When my editor called me on the last day of my vacation to ask me to take on a Pantry Challenge, my first thought was: I wish I had gone grocery shopping first.
But then, where would the challenge be in that?
If you’re unfamiliar with it, a Pantry Challenge requires you to use what’s in your cupboard (and refrigerator and freezer) to create meals for one week. The only rule: no buying.
If you’re like my family, you often pick up specific ingredients for a recipe, but don’t necessarily use all of them. You forget about the food, leaving it to languish in the back of the refrigerator until one day, it’s grown enough mold to qualify as your daughter’s science project.
Then when it comes time for dinner, you default to stopping by the store for more ingredients or worse, ordering takeout. Neither option is good for the budget, and you end up wasting food.
My husband, Chris, regularly cooks a delicious dinner — my culinary skills are mostly limited to chopping vegetables and reheating leftovers — so I figured we could accept a five-day pantry challenge without much trouble. (I got to skip the weekend portion due to the story’s deadline.)
I announced our participation in the Pantry Challenge to Chris and our 10-year-old daughter, Gwen, Monday evening. Although neither seemed particularly excited, they humored me.
How the Pantry Challenge Works
Meal prepping is an essential component of the Pantry Challenge, since you’ll need to plan your meals using fresh produce before it goes bad and saving items like a frozen pizza for a break-in-case-of-emergency dinner.
So after I talked to my editor, I shopped our refrigerator and pantry for inspiration.
Inspiration quickly turned to perspiration as I realized we had no frozen pizza. Or eggs. Or apples. Or bread. Or gummy bears.
I looked online for recipes from people who’d done the Challenge before me. One person suggested barbecuing banana peels.
What had I gotten us into?
We weren’t going to starve, but I did experience a moment of panic when I realized how little fresh produce we had and how gross it was turning before my eyes. We were going to have to dig deep (in the freezer).
Here’s the daily play-by-play of recipes we came up with for creatively meeting the Challenge.
We based Monday night’s dinner on the produce. We had some nearly wilted lettuce, half a tomato and an inexplicable plethora of onions. That, along with the hamburger buns in the fridge had all the makings of a burger night.
Unfortunately, we’d used the remaining ground turkey last week. But my husband found a package of Asian-flavored soy burgers he’d bought months ago during our ill-advised attempt at vegetarianism. With plenty of ketchup, mustard and a leftover bottle of chipotle mayo, we decided they’d be the best companion for our paltry produce.
We also discovered a couple leftover sweet potatoes from a bag we bought for a stew weeks ago. Those sweet potatoes were not getting any younger, so Chris cut around the less-than-desirable parts, tossed them with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika and baked them to a crisp.
And to make sure we didn’t waste anything, I used up the rest of the chicken Caesar salad my daughter and I had split for lunch. The croutons were a bit soggy, but it was an easy way to add extra veggies to our meal.
Reviews: There’s a reason those burgers collected ice crystals in the back of our freezer. My daughter ate half the sandwich and a few fries before claiming she was “full.” She wasn’t.
Here’s the thing about the Pantry Challenge. In the evening, you have time to gather items and experiment, so cobbling together dinner from your pantry is a bit easier.
But in the morning rush, when I was in charge of making lunches, the Pantry Challenge became more of a Pantry Struggle.
Breakfast was easy enough: We still had English muffins, bananas, frozen waffles and cereal.
But often when I pack our lunches, I use leftovers. And nobody was eating the sad, lonely veggie burger from last night (except maybe the dog, whose palate is decidedly less discerning).
But my teacher husband and daughter were headed to school to set up his classroom and I was headed to the office, so we needed to some kind of subsistence.
I dug into the produce drawer and picked out the good pieces from a bag of deteriorating spinach, topping them with a cucumber that was on its last legs. (It hadn’t really grown legs. Yet.) To help keep our tummies full, I sent along bags of almonds, rice crackers and the last of the fresh cherries.
That covered vegetables, protein, carbs and fruits, so we’re good, right?
