Challenging yourself to eat what’s already in your fridge, freezer, and pantry for a time is a tried-and-true method for saving money on groceries and reducing your food waste.

As a regular practice, it can also support your efforts at simple living by challenging yourself to be thankful for what you have while you are nourishing yourself simply.

You can also pretend you’re on a cooking reality show and have 30 minutes to make a meal from canned tuna, an avocado, 6 cucumbers, and…what is this?–Hey, we have rice noodles!

As a bonus, you’ll get to clean out and organize your fridge, freezer, and pantry. I’m tired of typing ‘fridge, freezer, and pantry,’ so from here on out those areas are just called ‘pantry.’

The idea isn’t destitution and you are allowed to get fresh foods from the store. I would challenge you to only buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

You don’t have to do the Eat From Your Pantry Challenge for a long period of time to benefit, either. Build in a pantry meal here and there in your meal plan and you’ll avoid getting overstocked and potentially wasting food.

There are some apps and websites out there that can help you find recipes from the ingredients you have on hand, but if you’re a pretty well-rounded cook, you’ll probably be able to think of ideas on your own.

For Simplify Your Life Month: Day 12, I’m eating what’s in the pantry. Here are my best tips on how to manage your pantry and meal planning for both regular life and your buy-nothing challenges.

Pantry Management Essential Steps

  1. Take an inventory of all of the areas you store food. This goes faster if you have someone to call out the item and another to write it down.
  2. Prioritize by expiration and toss anything questionable. I just threw out 2 jars of gross half-eaten pickles and discovered some tahini sauce I had frozen. Falafel is happening!
  3. Keep track of your stock. You can do this electronically or on a chalkboard or dry-erase board. Print a list of items you commonly have, put it in a sheet protector, and use a dry-erase marker to cross things off as you use them. There are so many options, so try a few and see what sticks for you.
  4. Minimize groceries coming in. Only buy essential items while you’re using up your surplus.
  5. Plan your next few days’ menu using your soon-to-expire items. Aim to eat as many meals as you can with the items you already have. Planning your meals while you are eating down your pantry is critical because you will otten have to be more creative than usual as well as plan ahead far enough to defrost frozen things.
  6. Resist the urge to go out to eat for something fun while this is going on. This is supposed to build character, and make you sorry you bought such a big bag of peas, so you want to suffer a little bit, yeah?
  7. Make it a regular part of your routine to check your inventory, update your pantry list and grocery list.
  8. Every once in a while, have an “eat from the pantry” night.

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