The First Thing I Do That Makes Meal Management Easier
I would like to tell you that I go grocery shopping every week, but I don’t. It’s not that I don’t want to. The weekly marketing used to be a pleasant part of our routine, and maybe it should be again! But I don’t always have the time I want to manage that. I plan to go monthly, and sometimes I even miss that mark! But, ever hopeful, I make a monthly menu plan, and I try to get everything I need to make those meals. Then I only have to resupply the perishables at my most local store or, really, almost any store I end up near on some other outing.
To help smooth out those odd weeks, though, when I don’t make it out as scheduled, I like to have a well-stocked pantry. The End Of The World preppers suggest having a six to twelve month supply of food on hand, but where would I keep that much stuff for eleven people? I figure a three month buffer would be adequate for whatever everyday sorts of emergencies we might encounter, be it bad weather, sick kids, or a government shutdown.
I think I have finally achieved that goal! Some things are too bulky to keep too much of, like flour or fruit juice, so there’s less of that, and I like to keep more coffee in stock, because that is one thing I NEVER want to run out of, but, generally, I’ve got a solid three month supply of the basic things I use all the time.
What this means at the shopping level is that all I need to do is step into my pantry and do a quick inventory of the things I’ve used since my last shopping trip, and just replace those. I keep everything in easy-to-rotate cardboard trays from the store. And if there should be a delay in getting to the store, I still have a significant amount of food to work with. It isn’t urgent that I resupply.
Ideally, you could build this up over time – it’s certainly possible if you have a plan and stick to it – but that didn’t work well for me. I’d stock up on something this month, only to let the supply dwindle in subsequent months as I stocked up on something else, and obviously, this doesn’t work if you don’t maintain what you’ve already built up! So I’ve been working on this for about three months now, and I have a good basis to work from going forward.
A well-stocked pantry is a wonderful blessing in my job as home manager. It gives me flexibility if I need to deviate from a plan I made a month in advance of the life we’d actually end up living, and it gives me the flexibility to not go to the store if something else has to be dealt with. And if I want to try that great recipe somebody else posted to their blog or facebook? I probably can.
Your pantry won’t look like my pantry. I buy honey by the gallon and grains and sugar in fifty pound bags, because we’re a large family and eat accordingly. I keep things I can use to make other things, so I have tomato sauce, but not enchilada sauce or pizza sauce. We never run out of Hershey’s Syrup. My culinary preference is Italian, so I have capers, sun-dried tomatoes and oregano, but we don’t care for spicy foods, so I keep only small amounts of canned chilis, cumin, and salsa. I do keep a significant amount of chocolate chips on hand, because you never know when you’re going to need an emergency chocolate chip cookie, and when I want mustard, I want a really good mustard.
Your pantry should and will reflect your own family’s tastes and preferences. What do you find yourself making over and over again? What sorts of ingredients do you lean toward? What are your go-to easy meals when the day has been a little too long? Stock those things.
Maybe you don’t have a dedicated pantry space? I know I don’t! And I never have. My first pantry was a shelf in my laundry room. My second was an upstairs hallway linen closet; I kept the linens in the rooms they were used in instead. My third was a couple of shelves in the garage. And here, I have shelves in our back door entry space. You can use the tops of your cupboards, the weird space under the stairs, under the children’s beds, and I’ve even seen somebody use a dresser adapted for can storage and tucked behind a sofa! Get creative; I’ve lived in some pretty tiny places, and I can tell you that if you want a pantry space, you can absolutely figure out how to have one.
Pantries also save money! You can stock up when things are on sale, then coast along till it goes on sale again. Whatever small space you can set aside for food storage will always be worth your while.