Saturday, August 31, 2013

Living the Pantry Lifestyle: Healthy stocking up with a small budget

The makings of nasturtium butter...
I think the number one pantry question I am asked the most is how I stock up while living on a fixed income and as both of us who live in the house have specific dietary needs.  Well, like so many things in life it is not easy but in the long run it works.

When I had a larger house and much larger budget, my pantry was a lot deeper but not always as well thought out.  It was easy to make impulse purchases when I saw something I "might need someday" on sale and it was deep enough I could easily lose track of items.

These days there is a lot of thought put into what I purchase since any extra stocking up is only done when I'm given an unexpected financial gift or Hubby is asked to do a handy man job for a friend.  You think twice when using money you may prefer spending elsewhere.  :)

However, here are some guidelines that help stock our current pantry:

Think Basic Priorities
Few of these suggestions require a refrigerator or freezer... that is another story post.

Because we do tend to run out of items before we can purchase them again, it has given an opportunity to know what the basic needs are to cook and run a household.   Sometimes they have been items I would never have thought as basic.

For instance, it is obvious that flour, sugar, honey, and other bread making and baking supplies are basic.  But a few months ago I ran out of cocoa and couldn't replace it for a couple of months in the budget.  It was not until then I came to realize how many "from scratch" recipes I had that called for cocoa.

Pay attention to your cooking for a couple of weeks.  Then write down what you learn.  What do you reach for first?  Would you be lost without some kind of vegetable oil or extra virgin olive oil?  How about butter and eggs?  Think...

Do you use a lot of oatmeal for breakfast or make cornbread on a regular basis?  Are there gluten free requirements but you mostly stock wheat flour?  Think...

Most people eat the same meals over and over each month (seasonally)... what ingredients are a "must have" to put meals on the table?  Think...

Storage and Nutrition
I realized long ago that there were priorities as far as nutrition and dietary needs that did not cost any extra money.   You know, those pantry foods that have a lot of nutrients for less money.

For instance, cooked tomatoes have more of some nutrients than raw tomatoes so their canned version... in all their various forms... are a foundation of my pantry.  The canning process of fruit retains much of their nutrients and for the most part, I don't mind the texture.  I was raised on canned green beans so I actually don't mind them at all.

I keep a number of cans of pumpkin on the pantry shelf (just pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling).  It has a lot of nutrients and can be used for many other items than just pie.  Speaking of "foods often used for Thanksgiving", I also like to have at least a couple cans of whole berry cranberry sauce on the shelf even though I make my own cranberry relish for the Holiday.  The whole berry cranberry sauce is loaded with nutrients and is great for pouring over pork or poultry as they cook... or just serving alongside.

Dried beans and grains (including popcorn)... a good supply of favorite herbs and spices... all inexpensive and highly nutritious for almost any diet.  (As my nutritionist tells me often, diabetics can eat anything in moderation!)

Dried pasta is inexpensive and has a ridiculously long shelf life if stored properly.  We don't care for the whole wheat versions even though we have tried to like them (and when Hubby, who can eat bread that tastes like sawdust, doesn't like it then I don't buy it).

But we do like the whole grain blends and I found that by cooking the very good pasta brands just to al dente', they are much more diabetic friendly.  The sugar content increases the softer the pasta becomes.  Pasta provides a good base for other nutrient rich pantry items!

In colder months, I make certain to have good quality low sodium chicken broth on the shelves to make a base for any soups.  If nothing else, add cubed potatoes and other root veggies for a filling dinner.  Root veggies are easy to store in a cool place and very nutritious.

It is far better to have less on your pantry shelves that you will actually use than to have a lot of "maybes".  I think I told you a few months ago I decided not to include much canned tuna in my pantry anymore because neither of us ate it.

Instead we keep some oil packed tuna on the shelf for (the rarely made) tuna noodle casserole but mostly we purchase canned salmon to make salmon patties, which are highly nutritious.  Thinking through such decisions have helped us a lot.

Think Outside the Box
This area was the most difficult for me because I couldn't look at another person's list for ideas.  Instead I had to get creative with my own likes, dislikes, and food needs.

This is also where looking at past generations helped a great deal, just how did they stock up for the winter months?  How did they extend the basics and add extra flavor to what they ate every day?

Then I realized this was where the world of jellies, sweeteners like maple syrup or sorghum, chutneys, pickled fruit and veggies, smoked and dried meats, dried fruits, etc. all came in.  When possible, I add a jar of chutney or a few jars of high quality jelly to the shelves (those with real fruit and not mostly corn syrup).  I buy sauerkraut for my husband and pickles for me.

