Why You Should Be Eating Down Your Pantry

Whether you have deliberately built a nice pantry stockpile, or it’s happened almost without you knowing, actually eating down the pantry is a great way to save money.

Correction – you’ve already spent the money, now I am suggesting you make use of the money you have already spent.

But it does save you money going forward.

Eating everything in your pantry means less grocery spending while you are in use up mode.

We all have different reasons for our grocery stashes but over time we can forget why we started them.

And to make matters worse we usually fail to consider how much of a stockpile we actually need and whether we are getting the best value for our money shopping this way.

18 Things We Cut From Our Food Shopping List To Save Big Money

large cupboard and racking system filled with pantry goods to signify pantry stockpile

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My Unusually Large Pantry Stockpile

I have stockpiled food for many years.

It started way back when I was a teenage single mom and didn’t actually have any stockpile or any food in the cupboards.

So when I got a bit of money I made sure to buy extra so I always had a meal I could make my daughter even if it were just spaghetti and sauce.

From that starting point my stockpiling tendencies developed into a fear of not having the right food or choice when we wanted it.

Not sure how I went from fear of starving to fear of not enough choice – but it does shows you how we change over time.

Result was that I ended up with a HUGE stockpile of food in my pantry.

For a family of 4 it was way too much.

We lived less than 2 miles from 4 large grocery stores, a frozen food store and various independent shops.

Not only that but I was in a very secure government job and we were living frugally so didn’t have debt. But what I had was:

  • 2 chest freezers (over 600 litres of capacity)
  • A fridge freezer in the kitchen
  • A large, ceiling height pantry cupboard
  •  8ft x 4ft racking system in the garage

All of which were crammed full of food.

Helpful storage products

Pantries and kitchens need effective storage. Creating a pantry stockpile requires organization. These are essential storage solutions you can use to store your stockpile and save money doing so.

Wasting Food

True story – I lost a whole turkey in one of my freezers – I knew it was there, just couldn’t find it no matter how deep I delved.

I found it 6 months later when I eventually got around to defrosting both freezers.

If you are anything like me, then that’s an awful lot of money stored away.

If you don’t start eating down the pantry at some point, and your non-perishable food goes out of date, that’s pure money you have wasted.

And yes, I had to throw away food.

It took me a long to admit defeat but when your pasta packs are 2 years or more out of date and you have stopped eating pasta regularly you know something has to give.

How To Save Money By Cutting Your Food Waste To A Minimum

cupboard shelves full of food packages to signify pantry stockpile

Why You Should Be eating down the pantry

A pantry is an extremely useful tool in your arsenal to make the best use of the money you have.

But it’s only useful if used in the right way.

Endlessly storing food and not making use of it is like putting your money under the mattress.

Worse, eventually your pantry money will be worthless as it will have gone out of date.

I’m all for having a decent stock of the best foods to stockpile and keeping it so, but you need to rotate it.

Rotating is about using what is currently there and slowly replacing it with new goods.

That way you never have to throw food away because it’s gone out of date and you keep an appropriate stockpile.

An appropriate stockpile will vary depending on you, your location and your family’s needs.

If you live super rural then having a 3-6 month stockpile could makes sense.

Likewise, if you have an irregular income then having a substantial stockpile gives you the reassurance that when money is non-existent you can still feed your family.

However, if you live in an area like me, with a variety of shops to choose from then a 6 month stockpile is less necessary.

I am not encouraging you to get rid of your stockpile if you’ve only just built it up.

But always be mindful of what you have stockpiled and when it was bought.

How To Build A Stockpile Quickly

How To Stockpile In Case Of A Food Shortage

cupboard shelves full of food packages to signify pantry stockpile

Complete A Pantry Inventory

The first step to eating down the pantry is to know exactly what you have stored.

Not only do you need to know how many cans of tomatoes and beans you have but you also need to ensure they are still within a usable time frame.

I am sure you have lost cans at the back of your cupboard or got spices that just aren’t being used.

When you eventually think to check their dates you are surprise to see just how far out of date they actually are.

Time ticks on every day, something we sometimes forget when it comes the items in our food cupboards.

My oldest spice jar was a mere 17 years out of date! It was right at the back of the cupboard and we had used other jars of the same spice over the years, just not that one.

Wasted money.

Completing a pantry inventory is just one way to start managing your grocery budget.

For many more tips why not join my free grocery budget bootcamp? A 7 day email course that helps you take back control of your grocery budget.

