worse, mid stream as it were while cooking, you need to get control of your
pantry. The good news is organizing and maintaining an organized pantry is not as difficult as you think.
First of all, what is a pantry? At it's most basic, a pantry is simply your collection of foods and foodstuffs from which you create meals. The
better stocked, or deeper, your pantry the easier it is to quickly prepare
nutritious and tasty meals.
So, even if your pantry currently consists of salt, pepper and some
mustard, you can apply the following method and build a deep pantry to feed
yourself and your family.
The first thing you need to do is record EVERYTHING you and members
of your family eat for at least a week. Two weeks is better, a month is ideal.
Just keep a notebook on the counter or the fridge and have everyone write down whenever they take something from the fridge, or cupboards to eat. Also write down every time you purchase takeout or eat out at a restaurant. If you already use the meal planning method of grocery shopping you are already a step ahead, but it can be worthwhile to door the notebook exercise, because if you are anything like us you may plan to eat X, Y and Z but sometimes life happens and you end up eating X, D and R that week.
So, you now have a notebook full of raw data about your family's eating habits. You need to sit down and organize this data set. You can do this with pen and paper, or if you are the technical type use your favourite spreadsheet program. Organize the data into items that you can store with no
refrigeration, items that have a short lifespan and require refrigeration, and items which are longterm storable but in a freezer.
So, nothing too difficult yet. This is where most people, my family included, get a good look at how much processed and "junk" food they have been eating. The good news is this process will help you steer your family to healthier choices.
The first category to look at is the long term storage items which do not require freezing or refrigeration. These dry goods will generally be the backbone of your cooking. Here we find things like pasta, rice, spices, sauces or ingredients to make sauces, flour, oil and sugars etc. What is the item you used the most of during your recording period? The second most used? Go through the list and you will quickly see what you should have the most of and what you do not need to have large quantities of.
Our dry goods list looks something like this:
Tomato sauce, flour, black beans, tomato paste. oatmeal, brown rice, chicken
broth, beef broth, kidney beans, brown sugar, yeast, canned tomato soup, egg noodles, baking beans, molasses, cream of mushroom soup canned, white sugar, apple cider vinegar, baking soda, salt, baking powder, chocolate chips,pie fillings, pudding mix, shake n bake, pickles, jam , relish, Dijon mustard, popcorn, BBQ sauce, ketchup etc. This varies depending on the season, but that is the list that you will always find in quantity in my pantry.
Now, the amount of food you store will depend entirely on how large your family is and how much room you have. I like to have at least three months of dry goods stored. Not all of it is in my pantry. At any given time there is usually food stored elsewhere in the house. Especially right now as my 'pantry' is a collection of awkward shelves sitting in the room that will be my pantry when we get around to renovating it in September or October..
A stand alone pantry is ideal, in my vision, a pantry will house stores of food, many small kitchen appliances, and will also have counter space for working and an small sink. I should get everything but the sink when we put in the new pantry here. In the last two houses we have lived in, Gary and the boys have built pantries in existing closet space.
So, now we have a list of staples, a place, or an idea of a space to keep them, where to go from here? We could just go out and buy a month supply of everything on our list but odds are most of what you eat is not going to be on sale that week. So here is how to build your pantry on a budget, slowly.
Yep, that's it. The secret is you have already done the hard work by tracking your food usage and compiling your list of staples. So now you start to build your supplies without charging a massive grocery bill to your credit card. You will remember that I don't have a credit card and advise everyone in our self sufficiency workshops to ditch theirs.
If you will be using your existing cupboards as your day to day pantry have a good clean out. Throw out all the out dated food,, and anything that has not expired, but you know you won't be eating, donate to your local food bank. Now you can start building your supplies. Watch your local flyers, if you are a coupon person continue to work with your coupons. If you use four cans of tomatoes a week and a store has them on sale for 50% off, buy eight or ten or however many you afford. (If this were me I would buy 24 but I will get to that later.) Keep in mind that next week you need to buy the four you will use next week. Once you get a month supply of that item, start with another. Remember to place the newly purchased items at the back of the shelves to keep your products fresh.
After a while you will open your pantry doors and discover that you have a lot of food stored. And you didn't need to go in debt to do it. Now you have reached what I think of as the saving point. Once you have reached a point where you have a few months of most staples on hand you can change how you buy groceries forever! This is the fun part, supermarket managers hate to see me come in. The manager of one of the supermarkets in Bridgewater saw me loading 2 cases each of chicken and beef broth into my cart and jokingly said, "you're supposed to buy stuff that isn't on sale too!" I gave him a big smile and replied, "I only need whatever is on sale" and walked away.
For the most part this is how I shop. After tracking everything you buy and paying close attention to the pricing for however long it takes you to build up a good stockpile of staples you will know the seasonality of your staples. I only buy sugar twice a year. Once during the summer canning season, and again during the late fall, Christmas baking season, when stores put it on as a loss leader. I NEVER pay more than half price for sugar. Occasionally we will use something more than I had planned and I will either pay more than I want to, or dip into the minimum 6 week supply if I know that item will be on sale in the next week or two.
You can also save money by experimenting with producing some of your own staples. If you use a lot of tomato products, sauce, paste, canned tomatoes; try making some of your own. You can grow your own or try your local farmer's market. Go towards the end of the day, you may be able to pick up the last of the days supply for a lower price if the farmer doesn't want to take it home. An even better way is to build a relationship with one or two of the venders and ask them about ordering or buying a large quantity of product. Going back to our staple of tomato products, you can make homemade canned tomatoes for pennies a jar. You don't even need to make a whole lot of different tomato products. If you need tomato sauce, open a can of tomatoes, hit them with a stick blender, add some herbs, salt and pepper, a few dehydrated mushrooms and voila! You have tomato sauce. Much healthier and better tasting than anything you could have purchased.
If you refer back to my staples list everything that is in red type is something that we have made and canned ourselves.
We didn't start out that way, and I don't advise you to try and make all your own product at once either. Start with something easy that can be processed in a hot water bath. Learn how to make it, get comfortable with the process, and learn to recognise problems. Then when you are comfortable doing that you can try things which require a pressure cooker. In general low acidic products require a pressure cooker to get temperatures high enough to kill off bacteria. A good reference book will give you good recipes to start with or the US department of agriculture website has good information on canning and recipes to try. Sadly, the Canadian site is pretty much useless.
So that is my recipe for building a deep pantry, you can also apply the same principles to frozen food. Freezing fresh vegetables in season is the cheapest and most nutritious vegetables you are ever going to get. Same with fruit. Fruit an also be canned, but do require a pressure cooker. Consider ordering a side of pork or quarter or side of beef for the freezer, it will cost you less and if you know where it comes from you can usually be assured that it was raised as you would have.
So, how does this tie back to Saturday's post? It's about control. Pure and simple. Taking back control of your life, and there is no better way to start than by taking control of your food. Imagine opening your cupboard and knowing that you have one, two ,or three moths of food for your family. It is like money in the bank, if something happens, an illness, a layoff at work the peace of mind is priceless. Food is a necessity, but it can also be a family building point. Even if it is only one day a week sit down as a family and enjoy a meal together. You will know your kids better I guarantee it! Have a great day everybody!