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Ontario, Canada
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, November 12, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Ways to Stock the Pantry Without Breaking the Bank

Frugal Kitchens 101 I have spent the better part of the busiest of the food preservation season (mid-May to mid-October) restocking our depleted pantry stores.  Between our last house being on the market for a little over 18 months, buying our new house (move in date of Sep. 1, 2011) and spending time at our vacation home in the sunny south, my home food preservation took a huge hit.  At the same time, I refused to buy any food product that we didn't absolutely need even if it was an excellent sale.  That meant by the time we moved and started the settling in process after our fall vacation in 2011, we were completely out of or getting low on some of the commercial products we use, root vegetables and squashes I usually for part of the winter and that type of thing.  We had also let the freezers get low, not empty but not adding to them.  Mind you, it served as a means to use up some of our pantry stock and making it easier to move.  With empty jars and containers, you don't have to worry about food spoilage during the move and settling in period.  We started the move process on September 1, signed the papers on September 15 and left for our vacation on September 18.  We usually stay at our vacation home for a period of 3 to 5 weeks so I clean out the fridge as well.  During our fall vacation in October and winter vacation in December there is little point restocking much in the fridge.  So, in January of 2012 we were faced with a depleted pantry, almost bare refrigerator, and dwindling freezer contents.

I've been restocking ever since.  The big question is how could I afford to do this without breaking the bank?  First, I did have a tidy little stash of money because every time I didn't buy food, I put that money away for restocking after the move.  Here it is almost mid-November and I still have a bit ($145) of that stash left.  Here's how I've manage to restock the pantry, freezers and refrigerators without breaking the bank:

  1. shop the sales - It goes without saying that shopping the sales can save considerable money on restocking BUT only if you cherry pick.  What this means is focusing only on the sale items that are on for an above average price then stock up on only those with the realization that sales tend to be cyclic.  If the sale is cyclic, you only need to stock enough to get to the next sale although you may want to stock more if like myself you are aiming for a one to two year supply.  I used this method for rices, pasta, and flours as well as fresh produce like mangoes and mandarin oranges to home can.  The local grocery store here usually puts 10 lb bags of potatoes, onions, carrots and beets on for under $2 in season.  All of these can be preserved plain or used as ingredients in other dishes like casseroles for the freezer.
  2. shop the farm stands - Shopping the farm stands can save a lot of money if you are willing to buy a quantity of the produce.  For example, there may not be much of a savings on a 10 lb bag of potatoes but there is if buying a 50 lb bag. In season, a 10 lb bag of potatoes will go for about $2 but a 50 lb bag will go for $4 to $7.  Potatoes as with most produce can be home canned, dried, or froze so buying the larger bag allows you to get more into your pantry and freezer than the smaller bags. 
  3. the 10% rule - We certainly do not shop at grocery stores the way most folk do.  It is usually cherry picking the sales or picking up something we really need so we are not doing a weekly shopping.  We have a 10% rule.  If the bill will total $50 and I do keep track when shopping, then $5 of that $50 must go towards stocking the pantry.  It is surprising how much you can buy for $5 if you really want to.  For example, I can get $45 worth of groceries and just under $5 worth of dried pasta (5 x 750 g bags) or 5 tins of tuna (on sale) or two bags of dried beans to stock the pantry.  This really is an almost pain free way to restock the pantry.
  4. know our usage - We are fairly good at calculating out usage.  For example, if we have plain pasta sauce once a week, we need 52 jars of home canned pasta sauce for the year but this would be the same amount as if you were buying it.  I add in a bit extra for the just in case times and entertaining which works out to 70 jars for us.  That becomes my target goal of the number of jars I need in the pantry.  There is no point stocking more than that unless there is some indication there may be a problem with supply the following year.  The same is true of anything we stock in the pantry or freezers.
  5. home food preservation - If you grow your own produce or have access to inexpensive to moderately priced produce then home food preservation (eg. drying, freezing, canning) is a must for saving when stocking pantries and freezers.  Home dried herbs and herb blends are next to nothing.  Home dried produce especially if you grow it yourself is next to nothing as is home canned or home frozen produce.  Even if you have to buy your produce, home food preservation can still save you a bundle of money while filling those pantry shelves.  
  6. homemade mixes - If you like convenience mixes then homemade is for you when stocking your pantry!  There are whole websites dedicated to making your own mixes that are healthier and cheaper than store bought.  For example, a store bought cake mix costs at $1 contains at most 30¢ of ingredients with the rest being packaging plus you still have to add the liquid and/or egg.  I spent less than 15 minutes packaging 10 jars of my favourite white cake mix into mason jars then vacuum sealing at a cost of under $3.  They are ready to use when I want them and they aren't filled with harmful additives.  The same can be said for rice/pasta mixes (eg. rice-a-roni), helper mixes (eg. Hamburg Helper), seasoning mixes (eg. taco, poultry) and dip or salad dressing mixes.  
  7. think whole - Whole foods save considerably on the food bill in general.  These are the foods that tend to be on the outer walls of a grocery store (eg. produce, meats, dairy).  All can be preserved in some fashion at home.  Other whole foods are your flours, sugars, whole grains, legumes, dried beans, rices and for convenience dried pastas although homemade pasta is tastier yet less expensive.  Whole foods can be used to make a wide range of dishes without all the nasty packaging or food additives while saving a lot of money.  When restocking a pantry or even just stocking, those listed are ideal with the exception of dairy that does not home can well but some dairy products can be froze.  With the exception of legumes, whole grains and dried beans I can usually find the rest on sale.
  8. bulk food store - Our bulk food stores are designed so that you can buy as little or as much as you want of any given food product they carry.  That means I can buy a tsp of a needed ingredient verses a 3 oz bottle or I can buy a lot of an ingredient depending on my need not the size the manufacturers package it in.  This is a great cost saver when buying seasonings like turmeric where you won't use much of in a year or seasonal seasonings like pickling spice.  Again, when shopping for these spices and seasonings think whole.  If you buy 5 kinds of herbs/seasonings you can make upwards of 10 seasoning blends by mixing and matching for a fraction of store bought seasoning blends.

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