Saturday, May 06, 2017

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Simple Stocking Up

This has been such a rainy spring!  I'm not sure if the farmers were able to get corn and soybeans planted in time but even if they did, I'm sure some crops are under water.  I took the long way home from having coffee with a good friend yesterday, the road leading to my home that takes one past farmland and horses nibbling grass.  The fields that are the first to flood in such weather are indeed under water.

This past week, I also read that at least half (if not more) of the Kansas wheat crop has failed due to late season blizzards.  It has not only been wet here but very cold.  It feels more like early March than May and I wasn't too fond of March weather when we went though that month at the appropriate time.  So many people are late getting out spring veggies in their gardens.

This week it was also announced that a major employer was shutting their doors over the next few years.  It came as a shock for it has been here for a very long time and I don't recall the business even having layoffs in years of economic turbulence.

All of this to say... it doesn't take war breaking out anywhere to make it practical to deepen one's pantry.  The most likely reason you will be glad you did is if a breadwinner in the family, for one reason or another, cannot bring in the income the family has been used to receiving.

In a comment recently, I was asked how one begins to build up a pantry if they are just starting out and on a budget.  It made me smile for it is the very same way I have to try to deepen my own pantry.  It has been a very long time since I lived in a larger house with the pantry having its' own room in the basement and enough of a budget to stock it as I wish.  Ironically, I learned most of my "what not to do" lessons in those years.

The easiest way to begin deepening your pantry is to keep it simple!  

That is the lesson I've experienced through the years and what I've found those who prepared ahead of WWII learned.  If you try to prepare for the worst possible scenarios, you will live in fear and anxiety because it just can't be done.  Even if you have ten years of survival food stored and every object any website has said you should have on hand... all it takes is one big tornado to wipe you out or an earthquake or a zombie apocalypse.

No matter how deep you can make your pantry, your faith should never be in stuff but in Jesus!  Having a pantry is good but if you have peace only because you have a pantry, then your peace will not be very deep.

So here are some lessons I've learned to pass along and you will find them very similar to what our forefathers (and foremothers) did in the past. 

1)  Pay attention to what and how you cook.
If you have a small space and a small budget, then the food you use the most is a priority of what to concentrate on stocking up in your pantry (and by pantry, I include your refrigerator and freezer).  Think of the five menus you make most often and look for the items that can easily be stocked in your pantry.  Don't try to buy a lot of everything you use in a year!

It is far better to have stocked the pantry to make five main dishes, than to have a lot of just a few items but not be able to make a meal from any of themThen think of ways you may extend the food you have by adding rice, pasta, etc. in a true emergency. 

People who stocked up a deep pantry before WWII stocked only basic foods to get them through.  I know I usually say that I only stock what I actually eat but I have a few exceptions.  One of them is that I keep a couple very large bags of converted rice in a Rubbermaid style container on a shelf in the garage... just in case.  I don't eat much rice and when I do, I eat brown rice.

However, should there be a major emergency, then I will be very happy I have converted rice on hand.  My friend has a very small house so she stores rice and certain cans of soup that, when heated and poured over cooked rice, make a meal! At the end of a year, I will give those two large bags to the church's food pantry and replace them to have on hand another year.

2) Stock the basics you use the most often first and consolidate items when possible
For instance, if you notice you use a lot of pasta, then that is a priority and it stores well when kept in a protected container (such as in their original boxes stored in a Rubbermaid style container).  I've used dried pasta that was two years old and still in perfect condition.

Types of pasta is another area where I have consolidated.  Instead of having a large variety of pastas, I now stock a few boxes of spaghetti, a few boxes of penne, macaroni (in a half gallon Ball jar) and orzo (in a half gallon Ball jar).  I make lasagna so rarely that those noodles are not a priority to stock and are purchased the week I'm going to make the dish.

I use a lot of canned tomatoes so they are a priority.  Acidic veggies do not last as long as say... green beans... in a can so you do need to rotate the cans if you buy in bulk.  But you should be rotating everything anyway, in a deep pantry (using the oldest "Use By" date first and adding the most recent to the back of the shelf or bottom of the flats).

I used to stock a variety of canned tomatoes for various recipes.  It took up a ridiculous amount of space on my pantry shelves.  Then I decided to stock only a couple types of cans (whole tomatoes and diced tomatoes) with the occasional fire roasted can of tomatoes added.  Just a few, though, for specific recipes where the fire roasting makes a difference in the taste.

Instead, I always have the herbs and spices on hand to add specific flavors to recipes instead of say... Italian style tomatoes or Chili style tomatoes.  An exception is a few jars of good quality pasta sauce, the epitome of good pantry food.  Just warm up and serve with cooked pasta and wallah... a main dish.

