Eat at Home Challenge: 10 Days in the Kitchen

Just after the first of July, we came home from our vacation and I told my husband that I wanted to stop eating out for the entire month of July. We are moving, which means we simultaneously need to save money and eat up the contents of the fridge and the pantry. My husband agreed immediately, even though not eating out for the month of July is ambitious. First, it’s the month of our wedding anniversary, which happens to be today (Here’s to us on the wonderfully lucky Friday the 13th). Second, the days of the actual move will make “eating at home” difficult (i.e. Temporarily without a stocked kitchen).  So tonight we went out to eat as a family (Mexican food!!) and it was spectacular. I really, really appreciated it. But we didn’t go out to eat for 10 days (no breakfast, lunch, or dinner outside of the home) and I plan on continuing this “project” for the rest of the month…that is until we are “between homes” and there’s no kitchen available.

I learned a lot of things about how my family consumes food and upgraded my skills in the kitchen. But things really kicked in when my mom came to visit to help start the packing. She saw my kitchen and said, “Can you start clearing out the top shelves of the cupboards?” I looked at her like I’d rather find the closest dentist for a root canal. Yeah, I’m lazy. But I’m so glad I listened to my mom: I found out that my pantry was overflowing with products that I didn’t even know I had and that I enjoy. I have been overbuying.

So my challenge to you is to try to eat at home for 10 days, every single meal. I’m telling you that it is hard. This is coming from someone who already doesn’t eat out that often because of not eating gluten or dairy. I’m launching this challenge on a Friday night so that you have the weekend to shop and “stock up.” At our house we are also trying to buy only necessities at the grocery store and make fewer trips, but that is because we are moving. I don’t recommend trying to draw down your grocery store and farmer’s market purchases like we are doing because that makes things even tougher. However, I do recommend doing a complete overhaul of your dry goods as well as your refrigerated items. Our CSA is over and so there are some big empty spaces in the fridge, which makes it easy for me to spot some things that are going bad and clean up little fridge messes I hadn’t seen before. Of course going through the pantry can be just as daunting (hey it’s dark in there!), but actually I think the rewards are far greater. I love getting things organized, but so rarely find the time to do it.

Let me share some of what our family learned in the past ten days:


  1. Saved money.
  2. Used up dry goods I had already purchased.
  3. Reduced food waste — Things that may have gone to waste got eaten up.
  4. Ate fewer calories — Restaurant meals are bigger and more calorie dense than what I made in my kitchen.
  5. Ate more vegetarian meals — We ate two vegetarian dinners two nights in a row because I couldn’t find an appropriate meat in the freezer and there was no time to defrost. First a made a risotto with chard and pine nuts and the next night I made a Pad Thai with eggs, shredded zucchini, shredded garlic scapes, jarred sauce, and two different kinds of Asian noodles I found in the back of my pantry.
  6. Made new and creative meals — See above. I had never made a risotto before (easy) and the Pad Thai was a huge hit with my son and the best “white girl” Pad Thai that has come out of my kitchen.
  7. Less travel in the car.
  8. Know what is in the food I’m eating — I control everything.
  9. More appreciation of eating out — I was so thrilled about going out and not having to cook tonight!


  1. Lots of dishes — Very annoying for someone like me who hates to wash dishes and unload the dishwasher (loading it is fun though!).
  2. Some waiting for food — Cooking takes time and my family had to wait longer than usual. For example, if my husband comes home with a roasted chicken from the grocery store (something we like to do), food is ready to go and sides are super easy for me to prepare in advance. Actually, now that I think about it that would not “break the rules” of this challenge since you would be eating at home and using grocery store items.
  3. Increased stress around meal time food preparation, in particular lunch — Ironic considering I made all those lunches for my son during the school year, but I found lunch was tough to throw together. Breakfast was the easiest of all.

So now you know our cost/benefit analysis — what about yours? Are you ready to eat at home for 10 days straight? I’ll leave it to you to figure out when works for you. We started on a Tuesday and ended on a Friday — only one weekend. Of course we’re back on the wagon tomorrow until the end of the month, but I think weekends are the most challenging because that’s when I want to go out as a family (more time). I’ll check back in five days and then in ten days from now.

In celebration of home-cooked meals, I’m going to be giving away TWO coupon holders from Hallmark (I purchased these about a year ago and they have been sitting on my shelf obscured — another gift of having to pack things up):

“My kids eat organic, if you count dirt and sand.”

I’d really like to give them to people who participate in the challenge, but I think that many of you may elect to participate at a more convenient time than in the next couple weeks. So to enter the drawing, you simple need to leave a comment on any of the Eat at Home Challenge posts about how you intend on participating in the challenge or how you plan on eating at home more often.

