Doing a Pantry Challenge / Freezer Challenge -Pt. 2 How To Prepare
Congratulations! You've decided to take control of your grocery budget and your food waste! Now what?
Step 1: Gird Your Loins
I know that's something only Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show" would say, but we need to do it. In other words, you need to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for what this upcoming month will be like. Embrace the fact that this will be worth it! But, in the meantime, we will not have access to convenience, laziness, or constantly feeding every craving that comes our way. And it's OK. It will just take some getting used to and some planning. The pile of cash at the end of the month is gonna be sah-WEET!
Step 2: Rally The Troops
If you have a family, do this however and whenever you think is best. Find a time when your husband is in a good mood...OR when he's really frustrated with not having enough money. This could be the answer he's been looking for.
When approaching this subject with my kids, I framed it as a fun challenge. Let's see how creative we can be. Let's think of fun things to do with some of the extra money we'll have. I wonder how many new recipes we can try.
You know your family best and you will know how and when to get them excited about this challenge. If you're single...rejoice that you don't need to lobby for support every time you want to do anything. :)
Step 3: Take Inventory
One of the major reasons for embarking on this challenge is to use up what we have. I HATE when something gets shoved to the back of my pantry or bottom of my freezer and I end up throwing it in the trash when it's very expired. (I'll eat mildly expired food without a problem, but that's just me.)
Find a food inventory sheet online, print it out, and start digging.
I have separate sheets for my freezer, my pantry, and my fridge. I then chose to further divide each sheet into sections. For example, my freezer sheet has areas for meat, vegetables, fruits, prepared foods, and meals. My pantry sheet has areas for dry goods, home canned foods, store-bought canned foods, mixes, and baking staples.
Even if you only have a tiny bit of something left, write it down and note the small quantity. It needs to get used up and not wasted.
Step 4: Menu Plan
I printed out a free, generic, blank one-month calendar sheet and filled in this month's dates. I then chose my most perishable items and wrote down meals made from those items for the first days. When I've "used up" all the perishable items, then I can move to my frozen and shelf-stable ones and plan meals out of those.
Keep in mind, you can leave yourself some money to spend on perishable items weekly (if you want). I allow myself $20/week before sales tax. I usually spend it on fresh fruit, almond milk, and maybe bread. Just because we're eating random stuff from the deep, dark corners of our pantry, doesn't mean we forego nutrition. We thrive when we have fresh fruit to provide us the vitamins and fiber that we need. It's a big morale boost for my husband and kids too and that helps keep the natives from getting restless.
Feel free to look up recipes as needed. I was not sure how to use up the things I had (especially without adding more purchased items to them). There are helpful websites and Facebook groups out there. Pinterest is also useful when searching for recipes based upon a particular item.
WHAT NOT TO DO to Prepare:
1) Go out and stock up like a maniac before starting. That defeats the entire purpose. You spend more and you add to the already cluttered food stash. How silly.
2) Wing it! Without a plan and without an iron-clad commitment, you will give up (or, at the very least, cheat). Write down what you plan to cook for dinner each night and write ideas for breakfasts, snacks, and lunches too. If you end up shuffling some days around, cool. I just recommend having something written down so you don't end up panicking at the last minute and ordering pizza.
3) Freak out and shut down ALL categories of spending. This challenge is already extreme enough. If you restrict yourself too much, you're likely to burn out quickly and begin to resent the process. We still have our dining out budget, household item budget, and personal "fun money" budget in full swing. I truly don't think we would've succeeded without doing that.
Examples: A) When we run out of shampoo, we buy another bottle.
B) I don't cancel my kid's birthday and he doesn't deserve to be slighted because of my drive to reduce food waste. We budget for it throughout the year, and the money is ready to devote to his cupcakes, dinner, gifts, and party. You get the picture.
There you have it! Those are my top tips on how to prepare for a pantry challenge / freezer challenge. Feel free to ask any questions you may have and I'll try my best to answer them.