Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Fierce Pantry

Old Mother Hubbard went to her cupboard to fetch her poor dog a bone.
When she got there, the cupboard was bare and so her poor dog had none.

I want to write today and in the near future addressing the topic of saving money by staying home to eat.  Eating out is a money and peace sneak.  (Mostly it sneaks our peace by sneaking our money.)  It can also lead to health problems and steal away family togetherness at meals. Let me be clear that I do not feel eating out is in any way morally wrong, just in our culture we have come to rely on it heavily and now as we face recession and tighter belts, we need to remember how to cut back on what is really a luxury.

The first idea I have on this is to avoid Mother Hubbard's predicament: an empty cupboard.  If you look at your eating habits and you are ordering pizza on the day before the big grocery shop is scheduled, you are facing a bare pantry.  What to do? You want a pantry that is dedicated!  You want it to be 100% on your side! Lets talk about stocking your pantry boldly in layers so it is your favorite ally in the dinner-time decision war.

The Layers: basic food stuffs, seasonings and condiments, canned/bottled goods that your family likes, convenience foods (both homemade and store purchased), snacks and treats, perishables, frozen foods.

Basic Food Stuffs: Flour, sugar, rice, pasta, potatoes (dried), oil and shortening, peanut butter and oatmeal.  This is the basis of what you make.  Most are dry ingredients that store well and are the staples of your pantry.  Do not run low on these, and do not underestimate their value.

Seasonings and Condiments:  How bland life would be without ketchup and her cousins!  I find that barbecue sauce, mustard, flavored vinegars, good olive oil, dried herbs, ground spices and various cultural seasoning sauces are many times the key to making the basic food stuffs work.  Salsa makes anything nice.  Worcestershire sauce and oyster sauce are all happily co-existing in my fridge.  Stock your favorites!  Be bold.

Canned/bottled goods that your family likes: Fruits and veggies stored this way are so useful in so many recipes!  I stock canned corn, beans, pineapple, tomatoes and tomato sauce, mandarin oranges and mushrooms.  Soups and chili too. In my bottles are applesauce, fruit pie fillings, peaches, pears, jams and syrups and juice.  Don't stock something that you don't like.  This should go without saying, but we have all had the sad realization after bringing home something new that it is unwelcome.  Give it to your local food bank.  Otherwise it taunts you from your shelves when you are hungry.  You automatically think, "Nothing here but that old sauerkraut again."

Convenience foods: This is what you need when you are physically and emotionally tired.  It can be boxes of cold cereal, a box of corn dogs or a casserole that you made a month ago and stashed smugly in the freezer for just such a rainy day.  This is a very important layer in your pantry.  We tend to go through these items fast in stressful times, so keep up on this one!  Pre-cooked meats are excellent here.  Cook a chicken and shred it off the bones and freeze in two cup portions.  Do the same with hamburger, brown 3 lbs. at a time, use one in tonight's meal and freeze two of them. You will thank yourself for this gift each time you are able to make a casserole in minutes.

Snacks and Treats: When my husband opens my pantry and stares into it, he wants snacks to answer.  If there are no treats, his mind tells him there is no food.  Plain and simple. Some ideas for this one are crackers, popcorn, pretzels, yogurt, carrot sticks and Popsicles. Treats are a bit like snacks, only sweeter.  Cake and brownie mixes or cookies stashed in the freezer are all in this category.  This is one area I find coupons very helpful, I watch for the sales and then I hide goodies ninja fashion until they are "needed".  Keep basics for making treats on hand too: chocolate chips, coconut, raisins and cocoa powder.  I like to store sweetened condensed milk and graham cracker crusts in my stash too.

Perishables: When you go to the grocery store, try to stock up on enough of these items to last you until your next planned trip.  Milk, bread, eggs, butter/margarine, fresh fruits and veggies and root vegetables with a little longer storage life are all part of this layer.  Yogurt and buttermilk and sour cream are nice to have on hand as well.

Frozen Foods: If a dog is man's best friend, a freezer is a woman's.  Stash just everything you can here.  An assortment of meats (especially when you find them on sale), vegetables and fruits, sauces, frozen potatoes and other convenience foods as well as left overs or planned overs should all appear when you open your freezer.

When you have built this layered supply in your kitchen and couple it with a menu plan, you are well prepared to take on whatever may come in feeding your family.  You don't need to stock your pantry overnight, but if you can look at your finances and take a bit of what you are spending to eat out and put it toward your pantry each week, you will soon have that fierce friend.

Notes: If you are a new reader, and this is an important topic to you, you might find these posts useful:
Cheater Pants Meals
Crockpots and Friends

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If you are visiting, welcome! I am in the process of a Vulcan Mind Meld with my computer to put all of my right hand recipes for feeding my family on here as fast as possible. Please come back often and stay awhile. There are so many exciting things to come!

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A clearing house for all my favorite recipes. All my food musings. All my favorite cookbooks and kitchen gadgets. If you enjoy it here, and find it useful, welcome!