If high fuel prices, a broken toe, a pandemic, or a dead '83 Subaru left you stuck at home for a couple of weeks, what would you do? What would you eat? How would you handle it?
I admit it. I'm a packrat and a pantry girl. While I might miss my friends (and my Bookmobile!) if I couldn't get out of the house for two weeks, I know we would have something to eat, and I know we'd have plenty to do. With so many of us trying to conserve resources and save money, I thought it might be helpful to share some of our strategies. With everyone's radar a little 'up' with concerns about influenza, well, it just seems like a good time to talk about things like pantries, food storage, and meal planning, as well as 'entertainment'.
Plus, since I'm a total home economics geek, I could talk about this stuff all the time anyway!!! But all silliness aside, a pantry with a couple weeks worth of food can be a real help in times of illness, job loss or change, or those pesky car emergencies that happen every now and then. Heck, if it's a crappy sale week at the supermarket, it's nice to be able to save your money until next time and just make something you already have at home!
So, since this is Ten Things Farm, I'll start with Ten Strategies that Y-O-U can use to start a pantry...or, if you already do the pantry thing, maybe one or two of these will be helpful to you anyway. However, I think these ideas will be most helpful for people who don't really keep food on hand, but think they would like to give it a try.
1. When something you and your family likes is on sale, buy extra. This is especially true if the something is non-perishable. This makes stocking up almost seem free. If you're used to paying $2 for a skillet noodle dinner, buy two of them every time they are on sale for $1. Better yet, get coupons and get them for less, or possibly even free. Set aside the extra item/s in your 2 week pantry.
2. Set aside a few dollars each shopping trip to stock the pantry. If you shop once a week and spend $5 of your budget for the week on foods to put aside for later, especially if you combine this with tip #1, you'll grow a pantry fairly quickly.
3. Invest in the ingredients. Basics are a lot more versatile than 'end products'. If you have a package of oatmeal cookies in your pantry, they can be cookies, or they can be crumbled over something like yogurt or ice cream. However, if you have a package of oats in your pantry, it can be used for cereal, granola, oat flour in a recipe, as a 'stretcher' for meat (think meat loaf) AND cookies (which could still be crumbled over something like yogurt or ice cream.) So, unless you just will not bake, consider purchasing things like sugar, flour and oats as part of your pantry. Find recipes you like and make sure you have all the ingredients on hand (you know, stuff like baking powder, or mustard!)
4. Think long-term storage. I'm not talking here about sealed cans of wheat and rice and beans (though some time, I'd love to talk to you about that stuff!), but rather about things that have a decent shelf-life and don't have to be eaten in three days. Obvious example - fresh pasta doesn't keep as long as dry pasta, so dry pasta is better for your 2 week pantry. Think about things like rice, pasta, beans, dry fruit, canned fruits and vegetables, soups, dry mixes, etc.
5. The foods in your pantry should be foods you eat. I know that sounds a little goofy, but I'll say it right up front - in my own pantry, I have two cans of salmon that we will probably never eat, along with a jar of mincemeat that was not a good deal after all, because it's still here after all this time. Really, buy stuff you eat, or would eat. Maybe canned tuna is not something you dance around your kitchen about on a daily basis, but if you would eat tuna salad once in a 2 week period, stick a couple cans in your pantry. But mostly, think about things you eat all the time. If you like spaghetti, store dry pasta and some sauce. Pick up a can or two of your favorite fruit, or some of your favorite dried fruit. Put some crackers and peanut butter on the shelf if that's something you like.
6. Do what you can to balance it out. Some food groups are easier to store than others, or more likely, we don't mind 'pantry food' from some groups as much as we do some other groups. If I polled 100 people and asked, "Which of these foods are you more likely to eat?
a. cooked spaghetti that was dry pasta
c. milk that was powdered milk
d. actually, I'd like to make a cream sauce with the milk, add some sautee'd spam and serve it over noodles
...most people would probably choose 'a'. And that's cool. But if you really were stuck at home for a couple weeks for some reason, you're going to want, and need some balance. So think about protein, and make sure you have something besides peanut butter and the powder in the macaroni and cheese box. Consider carbs that are whole grain and good for you, filling and satisfying. With fruits and vegetables, stock as much variety as you will eat.
Make sure you won't be stuck eating the same thing over and over. I know a lady who stored lots and lots of oats. When hard times hit, they were eating oatmeal every morning for breakfast, and some nights for supper. It got to a point where her children (who were not very young children) were crying, because they were just so sick and tired of oats. So, as much as you can afford to and will eat, go for variety. Watch for sales and mix it up! Oh, and by the way - chocolate is a food group, at least around here. If you are a coffee drinker, make sure you're going to have coffee...same for tea, lemon drops, whatever toots your whistle.
7. Use it, don't lose it. If you have stocked stuff you really will eat, then go ahead and eat some of it! One night a week, plan supper from your pantry. Go ahead and eat that pasta with marinara, and buy a NEW set for the pantry. This helps ensure that you don't end up with a bunch of old stuff a few years from now. Plus, if something happens and you need to eat pantry foods exclusively for a while, it won't seem like a bunch of weird stuff. It will be things you are used to eating. (Thank you to Leisa Card who wrote I Dare You to Eat It for this concept. I think it is a missing piece in food storage for many people.)
8. That little door on your fridge is not the 'ice cube door'. Freezers are a great place to put some extras, like meats if you're a meat eater, some shredded cheese (block cheese goes crumbly when frozen, so go for shreds), frozen fruits, and even some main dish frozen dinners. Keep a loaf of bread or some tortillas in there while you're at it, OK? Frozen foods don't last forever, so make sure you use them regularly and re-stock as the sales come around.
9. And those drawers inside your fridge are helpful too! Some fresh stuff keeps quite a while in a crisper drawer. If you can only get to the store once every two weeks, you can buys some 'quick eat' fresh things, and some 'eat these later' fresh things. It looks sort of like this: The first week you eat things like berries, grapes, melons, lettuces, the ripest tomatoes, and anything else that doesn't keep a long time. The second week you can still have lots of fresh things that keep longer, like apples, oranges, carrots, the tomato you bought 'a little green' last week, celery, cabbage (cole slaw, yum!), kale...you get the idea!
10. Start slow, but start now. I don't ever think it's a good idea to get nervous, scared, or overly-enthusiastic and run to the store with a big wad of cash and stock up on a ton of stuff. You will get more for your money, and you'll learn along the way if you buy a few things, then a few more, and take it at a pace where you feel comfortable and your mistakes aren't as big. Plus, you're going to have to find a place to PUT all this stuff...and a way to make sure it all stays fresh, and what about spices and corn meal and do you even have a baking pan?
More on all that stuff soon.