How many of you keep a pantry? How long do you think you could go without going to the grocery store? Do you write a menu? Do you have a plan to help you with meals?
I am not exactly sure how long I have bought in bulk and kept a pantry, but it is sure a life saver at times. I have had different people ask me about bulk buying and how to keep a pantry, that I thought I would write out some ideas. Everyone's situation is different, so you will have to tailor it to meet your needs and fit your space available. I will also share with you some things I do that help me out in the planning area (when I make myself actually do them) =)
First of all a menu is a wonderful tool for me. I print out a monthly calendar page for our menu. If you have a large family and children at home, you might need something a bit larger, since you probably make breakfast and lunch every day as well. This menu is just a guideline for me. If I can't think of anything to make that night, there is something there for me to fall back on. When I am faithful to make a monthy menu, we usually follow it pretty closely. I also have tried to divide my week up into different types of meals. Monday night is breakfast night. We usually have a breakfast type meal (pancakes, eggs, bacon & taters, etc). Tuesday night is pasta night. Wednesday night is soup night in the cooler months and salad night on the warmer months. Thursday night is Mexican night. Friday night is either pizza or chili. Saturday is Dad's night. He likes to cook too, especially on the grill, so he chooses what gets fixed that night. Sunday's we usually have a pot blessing with our fellowship, so I make something big to share. This sort of planning helps me even when I forget to make my menu. For instance tonight, I know it's pasta night, so I will plan accordingly since I have not made a December menu up.
Now, sit down and make a list of meals you make on a regular basis. It is actually very handy to have this list for a couple of reasons. It is going to help you make out your pantry list, but it also helps you to make a menu and to plan ahead.
After you make a list of all the meals you can think of, then start making a list of the ingredients that you would use for those meals. You can write out all the ingredients or just the ones that are storable. For instance if you are having tacos, you might have the seasonings in storage, but the sour cream is probably going to need to be purchased the week you make it. I like to go one step further and break those ingredients down into categories. Herbs and spices, canned goods, pastas, etc.
Now determine how much do you buy of these items. If you have a large family, you can purchase pasta of sll sorts in 10# boxes from most any co-op. I have purchased pastas we us a lot of in a 10# box before, but it takes our small family a while to go through them. Here are some things that we buy in bulk. I buy the 50# bag of dehyrdrated cane crystals (sugar). It lasts us well over a year though since we make very few sweet things. I wait till it is on sale and then purchase it. I buy the organic tortilla chips we use by the case as well. We use them for snacks and also for Mexican night. I am also usually able to get them on sale. I buy pasta in bulk when it is on sale through the co-op as well. I try to keep at least 2 3-liter bottles of olive oil on the shelf. We like fresh made salsa in the summer, but we buy Frog Ranch salsa for other times. I keep 6 to 10 jars of it on the shelf at all times. I have shelves for my home canned goods and the smaller stuff I buy. I keep the sugar, wheat, sucanat, rice, oats, etc on buckets with screw on lids. Determine how much room you have to store things. Then decide how much you want to have on hand at all times. Lets say you go through ketchup quickly. You may want to keep 5 bottles or more on the shelf. This will insure that you always have ketchup and may allow you to wait until there is a sale to buy it. This would be a great project for a daughter to undertake for you.
Now make a list of your items, what quantity you would buy them in, how many you like on the shelf and what is the lowest amount you can have on hand and not run out. Obviously, most of us can not go out and buy all of this at once. Find a co-op. Start watching for sales and as you are able bring an item or 2 up to where you would like them to be. Then maintain those items while adding one or 2 more. You will have a pantry stocked before you know it. If you have helpers in the kitchen, teach them about rotating things so that you use the oldest first. I have an order things go in. You always use the front one closest to the pantry door first. Then teach them that as you use an item up, to mark it on a list of things to buy or watch for sales on. It is really not complicated. The hardest part is writing all the meals and ingredients down to begin with. After that it is just maintenance. Then when you are cooking or baking and you run out of something, you are not running to the store which causes you to waste time, gas and money (because you usually buy more than you went for). You simply go and shop in your pantry.
Don't forget their are items you can store in your freezer as well. We have a bulk food store that allows a better price on butter if you buy it by the case. Butter freezes well. I buy huge loafs of cheese at a discount. Then you can grate it and freeze it for use later.
If you have other ideas, comments or suggestions, please leave them in the comments section so we can all learn from one another.
*Ginny brought up a good point in the comments. Toilet paper. I try to buy enough so that I only have to buy it when it is on sale. There are all sorts of things we can stock up on.