Having a pantry full of ingredients that you can draw upon to create meals for yourself and your family is one of the things that we advocate here at Patty Cake’s Pantry. Knowing that we had a pantry full of ingredients was a huge relief when we were forced to stay home for a three week period while we recovered from illness. Yes, we ran out of fresh milk, but we had plenty of other things to draw upon to feed our family. That’s the power of having a well stocked pantry. When we’re not self quarantining, having a well stocked pantry makes it possible for me to whip up a special request dinner without having to go to the store.
Why should you have a well stocked pantry?
As I mentioned above, having a well stocked pantry helps to provide food security to you and your family in the event of an illness that requires you to self-quarantine. The food in your pantry also provides security in the event of an unexpected job loss or extreme weather conditions. If your pantry is full, there’s no reason to rush to the store to buy groceries when you hear that a huge storm is headed your way. Instead, you can stay home with your family and avoid the madness, and the empty shelves.
Filling your pantry doesn’t mean that you have to go broke or spend huge amounts of money. A pantry can be filled in stages, a little at a time, until you have enough food on hand to meat your family’s needs.
How can you afford to fill your pantry?
1. Buy one extra can or jar of shelf stable items.
This is a question that people often ask. One of the strategies we used in the early days was to purchase one extra. When we went to the store for the week, if we were buying shelf stable ingredients, we would purchase an extra one of each of these items. Instead of buying one can of tuna, we would buy two. We did this with as many items as we could afford during each shopping trip.
2. Set aside a specific amount of money to spend toward stocking the pantry.
Often, we would set a monetary limit on how much we would spend toward stocking the pantry. In the beginning, it was five dollars. When we had children, we increased it to ten. It’s amazing how a little bit of money can quickly add up to help fill your pantry shelves.
3. Watch for sales on the items that your family eats.
Another way you can fill your pantry without going broke is to watch the local sale papers. Our local Kroger store often has 24 ounce jars of pasta sauce on sale for one dollar. Whenever I see this sale, I will buy a case of 12 jars for the pantry. If I have extra money, I will buy two cases. We eat pasta about once a week, so those 12 jars will feed our family for nearly 3 months. I also watch for sales on canned soups, beans, vegetables, and fruit. I buy extra for the pantry when they’re on sale. This also applies to cake mixes, flour, and sugar which often go on sale in the fall as the holidays approach.
The answer to this question is different for every person, family, and situation, but there are some steps you can take to help you discover the answer for yourself.
1. You need to buy food that your family likes and will eat.
If your family only eats fast food and take out, you may have a problem here, but you can start by making a list of what you buy, and then learn to make it at home. Lots of things that we spend money on aren’t really that difficult to make at home. Plus, the things we make at home are generally healthier, and they cost less, than the same items that you’re buying at the drive thru. You’ll also need seasonings to make the food taste good. Remember to keep salt, pepper, and other spices and seasonings in your pantry. For spices, we have a list of our favorites that you can check out.
2. Make a list of meals that your family likes.
If you’re already cooking at home, you should ask all of your family members what their favorite meals are. Make a list of these meals, and focus on stockpiling the shelf stable or frozen ingredients you need to make them. Obviously, if someone says Chicken Caesar salad, you can’t fill your pantry with Romaine lettuce, but you could buy either bottles of Caesar dressing, or the ingredients to make it, and some croutons. The cheese could be stored in the freezer, but the lettuce would have to be purchased at the time you want to make the salad. You can put perishable meals on your list, but try to think of meals that can be made with food from your pantry or freezer. Your goal should be about two to three weeks worth of meals–breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don’t forget treats, too.
3. Take stock of your storage space.
Obviously, if you’re purchasing a lot of frozen food, you will need adequate freezer space to accommodate what you buy. At the time I am writing this post, there is a long wait to purchase a freezer from many local retailers in our aria. When thinking of canned or other shelf stable foods, keep in mind that not all food needs to be stored in the kitchen. It does, however, need to be stored in a stable environment without temperature extremes, and it should be in containers that prevent it from becoming infested with pests. As long as those requirements are met, you can be quite creative with where you store your pantry items.
A friend of mine converted a linen closet into a pantry where she stores canned and dried goods. Another friend, who lives in a smallish apartment, stores boxes of canned goods under her bed. In her living room, she has a decorative table covered with a decorative floor length table cloth. The table is just a piece of particle board that’s balanced atop stacked cases of canned goods. Another friend just purchased some metal shelving that he put into a bedroom closet to provide pantry space in his house that has very little storage.
How do I keep my pantry foods from spoiling?
This is a huge problem for people who stockpile large amounts of food, but there are several steps you can take to prevent your food from going bad.
1. The food in your pantry should be rotated regularly.
Rotating your pantry items is simple. Use them, then replace them. That’s why you should be buying items that your family likes to eat. If your family despises sweet potatoes, you probably shouldn’t buy them. Pay attention to expiration dates, and make sure you are using the items regularly. Eating from the pantry changes your shopping habits from buying what we’re going to eat this week to buying to replace what we’ve used. It’s a much better situation to be in than one where you have almost no food in the house especially if you’re short on cash.
2. Ensure appropriate storage conditions.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to store your foods appropriately. For canned goods, rice, and beans, this means storing them where temperatures are below 85 degrees Fahrenheit (between 50 and 70 degrees is best). I recently had three jars of olives lose their seal on the way home from the grocery store because of the extreme heat in our area on that day, and the number of stops I made before coming home. Instead of going onto my pantry shelves, they had to go straight into the refrigerator. Another important thing is to store grains, pasta, and rice in packaging that reduces the risk of infestation from insects.
3. Keep a list of what you have on hand.
If you don’t know that you already have seven cans of cream of mushroom soup, you will keep buying a can every time you need one for a recipe. Either keep a list in a notebook, or make a spreadsheet, to keep track of what you have. We use our list to know when we are running low on a particular item. That way, I know when i have to start looking for a sale.
This is a tough question because everyone’s situation is unique. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends a three day supply of food, but several years ago when we had a big earthquake in the Los Angeles area, it was two weeks before things got back to normal, so I would say that you want to have at least two to three weeks worth of food on hand. Start with that list of meals that you came up with. Gradually purchase, and store, the ingredients that you will need to make all of them, and you have a two week supply. Once you’ve achieved that, you can keep building your pantry until you feel confident that you have enough food stored.
I have friends who are happy to have a two week supply of food in their pantry. I have other friends who like to have a full year’s worth of food for meals. It all depends on what makes you feel comfortable. Just remember that you don’t need to buy everything at once. Gradually, purchase items so that you have a cushion in your pantry with enough food to provide meals for your family for whatever amount of time you deem appropriate for your situation.
Do you like to have your pantry well stocked? What do you think is the appropriate amount of food to have on hand. Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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