Just the Basics

I have had a lot of email asking about exactly how to start a storage pantry and exactly what are good things to keep in it. Most know that since April our family has relied almost exclusively on our pantry.

This sure is a hard question to answer. Every one is different. I would start by saying fill it with things your family will eat. Fill it with enough to last your family a reasonable amount of time. What that means for your family you will need to decide. For us that means about 6 months if not more.

Natural and Basic:

A good place to start. Basic flour, sugar, salt, butter and a few spices can be made into many dishes. They in the long run will take up less space than several types of boxed cookie, brownie, muffin & cake mixes. And basic ingredients are always less expensive and better quality than prepackaged foods.

A few simple spices and herbs can be made into many of your favorite premade mixes. Italian dressing mix, Ranch dip mix, bread crumbs, brown sugar are a few that come to mind and a good place to start.

Start a few basic cooking recipes, try them then change and adapt them to your liking. Keeping the recipes all in one place will save you time hunting them down. I tape to the outside of my mixes jars the rest of the recipe, this way I don’t need to look it up, and if someone else need to mix up some they will have a clue. But you will find in time you will come to know them off the top of your head, just as my grandmother and probably your’s did too. How satisfying is that?

Basic natural ingredients also allows you to control exactly what is in the food you and your family are eating. Artificial color and preservatives are not something I choose to add to our food. So why purchase boxed food with that stuff in it? 

Around here I really watch the amount of sugar in all forms my family eats. I can control the kind and amount of any thing added to our food. Want more fiber? choose whole grains instead of white flour.

So who has the time?

That’s a question I get all the time. Thinking you don’t have time is the first step to not getting it done. You will find a few minutes here and there while you are doing other things. Waiting for the potatoes to cook, mix up a jar of your favorite rub to add to them next time you bake them. Make enough (once you know you like it) to last for several uses.

No time to pull everything out to make pancakes? How about next time you make them cook extra and freeze them. They reheat well in the toaster. Daisy loves them rolled up with peanut butter, and they are better for her than pop-tarts.

To get yourself started you could set aside a Saturday morning to do a bunch of cooking and mixing, enough for the week.

cupboard-after2Consider size and space:

Where are you going to store your food and supplies? I have several storage spaces throughout my house. In the cellar, our’s is dry and cool in the summer and heated to about 60°f in the winter. There you will find my large storage pantry it’s actually two, floor to ceiling cupboards, a metal storage rack and our large freezer.

Up stairs I have two cupboards in the kitchen that is baking supplies, herbs and spices. A third to hold bulk items such as flours & oats held in manageable sized containers. And a fourth that holds the items we are currently using and a few can goods so I don’t have to run down cellar all the time.

Finding space:

Finding space to store you food can be tricky at times. You will want a cool dry space that you can get to fairly easily. You will be adding to and using from it frequently. This is why my frequently used items are in close easy reach. While the bulk of the pantry are out of the way yet still easy to get to and manage at least weekly if not daily.

cupboards A cupboard, storage shelves or even boxes will work. Look around and be creative.

I have a friend who when redoing her house dedicated an entire room to food storage. She like me keeps lots of food and supplies. Yet another friend has just as much and she hides it well. Lift up one of her beautiful side table skirts in her living room and you will find wooden boxes full of her canned goods. Look in her closet and there are packages of paper goods stacked amongst her shoes. Under her bed are boxes full of even more food all carefully hidden away, yet she knows in a moment where to go to get what she needs. Another friend doesn’t keep much other than 1 or 2 extra of anything and a single shelf above her washer and dryer works for her. She is a traveling girl with her job and her family, so she is not home much.

Start small and as time goes by you will discover space to fit your supplies, food and needs. Right now if all you can do is dedicate one shelf of a cupboard that’s the place to start and work from there.

How to pay for it all:

Some choose to take a bit from savings or save a bit each week and when enough is saved make a big purchase to start off. Others choose to purchase a little each week as their budget allows. You will need to decide how you want to do it. I wouldn’t suggest going in to debt or borrowing money to do it. I also personally wouldn’t take money from my savings either.

It also will depend on how you do your shopping. Do you go every day, once a week or once a month? If you have your pantry running well daily trips will become a thing of the past.:)

I personally do my shopping once a once a month, but I miss many of the sales this way. I watch the sale fliers and only make purchases for my family around the sales.  I keep a list of things we are running low on and I also know how much of something our family uses until that item goes on sale again. I keep a list of what we use, where it was bought and how much it was.

Should I happen to find a GREAT sale (this doesn’t happen so much any more) I will buy a few extra that my budget will allow. Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale, make sure you will use it before it goes bad,  and that your family will like the food. You don’t want to throw away food you didn’t eat.

bulk cupboardRotate:

Rotating your food supplies is pretty simple. The oldest to be used first is in the front. When I add something new I will take all of the same off the shelf, check the expiration dates and put the ones expiring soonest to the front to be used first. 

Some times this is tricky to find the information and you have to learn how to read the codes. Some packages or cans list a best by date. Some have a code printed on the can lid or bottom.  Most times it’s in a MM/DD/YY format. Sometimes it’s so small it’s hard to read, a quick note on the top with a marker solves this problem.

How I organize it all:

Large pantry: The large pantry is actually two cupboards in the cellar. They hold the bulk of things we are not currently using such as canned and dehydrated goods, extra spices and herbs. Things we will use that haven’t been opened yet.

