The Great Pantry Staple Challenge

Due to some imprudent spending in the month of June, my food budget for July was in the red.  Then it struck me: Pantry Staple Challenge!  When anything can be made more fun by becoming a game, why not do the same with frugality and basic nutrition?

The Great Pantry Staple Challenge appeared easy.  I would make a list of all the items then residing in my pantry.  Chances were, I’d be shocked by how much non-perishable food I’d managed to horde in the past year.  Then, as food items are used up, I would mark them off this list.  The goal was to not go to a grocery store for more than $15 of fresh food per week (that is, I could not buy any more pantry staples in the month of July, but only do my best to keep scurvy at bay).

Here resides the story of my challenge.

Day 1: Inventory

(July 7, 2009)

Upon designing this challenge, I went home and took a full inventory of my pantry.  For the purposes of health, I included refrigerated staples (such as milk, soymilk, yogurt and eggs, which are necessary for cooking many pantry staples and do not have the shelf life of non-perishables) as a separate, replenishable category.  When things become used up, they will be marked through here.

Pantry Contents:

1 jar peanut butter

1 1 packet instant miso

2 cans chunk light tuna in water

1 can vegetable soup

1 can black beans

1 can black eyed peas

1 can vegetarian chili

1 bag 17 beans and barley soup mix (used on July 11, 2009)

1 jar tomato sauce

1 pack lipton instant vegetable soup mix

3 extra large vegetable bouillon cubes (used on July 11, 2009)

1 jar instant coffee

1 32oz vegetable broth (used on July 11, 2009)

10 packets instant oatmeal

3 individual serving packets of prunes

1 can mixed nuts

1 can quaker oats

1 box multigrain crackers

5 bags snack-size popcorn

2 boxes wheat crackers

6 packets oriental flavor ramen noodles

1/4 bag jasmine rice

1 packet yellow rice

16oz jar couscous

16oz bag fusilli pasta

1 small box quinoa

1/4 box lasagna noodles

4 individual pouches granola

1 box oreo cookies

1 box ultimate fudge brownie mix (used July 19, 2009)

1 box chocolate instant pudding

1 box vanilla instant pudding

1 box bran

1 box untoasted wheat germ

1/2 bag bread flour

2 packets yeast

1 bag flour

1 bag sugar (white and brown, each)

1 package raisins

1/4 box spaghetti noodles (used on July 9, 2009)

All in all, not a bad amount of food.  But something tells me this month will be harder than I expect.

Day 6

(July 12, 2009)

So far, so good.  My grocery shopping yesterday totaled $16.00–all for fresh veggies, bread, and soymilk.  Much of what I purchased initially has lasted so far, and I’ve only dipped into my pantry staples twice (once for spaghetti, once for a soup mix that will last me for a week).  Of that fresh-veggie haul, half of it went into the freezer as a starter mix for the next time I make a soup:

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup copped celery

1 cup chopped carrot

Makes a great soup starter, and is sure to stay good in the freezer as a giant ice-block for a while.

Also, I have been lucky enough to be treated to brunch and dinner today, which has not only fed me these two meals, but has provided about three to four more in leftovers.  This experiment could just work.

Day 13

(July 19, 2009)

Can you tell that I’ve been cheating?  It’s difficult to only eat out of one’s pantry when it seems that everyone you in your office know is having a baby, going away to college, getting married, or whatever.  It’s also hard on the budget, especially when you’ve committed yourself to not spend more than $15 per week on fresh food.  Oops.

But at least the intentions are good.  At this rate, though, I’m sure I’ve dipped well into August’s budget for food.  Good thing is, August brings with it some extra help from Uncle Sam (thanks to being a student), so things at least shouldn’t be such a tight squeeze.

Of the things remaining in the pantry, it looks like I have some good options.  Lots of beans and pastas, and plenty of peanut butter.  If there is one thing I have learned to love again from this self-challenge, it’s peanut butter and banana sandwiches.  Might need to make a few of those to keep me up this week.  I’ll check in again next Sunday for another report, this time without all the prior lunch committments.  Until then, happy eating!

Day 18

(July 24, 2009)

Failure imminent.  Too many lunches out, too few dinners in.  There have been PB&J aplenty, but alas, also too much PF Chang’s.  At least I take consolation in the leftovers.

Day Last.  At the End.

The month of July is officially over, and what has the Great Pantry Staple Challenge taught me?  People are remarkably resourceful, and incredibly easy to persuade to spend money on eating out.  Though I’ve not yet totaled it all up, I anticipate that I re-spent my entire food budget on eating food that other people prepared.  It makes me a little sick to think of spending all that money, but at the end of the day money is just money, right?  I may spend a lot one month and not a lot the next, but (God willing) there will always be some money around.  I am especially reminded of this when I get my, now more frequent, latte at a national coffee chain.  Some mornings when I am there, I see the same man, always dressed in the same black jeans and white button-down shirt, getting a cup of joe and reading a newspaper.  He’s not spending much money, and he may have had to work very hard indeed for those few pieces of change he used to pay for that coffee, but he has that coffee.  I’m not sure that I’m being terribly clear, but there’s a convoluted optimism at work in the way I see the world.  But with a still-full pantry, we can afford to be optimistic.

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