat through what we have and stop wasting what’s already on the shelves and in the freezer.

And so September began with an unplanned, spontaneous NO Spend Pantry Challenge.

If you’ve been with me before, I’ve done this for the last three years and documented it full on past posts (search the archives.) The first year, we only spent $100 on food for the entire month.

Whew, it was a long month, but life changing to see what we could stretch.  The concept is simple: to steward and use up the foods that we have already purchased, while saving money on the food budget.

Come on, let’s admit it, there’s that same can of soup that’s been sitting there for a year or that bag of frozen veggies that you are pretty sure has freezer burn but you won’t throw it out. Now is the time to use them.

It’s a time to remember that creativity in the kitchen is critical when one wants to slash their spending. My goal is to save $500 that I would typically have put towards food and that money will go right into my couch or hard wood floors fund. I haven’t quite decided.

I invite you to just jump right in.

If you think about it, you’ll talk yourself out of it. It doesn’t have to be for a full month, just join me for a few weeks. Follow along on my facebook page and/or instagram (jenschmidt_beautyandbedlam).

The first week is always the best.  In fact, my guys celebrate it because I thaw the steaks that have fallen to the freezer’s abyss. We get the grill going and it’s a carnivores delight as I work my way through our deep freeze and I always make sure I am implementing my Power Cooking Hour. 

Whether you decide to do this or not, that Power Cooking Hour has literally revolutionized my time in the kitchen. Yes, it’s often my sanity saver.

By week two, it starts getting a bit more tricky, so if you join in, commit to at least two weeks. I am on day 18 and at the point where we are truly starting to feel the effects of it. It takes more time, but I’ve also created some delicious meals from just what we have on hand.  It’s also that time when I have to stay strong. My natives are getting restless. That 14 year old who brought the need to my attention, no longers wants to do this. It’s getting old and our teen boys are screaming, “Let’s stop this stupid challenge.”

They don’t know it now, but I am serving up life lessons for them that they can’t begin to understand right now.

To clarify, I do buy produce and basic dairy products (milk and eggs) throughout the month. Ignore the fact that my husband went with our daughter to get the tires changed  at Cosco and came home with a big box of Pizza Rolls and Hummus (traitors). They were desperate, or so they tell me.

freezer inventory snapshot Do You Know What Lurks in Your Freezer? Free Freezer Checklist

It’s always critical for me to do a complete freezer inventory. I have no idea what’s all in there. Yes, I admit, it’s sad. Use this free Freezer Checklist that will help you keep track. That way, you’ll be able to plan your meals around the foods you have on hand. Yes, we’ve already had my Crockpot BBQ chicken recipe because I had 8 bottles of BBQ sauce. I forgot that I stocked up when they were BOGO.

Print out this Printable Weekly Menu Planner and brainstorm meal ideas from what you have on hand. My goal is to have one month worth of ideas on paper.  If you are feeling super organized, Use my Free Printable Monthly Menu Planner  to jot down thoughts for the whole month. Remember, by the last week, it will be about creating new things.

It’s important to address the issue of stockpiling food and when is “enough, enough?”. (There are some great pointers and comments over at that link.)

Cheese and Egg Puff Recipe is a perfect way to clear out your fridge and make it a meal. If you have miscellaneous veggies, cheese, bacon or sausage, this is perfect..

Mexican Roast

Mexican Style Pot Roast

Since you know that I love prepping up my chicken in bulk, I have both ready to go in the crock pot frozen chicken and precooked chicken taking up space.

Orange Chicken recipe Low Fat Orange Chicken Recipe (in less than 10 Minutes)

Since you can eye the Apricot Preserves in the picture, my Super easy Chinese Orange Chicken Recipe will be made this week. Both this and my Sesame Chicken recipes are two of our kids favorites, so it’s a Go To in our home.

3 Ingredient Cheesey Chicken Cheesy Chicken (3 ingredients)

Please tell me I am not the only one with crackers either opened, uneaten or hiding in their pantry? Well, this is the perfect quick meal to use those up. They add a great coating and you can put your own gourmet touch on my 3 Ingredient Cheesey Cracker Chicken Recipe by adding in additional Parmesan cheese, garlic coating or even some cream cheese.

easy taco casserole Taco Casserole Recipe (Our Kids Favorite Family Casserole)

Remember all those open bags of tortilla crumbs? Don’t think that I threw those away. Oh no, they were perfect sprinkled in with our favorite Taco Casserole. That thing was chock full of varying additions.

