A few years ago, I wrote about stocking up lessons learned from WWII. Below is a slightly tweaked version of that blog post that (if I do say so myself) had some good information that I thought would still be practical as we continue in pandemic mode. Especially since we now know emergencies can happen suddenly.
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 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 them. Then 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.
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!
Other items stored were dried beans, sugar, salt, flour (they had various ways of keeping bugs out of it), and other basics to keep people fed. People in other countries had oats stored ahead of time while others stored wheat ahead of time.
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 boxes of spaghetti, boxes of orecchiette, 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 few types of cans, mostly large cans of whole tomatoes, cans of diced tomatoes, and small cans of stewed tomatoes. (I have found by cutting a small slice on each whole tomato before using a fork to smoosh them, you do not have tomato flying everywhere.)
Of course, if you have a favorite brand and style of tomatoes other than these, then you want to make them a priority. 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. I do have some cans of tomato paste in the pantry since it stores well.
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 sometimes substitute orzo for rice in my chicken soup recipes and I actually like it better. I also sometimes use orzo for pasta salads, too. It offers less carbs as the larger pastas. The fiber in brown rice makes it safer for diabetics to eat but it needs to be stored in the freezer for long term storage.
One thing I learned from a nutritionist that has been very helpful is to use about half of the pasta called for in a recipe and add more vegetables when possible. The dish then has less carbs and more nutrition, which is good for anyone even if they don't have diabetes. I've done this for years and find it works very well.
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
It is a good idea to learn to bake if you don't know how to make your own items at home, yet. 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 and celebration food when they were 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 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.
Since the pandemic, I have extra baking powder and yeast now that I know how quickly they sell out. I just need to pay attention to the Use By date when buying both. I keep the yeast in the refrigerator after opening it. I'm also stocking more flour than I used to do. Lessons learned!
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 dinner menus for weeks and even months if you have the space and budget. Once I have stocked the pantry shelves with the basics, I add items that would round out the pantry.
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.
[Recent hurricanes have shown us that quite often, the government help cannot reach people quickly. It has been on the news that certain areas did not receive help for a very long time, partly due to where they were located and partly due to the damage being more extensive than government officials could handle quickly.]
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 fourteen 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.
There are some items I mainly buy at Sam's Club (which is the warehouse store closest to where I live) to save money. Understanding 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). This has changed post pandemic, I buy toilet paper and paper towels whenever I can find them!
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. Always remember to ask God for wisdom before investing any of your time and money into storage for He knows what the years ahead will be like for your family.
Some Great Links
100 Items that Will Disappear First in a Disaster... here. This is a revised list of the original that has been around since pre-Y2K days. Linking to the list is not a recommendation of the website since I have not read everything it contains. It is a survivalist site so the list is overwhelming but filter through it and I think you will find a lot of good ideas.
The Wartime Farm from the BBC is available to watch on YouTube. It is fascinating! Episode One is available... here.