Apr 2, 2012
Slow and Steady
First of all, remember that almost none of us can afford to go out and fully stock our pantries in one shopping trip - or even in one or two months. Instead, focus on slowly building up your supply.
Set aside a portion of your weekly food budget for pantry stocking. Even spending as little as an extra $5 a month eventually will get you where you need to go.
Focus on the Basics
Some foods are simply cheaper than others. Stock up on those first. For example, dry beans last a long time and are cheaper per serving than canned beans. You might also consider the cheapest meals you cook; what ingredients do you need for those meals? Stock up on those first.
Sales & Bulk
Shopping sales is a fantastic way to stock your pantry for less. Keeping a simple price book makes it easier for you to realize when something is a really good deal. Also remember that some items go on seasonal sale. For example, around Thanksgiving, you'll find stock/broth and pumpkin on sale. Stock up then, rather than when the prices double or triple in December.
I am careful about for from bulk bins; while it's often (not always!) cheaper, it's usually not as fresh. (It's been in non-air tight containers for a while, and who knows how many people have touched it...Ick.) If you do buy bulk, be sure to put the food in air tight containers as soon as you get home.
Sometimes Costco and Sam's Club are a better deal - and sometimes they are not. When they are, stick to staples; don't be tempted to purchase items you rarely use or have never used before, because they may end up taking up space but not being used. When Costco items come in large containers, take them home and divide the food up into smaller ones. For example, put a week or a month's worth in an air tight can and put the rest in a larger air right container. (Although those pretty glass containers you see in Pinterest pantries are lovely, they are usually expensive. I reuse my husband's coffee cans; just soak them in vinegar for a few days first to remove the coffee smell.) The Dollar Tree also sells some glass pantry containers, but I can't vouch for the thickness of the glass.
I know couponing is popular right now, but I'm not a fan. I do use coupons for non-food items, but it's so rare to find coupons for non-processed food, I've given up looking. So use coupons, if you like, but do try to avoid stocking your pantry with unhealthy, processed food.
I must add, though, that I just read The Joyful Momma's Guide to Shopping and Cooking Frugally, and she mentions that her grocery store, which has a loyalty card, now sends her coupons based upon what she actually buys. This even includes discounts for produce. Now those would be useful coupons! She also discusses combining coupons with store sales for amazing prices without hours of couponing work.
Co-Ops - Make One!
If you have a co-op in your area, this is probably a great place to get inexpensive food. If you don't have one, create one! Or simply get together with a group of other people and approach local farms. For example, I know women who buy all their produce for canning together, thereby getting a bulk discount from a local farm.
Can and Garden
Sometimes canning really is cheaper - check out my post on this topic from last summer. And yep, home gardens can be cheaper, too.
Dec 9, 2009
So I was excited to see Abigail R. Gehring’s new book Homesteading and was surprised to find how comprehensive it really is.
The first section covers gardening, focusing not just on vegetables but on ornamentals, too. You’ll find details on choosing the best location for a garden, testing and amending your soil, companion planting (what plants may grow best next to each other), making compost, irrigation (including how to make your own rain barrel – although the author neglects to mention that, crazy as it may seem, some cities and counties do not allow citizens to collect rain water), planting and caring for trees (a section oddly absent of information on fruit and nut trees), growing in containers, and rooftop gardens. There are even sections on growing plants without soil, attracting beneficial insects to your garden, and starting community and school garden. Beginners may find the wealth of information here a bit overwhelming, but it’s nice to know you have all the details you’ll need to start your own garden all in one location.
The next section covers the pantry, with information on choosing locally grown food, joining or starting a co-op, and a pretty extensive section on canning (including many recipes). There’s a shorter section on drying and freezing, which includes a simple design for making a food dryer that hangs over a wood stove, plus a few pages on edible wild plants. This last section, while interesting and accompanied by photographs of each plant, isn’t detailed enough, in my opinion. Great care must be taken when eating wild plants; if you misidentify something, you could poison yourself or someone you love. I don’t feel the author stresses this enough, and if you’re interested in eating wild plants, I suggest you find an excellent field guide for your area. (It should have detailed descriptions of the plants as well as color photographs of them, and must include information on which parts of the plants are edible and how they should be prepared.)
The author also offers great information on making your own butter (in a jar), yogurt, ice cream (in a coffee can), beer, wine, and cheese. There are even basic instructions for making a cheese press for hard cheeses – and the author makes it all look so easy, I think I’ll have to give it a go. I also appreciate the mention of the Plant a Row for the Hungry Program (PAR) and how you can help feed those less fortunate with bounty from your own garden.
The next section is titled “The Backyard Farm” and includes all the basics about the space, time, and energy required to raise animals like chickens, ducks, turkeys, bees, goats, and llamas. The author also offers additional info on such things as building a beehive and milking a goat. Everything you need to determine whether small farm animals are right for you is included, and then some.
This is followed by a section on structures, which offers general information on building fences and gates, dog kennels, birdhouses, stables, hen- and duck houses, foot bridges, sheds, smokehouses, root callers, tree houses, trellises, and weather vanes. At least a little experience working with wood is best before delving into this chapter.
There’s also a chapter on alternative energy. Unfortunately, for most folks the ideas here are either too spendy or will provide only a small amount of energy – but even supplementing your standard energy can be a boon. Topics covered include solar power, wind energy, hydropower, and geothermal power. There’s also information on composting toilets (ideal for locations where it’s impractical or expensive to put in sewer lines) and using grey water. (Again, be careful. Although the author doesn’t note it, in many parts of the country it’s illegal or requires a permit to use grey water.)
There’s also a mish mash of crafts included in this book – some practical (like candle and soap making) and others not (like making potpourri and jewelry). You can learn a bit about pottery, knitting, making paper and bookbinding, trying knots, making kites, and basket weaving, too.