Along with being creative, my kids are loving the fact that I’ve been baking up a storm. Since I am not buying any more snacks and treats, we’ve had everything from the Overnight, Refrigerator Rise Cinnamon Rolls, Biscuits,  Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies and more.


Comments

  1. I’m joining you! Ours was partially driven by the fact that we met our grocery budget this month (and it’s only the 18th!) but also cause we have so much stuff!
    So we’re allowed to purchase milk, eggs and fresh produce but that’s it! We’re hoping to go for a good 3-4 weeks this way. My husband can’t wait to break out the KD for supper! Haha

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    Jen Reply:

    YAY! Join in and we can finish these last weeks creating together. :)

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  2. I did this 2 months ago and I didn’t really tell my bookkeeper (husband) and he did comment at the end of the month that I didn’t spend much on groceries that month…then the first of the following month came and I spent a boat load of money on meats.-in fairness I had some coupons that were $10/$50 order or $5/$25 meats and I used those to buy the meats.
    So I guess I am left to wonder if I REALLY saved that much money because the next month I felt like I was playing catch up, I was out of chicken, pork and beef and felt the need to try and stock up again.
    Though I did use up some items that had been sitting in the freezer -like Potstickers, chili and some homemade soups. It also forced me to get rid of (give away) some items that just weren’t going to get eaten like Eillos pizzas, Freeze Ice (I HATE THOSE!), yoplait smoothies and some Tyson Chicken nuggets. I am lucky I have a friend whos kids will eat most anything I send over there, mine are a lot pickier.

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    Jen Reply:

    hi Valerie – For us, I really do save because I stock up on things that I never get through unless I do this kind of a challenge. Like you mentioned, the things that sit in the freezer. Some of that just goes bad unless I focus on something like this.

    NOw, for me, the next month, I didn’t go out and spend way more. I just stuck to my normal food budget and focused on getting the meat products on sale or marked down like I normally do, but not to the stock up extent like I had before where some was wasted. I bet overall you saved more than you think. I know I am making many more meatless or low meat things than I typically do.

    I bet your neighbor LOVED you. I know I sure would if I got sent those things. :)

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  3. We are a little short this month. :( So I think a pantry challenge is just the thing. I’m glad to have the support here while others do this, too. I will work on my freezer checklist this morning. However, I know that one challenge is going to be the vast amount of sausage that’s in there, and not as much chicken, etc.

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  4. I’m joining you out of necessity – though I feel like we don’t have much in the pantry and freezer right now, I will make it all stretch as far as possible – no choice! I’m excited to see how God will help me be creative and provide nourishing and tasty meals for our family. So far this week I’ve made homemade bread and pizza, cheesy potato soup, chicken and rice soup, and cream of mushroom soup! Thankfully my hungry teens really like soup! I used up all of our soft apples and made a big batch of apple sauce and a big ‘slab apple pie’ to take to a potluck and our tomatoes from the garden have made yummy pasta sauce and lots of jars of salsa for the pantry. I made homemade oreos which were a big hit! I am still doing the liver cleanse and have lost 35 pounds so I need lots of fresh produce each week, but God has blessed with big bags of marked down produce just at the times when we were out of the things I eat every day! I even found manager’s special milk and eggs. The farm market has had big bags of fresh local apples quite cheaply too! When my heart gets tangled up worrying, I think about just how timely His provision is! This morning I took all of my too big clothing to a consignment shop and a lady was trying to buy some of my things before the gal even got to check them in – hopefully everything will sell really quickly!

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  5. I’ll join in – with the exception of buying rice milk, bananas and oatmeal, because otherwise my youngest would starve :D

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  6. Another great way to save is to experiment with more vegetarian meals. It’s actually more healthy. We limit meat to 3 dinners a week. Sometimes the kids don’t even notice it’s meatless. I started it as a month long challenge, but it’s been almost a year and my grocery budget is consistently 25% less a month. I was pleasantly surprised. Great post. Thanks
    Leslie

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    Jen Reply:

    @Leslie, Absolutely – that is one of the best ways to stretch things, for sure!! Love that you’re down 25%, that’s great!!

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  7. I will be joining the challenge. I went through my deep freeze earlier this month and was ashamed of what was not being touched. So I know what is in there and will be a better steward. I hate to see things going to waste.

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    Jen Reply:

    Thanks for joining us, Rebecca. The freezer is what really got me as well. UGH! Where did the time go so quickly that those things at the bottom have been there so long?