Unfortunately, in my rush to pack lunches, I forgot to take the chicken thighs out of the freezer to defrost in the refrigerator for dinner.
Normally, that would have resulted in a trip to the grocery store for an alternative meal or maybe takeout. But tonight, we just delayed dinner a little while I figured out how to defrost solid chicken thighs in the microwave.
In case you were wondering, it takes about 20 minutes for 2 lbs. of chicken to defrost. And yes, they were a bit rubbery, thanks for asking.
Chris cooked the thighs with a jar of Indian sauce (mostly to cover the rubberiness). Typically, we like to boost the dish with a colorful array of peppers, but there were no peppers to be found, so we settled for some chopped baby carrots.
Fortunately, we’re almost always stocked on rice, so we cooked extra to ensure we’d have enough for our lunches the next day. We completed the meal with steamed frozen broccoli.
Reviews: Lunch was definitely a bust — the “meals” I sent with Chris and Gwen came back half eaten. I suspect they may have located pizza leftover from a staff meeting, but neither one was ratting out the other. Dinner was a bigger success, and I was proud of myself for sticking with the Challenge and defrosting the chicken rather than taking the lazy route to takeout.
Bonus: Who realized the slightly browning bananas could be cut up and frozen for smoothies and snacks for the remainder of the week? This mom!
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Want to know the secret to the Pantry Challenge? Pasta.
Oh sure, there are other secrets — like frozen produce, dried beans and canned soups — but at the end of the day, when you’re tired and hungry, pasta saves the day. Plus, you can make a ton of it at once for easy leftovers.
And for a non-chef like myself, pasta is a godsend because you can serve it multiple ways without much culinary wizardry.
I can toss it with olive oil, fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese for a simple dish, with canned tomatoes, feta and olives for a Mediterranean flair or with canned tuna and cream of mushroom soup for a casserole.
But I didn’t have half of those items in my house.
Instead, I found an open jar of spaghetti sauce in the fridge that was leftover from last week when my husband had only needed a c [...]
Looking for really honest Twigby reviews or searching for ways to save money on kids’ phones? This is a really comprehensive post on the pros and cons of Twigby phones, Twigby plans, and Twigby phone service!
Note: This post is sponsored by Twigby, but all opinions are my own. Read our disclosure policy here.
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Why You Should Consider Twigby
Twigby plans are super affordable with a lot of flexibility — which is perfect for a child’s first phone. You can custom build your plan for each individual phone line based upon how much data each family member needs. You can also put some restrictions or limits in place for kids.
In addition, Twigby offers a really great range of options when it comes to phones. They have everything from basic flip phones all the way up to iPhone 8’s and other smart phones.
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There Are No Activation or Termination Fees!
Unlike traditional cell phone companies, Twigby gives you the ability to create your own custom, prepaid plan — without a contract or an unnecessary activation fee. (Be sure to check out the Twigby reviews from my readers below!)
My favorite part about their service (in addition to their great prices!) is that they offer the ability to change plans or phones at any time for free. You’re not locked into an expensive contract that has activation and termination fees.
We got locked into a phone plan a few years ago with another company and we wanted to switch, but it was going to be crazy expensive to do so. I think this is one of the biggest and best selling points of Twigby, personally!
Psst! If you end up switching over to their phone service, they also offer a referral program so you can email your friends a special link and, if your friend signs up through your link, you’ll both automatically receive a $10 credit 45 days from your friend’s activation date! Read more about their referral program here.
How Much Will You Save with Twigby?
Twigby has plans starting as low as $9 per month for just talk and text. And data plans start as low as $12 per month! Even a cell phone plan with unlimited talk and text and 10 GB of data only costs you $43 per month — which is a lot less than you’ll usually pay!
With these kinds of prices, don’t just think about using Twigby as a phone service for your teen or pre-teen. It’s also worth checking to see if Twigby might save you money each month on your family cell phone bill — even if you’ve been on a family plan with a provider for a decade!
