Take the Pantry Challenge - Rules and Recipes (2024)

By Marjory Pilley Published · Updated

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Take the Pantry Challenge and use up the food in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. It will help you organize your kitchen AND save money too.

When should you do it?

  • After holidays to use up the special ingredients you bought.
  • At the beginning of the year to save a little cash.
  • Seasonally to keep everything in order.
  • When you can't find anything in your pantry or freezer or you're throwing out expired food.
  • To make room in your pantry/refrigerator/freezer for a healthy dinner plan.

You can even make this part of your monthly shopping routine!

Take the Pantry Challenge - Rules and Recipes (1)

Pantry Challenge Rules

You set the rules for YOUR challenge to eat the pantry clean. Here's what to cover:

#1 Set a time frame for the challenge.

If you've never done it before then try it for 7-10 days. Once you're a veteran, try it for even longer!

My time frame: 7 days

#2 Decide if you will step foot in a grocery store.

If you are, what's your budget? There are many reasons to allow this. You may need certain products for special diets or for children. Or, you may want a little wiggle room for fresh items, like milk or fresh produce.

My goal: $20

#3 Clean out your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry.

Work in sections (i.e. start with spices, dry goods, refrigerator and then the freezer.) Lift out everything. Discard anything that has expired. Donate or give away items that you definitely don't plan to use.

#4 Make an inventory of what's left.

Simply make a list of everything you have on hand. Highlight or place an asterisk next to items that you need to use asap.

Tip: Use a marker to write the expiration date or opened date so it's easy to see.

#5 Create a meal plan.

This is the fun part and you should definitely get the family involved. Print out our free meal planner and follow the easy process to set-up a weekly meal plan using the food you have on hand.

Get creative. When things start running low, think about dishes you enjoy and whether you can substitute something you have to come up with a new favorite. For example, make chicken fajitas instead of beef. What's Cooking America's Baking and Cooking Ingredient Substitution Chart is also a great resource.

Recipes Ideas

Just because you're eating your pantry clean doesn't mean meals should be boring. Here are some recipe ideas that are easily customized based upon what you have on hand:


  • Eggs - Make it a scramble and stir in vegetables or beans.
  • Quiche - Use the basic quiche template and variation suggestions in Crustless Quiche to Make-Ahead and Freeze.
  • Smoothies - Substitute different berries in our Simple Strawberry Smoothie recipe.
  • Muffins - If you stocked up on baking supplies, make muffins! Do you have cans of pumpkin puree? Make one of these Pumpkin Muffin Recipes.
  • Oatmeal - Load it up with toppings such as nuts and frozen or fresh fruit. Follow our directions to make steel-cut oatmeal in a crock-pot.

Of course, use up any ready-to-serve items, such as frozen waffles or boxed cereal.

Lunch and Dinner

  • Rice Bowls - Make rice, quinoa, farro...or any grain base for a bowl. Add in protein, vegetables, cheese, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, crunchy toppings and drizzle with a little sauce. What sauce? Use salad dressing or use olive oil and vinegar.
  • Soups - Many of these Soup Recipes are customizable by swapping out the protein.
  • Salads - Use those greens up early in the challenge so they don't go bad.
  • Pasta - You can add just about anything to Pasta with Olive Oil and Garlic.
  • Breakfast for dinner!

If you have:

  • Ground beef - make crumbles for Gourmet Sloppy Joes or make Turkey Meatloaf Muffins (you'll need ground beef, chicken or turkey, cheese and breadcrumbs or oatmeal, onion and salsa.)
  • Chicken breast- my favorite sheet pan recipe is Mediterranean Chicken Bake. You can easily swap out the ingredients in this recipe.
  • Beans - go meatless! Use them in place of meat in the ideas above.

Use up any frozen dinners and vegetables!


Here are some healthy snack options

  • Fruit
  • Cheese and vegetables or crackers
  • Energy Balls - Use any nut butter in this recipe. Swap Medjool dates for an equal amount of honey.
  • Trail mix - Use nuts, cereal, dried fruit to make these.
  • Healthy Veggie Muffins - these recipes call for only a few ingredients

Good luck and have fun!

Did you take the pantry challenge? Do you have questions or tips to share? Leave a comment below!

More Cooking Tips & Guides

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  • What to Serve with Chicken Marbella (15+ Best Side Dishes)
  • What to Serve With Shrimp: 25 Best Side Dishes
  • How to Cook Whole Butternut Squash (Crock-Pot)

Reader Interactions


  1. Nonarae

    I’m not trying to judge.. honestly confused though.. only 7 days? Is that not like a normal amount of time to go without grocery shopping? I feel like i can easily go a few weeks between trips if I need to. I’m prepping for my first real pantry challenge now, and I think I’m going to do a full 8 weeks with a $25 per month grocery budget for dairy and some fresh fruit/veggies. The biggest challenge will be keeping my husband out of the store snack isle 😅😅😅


    • Marjory Pilley

      OMG I know the pressure from family members. A longer period is even better!!!


  2. Shanna

    I've been doing this for about 10 years. Usually January or January and February. With high bills on the winter time, this saves so much money. I also have to go to the food bank due to high bills. But I only go when I need to. So we come up with some really interesting meals. A lot of homemade pastries and bread during this time also. We also have an Amish cookbook that get very utilized. It can be done! I also barter with neighbors of I have excess items and I'm looking for something else. Like right now I have 1/2 a beef sitting in my freezer, but very little chicken, so I can use my beef to barter.


    • Marjory Pilley

      Thanks for your inspiring comment and tip about the Amish cookbook! Definitely going to check that out!


  3. captbridgers

    great idea but I have 5 freezers, 3 fridges. One freezer has a list of items...not up to date. Been trying to use up freezers but barely a dent. If we had one freezer & one fridge, this idea would be a piece of cake!..no pun intended...but an impossibility for hoarders


    • Marjory Pilley

      Wow! That is a challenge! Maybe set a small budget for each week to cover true necessities and then slowly tackle sections over the course of several weeks?


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