How To Complete Your Pantry Inventory

You can either go old school or the tech route but essentially you are doing the same thing.

Listing out everything you have stored in your pantry.

Old school route – pen and paper and write down each item, how many you have of it, whether any are open or not (packets) and the expiry date of the oldest if you have multiples.

Tech route – create a simple spreadsheet either on your laptop, tablet or phone and note down the exact same details

Inventory Categories

  • Baking items (flour, sugar, treacle etc)
  • Carbohydrates e.g. pasta and rice
  • Proteins – meat, fish, beans and pulses
  • Canned veggies and fruit
  • Snacks
  • Other carbohydrates e.g. crackers
  • Herbs & spices
  • Condiments and sauces

A useful way to visualize the money you may end up wasting by throwing out food is to create another list.

This time of the food items you are throwing away.

Once this binned items list is complete you can guesstimate how much each item cost you and total up the money you have just thrown away.

Because it is money you are throwing away isn’t it?

How To Save Money By Cutting Your Food Waste To A Minimum

womans hands writing a lite on ring bound notepad with greenery above

Complete A Freezer Inventory

I know it’s that much more work but I suggest you also complete a freezer inventory.

This is where you are likely to find more protein like chicken, fish and beef to help make up your meals.

And for added efficiency points you could defrost your freezer at the same time.

I have to say defrosting my freezer and doing it’s inventory is one of my least favorite chores.

My hands get soooo cold!

Which is why when we moved last year and had to leave our remaining chest freezer behind, I insisted that our new freezer would be an upright one.

So much easier to see what’s in there.

And so much easier to access everything as you can assign drawers for specific food groups e.g. meat drawer, fish drawer, veggie drawer.

worktop filled with various jars of dried goods and root vegetables

Note Down What Is Half Used/Opened

Check all the expiry dates and decide whether to chuck or use first.

(I will use things past their best before dates but don’t take my word for it that things are OK – use your own judgement or seek advice from your local health department).

Plan meals around the ingredients.

If your freezer is stuffed full like mine can be on occasion then why not combine this eating down the pantry challenge with an eating down the freezer challenge?

You’ll save even more money!

Now you have completed your inventories it is time to get creative.

The idea here is to plan eat from the pantry recipes, i.e. meals based on ONLY the ingredients you have in your pantry.

You can supplement them with items from your freezer.

Realistically most of your protein is likely to be in your freezer unless you are very into canning your own meats.

Or you are vegetarian so pulses are your go to proteins.

Knowing how many of each item is crucial here. If you’ve only got 1 can of beans, you can’t be planning chilli twice can you?

It doesn’t matter if you plan the same meal twice.

If you’ve got a decent stockpile this meal plan could be for a couple of weeks or more so chilli twice is not a problem.

Write out a meal plan using only these ingredients.

7 Meal Planning Strategies All Beginners Should Know

Your Simple Guide To Meal Planning On A Budget

tidy cupboard shelves with window in background

Pantry Stockpile Challenge

It can be hard to stick to a meal plan that is based on or restricted to eating everything in your pantry.

As soon as you are restricted you feel it and you want to break away from the restrictions.

Consider this an ‘eat your pantry’ challenge. Instead of being restricted, you are being challenged.

Challenges are things we want to achieve so it puts a nicely positive spin on it.

And of course the thought that you are saving money by eating from your pantry instead of buying yet more food.

How do you eat down the pantry?

You could create a meal plan so you end up eating everything in your pantry, but the likelihood is you’ll get bored, I know I would.

Better to look at how to use everything in your pantry over a longer time period. Focus the first week on only using pantry items in your meals. Then perhaps ensure you have at least 2 or 3 meals a week that are pantry challenge recipes.

That way you can incorporate other food items which will help you achieve your pantry challenge that bit easier.

What can I eat when the pantry is empty?

Is your pantry really empty, or is it just empty of things you want to eat?

Do you have a packet of noodles or pasta? That’s a meal with a splash or oil and some seasoning. It doesn’t cover your 5 a day of veggies but it’s a meal. Same goes for rice, if you have a can of beans all the better.

glass jars of dried goods against white backdrop

My Current Stockpile

My current pantry stockpile is not huge but it is bigger than it was due to the recent worrying times around the world.

When your usual stores runs out of pasta, canned tomatoes, toilet paper, eggs, coffee and tea bags you choose to stock up more as soon as you can.

Coupled with 2 extra adults suddenly living with us for an short/indefinite time and my stockpile has grown.