The final sections of the book give the very basics of herbal remedies, listing common plants, what ailments they are sometimes used to treat (exactly how to use and dose the herbs is rarely included), preparing for natural disasters, first aid, stenciling, making your own wall paper, and more.
There are certainly some sections of this book I will never refer to (for example, Feng shui and living in “international communities," i.e. communes). And there are some that, to my way of thinking, stretch the meaning of homesteading, especially as applied to the backyard. However, the sections on raising and caring for animals are more complete than other homesteading books, the canning information is thorough, and there are also great how–to details on gardening, co-ops, and many odds and ends of sustainable living. If you’re interested in being more self sufficient, this book will be a good addition to your bookshelf.
Oct 7, 2009
When stocking up, do bear shelf life in mind. Canned meats, for example, last quite a long time, but spices don't last long at all. So if you go to Costco and see a gigantic container of ground cinnamon, think twice. It's unlikely you'll be able to use all that cinnamon before the flavor dissipates.
There are a few rules of thumb you can follow. Whole spices last longer than ground spices, for example, and flours and grains kept in air-tight containers last longer than those kept in their original bags. (To extend their life even longer, place whole, dried basil leaves every few inches inside the flour or grain to keep moisture and bugs away.)
What you buy for your pantry depends entirely upon your family's tastes. Here are some things I like to have in my pantry, but feel entirely free to omit and add to this list as you see fit:
Canned and dried beans
Family favorites (like boxes of macaroni and cheese, cereals, breakfast bars, coffee, etc.)
It's likely you'll waste money if you don't organize your pantry in a way that makes it easy to rotate foods. The easiest way to do this is simply to place the most newly-purchased items toward the back of the pantry and move older items forward as you do so. Can dispensing racks, which automatically move older cans forward, help tremendously with this.
At least once a year (and preferably twice a year - perhaps during spring and fall cleaning) remove everything from the pantry and clean the shelves. Replace the contact paper, if necessary, and if there's a way to make the pantry more attractive, better organized, or easier to use, take the time to implement it.
Read Part I of the Plentiful Pantry series
Oct 6, 2009
Start in the kitchen, since it's the most convenient place for food. Go through every drawer and cupboard and get rid of anything you no longer use. Donate what's still good to a charitable cause and throw away the rest. Consider quantities, as well as usefulness. For example, do you really need three sets of "everyday" dishes? Probably not, and you'll save cupboard space if you get rid of at least one set.
Now you can reorganize your kitchen in a way that makes sense for you. Try to keep gadgets and food in locations near where you use them. (For example, keep spatulas near the stove.) Consider either buying new organizing products or re-purposing items you already have to better organize your kitchen. For example, a simple plastic product with several shallow shelves makes it easier to find spices in your cupboard and may save shelf space, too. Other space savers include adding shelving to the inside of cupboard or closet doors, using can dispensing units, or using a spice rack for a drawer.
Bedrooms and Closets
What's under your bed? If there's nothing but dust bunnies, consider buying Rubbermaid-style containers for under the bed storage and filling them with canned food. Often our closets are full of stuff we don't need or use, too. Try removing everything and see if a shelf (part or whole) can be dedicated to food.
If you are fortunate enough to have a basement or garage, clean it up a bit, and place food either in Rubbermaid style boxes or in shelving units.
Bookshelves, china cabinets, and similar pieces of furniture also good for storing food throughout the house. If you don't want supplies to be visible, use a tension rod and a piece of fabric (or a curtain) to conceal the food.
The real trick to all of this, however, is to organize food by type. For example, if you must have food in various locations in the house, put all the baking supplies in one area, all the canned meats in another, and so on. Also be careful about humid areas, like the attic. Canned foods are fine in such areas, but baking supplies are not.
Containers are also an important consideration and can make the difference between an unwieldy system and a truly usable one. For example, if you keep baking flour, baking soda, baking powder, and the like all in one plastic container, then you can just pull out the entire container and carry it to the kitchen when you're ready to bake.
Read Part I of the Plentiful Pantry series
Read Part III of the Plentiful Pantry series
Oct 5, 2009
I began by taking everything out of the closet. Then I wiped it down with a damp, soapy sponge, allowed it to dry, and laid down some contact paper that looks like green marble. (Contact paper not only makes the area look more attractive, it makes clean up easier if you spill something on the shelves.)
Then I designated a type of food for each of the five shelves: kid food (including baby food, cans of apple juice, and foods only the kids eat, like macaroni and cheese); vegetables; fruits; canned meats and fish; and grains, beans, and flours. I found that where I once complained I didn't have nearly enough space to store even a weeks' worth of food in the pantry, I suddenly had plentiful space. So much space, in fact, I decided it was finally time to follow Proverbs 31:21 and plan ahead a bit. If we have a sudden snow storm, for example, I want to have at least two weeks' worth of food in the pantry to get us by.
There are also other benefits to a well-stocked, well-organized pantry. You should have seen my husband's face when he opened the pantry after I cleaned it. He was delighted that suddenly he could find what he wanted (!) and that it was so full of "good stuff."
A well-stocked pantry also makes grocery shopping a bit easier (since you have basic supplies already at home), and if you keep food items in the same place every time you restock, you'll always be able to quickly and easily find them. Too, when - despite your best efforts - you run out of planned meals at the end of the month, a well stocked pantry can save the day.
So with all these things in mind, I'll be making several posts about creating and organizing a pantry. It may sound weird to some, but truly, my pantry has become a thing of delight in my household, where once it was a source of frustration. Why not try organizing and stocking your pantry, too?
Read Part II of the Plentiful Pantry series
Read Part III of the Plentiful Pantry series