Pantry Stuffed? Time to Start the Pantry Challenge

Here is what the pantry challenge is and how you can do it too.

Anyone who follows my blog,, knows that I’m a big fan of minimizing, as a way to save money.

I don’t hang on to anything I don’t need. For example, when I don’t have use for things like clothing, furniture and household appliances, I often sell, donate, or recycle them. This saves me time from organizing things I’m not using, and saves me money because I keep focused on the items I really need.

One place where I find my frugal skills go amiss is in the kitchen.

With two kids, a busy work life, and a husband who likes to cook unique meals, I often find we have a pantry full of ingredients I don’t know what to do with and a freezer of items that never seem to make sense. Like for example, frozen steam buns from an Asian tapas night, falafel balls, and maraschino cherries were in my kitchen when I started my pantry challenge.

Rather than trying to make a meal with what I have, my friend suggested the pantry challenge to help me eat through all the odds and ends in my kitchen, one meal at a time. The pantry challenge appealed to me, because it’s about being mindful with your purchases to compliment what’s already in your kitchen.

Here is what the pantry challenge is and how you can do it too.

Getting Started

The pantry challenge is an exercise that helps to clear out all the extra stuff that has been accumulating in your kitchen. You can do this every three months, or every six months, or when you feel your kitchen needs it. All up to you.

First step is to, take everything from your pantry and fridge and do a quick inventory of what you are dealing with. With the items in front of you, start to build meals based on the food you already have.

This is the key point, when shopping only buy what you need for that meal or dish. Don’t have any leftovers.

For example, if you have half a box of pancake mix but nothing else, go out and buy just a small syrup and berries and finished that box off for Saturday morning. If you dig out frozen perogies, buy a small tub of sour cream and have them for dinner that night.

The pantry challenge can take as long as you need; the goal is to clear your pantry of all the food items that never seem to work their way into your every day cooking.

Things to keep in mind

The pantry challenge takes a while. Getting though all the extra things you have is not going to happen in one week. For me it took around 3 weeks. Also, in the beginning it will be easy to work through the some items, like for me there was a bag of corn tortillas shells for tacos and orzo pasta, easy dishes to work with. But there will come a point where the pantry challenge gets, well challenging. Like me, who had miso seasoning that I used once and frozen edamame beans.

What you can do

You can go grocery shopping. But only to buy things to minimize what is in your cupboard already. Also this is not a time to buy value sizes or bulk items.

As the weeks went on with my pantry challenge. I found some go to meals really worked.

  • Stir fries: you can put any frozen vegetable in a pan, add rice and noodles to make a great stir fry.
  • Casseroles: all is forgiven with its baked and saucy out of the oven.
  • Curries: with an onion garlic ginger tomato base to start, you can add anything and make it taste good.
  • Bottom of the box dry cereals are great as a coating for any protein

After my pantry challenge, I thought I would do a big bulk shop and stock up my cupboards again. But the opposite has happened. I’m much more mindful about what I’m buying, I only buy what I need, and use it over the next few days. Of course, there will come a time I have to do the challenge again (for example I just saw a huge jar of pickles in my kitchen that need to be consumed somehow), but for now I feel my pantry cupboards are much more organized and I’m saving money by not wasting anything.




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Rubina is a journalist and personal finance expert. She regularly appears on TV and radio across Canada and writes for several online and magazine publications. Including CBC Radio and Television, Global News Toronto and Global News Radio 640 Toronto and SiriusXM.  She writes regular columns for several online magazines and has her own website

Rubina began her career as a broadcast journalist in 1999. She is a mom of two and lives with her husband in Oakville, ON.

Follow her on Twitter @RubinaAhmedHaq