But now store supplies are returning to normal, I have no worries about canned tomatoes or pasta although flour still seems in short supply.

I need to be mindful that I spent double my grocery budget in less than 1 month and have regular access to new supplies.

I don’t need a 2 month supply of everything which is what I seem to have accumulated.

I’m still going to keep a 4 week supply of long life goods because, you know, fear of choice, supply changes, make me leery of going back to a 2 week stockpile.

My pantry challenge is to save money on this months budget by using the money I have already spent on all those supplies currently stuffed into my cupboards and freezer.

How To Stockpile Food On A Budget – 10 Easy Tips

close up of woman looking into camera holding up a pizza directly in front

Eating down the pantry recipes I Can Make From Existing Supplies

Given my stockpile is now somewhat bigger than I need I have plenty of meals to make from it.

  • Chicken casserole x4
  • Spaghetti bolognese x 4
  • Fish and fries/chips x2 (homemade fries)
  • Homemade pizzas x4
  • Broccolli & cheese quiche
  • Chilli x2
  • Bean chilli x 3
  • Tuna pasta tray bake x 2
  • Tuna burgers/cakes with fries and peas
  • Sausages, beans and mashed potato (great British food)
  • Fish pie (using white and smoked fish)
  • Salmon pasta x2
  • Salmon with salad and vegatabes
  • Mushroom risotto x2 (using frozen mushrooms)
  • Meatball spaghetti

I don’t think I could have made a meal plan from my unusually large stockpile as there was just too much stuff!

55 Cheap And Easy Meals You Are Going To Love

vintage food tins on wooden shelves

Meal Planning From Existing Stores

The majority of my protein is in my freezer as I dislike canned fish (except tuna) and canned meat.

Beans I have both canned and dried and I have about a million cans of tomato (possibly a slight exaggeration).

I’ve got white pasta (panic buying as I don’t usually buy it), wholewheat pasta, wholewheat spaghetti, brown rice, rissoto rice (young adults insisted on it) and 12 cans of tuna (we usually eat it about once a month!)

What I never keep a stockpile of though is canned vegetables (apart from tomatoes) because we rarely eat them.

I have a few cans of peas but that is it.

We eat fresh veggies all the time, in summer we eat from our garden as we grow as much of our own as we can.

We are lucky that we don’t live more than 20 minutes from town and have access to a variety of stores both to visit and who offer home delivery so I’ve never worried about running out of these.

30 Of The Best Cheap Foods To Buy When You’re Broke

pantry full of jars of preserved foods to signify pantry stockpile

A Well Stocked Pantry

Having a well stocked pantry is a must for everyone, frugal or not.

But there is a line to be drawn between well stocked and over stocked.

Your line will be different to mine.

The key is to understand how much of a stockpile you need given your own circumstances.

Using up what you have is a great way to make use of the money you have already spent.

It helps you save money during the weeks you are eating down the pantry and ensures you do not waste the money you used on building your stockpile.

Completing a pantry inventory is just one way to start managing your grocery budget.

For many more tips why not join my free grocery budget bootcamp? A 7 day email course that helps you take back control of your grocery budget.

Come and follow me on Pinterest for more money saving hints and frugal tips!

pinterest image for Why You Should Eat Your Pantry Stockpile

Last Updated on 10th March 2022 by Emma

About Emma

I'm here to help you become confident in making the best money decisions for you and your family. Frugal living has changed my life, let me help you change yours.

4 thoughts on “Why You Should Be Eating Down Your Pantry”

  1. During these unusual times, I am enjoying using my pantry stores. There are only two of us now and I have far too much food in the house. I like creating gaps on the shelves and in the freezer. I really don’t need to keep as much in the house as I have been doing

    • Hi Lesley – I’m definitely trying to create those gaps too. Although having temporarily expanded to a family of 4 adults (who eat differently) it’s not as easy as I had hoped! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Hi Emma I love all your blogs, this one is particularly appropriate as I am sorting out my pantry stores and using up all the oddments it’s proving very interesting and certainly not boring. I am well over 80 and remember the war years while you couldn’t always get what you wanted there were plenty of ways to adjust menus, we dug up the garden and grew vegetables and fruit, kept rabbits and chickens so probably better off than most, I for me the war years were golden, a wonderful childhood. Please keep your blogs going so simple and so right in all your advice. Annie

    • Hi Annie! Thank you so much for your kind words and your wonderful memories! I love hearing how people adapted and overcame food shortages and problems of just not having stuff that nowadays we can take for granted. Take care x


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