Thursday, July 02, 2009

Pantry talk -- what I learned (again) from eating out of the pantry

Well, the dishes are finally caught up and the laundry pile is about half the size. Yes, it was easier to keep the house clean when it was just Sasha and me but the best decorations of a house are the people within. :)

It has been so good for me to have to eat from the pantry and freezer this past month. This also came during a change of seasons... from a cold, wet spring to a hot summer... well, it was hot. It is suppose to get hot again. After all, this is July. Here are a few lessons learned and re-learned:

Remember to plan for changes in the seasons.

I always try to have the meat and soup bones necessary to make veggie beef soup. It's great for cool weather but even when the pantry is bare... it doesn't look quite so good when the heat index is over 100.

For the hot weather months, when I restock the freezer I'll definitely be purchasing some grill friendly meats (thank you New England family!!!)... on sale of course. We don't eat meat every night but when we do... I'm thinking grilled.

There are certain times of year I always look for good deals at the grocery store and the July 4th weekend is one of them. Check out the store sales circulars. Mine is showing huge sales on various condiments, some types of fruit, ice cream, ground beef, steaks, hot dogs... well, you get it... summer foods. One could get all the condiments they need for a long time at very low prices right now.

I wish I'd stocked up more on frozen fruit when I had the opportunity (to mix with yogurt). I was glad I had ground beef and chicken. Hot weather lunches here are often whole grain crackers, slices of cheese, and fruit when possible.

Remember to check the dates once in awhile

When one tries to keep a deep pantry, it is very easy for time to pass far quicker than you remember. I had three boxes of cake mix I hadn't used, yet. Thinking it had been awhile since they were purchased, I checked the date on them and the expiration on one was 2007! Believe me, that inspired me to check the expiration dates on all the "older" packaging.

Sometimes changes in our life can change the way we bake or cook. Since all three of the cake mixes left were the same type, I realized that particular kind doesn't work for us, anymore. I used to make cupcakes from them when Christopher was younger. Now I need to only purchase the two cake mixes I use the most (all for recipes)... yellow cake mix and German chocolate cake mix. Most of my cakes are made from scratch but there are some great recipes I love which start with a mix.

Make sure ingredients for favorite recipes are in the pantry

Having kept a pantry now for more years than I can remember, I have made lots of mistakes... like ending up with ten cans of garbanzo beans only because I like hummus... but I don't make hummus at home.

What really works for me is going through my recipe cards when I'm going to shop for the pantry and check to see what I'm missing (and what is on sale at the time). Some basics are always on the list when they go on sale... pasta and noodles, canned tomatoes, canned fruit and green beans, pizza sauce (mixed with a can of tomatoes to make pasta sauce), cream of mushroom and chicken soups (especially in cold weather), canned chili peppers, canned mushrooms, canned olives... those pantry staples which go together to make quite a few dishes.

Also, of course, all the basics for baking (and the best time for stocking up on them are October through December for the most part). Spring and summer are the time to look for sales on fruits and berries for the freezer!

Besides the basics... I like to have in the pantry and freezer the ingredients for complete meals as much as possible. This is only possible when I look through seasonal favorite recipes to make certain all is there. By doing that this time, the small amount of money I did have could go to milk, eggs, fresh veggies, etc.

I have all my favorite recipes in my recipe card file but I also have two notebooks of recipe clippings from magazines as well as a few recipe files in the file cabinet... not to mention favorite recipe books. I've found I am more willing to try a new recipe if I have the ingredients on hand in the pantry and/or freezer... so when I have the opportunity to stock up, that is when I'll look for some new recipes to try and have those ingredients on hand.

Plan for upcoming special events by stocking the pantry

You know... birthdays, graduations, baby or wedding showers... those kind of things. Should you have a tight financial week (or month, or year) then you will have the necessities to still celebrate by having already put back necessary food, paper goods, birthday candles, fun decorations, sprinkles and other cute additions to make a cake festive, etc.

I also purchase cute and unusual baking pans at thrift stores, garage sales, etc. as they make even simple recipes look like they were made in the most expensive bakery. :)

Get creative in the kitchen by using what is in the pantry

I suppose this would fall under the suggestion I've said before... learn all you can about the basics of cooking so you can look at what food you have available and know how to use it. For instance, when I made chicken soup a few nights ago from the rotisserie chicken, I only made a small amount of soup and I really didn't want to boil noodles and add them to the soup like I normally would. So... I thought of that box of orzo I'd brought home from the food pantry. Two handfulls of orzo went into the soup and it was perfect.

Store in the pantry only what you use and then use what you store

I think that is the biggest mistake we make when deepening the pantry. We see what is recommended on someone's list or there is a huge sale on an item at the store so we stock up items we won't use. We've all done it (like those ten cans of garbanzo beans). I've learned the hard way many times that we should never stock up on what we haven't tried first.