Something I learned recently... instead of cans of tomato paste, I now buy tomato paste in a tube and try to have one extra tube on hand at all times.  I learned that tomato paste in a tube was the "pantry essential" of a well known chef so I tried it and he was right.  Just a couple squirts adds a depth of tomato flavor and it stores easily inside the door of the refrigerator once opened. 

3) Add simple meals to your menu
I have been making a game of preparing inexpensive vegetarian dishes based on easy to store items by adding one or more recipes to my menu each month. I have been doing this for a few years as I use less of my grocery budget on meat and stretch it with vegetarian dishes that are quite tasty.  It has not only helped my budget but my cholesterol was reduced.

Since I'm a rather old Juvenile Diabetic, I have to be careful with carbs and I've learned through experience about how many I can have (and if you take insulin, you need a balance of carbs or your blood sugar will go too low).  So I can't depend on inexpensive pasta dishes as much as I once did.  I have learned to substitute orzo for rice in my chicken soup recipes and I actually like it better.  I now use orzo for pasta salads, too.  It offers less carbs as the larger pastas.

I started making more meals with beans (canned and dried), lentils, and such.  I'm finding we like them very much.  Hummus was already a favorite at the Middle Eastern restaurant and it is easy to prepare, especially with a food processor.  In the summer, I have a good lentil salad recipe that I love and my husband ummm... tolerates.  But there are vegetarian recipes he likes and he was the poster child for a Midwestern meat and potato man!

Experiment with vegetarian recipes (made with items easy to stock in your pantry) before an emergency where you would need them.  Especially if you have kids... and a husband.  For people will not eat what they don't like even if they are hungry.  Research has proven it as has my family.  Been there... didn't work.  Maybe if they were absolutely starving but why make a situation worse by forcing foods they are not used to eating.

4) Make baking items at home a priority
First, learn to bake if you don't know how to make your own items at home, yet.  (More about that next week.)  I found having the basics I needed on hand when we were experiencing a long period of unemployment made it possible to put together comfort food when it was most needed.

Now, I'm not talking about having the cookie jar full every day (for there is such a thing as too much of a good thing) but I made something at least once or twice a week.  When the rest of the menu had to be quite simple, my family thoroughly enjoyed a treat and I am a good baker.  (I have the spiritual gift of cookies.)  I love to bake and I don't do it much these days.

5) There are some items you can purchase once or twice a year!
For instance, I use both course kosher sea salt (kept in a half pint Ball jar for cooking) and fine sea salt (for the salt shaker).  I can purchase a few boxes of kosher salt at one time and then a few boxes of the fine sea salt another time.  An easy annual stock up.  If you do any canning or pickling, you want to be certain to have the non-iodized salt you need on hand before you need it.

I don't do nearly the baking I once did so one large bag of white sugar purchased in bulk at Sam's Club will last a year.  Should I decide to make jams or jellies, I would add at least one other large bag of sugar. A large box of baking soda lasts a year and is easily stored in a Ball jar.  I buy only small containers of non-aluminum baking powder but I always like to have at least one or two extra in the pantry in addition to what I'm using at the moment.

Some of my spices, I've actually had for a few years and they are fine.  The closer they are to their whole state, the longer they last.  For instance, I'm just now using the last of cumin seeds I've had for years and they smell and taste almost as fresh as they were when purchased.  Herbs need to be replaced at least once a year.

I purchase the peppercorns for my pepper grinder about once a year, adding a backup container when the one I'm using presently is about half full.  Once again, if you are alert to your pantry then it is fairly easy to keep it stocked with essentials.

6) Make your pantry a priority in the budget!
When we were paid weekly or biweekly, I always spent the money allotted for the pantry each grocery shopping trip.  Even if I didn't absolutely need anything that week.  Sometimes I would tuck it back if I knew there was a sale coming up on an essential item.

However, most of the time I used that money to add to the pantry and deepen it further with a most used item. That is the real secret to deepening your pantry to have enough on hand to make at least five menus for weeks and even months.  Once I have stocked the pantry shelves with the basics, I add items that would be very good to have on hand that we use often such as granola bars, mixed nuts, etc. that make good "no need to cook" snacks.

I can't comprehend the advice the government gives of having a few days or a week's worth of food and water on hand in an emergency.  It doesn't take long to have the ingredients for five recipes stocked and other essentials stocked for even a month.  Not to mention if you are only keeping what you need for a week at a time in your kitchen, you are probably not saving money by stocking up when items are on sale.

My budget these days is a monthly Social Security check (due to circumstances of my husband's having to go on Disability and take an early retirement ten years ago, the amount is even less than what it would have been otherwise).  If I can stock a little extra back, anyone can stock more than a week's worth of food.

