The Great March Pantry Challenge Kickoff

by Melody on March 5, 2012

Week 1 Update
Week 2 Update

Week 3 Update

Apparently our family did not get the memo that February was the shortest month of the year.  We went completely overboard and blew our grocery budget out of the water.  However, we now have an excellent problem. We have a pantry stuffed to the brim with just about anything we need to make a solid meal.  We have a freezer completely full of chicken and ground beef and a few freezer meals from our last cooking day.

We do have a little wiggle room in our budget and I have actually increased our budget a few times, just due to the fact that we are adding in more organic options and trying to buy less processed foods.  This time, instead of increasing the budget, I want to try to be a little more disciplined about how we spend our money.  I’m going to implement a few changes that I have been tossing around in the back of my brain.  These are things I know we should try but I just never get around to doing it.

  • Pull out weekly cash – I have been meaning to do this for centuries.  Right now, we have our entire month’s grocery budget in one envelope which makes it super easy to blow through a huge amount in the beginning of the month.  For March, I’m going to pull out just what we need each week and leave the rest in an envelope in my dresser.  This seems like the perfect month to make this change.
  • Serious kitchen inventory – I went through the pantry, fridge, freezer, even the spice cabinet from top to bottom.  Even though I have been donating and getting rid of things we just don’t eat, we still have some things lurking that are edible, just not on the top of my priority list.  I made note of all the basic ingredients we have (read: things that when put together will actually resemble a meal).  I even wrote down the few freezer meals we have left.  I’m going to incorporate these on days we are super busy this month, plus make some space for a new round of freezer meals (hopefully coming at the end of the month).
  • Weekly menu planning – My nemesis.  I have attempted meal planning in the past.  I have thought long and hard about doing it because I know it helps, but have just never been able to stick with it.  This month, it’s going to be a necessary priority.  My first step was to transfer all my appointments, evening commitments and other activities from my Google calendar to my write-it-down-on-paper planner.  Next, I went through my new Favorite Recipes Binder and my zillions of Pinterest recipe boards to find ideas for meals.  Now that I have my list, I can plug them into the corresponding weeks hopefully keeping the need-to-buy items to a minimum.  I might even make 1 or 2 of the recipes I have been “Wanting to Try But Can Never Get Around To”.
  • Substitute or do without – I am already pretty fantastic at substituting.  We rarely have all the ingredients for any given meal and over the years I’ve learned what can and can’t be swapped out.  Sour cream for yogurt.  Seasoned tomato sauce for enchilada sauce.  Mashed up black beans for refried.  Often times, it’s very easy to just leave out an ingredient.  For example, this Lasagna Soup is on the meal list.  It calls for ricotta cheese just as a topping.  I love ricotta, but am not going to sacrifice the budget just for a dollop on top of my soup.
  • Making it myself – I’ve been really wanting to start making my own bread, but am always sucked in by the good prices on our favorite store-bought bread.  As we don’t have much bread left but TONS of flour, now is my chance.  We’re also low on tortillas, so I will probably give those a shot too.  This month should give me the chance to try out a few new things or see what it’s like to live without bread.

We have four full weeks left in March and the amount I have to spend each week is.  Are you ready for this?  $17.  What in the world did we do last month?  Each week we will need milk, fresh fruit and possibly some fresh vegetables.  To make it even easier, as of March 1st we have officially switched to organic milk which is good for our bodies, but not so good for the budget.

We’ve been really trying to pare down our pantry and only have on hand what we truly will eat and not just what is a good deal.  We’re trying to be more simple about our menus, so this month should give us a good idea of what we truly need and use.

I’ll keep you updated each week with our progress.  I’ve tried doing this a few times in the past, but have never been very successful.  I’m hoping by arming myself with more tools this time around, we’ll be able to stay on track.

I’d love to hear if you have tried something similar?  Please share any tips or tricks you have.  How do you stay on budget during some of the slimmer months?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Beatriz March 5, 2012 at 9:30 pm

If you want to make your own tortillas, you can buy “masa” mix at Fred Meyer or Winco but its less expensive at a Mexican store. Its pretty easy to make the dough, all you have to do is add salt and water. It last a realllly loong time and you can make other things with it; empanadas anyone? A tip for it, make sure you make them thin so that they cook all the way. 😀 Good luck!


michelle March 5, 2012 at 9:41 pm

here is a recipe we enjoy


1 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole wheat bread flour
1/2 cup butter
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups boiling water
all-purpose flour for rolling

In a large bowl, stir together 1 cup all-purpose flour, the whole wheat flour, and salt. Rub in the shortening by hand until the mixture is the texture of oatmeal. Make a well in the center, and pour in the boiling water. Mix with a fork until all of the water is evenly incorporated. Sprinkle with a bit of additional flour, and knead until the dough does not stick to your fingers. The dough should be smooth.
Make balls the size of golf balls, about 2 ounces each. Place them on a tray, and cover with a cloth. Let stand for at least 1 hour, or up to 8 hours.
Heat a griddle or large frying pan over high heat. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a tortilla to your preferred thinness. Fry one at a time. Place on the griddle for 10 seconds, as soon as you see a bubble on the top, flip the tortilla over. Let it cook for about 30 seconds, then flip and cook the other side for another 30 seconds. Roll out the next tortilla while you wait for that one to cook. Repeat until all of the balls have been cooked. Tortillas can be refrigerated or frozen.


michelle March 5, 2012 at 9:59 pm

other ideas… casseroles, breakfast items for supper(seem to be cheaper per serving), search for creative recipes such as on for basic ideas then use what you have.


Meg T March 6, 2012 at 8:35 am

Menu planning is crazy at our house too! With strange schedules, and at least 2 nights a week at church during dinnertime, my plan usually goes out the window by Tuesday. What I’ve ended up doing is just assigning each day a theme. Mondays are ‘taco’ days (beef tacos, chicken tacos, taco salad, enchiladas etc), Tuesdays are chicken days, Thursdays are pasta… etc. I know to pull out the right kind of meat from the freezer, and then I can decide that day what I want. Something easy, something in the crockpot, or just cook a meal and toss it in the freezer ’cause we’re all having pancakes for dinner!!


Karen March 6, 2012 at 11:26 am

Try to keep the meals simple. Good food is always better than fancy food according to my guys. If you have a kitchen aid mixer with a dough hook, use that to mix your bread. It works so well. You may need to try several bread recipes before you find one that you like. Don’t give up – homemade bread is the best! I actually use a bun recipe for my bread, and if you find one with milk and eggs in the recipe, you will have a more tender, tastier bread. Good luck with sticking to your budget. I spend $25 a week just on milk!


Trina March 6, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Melody, I’m always impressed by your detailed planning and serious commitment to your family’s budget! Please don’t kill yourself over this $17/week budget this month.

Since you’ve officially made the switch, I’m looking forward to your posts about where the best organic milk deals are! I can sometimes get good deals on ‘older’ organic dairy products at Yoke’s that I can freeze.


Trina March 8, 2012 at 12:23 pm

I thougth of one milk tip … I put my children’s unfinished milk cups from dinner in the fridge, and then pour it on their cereal in the morning.


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