Pantry Challenge

This year I participated in the #threeriverschallenge that Three Rivers Homestead organizes over on YouTube. It’s a challenge to use up odds and ends in your fridge, freezer, and pantry, and make sure to eat the food in your home rather than let it go to waste. There are no definite rules for this endeavor, but it’s a way for people to challenge themselves in a way that makes sense for them. The challenge organizer is a homesteading mother of 7, and she doesn’t go to the grocery store at all for the months of January and February. I, on the other hand, went to the grocery store several times but only purchased fresh fruits, vegetables, and milk for my children.

I spent about half as much money as normal on groceries for the two month period (see how I used that savings!) and made a lot of room in my pantry and freezer, both of which had become cluttered with various ingredients. I experimented with making things that I would typically have bought prepackaged, discovered new favorite recipes, and really improved my ability to meal plan based on what I already have in my home. I also got more confident in substituting different ingredients in recipes and coming up with meal combinations based on what I had in the house, something I never really did before the challenge.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels:

For the past several years I’ve been going through my food stores 1-2 times a year to gather food that’s nearing its expiration date and prioritize using it. This year’s pantry challenge was a more extreme way to do this, but it taught me a lot about my buying habits that going through my pantry regularly hadn’t forced me to acknowledge.

One thing I learned about myself is that I really like sauces. Okay, I’ve always known that about myself, but the issue is that I buy lots of sauces and then tend to let them sit in a cabinet without using them. I had enough sauces to last me the two months with lots to spare. So I’ve made a commitment to myself to limit my sauce inventory by only getting a new sauce when a bottle in the cabinet has been used up.

I’ve also learned that I really don’t want to buy ingredients to use them in one specific recipe. I tend to use the ingredient once and then let the leftover amount of that ingredient sit on the shelf for upwards of several years without using it. If a recipe calls for a special ingredient from now on I will opt to substitute a similar ingredient that I use more regularly, go to my local bulk store to get the exact amount of the ingredient needed for that meal, or I’ll simply choose a different recipe. When I have a large number of different ingredients in my pantry I tend to feel overwhelmed with cooking; once I get overwhelmed I’m far less likely to use an unfamiliar ingredient. Being really intentional about how many types of ingredients I have on hand helps me feel willing and prepared to cook from scratch most days.

Sometimes more isn’t better. Sometimes it’s better to say enough is all I need.

Although I like to limit the types of items in my pantry I like to keep those items fully stocked. With a pantry stocked with beans, rice, oats, nuts, baking staples, pasta, canned tomatoes, and spices, I can make a plethora of healthy and delicious meals. This streamlined and stocked pantry allows me to always be able to make a nutritious meal.

I learned a lot from the Three Rivers Challenge, and I intend to participate in it again next year. It was difficult, but growth is born out of struggle. I would absolutely suggest participating in this challenge (or a self imposed pantry challenge) for anyone who’s looking to save some money, who’s overwhelmed with extra ingredients, or who’s just interested to learn a little about themselves and put their culinary skills to the test.