How To Stock Up Your Pantry

When my niece comes to visit, the one thing that seems to impress her the most is the glory that is my pantry. Shelf after shelf of canned and dried goods beckon to be discovered. We'll cover stocking up in various forms, but let's start with the dry pantry.

In the early years, there were more cobwebs than foodstuffs in my cupboard. We couldn't afford much. Since we had only one car (and I didn't know how to drive at the time anyway) I was a stay-at-home wife. To make myself useful, I spent a lot of time studying the grocery fliers and planning meals around whatever was on sale.

Slowly--very slowly, my frugality began to pay off and I'd have a couple of dollars left over from my weekly grocery shopping. At first, I used them to buy more expensive food for next time, things like steaks or chops. One time though, rather than splurging on high dollar food, I bought a few extra cans of vegetables.

That was the beginning of my pantry stock. It was a eureka moment for me and it became my personal contest on how many times I could score a few extra items for the sacred pantry.

Once I started to see a "savings account" of goods it made me feel exceedingly proud for being able to provide for my family without having to go out and shop every week.

When we lived in an apartment, 'the pantry' were a couple of shelves in a tiny kitchen. I was in for a shock when we bought a house with a walk-in pantry. How could anyone fill such a large space?

I expanded my efforts, (learned how to drive) and got a job. I was now into guerilla stockpiling!

My favorite day was Wednesday when the new grocery fliers came out. When canned vegetables went on sale five for a dollar, I bought ten.

Tuna was 39 cents a tin, a pound of dry pasta was 19 cents, and soup was about 10 cents in 1975. That might sound cheap, but remember most of us weren't making much more than $3.50 an hour back then. (Greg made a bit more because of his industry and that's what helped us save so much.) It's all relative.

Here are the six keys I learned about stockpiling my pantry.

Start small. Really small. It's not a competition. If pasta goes on sale buy an extra package. When canned tomatoes go on sale, buy within your means. They might not go on sale the same week, but once they're stocked up, you can have a spaghetti dinner any time you want.

Make room. Whether you have a walk-in pantry or a couple of shelves in a cabinet, make room for your stock. If there is simply no room, make room. All you need is a box and space under your bed, in your closet, or your garage.

Package appropriately. Mice and insects can be a problem. One mouse can ransack your stored goods in a night. Cans are safe, but food in plastic or paper need to be repackaged in glass. Glass is heavier than plastic, but I'd rather lift weights than give critters any quarter. They can always gnaw through plastic, but not through glass or metal. Invest in glass containers.

Click on the images to read more about each item. These are what I use.

Date everything. Most items have expiration dates, but some are hard to read or impossible to find. Date the item before you put it away

Rotate your stock. This is when labeling comes in handy. Always use the oldest first. When you buy fresh stock, move them to the back of the shelf so you don't grab it before the oldest can/package.

Expiration dates are more like guidelines. In 99.9% of cases, expiration dates are more like guidelines than strict rules. The only time I toss out a can is if the top has started bulging. You'll see this most often in tins of tomato products. If it bulges, throw it out. Never take the chance.

By the way, you're really l-o-n-g past the expiration date if cans start to bulge. What were you thinking!

No matter what kind of space you have, whether it's a cabinet shelf, a box under the bed, or a walk-in pantry, always partition your space by type.

In my pantry, I sort things by use. Soup and stew making supplies like tomatoes, peppers, beans, and other vegetables sit on one shelf. Baking supplies are on a different shelf. Pasta, rice, and other dried items live in a different pantry zip code.

Another important tip (especially if you're short) is to put the items you use most often within easy reach. You don't want making dinner a climb up Mount McKinley every time you need a jar of rice.

If you've been cooking for a while, you'll know how much of each item you'll use. For example, rice is a staple for us, so I'll buy it in the extra large bags and divide it into smaller, graspable containers.

Only you know what you eat most often so I'll leave it to you to plan for yourself.

Inside story: I have a half-dozen cans of soup that stare at me day after day. Since I started making my own soup, I've become a snob about canned soups. There really is no comparison and it's not that I'm a great cook either. It's just that when you make your own you can't beat the freshness.

I keep them because although I have a few containers of homemade soup in the freezer, I'm afraid one day I'll run out and have to depend on that awful processed stuff on a luckless day when I've come down with the plague.

What one food do you think you eat most often? Do you stock up on it? Have you done any canning or preserves? I would love to take a canning course. I've taken one-day seminars on canning, but nothing hands-on.