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24 thoughts on “Eat at Home Challenge: 10 Days in the Kitchen

  1. Not eating out is most challenging when you don’t have access to a kitchen or when you have a lot of activities scheduled for the evening. I know I always see parents at activites like gymnastics coming in with fast food. While we do hit the drive through on occasion, I go-to kitchen free meals are to do a picnic with simple fare like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with fruit, or I “cheat” by using convenience food from the grocery. I might let the children choose lunchables and I pick up sushi, or we get a few sub sandwiches and supplement with pretzels and fruit. While this is kind of eating out, I find that it can be cheaper than eating out, the sandwiches are often healthier than a fast food burger, and I feel like it helps the children to see that there are other options than the drive through.

  2. I plan meal a week ahead or more. I buy what’s on sale and coupon. I prep erevething on Sunday. I plan on how to re make meals so all left over get eat. I do plan ones a week bar in.

  3. I eat out usually only once a week, which is after Sunday church service. It’s a tradition that I always go out to eat with my grandparents at a local family restaurant. Other than that, being a poor post-college grad with crazy school loans, eating out is just too expensive. And eating a healthy diet is frankly easier to do at home.

  4. A friend of mine did a similar challenge called Ban the Barcode – For one week she challenged each of us to live without barcodes. Eating only what was available locally, and what you already had in the kitchen. It ended up being a ton of fun and I learned that I can make pretty good bread 🙂 We’ll be doing the challenge again in September during our anniversary though, so it will be a lot harder.

    Congrats on your anniversary!

  5. I don’t usually have a problem eating and using up food from the fridge/pantry but my fiance is a “meal” kind of guy. I’d be happy throwing together bean and rice and veggies, salad, or just grazing but he hates that (also dislikes leftovers) so we end up going out because he doesn’t like to think about food until he’s hungry and then doesn’t feel like eating anything we have on hand. But recently he’s been worried about his weight/health (and saving money with the impending wedding) so he’s gotten more serious about eating in. I think I’ll bring up the challenge with him now that he’s in the mindset for it. It helps when I prep food after I get home from work so I’ll keep up my efforts in order to make things easier on the both of us.

  6. We (family of 4) used to eat out once or twice a week–usually lunch on the weekends–, but cut back on that a lot about a year ago. So I think the last meal out we had was about three weeks ago, possibly four. Yes, it’s more work, but when you factor in getting to the restaurant and waiting for your food, cooking at home isn’t usually any more time. And the food we make ourselves is almost always tastier. It’s definitely healthier and cheaper! I mean, I can spend $30 on dinner out, or I can buy groceries that will feed us for several days and also know what’s going into the food we’re eating.

    Good luck!

  7. MY CSA box is STUFFING my fridge to the gills each week (even thought I get the smallest share they have,) so I’ve mostly been doing this already, just to make room for the next week’s haul! I’m not a leaf-eater, so that’s the main problem, since I’ve been getting 3-4 bunches of greens each week (a head of lettuce, a bunch of greens, a bunch of spinach, and lately a head of bok choy. EACH WEEK!) I’ve been giving them away so they won;t just rot in my fridge, although I’ve tried a few things. I just don’t like salads, except spinach, and I *hate* cooked greens. (But I’ve tried a few – beet greens stems in some sweet potato gnocchi, and a few leaves of bok choy in some spring rolls. Still not getting through them fast that way!)
    A friend suggested I puree my lettuces and add them to tomato sauce. The tomato flavor is strong enough to drown out the green lettuce-y taste, and the little green flecks just look like the seasonings already in there! Can’t wait! I have, like, 6 bags of noodles in the pantry (animal shapes, car shapes, Christmas shapes, Easter shapes…) and my kid loves mac-n-cheese and spaghetti. May as well bang out a few large batches and freeze!

  8. I LOVE pantry challenges! My husband travels about 1 week a month so those weeks I call Mother Hubbard weeks! My time to sort through and finish up all the random things in the freezer/fridge/shelves. I made Risotto for the first time a few weeks back.. It was a HUGE clean out meal: Risotto my mom gave me frozen homemade stock, and lots of fridge/freezer veggies: zucchini, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and peas! Toss in a huge handful of parm and everyone was happy!
    This morning the kids are having strawberry smoothies from my frozen berry stash- used a banana, the rest of the almond milk and some skim! add that to toast with PB and some Marshmallow fluff( left from another recipe) and I have happy kids!

  9. Having a two-year old at home and having financial difficulties (finally fixed…we see the light at the end of that dark tunnel) made it necessary for my family to eat at home for most of the last year. I can personally vouch for the health and financial benefits of eating at home. For example, I love pizza. LOVE it. We make it at home with ingredients from the store for around $6. We ordered a pizza from the local mom n’ pop place the other day and it was $26. Immediate buyers’ remorse.

    I love the comments above. So many good ideas and such thoughtful folks here. Keep up the good work!

