If the last year and a half has taught us anything, it's that our lives can change in matter of days...hours. In January 2020, who thought we would go through what has happened in the past sixteen months? Supply chain disruptions, inflation, violence in our cities, jobs being indefinitely suspended or vanishing altogether...
How do we respond to changing times? A complete pantry storage "system" is one of the answers for Thrifty Living.
And no, I'm not selling any special software or downloadable lists! My system is based on simple planning: a method to prepare for the future in a biblical and steadfast way.
Biblical? Just read about Joseph in the book of Genesis, and about the Proverbs 31 woman. Yes. Biblical.
Who stores food?
Prudent people store food.
*Prudent: showing prudence, such as marked by wisdom or judiciousness (Merriam-Webster)
Storing food means that we gather food (and household supplies) when they are plentiful, affordable and available, and save them for times when they aren’t. It’s as simple as that.
Storing food isn't the same as "hoarding" food.
Storing food, like I said above, happens when the supplies are plentiful, affordable, and available.
Hoarding food happens when supplies are threatened, scarce, and when panic reigns.
Hoarding food selfishly takes from the available supply, creating shortages, while storing food puts you in a position to help others when the community's supplies get low.
What do I store in my pantry?
There's a saying, "Store what you use and use what you store."
When I build or replenish my pantry, I look at what I normally buy at the grocery store. I look at my regular pantry. I look at my favorite recipes. What shows up most often? I start with a list.
One easy way to do this is to make a complete grocery list from your weekly menu (refer to last month's post for my thoughts on menus.) Now you know exactly what you need for one week of food for your family.
And then I think about non-perishable alternatives to the perishables on that list.
Yes, that can be hard when we're talking about milk, eggs, or fresh produce. Even though we use the fresh versions of all three of those items, I also store canned milk, powdered milk, and frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. I also have a supply of powdered eggs in my emergency pantry.
My pantry includes dried beans, rice, whole grains (I have a grain mill) and flours. Baking supplies like baking powder, baking soda, yeast, and salt. I keep dried pasta on hand, along with cans of tomato sauce and tomatoes. I also have a supply of canned meats - beef, chicken, and tuna.
I also keep a LOT of unsweetened chocolate powder on hand, because a girl needs her chocolate!
How much do I store?
When I built my first long-term pantry ten years ago, there were six of us in the household. I aimed for a three-month supply and guessed at the quantities we would need. Experience has taught me where I had over-estimated and where I had under-estimated.
Now I don't worry about how much is on the shelves because I'm constantly using and re-supplying everything. I plan my purchases, buying for the future instead of the present need.
However, a good rule of thumb when you're first starting out is to aim for a two week supply. Remember your one week shopping list? Two of those lists will give you a two week supply of food.
That's a lot of food to buy. What if you're on a strict budget?
We do it by buying a small quantity at a time. I add about 10% - 20% to my monthly grocery budget for long-term purchases, and then I look for sale items in the grocery flyer. I'll buy ten cans of tomato sauce one week and two pounds of spaghetti noodles the next. Whatever is on sale. I save a lot of money by buying most of our groceries at sale prices!
Another way to do it is to choose one item on your list to buy each week. A package of toilet paper, or a box of trash bags. A box of cereal. A bag of flour. Just keep track of what you buy so you don't over-purchase in one area at the expense of another area.
I think of it as investing in our savings account - an inflation-proof savings account.
Where do I store all this food?
Not all of us have a basement with plenty of room. Believe me, I am thankful for our store room every day!
But there are ways to store your items, even in the smallest apartment.
Don't forget to take a few things into consideration though:
1. Choose a place that doesn't experience extreme temperatures. So attics and garages are generally out.
2. Store your items in varmint-proof containers. I use half-gallon and quart size canning jars for many things, and I also purchased some food-safe plastic containers at Sam's Club years ago. An old cooler can keep mice out. Old pickle buckets from restaurants also work well. Sometimes you have to be creative.
3. Store the food in a way that makes it easy to rotate your purchases - always put the oldest items in front.
Here are some ideas for creative storage:
- I used the closet under the stairway for several years in our previous house.
- The closet in a little-used bedroom or office is a good spot.
- Underneath a bed is great for canned goods. Use a flat cardboard box or plastic storage bin to slide them in and out.
- Some people make a "table" out of a stack of containers. Stack them to the right height, place a piece of plywood on top, cover with a table cloth, and you have a lamp table for your living room.
- Think about the back of your cupboards. Sometimes there is enough space in the back to stack a row of canned goods or boxes, leaving the front for items you use more often.
Also, consider investing in a freezer. It doesn't have to be a large one. Ours is about 15 cubic feet, large enough for a side of beef plus other items. Smaller ones are available for apartments and mobile homes, and larger ones for big families. It's worth the investment!
What do I do with all my stored items?
I store what I use. I make a point of planning my shopping around the foods I normally use in my menus, and I only purchase the foods I know we'll use. There isn't much point in buying a fifty-pound bag of lentils because I'm the only one who likes them. Or buying a brand of dish soap I don't like to use just because it was on sale.
And I use what I store. When I plan my weekly menu, I use items from my long-term pantry. If an item is getting low, I make a note to replenish it soon.
I always remember that I am planning for the future instead of reacting to present need. I don't take last minute trips to the store because I forgot to buy an ingredient for a recipe. I don't worry if the next pay check will stretch far enough to buy the groceries we need. I don't rely on convenience foods just because there isn’t anything else in the house to eat.
My pantry gives me the freedom that comes with prudent living, and I am always thankful for that!
Theory or practice?
In other words, how do I know this system works?
Back in 2010 when we were building our first pantry. Both my husband and I felt an urgency we couldn't explain, so we used our income tax refund to buy the food on my list.
Within a month after we had our three-month supply on the shelves, my husband lost his job of thirty years.
It was six months before he started at his new job, and money was tight, but that "three-month supply" lasted for the entire time. When he started his new job, we were down to the last few cans of tomatoes, but we didn't go hungry. God's providence at work!
Next month I'll start to dig further into my pantry system. Over the next several posts we'll talk about storing specific foods, what storage methods to use, and recipes for using all that stored food. I'll also introduce you to some of the websites and podcasters that I follow as I am constantly learning. I hope you'll join me!
So, let's chat. Do you have a pantry? Are you overwhelmed by the idea of starting one, or are you ready to jump in?