Build a Pantry Pyramid
Aside from space, the biggest obstacles to stocking up is not knowing what and how much to stock.
To get those answers all you need is pencil, paper, and a little detective work.
Too often experts give you a laundry list of must-haves, but if it’s not part of your normal diet why add it?
There are no hard and fast rules, but there are guidelines.
- Try to choose shelf stable foods over quickly expiring food. For example white rice is more shelf stable than brown rice.
- Plan meals with at least one protein.
- Store what your family will eat.
I have two caveats.
Think of alternatives for little-used ingredients. For example, I dislike peanut butter. Greg loves it. I can store peanut butter knowing that if he doesn’t finish it in a timely manner, I can make cookies, muffins, even dog treats. Peanut butter will not go to waste. Someone in this house will eat it.
Dehydrated food: I stock vacuum sealed, dehydrated foundation ingredients (like cheese, butter, wheat, and TVP (textured vegetable protein). Will I ever use them? Maybe not, but these are base ingredients that will remain viable should I lose my regular fresh source of food.
By the way, TVP is very common in many fast food restaurants. You might’ve eaten it without knowing it. In a sauce or nicely seasoned, I couldn’t tell that it wasn't beef. TVP is generally made of soy flour and processed into crumbles.
One last note:
If you haven't already invested in a vacuum sealer, I would get one,
especially if you have a small family. I find we don't use up food as
quickly as big families. Vacuum sealing an open product will extend
the shelf life.
Now let’s build a pantry pyramid. For my pantry, I first concentrate on the raw ingredients I use for most meals. Call this the base of your pyramid.
The Base: The average base will consist of a grain (wheat, rice, oats), beans and legumes (dry or canned), canned vegetables (like tomatoes, corn, and peppers). If you home-can, this list can be quite extensive. Fats, salt, seasonings, flour, canned or dry milk, honey and/or sugar should round it out.
Add your freeze-dried and dehydrated food items here. These are ingredients with the longest shelf life, or items easily replenished. Don’t forget the most important item: WATER.
The Middle: From here, you can build on your base. This is where you add the nice extras like canned chicken, ham, or fish, and canned soup (see below). Jellies, puddings, or other shelf stable sweets should be added here too. Coffee, teas, and water enhancers might be considered a base need, but for us, it’s second tier. Nice to have, but not essential. (Your mileage may vary.)
About soups: I loathe canned soup. Once you’ve tried homemade, the other stuff is awful by comparison. But I do keep a few soups, mostly mushroom, tomato, and celery. These are bases for other dishes.
Again, store only what your family will eat. I have a friend who loves canned soups. She calls it her “stock portfolio”. Who am I to judge? Buy what you’ll eat. That’s all that matters if you’re out of a job or sick in bed.
Which brings to the forefront on why you should stock up. People have lots of reasons for building a pantry. Below are mine.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve lived through hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, terrible sickness, hospitalization, and being poor. Nothing gives you a greater sense of security during tragedy than knowing you can feed whoever lives under your roof. There have been many times we couldn’t leave home because of natural disasters or sickness—and we didn’t have to leave home because everything we needed was here.
One of the
most gratifying things about this pandemic was realizing we could shut the front gate
for four solid months and never miss a beat. It was empowering to be self
sufficient. I think it's important for all of us to feel that way.
The tip of the pyramid: All of us have certain food loves. You might have a kid who loves cereal, a spouse who loves chocolate. Me? I love sweetened condensed milk. It’s my guilty pleasure. (Here’s the recipe to my guilty pleasure.)
At the top of this pyramid I would add all the comfort foods for those times when you really do need a comfort food. These are generally not shelf-stable foods, but if they’re foods you love, it’s likely you’ll replace those foods more often than a can of tuna. Allow yourself to splurge here if you can.
Pet Food and Baby Food: Because pets are family, I include pet food in my pantry planning. If you have family members who have special dietary needs, give them priority. You might be able to fudge on your diet, but you can't fudge on theirs.
For my pets, I like to keep at least four months of food at all times. I have a special needs cat so my pantry requirements for my pets are particularly critical.
If you’re starting from scratch, take your pencil and paper and write down the meals you like to eat. What ingredients do you need to make those meals?
If you have a pantry but struggling to figure out how much or what you need, start by taking everything out of your cupboards. Check the expiration dates. What didn’t get eaten in time? What do you continually buy on every shopping trip? These are your clues.
Don’t fret if your sister-in-law buys a dozen cans of crushed tomatoes a month and you barely use one can a year. This is your pantry and you know what your family will eat.
Dieticians will tell you to store only healthy foods, and maybe they’re right. But I also know that when the chips are down, psychologically, you need that piece of chocolate more than you need a box of tofu.
I will end this post with a story Greg told me after Hurricane Rita hit our home. He had gone back first to check out the damage and make repairs. I followed a few days later. During those early days he worked tirelessly repairing busted water lines and cutting dangerous trees. Despite his exhaustion and hunger, he often preferred to skip meals than eat another can of food. (There was no electricity or water.)
On the third day, he went out to get gas when he noticed someone at the local Waffle House dragging out a sheet of plywood with one giant word painted on it that said: "OPEN".
He swerved that truck into the parking lot like Mario Andretti and seated
himself at the counter between two big linemen from Mississippi. All the waitress could offer
was a cheeseburger with a pickle and a bun, and a Coke with no ice. That was it. It was all they had, but it was freshly grilled and hot. After three days of canned food, that burger was heavenly.
To this day, he claims it was the best burger he ever had.
The moral of that story is to inspire you to create a pantry to make real food. Eat out of a can if you must, but remember that gets old very quickly.
PS I arrived the next day with a tabletop grill and steak. 🎇 🎊 🎉 It was three more weeks before we got power back.
NEXT WEEK: The Supply Pantry