I did that this time with potted meat, thinking it was cheap and we'd eat it... yuk. Thankfully I'd only purchased two cans but that was one too many.

You'll be so happy you have a pantry (and freezer) when you need it

The more time and thought you put into the pantry... the more benefit you will receive from it. The rewards will be far more than the time and finances invested.

I now know where to concentrate my limited grocery budget for the pantry now to receive back the very best results. It will all start with those sales circulars... :)

Of course, I was really happy I'd stocked up on paper products (like TP), toiletry items, etc. That just goes without saying...


Scrappy quilter said...

What great info Brenda. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Robin said...

I loved all the advice on building a pantry. I learned some great tips and I have been a Mom for 18 years. I love your blog. I do not read other blog's often (busy with my 5 kids) but I have not seen a such a "hip" grandma on the web before!

sherry said...

I love this post, Brenda. :o)

We buy chicken breasts (boneless/skinless) when they're on sale ($1.75 lb), marinate/rub then grill them all at once. Then I put them in quart size freezer bags (2 per) and freeze them. So easy during the sizzling summer months to thaw one bag, slice the chicken verrrry thin (goes further) and put it atop fresh greens or in tacos. Oh, and I make our tortillas rather than purchase them. Another savings.

I know what you mean about only buying what you'll actually eat. The great price isn't so great if the can is just gonna sit on the shelf waaaay in the back.

I'm so thankful to have a decent (albeit small compared to some other ladies pantries) pantry. It's so convenient to whip something up or when you hear of someone in need - to get a grocery bag and put some well chosen items inside and bless someone else. There's great joy in giving.

jAne at

Anonymous said...

Excellent points. Our pantry is often a life saver and allows us to keep our grocery budget way down. I have a list (in my mind) of various meals I can make with various ingredients that are stock in my pantry.

A tip, I keep a sharpie type marker in my pantry cupboard (which is really small, I actually have a picture of it in my latest blog post).

Every single can or box that goes into that cupboard has the date that I purchased it written on top and lately I've written what it is on top as well. Almost every single time I rotate the older stock forward and take note of certain items.

The 'name' that I call the product is useful because when I send the kidlets to go get a can of "x" they know exactly what "x" is because its written in Mom's handwriting on top.

Also, people often give me the 'unknowns' from their pantries because they don't have a system, or they're moving, etc. I then make it a game to use up their items pronto. I used to find it annoying, now I can recognize it as a great blessing to our family :)

Vee said...

Yes, if only I could figure a way to make ketchup soup that tasted like something. ;> I have an entire shelf devoted to condiments that I purchased last year. We're not running out any time soon.

Potted meat, eh? Wonder what that could be and no, please, don't send me the can. Ha!

Thickethouse.wordpress said...

Good advice, Brenda. I think many of us make these sorts of mistakes when beginning to stock up. Then we learn from mistakes. It's a fortunate person who can learn from other people's mistakes without having to make them themselves....

Those ten cans of garbanzo beans - they would make a great addition to sweet and sour bean salad, which I love this time of year.

Packrat said...

Good advise from you and the other commenters. I always seem to have a lot of extras in the pantry, but not much irritates me more than having to stop to go to the store in the middle of cooking. Garbanzo beans - Kristi's bean salad is a great idea plus they are good on green salads and in soups.

Connie said...

I think we all have bought a food item and then forgot about it and it was outdated by the time we found it again. I love to stock up on the sale items and it is a neat challenge to fix dinners around them. Thanks for your blog. I enjoy it.

Marie said...

Thanks for all the great tips. Some I already practice but can always improve. I have learned so much from you.

Cheri said...

Such helpful advice!

One tip I might add: I know that cream of soups come in handy for certain situations, but I rarely buy them. Instead I make a simple white sauce and substitute for the soup. If I am subbing for cream of mushroom, I add a beef boullion cube. For cream of chicken, I add a chicken boullion cube. And for cream of celery, I add celery flakes or celery that I have sauteed and frozen for just such occasions.

cindy said...

I am learning so much from your posts on how to start and maintain a pantry. Keep them coming.

Catherine (Alecat Music) said...

Thanks so much for posting all that VERY useful advice! :)

Re: the garbanzo beans (we call them chickpeas in Australia), they're lovely in a salad of spinach, avocado, feta and shredded chicken on warm nights. Dress with some lime/chilli/olive oil dressing. Mmmm. :)

Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

Kind regards,

Mrs. Laura Lane said...

This is an excellent article. I've not had a "pantry" for years; but, several months ago, I had the opportunity to have surplus money to spend on food. I filled my freezer with meat and bought some grains and such. Even that made a big difference in the lean months that followed. Thanks for sharing!

Jennie Shutt said...

We lived off of our pantry August 08-February 09 and have been very thankful that we had it.