Bulk storage: Is divided into 2 areas. One that is food and these shelves are in the cellar. In this area are the large buckets of things we use a lot of such as flours, sugar, oats, rice, gallons of vinegar, dehydrated foods. Also there are things like bottled water in gallons, bottled juice for long term storage.

In the second area these are stored in the out shed. Non food things like emergency supplies, lamp oil, lamp parts, candles, matches, first-aid supplies, duct tape, stored seeds, cans of gas, propane, rolls of plastic, batteries, paper goods. Things we do use but also well stocked up on. Things that are ok if they freeze, the shed is not heated.

Spice cupboard: Is in the kitchen and holds all the spices and herbs, flour, sugar, salt, home made mixes. When one of these smaller containers needs filling I go to the large pantry and fill them.

Large freezer: This stores all the frozen meats, breads, cheeses, veggies and fruits. Anything that won’t be eaten soon and in large quantities.

Small freezer: Is in the kitchen and stores small packages of things I am currently using. If I open a jar of sauce and don’t use it all here is where I store it until gone. Canning jars work well for freezing although they can waste space if not full. Some times I use plastic freezer bags. Here is where I store all the opened frozen packages and small portions, and meals I have premade, they are handy for a quick meal. This is my working from freezer. I have written about it here.

I will choose to can or dehydrate items before freezing them. If the freezer breaks or we lose power the canned and dehydrated items will still be safe. Also our freezer isn’t a big, big one, I would say medium size. This was done by choice.


How to store things:

Bulk items such as flour, sugar, oats, rice, beans are put into large food safe plastic containers and stored in the bulk food section. Most of these items I can’t buy loose in bulk so they come in paper. I keep the food in the paper and use the buckets to keep out things like moisture, light, bugs…The paper keeps my food from contacting the plastic. They are food safe I just don’t like the idea of it and the buckets stack nicely. A quick look at the label and I know whats in it and when it was put in there.

Home canned jars, I remove the rings and can stack them two high with a piece of cardboard between them.  This was a consideration I thought of and planned for when the cupboard was built. The cardboard adds stability and keeps the glass from being banged when the jars are picked up and set down.

Bulk herbs and spices either from the health food store or my own garden are stored in quart canning jars. The jars are lined with brown paper to keep out the light. Again a label and a date and I’m happy.

I do store some paper goods, I know ghasp! These are in long term storage, paper plates, towels, aluminum foil and even plastic wrap. These are part of our emergency supplies. If the power is out and I don’t want to start the generator I use these, it makes clean up much easier. Also I think in my mind that in a long term emergency these will be valuable and traded for things I may want. (hey, I can’t help it I think about these things.) I also store bathroom paper and tissues, for the same reasons and I play with poop all day I just can’t bring myself to force my family to use cloth. Although it’s a great idea, I don’t need the extra work. They are all stacked on the shelves and I know quickly if any thing needs replacing.

So where do I find all these glass and plastic storage buckets?

Well many of the glass gallon jars, the kind pickles or relish comes in bulk from our local country store. They were just this relish, mustard and pickle jars. They saved them for me. The food safe containers came from the same store, they get premade muffin and cookie mixes in them for their bakery section. (and people think they are homemade) A local donut shop is another good source as well as the grocery deli. Their salads and things come in large buckets. Ask them to save them for you, lately though the grocery has started selling the buckets for $2. each, it’s worth it when I need more.

I also bring home glass jars from our town’s recycle center. This is a great place to find them, they are clean and the labels are already taken off. I have my friend’s and family save them for me. Here in the US glass jars are fast becoming a thing of the past, more and more products are now put into plastic containers. I can’t tell you the last time I saw a glass mayo jar on the store shelf. Even the organic mayo is in plastic. geesh!

Look in yard sales, thrift stores for canning jars. You can buy replacement tops and rings. Although this year the canning jars I see in the yard sales aren’t cheep any more. People realize they are in demand this year.

Keep track of it all:

One other thing I do is keep lists of everything in the different storage areas. When something is running low I will add it to my shopping list and replace it within the next few trips. I use clip boards with a pencil tied to it, and use the √ off system. One check for each item. 7 checks is 7 containers.

I used to try and keep this info in my home binder but found that I never took the time to go to it to update my lists. Now there is a list at every storage area. And the shopping list hung on the fridge.

Some weeks every thing on my shopping list isn’t crossed off, so I simply keep it on the list until I can cross it off.

Would you share with me some of your tips and storage solutions?


Posted on December 16, 2009, in Food Storage, House Budgets and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Excellent post, Karyn!

    A lot of times people give away old fashioned glass & wire topped canning jars. My mom gave me over 100; I see them from time to time on freecycle & craigslist. People give them away because the new screw tops are so much easier.

    I use the glass topped ones to hold bulk spices, dried herbs and veggies.

    We’re also lucky that Glenn works in a restaurant. He can bring home food grade buckets and containers for free. Ooops – looks like the bulk flour bin needs refilling! I wish I was better at keeping inventory lists like you!

  2. Wish I could hit craigs list when they were being given away. How luck he can bring them home from work. You know my son works in 2 restaurants and I never thought to ask him to bring them home for me.

    They would also be good for planting in come spring.

    Inventory lists are something I have to keep on top of and some times that’s a challenge.



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