Pantry Challenge + 40 Meal Ideas!

by Becky
Published: Updated:

What is the Pantry Challenge?

Before I get too far into this, I will explain the pantry challenge and why I’m creating a list of Pantry Challenge Meals! There are lots of different variations and motivations behind a Pantry Challenge.

A pantry challenge is an opportunity to use all the food you have in your pantry. I am following the Three Rivers Challenge, which for most is not going to a grocery store to buy food for 2 months. Jessica from Three Rivers homestead says you can also add your own rules, like allowing a small budget for diary purchases for example.

For us, I plan on not going to a grocery store for 3 months. But I also told myself I would allow fruit purchases if we needed it.

While most doing a pantry challenge would be using preserved food from the garden and cold storage vegetables, you can also totally just buy what you need from a grocery store or better yet a farmers market if you don’t have a garden.

There is so much that can be learned beyond saving money and learning to use the preserved food you have in your everyday cooking. I hope to shed some light on those things!

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure can be found here.

Personal Experience with a Pantry Challenge

I first heard about a pantry challenge from my sister Amy, she always did a no grocery shopping month (now she goes without shopping for several months) and I was inspired to try it out. You can check out Amy’s post about it HERE. It’s a great resource!

I failed miserably the first time because I went into it with little prep and no experience. I had not talked to Amy for tips first, otherwise I’m sure she would have helped me!

We had a garden, but I didn’t have enough food stored from the garden, I didn’t have enough variety, and I actually felt sick after we finished because the diet was so different. It was legitimately a challenge.

Fast forward several years and I saw a friend of mine on social media, Jessica from Three Rivers Homestead, was doing a collaborative challenge and inviting anybody who wanted to try it to join. 

pantry challenge

I didn’t officially participate until this year because of my not so fun previous experience. Plus I felt like we were already challenging ourselves by growing 100% of our own vegetables and 100% of our meats and now trying to add on fruits. 

It’s been a lot of years and I am MUCH more confident in my abilities to go without the grocery store for months now.

With that said, there are a lot of benefits to a pantry challenge that are unrealized and I’ll briefly mention them here.

Benefits of a Pantry Challenge

1. Getting Creative

When I run out of something during a pantry challenge, I don’t run to the store to get it. This forces me to either go without, make my own, or get creative and come up with new recipes. This time I purchased several items in advance (see below), but the stocking up piece of the challenge, speaking of grocery foods specifically, is not entirely necessary.

YouTube video

Some ask, “Why stock up before a pantry challenge? Doesn’t that make it not a challenge?” To answer that question, we are technically stocking up all year long. The only way to get food in the pantry is to stock it!

Usually it’s home grown and preserved fruits and vegetables that are stocked in the pantry. But when I do stock up on some store bought items, it’s mostly things that are luxuries like dairy that my family likes. This is so the pantry challenge doesn’t feel like a sacrifice and is fun. 

2. Training your mind to use what you have “in-stock” first

We are pretty well versed in using what we have put up for the year but for those that aren’t, a pantry challenge helps to train your mind to use the food you have on hand first. 

3. Saving Money

If done correctly, you will save money. Careful consideration must be given to not over buy food if purchasing groceries from the store in advance.

Even if you were to buy the exact amount of food needed, the idea would be that when staying out of the store, you are less likely to have impulse buys that add up.

If you normally purchased a large amount of processed food, making it from scratch can save money.

4. Home Grown, Locally Grown, Homemade Food is Nutritionally Superior than the Grocery Store

Not only does it save money, but food preserved from a backyard garden is nutritionally far superior than a supermarket. I don’t have the capital to get this all tested and proven with my own garden but you don’t necessarily need to have a lab to figure that out.

With common sense, we can see a positive difference in color and vibrance of vegetables grown in the home garden and can taste the incredible flavor. I assume there are some home gardens out there that may have nutrient deficient vegetables because of poor stewardship, but they are few and far between.

Many struggle to get enough fresh food during a pantry challenge but personally, we still eat plenty of fresh produce. I haven’t bought a vegetable in any form from the grocery store in 4 years. 

It wasn’t necessarily through a pantry challenge that we did that, but my own goal. Often fresh vegetables from a grocery store are incredibly nutrient poor. 

Depending on the method of preservation, I can confidently say most vegetables preserved from a backyard garden have more nutrition than a “fresh” vegetable mass produced on a farm, sprayed with all kinds of chemicals, then shipped 1000’s of miles from a different country (especially in winter), and then sits for weeks on the shelf losing even more vitamins each day.

5. Encourages Good Stewardship of the Resources we Have

A pantry challenge where backyard garden produce is utilized encourages less food waste, good stewardship of the earth (less food travel and hopefully more care of the garden), and more appreciation and gratitude for the blessings we have.

Pantry Challenge Meals

Here is a list of pantry challenge meals we will be making for the #threeriverschallenge over the next couple of months. If you haven’t heard of the pantry challenge straight from the source, you can watch some of my friend Jessica from Three Rivers Homestead videos HERE.

Personal Note:

This month started out differently than planned. Cam’s grandma passed away over Christmas and we traveled and went to the funeral. She was a lovely lady and will be missed! We are thankful for our knowledge that we will see her again. We were able to get started with the pantry challenge on January 1st, but left town from the 4th through the 7th. 