Dried cherries and cranberries added to simple scones, granola, and morning oatmeal add flavor and vitamins... and variety.  Walk down the International Aisle of your grocery store or perhaps through a Gourmet foods shop where items like Thai peanut sauce or fire roasted tomato salsa would spark your imagination.

If you don't make your own jelly or can your garden produce, then the next time you are at the Farmer's Market, stop and pay attention at the stand where the young mother is selling her homemade jellies and chutneys.  Then think pantry...

I know people who like to dry veggies from their garden to use in winter's soup.  Even if you do not grow food, every grocery store sells sun dried tomatoes, jars of roasted red peppers, and various other items which would turn blah into beautiful.  We just usually don't think of them for the pantry.  :)

A good way to provide fresh nutrients for little money is to sprout your own seeds.  But do sprout them and don't save them for an emergency.  I once had to throw a couple pounds of alfalfa seeds away because I just forgot they were on a back shelf and they had turned really icky.  I should have been using them regularly for added nutrition in our diet.

Highly Processed Foods
We don't eat highly processed foods very much but there is room on the pantry shelf.  I do like good quality instant mashed potatoes, these days they taste pretty good and they are handy when I am out of potatoes or just really tired.  My favorite chicken casserole recipe receives added flavor through a box of Uncle Ben's Original rice mix. 

Velveeta cheese does not have to be refrigerated until it is opened.  It is one of those foods we choose not to read the ingredients because we don't eat it often.  But on a cold winter's night, a favorite hot dip is Velveeta mixed with a large jar of salsa (combined with some ground beef if available).

Same with Cool Whip in the freezer or powdered flavored coffee creamers.   The dietary equivalent of Don't Ask-Don't Tell. 

Don't Forget the Absolute Essentials
Coffee and chocolate and tea.  You may want to store some water for the coffee and tea.  Add evaporated milk if you use cream.

Think - Plan - Write it Down - Act


Vee said...

Your final paragraphs have me laughing. We do enjoy some of those don't ask/don't tell foods. Such good things to think about. My darling just brought me some money from an odd job done and said that it was to deepen the pantry. Gotta love those odd jobs!

Thickethouse.wordpress said...

I am fascinated by the way you can have your pantry lifestyle posts every Saturday and always have so much new information and spark so many new ideas...And I love how realistic you are!

Manuela@A Cultivated Nest said...

LOL, yes even though we try to eat a healthy diet,we too have the occasional food that I try not to think about the ingredients!

We've gone as wheat free as possible even though none of us are gluten sensitive. My MD told me I'm insulin resistant (which is on the road to being pre-diabetic) and that wheat is the main culprit in raising blood sugar (as well as fructose etc). So we've switched to brown rice pasta which is so expensive! We rarely eat that. I make zucchini noodles instead. Have you tried those? Very yummy and you don't even notice that you're not eating "pasta".

Florence said...

My Don't Ask, Don't Tell food is my Diet Coke addiction. LOL!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank-you, once again for a wealth of information! I was wondering how to properly store pasta so it lasts "forever"? We have a couple of cupboards in the garage that I use for my storage pantry. The problem is, I forget what I bought and stored there a year ago! I need to go through it and make some some adjustments, as well as use what's there! Do you ever grind your own flour? My brother recommended I purchase a flour grinder. He ground up dried corn and made his own cornbread, which he said was "out of this world delicious!" Now that my garden is producing, I'm looking forward to eating, freezing, and storing our home-grown veggies! Mmmm! Hugs and Blessings,
Laura C. From WA

Anonymous said...

WE found that the Catelli Smart Pasta works well (my husband is pre-diabetic) and doesn't taste like cardboard unlike whole wheat pasta.

Your suggestions especially in the stocking up posts are always helpful.Thank you.

Manuela-how do you make the zucchini noodles?

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

We eat some foods that we don't look at the label either! But we do cook from scratch mostly including gravies, sauces etc...I splurged a while back and bought indian Curry spice and Garam Masala - now we make delicious curries at home too!

Every week I think "this is the best post yet" but this one really is. We do need to think and not ever assume that an item will be available when we need it or want it. Also to stock up on what we really use, is so very important.

I am adding canned pumpkin to my list for this week, as we are out of it, and some other canned items as well. I also want to can more peaches!

Thanks Brenda for these posts!


Debby said...

Just found your blog this past week, I am having too much fun looking over old posts, I will never get the cleaning finished!! Ha Great pantry posts, we stock and use our pantry. Fall seems like the best time for me to stock up

hopeinbrazil said...

This was a fun post. We, too, avoid processed foods, but justify a few exceptions. I loved how you described that!