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I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Pantry Stocking Basics

Frugal Kitchens 101

As soon as spinach and chards are up home gardeners already have visions of how they are going to stock their pantries with home preserved foods. As the season progresses the canners and dehydrators come out along with vacuum food savers. What can't be canned or dried is frozen. At the same time the summer brings a few great stock-up sales at the grocery stores especially as the school year approaches. There is no doubt about it keeping a well stocked pantry can save you a lot of money but only if done properly. This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 addresses some of the pantry stocking basics.

A well stocked pantry will contain all your cooking/baking essentials (salts, seasonings, spices, herbs, sugars, flours, leaveners, and etc), dinner essentials (vegetables, canned meats/fish, fruits, soups and etc), dried foods (instant potatoes, pastas, grains, lentils, beans), beverages including water, snack items and extras (nuts, peanut butter, sauces, condiments, dressings and etc). At any given time you should be able to pull a few items from your pantry to make a meal without having to buy anything. My pantry holds a one year plus supply of food (in reality about an 18 month supply) in a large walk-in room. The main portion is 10' x 8.5 plus a smaller entry portion and the area under the stains so there is a considerable amount of storage room. It also houses 2 chest freezers. Here's a few tips I use for my pantry stocking.

  1. lists - There are many pre-made pantry lists available in organizing books and online. While they may be useful for someone trying to get an idea of what to stock they are essentially useless. The reason being they are generic list based on what someone else thinks needs to be stocked. The two lists I recommend are personal use and inventory. The personal use list is based on what foods you actually use. This list is extremely important when initially stocking your pantry. Create this list by keeping track of every food item and the amount you use in a one month period. You now have created a list of foods that is based on what you use. Repeat this for each season as your food habits change according to the seasons. From your lists you can now determine your yearly usage. For example if you eat canned green beans once a week you should have 52 cans of green beans (home or commercially canned) in your pantry. However, if you can your own green beans you will have an influx of the 52 jars that will steadily decrease until the next growing season. If green beans go on sale twice a year then you need only stock 26 cans at a time which will get you from one sale to the next. The inventory list is also extremely important. When you are stocking a larger supply of food it is easy to end up with too much of one food item and run out of another. So take a full inventory of everything you have in your pantry including the amounts. Print out the inventory and as you use that item place a tick beside the item. If you have 26 cans of green beans consider re-stocking when the number of ticks ads up to 20. That way you never run out.
  2. organization - There are many, many ways to organize your pantry but the most important thing to remember is to organize it in a style that suits your needs. My personal pantry organization groups like things together. So all baking goods are on one shelf unit. Commercially canned foods, snacks, grains, flours and etc. each have their own areas in the pantry. A good portion of my pantry is stocked with home canned foods so I group fruit products on one shelf, meat products on another, vegetables on another and soups on another usually in rows of 4 jars deep. Home canned foods that will not fit on the shelves are packaged into the canning jar box 12 to a box then labelled and stacked up to 7 high. I'm just going into the busiest part of the canning season with 14 full cases of food, filled shelves and almost full freezers so that really is not a good position. Take advantage of any wall and ceiling space using hooks and hanging baskets.
  3. rotation - As each row on the canning shelves become empty they are restocked with jars of food from the cases. This ensures a steady rotation of home canned foods. However, rotating any food in your pantry is a good practice. Arrange you food so that the newest food goes to the back and using up the oldest food first. This applies to virtually every food product in your pantry.
  4. don't stock what you won't eat - This sounds rather simple but it is a trap many fall into. Green beans are on sale at a ridiculously low price. You buy 20 cans forgetting you don't like green beans! Don't do this. Stock only what you know you will use and only in the amounts that you will use within a 1 to 2 year period. With home canning there is a huge temptation to make a large batch of something you're not quite sure if you will like. Don't do this! Make a test batch of 2 - 4 small jars. Test out the product then decide if this is a product you want to make in larger quantities. The same applies to drying and freezing. Your goal is not to fill the given space with as much as possible it is to fill the given space with the foods you will eat.
  5. buy in bulk - Buy whatever you use in bulk. In general larger packages are cheaper than smaller packages but not always so do check those unit prices. Many stores hold case lot sales so take advantage of these. Dried beans, rices and lentils should be bought in the largest size possible as they are always cheaper per unit than smaller packages. Flours are generally cheaper in larger quantities and if possible buy direct from the mill for more savings. Warehouse type stores (Sam's, Costco's) have excellent prices for large container foods (condiments, sauces, spices) as well as bulk items (flours, sugar, pasta) and many regular grocery stores now have a bulk (large package/container) section.
  6. shop direct - Buying direct from the source means you cut out the middleman and transportation giving you more savings. Buy flours from the mills, produce for home canning, freezing or drying from the farmer, meats from the farmer, fish from the fisheries. Check the food factories for their warehouse store where they sell products produced at greatly reduced prices. Buy direct from wineries and cheese factories. While most cheese products are not shelf stable some are so this is a cheaper way to get those.
  7. dried foods - Some of these fall under emergency supplies but are good to have on hand. They include instant potatoes, powdered cheese, powdered eggs, instant milk and butter buds. Other dried foods will be part of your normal stocking and will include both commercial and home dried products.
  8. protect your investment - Ideally your pantry will be dark unless you are in there and cooler than the rest of your house. It should be in a location that will not freeze. All foods should be in glass, metal or heavy duty, food grade plastic (if food touches the plastic) pails or non-food grade plastic bins (if the food is already packaged) with tight sealing lids. This will protect your food stores from rodents, flooding, humidity and insects. Dry foods should be vacuum sealed if possible. Routinely check home canned and vacuum sealed foods for loss of seal. If you are storing root vegetables, squashes, apples or pears in your pantry line an old freezer basket (available at yard sales) with 1/4-inch carpenter's cloth. Place your produce inside then attach a top layer of carpenter's cloth on top. This wire mesh will prevent any hungry rodents from getting to your produce. If you have a rodent problem or a potential one - seal, seal and seal to keep them out! Continue to be on the outlook just in case one slips through. At any signs of rodents set traps both inside and out. Do not use rodent bait in your pantry as this could contaminate food. Wash the tops of all jars and cans before opening.

5 food lovers commented:

cassandrasmom said...

Thank you for such great ideas for stocking my pantry!

Garden Gnome said...

Hi Cassandrasmom, I'm glad you found a few useful tips in the article :)

Garden Gnome said...

Hi the pretty women :) Thanks for visiting and hope you can stop by again.

Garden Gnome said...

Hi ysabetwordsmith and thanks so much for visiting. I'm so glad you are enjoying the Frugal Kitchen series that remains running each Monday by popular demand. Thank-you so much for linking to my blog. I very much appreciate it!

tahtimbo said...

This is great information! I want to start a pantry and this has given me some terrific ideas. I will be wandering through your site for more ideas and lists.
Thanks again.