I thought I would be able to get so much done as we traveled but that was wishful thinking. Anyway, all that explanation was a long way of saying, I was hoping to share this list of meals with you much earlier. Better late than never I suppose. 

40+ Pantry Challenge Meal Ideas

 My list is mostly dinners because we usually make one main meal a day, eat the leftovers for lunch, and for breakfast do oatmeal, pancakes, toast, eggs, sausage, or something along those lines.

pantry meal
Lemon Chicken Pasta (listed at #5 below) A Family Favorite. The veggie can change with the seasons.

Cookbook References

I’m referencing some recipes on my blog and around the internet but also from many of our own personal cookbooks. Even if you don’t have the same ones as me, hopefully you can use it to spark a dinner idea and make up your own version or google a similar one!

Not every idea is linked because I assume most people have a family favorite recipe for something like pizza, tacos, and hamburgers.

My kids made half this list! I had them write down all their favorite meals we make but when they ran out of ideas they used cookbooks.

Beef Noodle Soup #33 linked below

Here are all the links to the cookbooks we reference in the list. I definitely recommend Hope’s Table. Another favorite is Homemade Kitchen. I use Cooking School occasionally, I’ve linked our book but there is now a new version that can be found HERE. Open Kitchen has my favorite ginger chocolate cookie recipe but the rest of the recipes are a little fancy.

I’ve rarely made recipes from The Make Ahead Cook, Cam bought if for me when it was on sale at Barnes and Noble. There are recipes referenced from that one because I had the kids pick some meals they wanted to make and they used it. I guess I will find out if they are good!

Skillet Chicken Pot Pie #35 linked below
  1. Modern Chicken and Dumpling Soup  Open Kitchen Pg. 117
  2. Spaghetti and Garlic Bread. I use homemade sourdough. Recipe HERE. Video tutorial HERE.
  3. Cruz’s Cabbage and Rice [Cooked rice, cabbage, cooked chicken, all sauteed in oil with salt, pepper, and seasoning of choice. Easy!]
  4. Chicken Pot Pie  Hope’s Table Pg. 172
  5. Lemon Chicken Pasta I have a video of how I make it HERE. But a brief written version can be found HERE. Scroll down to “Meals for the Week”
  6. Stuffed Butternut Squash
  7. Easy Overnight Beef Stew  Make Ahead Cook Pg. 70
  8. Slow Cooker Ramen Make Ahead Cook Pg. 240, we’ll make homemade noodles with this.
  9. Black Bean Soup 
  10. Chicken Salad SandwichesHealthy Gluten Free Life pg.148 
  11. Stir Fried Beef and BroccoliCooking School page 248, I have a similar stir fry recipe on my blog HERE.
  12. Pepper Crusted Filets MignonsCooking School page 244
  13. Meatloaf with Caramelized Topping Hope’s Table pg. 130 Oven roasted green beans (uses frozen green beans!)
  14. Beef Stroganoff Hope’s table page 133
  15. Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps If you don’t have fresh lettuce, you can add it on the rice with some snap peas on the side.
  16. Barbecued Ribs Hope’s Table page 173
  17. Beef Enchiladas Hope’s Table 
  18. Honey Glazed Chicken Hope’s table
  19. Congee with Chicken and VeggiesHomemade Kitchen page 202
  20. Slow Baked MacaroniHope’s Table 
  21. Sourdough Pretzels with Pizza Sauce
  22. Pulled Pork Sandwiches
  23. Pizza
  24. Tacos
  25. Taco Soup p. 53 Hope’s Table
  26. Chicken Noodle Soup p. 64  Hope’s Table
  27. Chicken Dumpling Soup p. 63 Hope’s Table
  28. Hamburgers with Sweet Potato Fries (made from scratch) We always do pretzel buns and use the sweet potato fries from Hope’s Table.
  29. Steak and Salad I will sub in thinly sliced cabbage, kale, and spinach, along with red onions for the salad if I don’t have lettuce in my tunnel.
  30. Stromboli or Calzone( p. 141 Hope’s Table)
  31. Picnic Fried Chicken (p. 138 Make Ahead Cook) and roasted broccoli
  32. Mac n Cheese – p. 112 Hope’s Table
  33. Asian Beef Noodle Soup
  34. Chili with Cornbread
  35. Skillet Chicken Pot Pie
  36. Pulled Pork Tacos 
  37. Salad with Ribs I will sub in thinly sliced cabbage, kale, and spinach, carrots, and red onions for the salad if I don’t have lettuce in my tunnel.
  38. Loaded Baked Potatoes 
  39. Lentil Soup
  40. White Chicken Chili
  41. Bahn Mi Sandwiches Skip the pate and the cucumber if you don’t have those. This recipe uses a good amount of root veggies from the pantry and cilantro which can grow in a winter garden.

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Nora January 18, 2024 - 12:01 am

Lots of good ideas! Also… that image of you and your Azure order was featured in their last newsletter! 🙂

theseasonalhomestead January 18, 2024 - 8:48 pm

Wow! I didn’t realize! I get the email newsletter but I’m obviously not very good at looking at it, haha!


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