Get this: The average family that switches to Twigby saves $60 on their cell phone bill, which equates to an annual savings of $720! See how much you could save by switching to Twigby when you use this handy-dandy calculator here.
(If you try out the calculator, let us know how much it says you could save on your phone service! I’m very curious to hear!)
Does Twigby Sell Phones?
Twigby doesn’t just offer fantastic prices on cell phone service; you can also get great deals on phones from them! So they are a one-stop shop for saving money on phones for your teen or pre-teen!
If you aren’t planning to buy your child a fancy iPhone, be sure to check out all of the simple and affordable phones they offer that are $75 or less. Plus, you can even get a $10 credit added to your account when you use code MOM at checkout!
Note: This $10 credit will be applied to your account when you purchase a phone or SIM card from Twigby with a new service and use the coupon code or when bring your own phone is activated.
Is the Coverage Good?
A lot of times budget phone plans like this don’t offer very good coverage, but Twigby’s coverage is really exceptional!
In fact, their coverage is guaranteed because they utilize not just one, but two of the nation’s largest cellular networks (Sprint and Verizon)!
That means if you’re out of reach on their primary network (Sprint), you will still be able to access talk and text on their secondary network (Verizon). The best part is that it’s completely free and your phone automatically switches networks when necessary.
You can go HERE to enter your address and check your coverage.
Twigby Reviews from My Readers
Many MoneySavingMom.com readers have signed up to try Twigby and have absolutely loved it! We’ve heard SO many rave reviews about the affordability and their amazing customer service.
Here are just a couple of Twigby reviews from readers:
“We have been THRILLED!!!!! Love the service, the prices, the way things keep getting better and better (seriously, name another company that LOWERS your price or gives you more data????). We love Twigby!!!”
“My husband decided to try out the coverage and it was much better (once we figured out to turn the roaming on!). Also, it was cheaper than PureTalk. We don’t use our phones much, so it is great to only pay for what we will use.”
Other Features of Twigby
In addition to their affordability, flexibility, and great coverage, Twigby also offers:
Ease of getting started. You don’t have to mess with going to a store and picking out a phone plan. You just go to their site, pick your phone plan and either switch your current phone over or get a new phone, and they get it all set up for you.
Ability to keep your same phone number. When you switch to Twigby, you get to keep your current number that you’ve had for years. You don’t have to switch to a new number.
International calling and texting. With Twigby, you can use your minutes to call numbers in Canada, China, and Mexico at no additional charge. You also get Unlimited Global Texting to over 180 other countries. As long as you’re inside the U.S. when sending and receiving texts, you can send those texts to anyone in another country!
Risk-Free Satisfaction Guarantee. If for any reason you’re not satisfied within 30 days of switching to Twigby, you’ll get a 100% full refund!
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Want to try out Twigby and save 25% off your first six months on their plan?
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Go here to get started with Twigby. [...]
This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.
Looking for a deal on the Natural Calm Gummies that I take every day? Check out this great deal!
Vitamin Shoppe is running a buy one, get one 50% off sale on select supplements right now! This sale includes my favorite Natural Calm Magnesium Gummies that I take every day!
Many of you have asked me to share if I ever find a deal on these, so I was excited when a follower messaged me on Instagram about this!
Here’s the deal you can grab on them:
Buy 2 Natural Calm Magnesium Gummies, 120 count – $19.99 each
Buy One, Get One 50% Off Sale
Shipping is FREE
Pay $29.99 shipped after sale!
I’ve taken a variety of different magnesium supplements over the years, but these are my very favorite! And this is a really good price (I typically pay $20 per 120-count on Amazon!).
Not only do they taste yummy, but when I take them I can tell a significant difference in my sleep and in my overall feelings of being a little more calm and relaxed.
I take the highest dose (4 gummies) at night. If you’ve never taken magnesium before, I’d recommend starting out with the smallest dose, seeing how that works for you, and then gradually working up to a higher dose.
Sale is valid through May 26, 2019.
Go here to grab this deal on Natural Calm Gummies. [...]