7) Stocking up prices
One of the ways I stock a few essentials (such as canned tomatoes) is by keeping an eye on stock up prices.  Most grocery stores rotate their sales.  I know Kroger does on their cans of organic tomatoes and their canned beans.

Shopping more than one store and getting to know their prices helps to deepen the pantry.  It is easy for me to do since the three grocery stores I shop are fairly close to each other.  Some people keep a written notebook of prices but since I have simplified our menu so much these days, I pretty much know what to purchase where.  It is surprising that the regular price of some items is twice as much in some stores as they are at another.

Stores such as Aldis's make it much easier to stock up on a budget, too.  I buy a few packages a month of their organic grass-fed ground beef for $5.99 a pound.  Far less than most other stores and when I brown it the first time for a recipe, I take about half of it out after browning and let it cool in a bowl, then freeze it in a Ziploc bag for another recipe.  Thus, stretching that price even further.

There are some items I mainly buy at Sam's Club (which is the warehouse store closest to where I live) to save money.  Knowing that not everything is cheaper in bulk but some items certainly are less expensive.  I usually buy the large package of toilet paper one month and then the large package of paper towels another month.  It is cheaper to purchase my chocolate chips there in bulk (stored in a half gallon Ball jar) and often I purchase my granola bars in bulk there (my doctor okayed a good quality granola bar as a snack or lunch item).

I used to save a lot on some items by belonging to a food co-op.  However, it wasn't as feasible for us once we bought a smaller house and were on a fixed income.  Not to mention there were only three of us (and now two!).  It certainly can save money for a larger family IF you do not add to your purchases items you don't need.  Ask me how I know.  ;)

These suggestions are just very basic and simple but they are how I keep at least a small pantry with limited income and space.  Next week, we will add that other way of saving money... Doing It Yourself!  ;)

Some Great Links
100 Items that Will Disappear First in a Disaster... here.  This list has been around since pre-Y2K days but it still speaks a lot of truth.  Few people can purchase everything and neither would I suggest it!  However, it might spark an idea.  I perused it again his week and realized I needed oil for my lanterns.  Ummm... maybe I shouldn't have used the term "sparked" here.

Should You, Could You, Prepare for World War 3... here.  This popped up in my Facebook feed last week so I had to read it.  Practical advice from a true Prepper site.  Once again, I wouldn't attempt to do everything to prepare for such an event but there are good suggestions here you may not have thought of before.

Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth: Frugal Homemaking From the Great Depression Inspired by Janette Oke... Part 1 of 2 is here.  Part 2 of 2 is here.  These two posts are fun to read and have a lot of good advice.


Vee said...

Is the tomato paste in a tube located in the same section of the store as regular canned tomato paste? I have wasted so much tomato paste. I know one can freeze it, but then it's lost in the freezer...just doesn't work for me.

Off to read about the tips from the Depression. I refuse to read about WW III! =D

Don't forget that you can retire at 62... I know that you are younger than I, but thank goodness someone told me that I could. It's been a great blessing.

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

I have found the tubes of tomato paste in both the aisle where canned tomatoes are sold and in the produce section where herbs and such are sold. It varies with the store. It doesn't need to be refrigerated until it has been opened.

Anonymous said...

This is the most comprehensive advice I've read yet, on stocking a pantry! Thank-you So Much! The 5 menu plan really makes sense! I find myself making our favorites more often anyway! Always appreciate your tips!
Laura C. (WA)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the helpful suggestions. We learned the hard way to buy a small barbeque after the power went out for three days in our area. Almost everything in the freezer and fridge spoiled and had to be thrown out. Ouch!

Anonymous said...

Another very inspiring post!
Thank you so much Brenda. I especially enjoyed the links.

P.S. Have you tried the Knorr tomato powder (or any brand for that matter)? It's very reasonably priced and a few tablespoons transform in becomes a tomato paste when mixed with water! I keep a large can of it in my pantry and use it often. I found it at WalMart online.

JES said...

Very informative article! The 5 meal plan is a good one and something I never considered. I usually just stock up on what we use the most but never considered the favorite individual meals. We also do the basics of whole tomatoes as they are so flexible for both Italian dishes, Mexican dishes, sauces and soup bases. Keeping the basics in general in bulk is usually the least expensive items anyways and is very manageable. Thank you also for including our "Frugal Homemaking Lessons from the Great Depression" links! You have a very helpful blog here! :)

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

I think the idea of planning for five meals is a good one, and one I had not thought of before. I'm going to think through this and make this a part of my pantry plan.

Thanks for the links, as always!

Anonymous said...

Would you please share your lentil salad recipe? I presently have some leftover cooked lentils in the fridge, and would love to have a creative way to use them up. Thanks! -Joy