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  8. It wasn’t that long ago that our freezer died and I cleaned it out really, really well. But I did my freezer checklist and I found some happy surprises. I found two packages of cooked turkey. I probably would have just bought more chicken instead of digging through the freezer.

    I could use some help finding a recipe for Gorgonzola cheese. I have two 8 ounce wedges, feeding a family of six.

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    Jen Reply:

    That is a happy surprise. Guess what, I decided to go to my readers with your question since Gorgonzola cheese is not something that I use. They have some great suggestions above my initial thought of bruchetta. :)

    Click here for the answers - https://www.facebook.com/beautyandbedlam/posts/10150325126714995

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  9. Perfect timing. Our freezer just bit the dust last night and I have ALOT of stuff crammed into our refrigerator freezer. We were debating getting another freezer but I don’t really want to spend the money with college just around the corner for our oldest. I actually just said to my husband that maybe we could eat what we have and use the saved grocery money for a new freezer (or college?).
    I am totally in. I hope you will be posting your progress. Thanks Jen.

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    Jennifer Reply:

    We bought our deep freezer (7 cubic feet, do small but just right for us) for $75 on Craig’s list.

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  10. Yes, I need to do this…..to save money and to use up the freezer items. Lots of dried beans around here. In the fall I call this “eating down the freezer”. Has a funny sound to it. I have never ever taken inventory!!! Can you believe that. Never occurred to me. Thanks for the motivation.

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  11. So funny to see this on my Pinterest feed today. My kids made some comments after Christmas about money and how much we (don’t) have and in the ensuing conversation my husband and I spontaneously laid out the challenge that we could eat for a month without buying anything except milk. My 5 year old asked “but what about apples?” so we added produce. I keep trying to talk the older ones into helping me make an inventory of what we have so we can plan it out but they are totally against it. It’s going to get pretty interesting in a couple of weeks!

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  12. We try this every couple of months, I make it a week sometimes two. It’s hard with busy schedules and a medically complex child. I need to try harder though, we have two, yes two deep freezers plus the fridge combo and a pantry plus that are all bursting. Thanks for laying things out in an easy format. Wish me luck!

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    Jen Reply:

    You can do it, but you are right, the busy schedules are always a challenge with meal planning.

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  13. I think I want to do this in May if I can get family on board. I’m having heart palpitations just thinking about it! Wish me luck!

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    Jen Reply:

    Oh I am with you on the heart palpitations, but it’s SO worth it. Even if you say three weeks, but it’s really in those last two weeks where you start getting creative. :)

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  14. Melissa Clark says:

    We actually inadvertently do this at least twice a year during tax season. Grant you it’s more planned so there’s a stock up before hand, but the only things from the store during that time are dairy and produce. The rest comes from what we have. This year I’m actually trying to extend it and see how much I can use before I run out of things to use. I used to run our pantry down to bare bones ( no space) but since we got the house haven’t at all. So many random things since we eat less processed. Time to finally clean up clean up. Hoping some ideas here will make it easier to get rid of the old.

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    Jen Reply:

    Right now, I am going it again. Not necessarily a no spend, but just trying to not buy any pantry items and just do buy fresh. I do not know how my pantry gets SO full, so this is always a great win-win! :)

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    Lori Reply:

    I am trying to convince my husband to do this right now. We are moving into a new house in a few weeks and I want to clean out the chest freezer as much as possible before we move. Granted we are only moving 5 miles so not a huge deal if we have to move all the food, but it would be nice to not have to. I need to work on using recipes that use up what I have. I always seem to find a recipe I really want to try but need to buy one or two things for it. I need to work on keeping a better inventory too. All in good time :) Thanks for the inspiration!

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    Jen Reply:

    You are so welcome!! Good luck with the move. I know that is a lot of work. :)

  15. Looks like a great challenge to not spend money and eat all thats in your pantry… But what i`d like to know is at the end of the month when you went grocery shopping, what was your bill like? you must of had to re-stock all of your freezer, fridge and pantry ? I get eating what you got and “cleaning” the stuff thats been left in behing there for ever… but in the end, having to re-stock must come up or close enough to what your spend every week ?

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    Jen Reply:

    Believe it or not, it was the same. Since I tend to buy multiples of things to stock pile and bought them when the price was low, there was so much that we were eating that had just been sitting and not being used so it was a lot of items that we weren’t restocking all the time.

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  16. I’m trying to build up my stockpile because I have the opposite problem (cupboard is often pathetically bare), but I love your idea of using what you have on hand to make meals and save money. Thank you for the yummy looking recipes!

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