Save Money on Groceries: Food Audits and Pantry Challenges

May 7, 2014

I  will be the first to admit that, at the age of 26, I am just now attempting to cook. Part of what spurred the change was a strong desire to cut down on the expense of eating out (which is nothing short of an addiction) and, more importantly, to feel like a self-sufficient adult (still a work in progress).

In the process of learning a thing or two about whipping up a balanced meal, I’ve noticed that it’s not necessarily the lack of talent that hinders me (although I will admit there’s plenty of that), it’s the lack of planning that really gets to me and obliterates my budget.

Cooking to me is like working out – when the inspiration or motivation strikes, you just have to go with it. So I end up running to the store at random times throughout the week to buy things that I already have and didn’t realize, or to buy unique ingredients for some exotic meal that end up going to waste after a few weeks.

So what’s a learning cook to do? Buckle down and get serious. Here are some of the tips I’m employing.

Organize Your Food Better

Lack of food organization has cost me a pretty penny. Simply put, if I can’t see it with a quick glance, then I just assume I don’t have it. This is especially true with spices (which can add up quickly), and other cooking basics like oil, chicken broth, etc.

Once I took the time to organize what I had in a way that made sense – and allowed me to easily see what I might be missing – I stopped having multiples of items that I didn’t need. This, in turn, helped me cut down on clutter.

In addition, when it comes to staples, it helps to keep a running list on the fridge. That way, when it comes time to make a list, you already know what you’re missing and won’t be caught flat-footed when you’re smack dab in the middle of a recipe.

Complete a Pantry Challenge

What’s a pantry challenge? Committing to “eating down” all the food you currently have on hand. For me this equates to a lot of randomness, but, when mixed in with things I do buy, it could have a positive impact on my food budget for a month or so.

One blogger completes the challenge every January and July in order to use up the items she has purchased on sale.

“Not only does this pantry challenge clear out the old, but it ushers in new ideas and habits toward shopping better.”

Use Websites to Find Recipes that Fit What You Have

Have you ever come home from a long day needing to put a meal together with no plan in place and only a few random ingredients at your disposal? Unfortunately, this happens to me all the time.

This is when the internet comes in handy. Several (FREE) websites allow you to search their recipe database simply by putting in the ingredients you currently have on hand. Not only will it allow you to be a little more creative with your cooking ideas, but it can help you with the pantry challenge mentioned above.

No more pit stops at the grocery store on your way home from work.

Check these out:


Become Friends with Your Freezer

When I cook – especially when I use my crockpot – I make the amount that the recipe says. That’s fine, except that I usually eat solo and have buckets of leftovers afterwards. I have the best intentions of eating that dish for every meal until it’s gone, but then life and bored taste buds get in the way.

Now I’m getting in the habit of plopping said food into the freezer before it’s better suited for the garbage can. Not only does this keep me from wasting food (Americans are apparently guilty of wasting 40% of food), but it saves me for those times when I really have no balanced meal at my disposal.

And, if you want to proactively freeze meals before they’re prepped (something I’m seriously considering), Pinterest is a hotbed of how-to posts like this one from Who Needs a Cape: 40 Meals in 4 Hours Crockpot Slow Cooker Freezer Cooking.

How do you use what you have to cut down on food waste and keep your food budget afloat?