  10. This is a challenge tht I could really support! Between vacations and family drama, June was a big takeout month for us. And not only was it more expensive, but I finally got to the point where I was just bored to death of the food that we were eating!!

  11. My husband and I really want to do this for a week…maybe we can do it this upcoming week since we haven’t already made plans with others!

  12. I love this challenge! I’m already on a personal challenge not to eat anything with GMO corn as an ingredient for the whole month of July, so I’m pretty much not eating out anyway. I totally agree with everyone that those “clean the pantry” meals can be a really fun adventure. Having a dinner party tonight, and trying to economize by getting creative with some things that I already have. With me luck!

  13. I actually cook 6 out of 7 nights a week at home or sometimes 7 out of 7. Its really easy for us. I buy frozen chicken, roasts, and hamburger meat from costco and portion it out into small quart freezer bags that I can easily dump a marinade of some sort into and let it marinade while it defrosts and it is then thrown into the crock pot/stove/or grill. We do the same with frozen veggies and it helps us tons since I have a weird teaching schedule (I do community based art education) and my family gets a very healthy meal.

  14. We eat at home most of the time, due to a limited budget. But when we do decide to eat out it’s a hard decision on where to go because it’s never as good as home. So even then, we often end up still eating at home.

  15. I do this every January. It really helps because December is usually a month of spending and going out, and it’s nice to decompress from that crazy time of year. In addition, it helps clean out and reset the pantry and the freezer. It saves time, too, when you are taking things out of the pantry and freezer instead of hitting the grocery store. The first year I did it, I kept track and found that we saved over $200 that month in grocery purchases. I am sure the number would have been much higher if I had counted what we didn’t spend in restaurant meals.

  16. My mom and I just got back from a trip to Nebraska to see our family. We ate out while we were on the road. Now that we are back, I am sure we will go longer than 2 weeks eating at home. We used to eat out a LOT, but rarely do anymore. 🙂

  17. I love this challenge!

    Eating at home has made our family think about the way we nourish our bodies and how we source our food. For the past year, we’ve been on a fairly restricted diet (grain-, sugar-, soy-, potato-, and for some of us dairy- and/or egg- free), so dining out isn’t much of a possibility. With our restrictions, we’ve had some crazy meals make it to the table! This is a temporary situation, and hopefully by this time next year we will have reintroduced most of those foods, though we will continue cooking/ baking from scratch. We are healthier and feel better, physically and mentally, eating this way.

  18. Happy Anniversary, Ours was last week too on Monday and we made a rare trip to eat out. I’m also Gluten free which makes eating out more difficult. I also agree with other comments about cooking at home you know what’s in your food, it’s healthier and when I go out we are very often disappointed because I could have done it better myself and we paid twice as much to have it out someplace. I make up my menus for the coming week every week from what is already in my fridge or freezer and then from there supplement whatever else I need from the grocery store. I try not to go crazy with over buying. Well I’m already on day 7 of every single meal made at home so 3 more is no big deal. I estimate though we probably won’t go out to eat till maybe next Saturday at the earliest. I have all our meals planned up till then. Tonight is Halibut with Roasted Beets, Beet Greens, and Dill-Orange Gremolata. The beets and dill from my garden.

  19. We sort of started this last month – I felt like our spending on restaurant meals had gone crazy, so I declared that we would only eat out twice per month.

    It was really hard at first, but I was motivated! On Friday afternoons, I started sitting down with the calendar and writing down each evening meal for the next week, allowing for “leftovers” nights during the week, too.

    The thing that has helped the most is that I have started preparing Crock Pot meals and freezing all the uncooked ingredients in one freezer bag per meal and I keep a list of everything in the freezer. Then, when I’m meal-planning, I know what’s available in the freezer and on the evening before, I take the bag out of the freezer and put it into the fridge. In the morning, I put the slightly thawed block of frozen ingredients into the Crock Pot and head to work. Having these freezer meals as a go-to has been a lifesaver. I only have to do the prep work about twice a month on a Sunday afternoon and I’m done!

    1. That sounds like an awesome plan! I will say that I am not educated in the kitchen so we eat out a lot. Every time we try to eat at home, we always get lazy or just don’t know what to fix. I love the idea of freezing and putting everything in the slow cooker in the morning. I will have to do some research.

  20. We usually eat out once a week but with my husbands work being slow we can’t afford it so we simply MUST eat at home…..but its still always a “challenge”

  21. I am considering trying this, though I am not sure when. Even with careful and deliberate meal planning sometimes there are hiccups…

  22. I am also gluten free so we tend to eat at home more than we eat out. Mostly cooking from scratch. I would love to do this too. Gotta get the hubby on board though.

  23. Eating at home is easier. You don’t have to get dressed up, get everybody into the car, herd the crown into the building, keep them from touching filthy stuff, keep everybody minimally polite, get them back into the car, and get them home again. You don’t have the whole family stuck waiting for the slowest eater.

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