By which I mean a pantry stocked (to whatever extent) with food you can use to make homemade meals, snacks, and deserts. I’ll also discuss planning what you need to can and dry for your pantry.
- Track current usage
What are you eating? Is it from scratch? If not, do you have a recipe? What ingredients do you need?
- Frequently made recipes
What do you like to eat? You should keep ingredients for a batch or two of family favorites in the pantry. I'd keep enough for 2 of each meal, in case you don't get to the store to restock before you want it again.
- Create a sample one-month menu/ grocery list.
Example: pet supplies. I know we need about 18lbs cat food, 2 14-lb bags of litter, and about 4 bags of treats. I can get everything in one trip – and since it’s to the large pet store, that makes it a time-saver as well. This will last two months (sometimes more) for our two cats.
Example: Vegetables. During winter, I like to serve a can of veggies with dinner. So, 5 nights x 14oz cans = (5 nights x 30 weeks) in pints (16oz each) = 150 pints of assorted veggies, add 10% for extra coverage - 145. I’ll take that and round it off so that I run full batches of 8 pints – so, 144 pints of assorted vegetables is what I’ll need, if I can everything myself. Note that this doesn't allow for fresh veggies, which is always preferred. I'm still learning how to estimate what we need, so the first few times/years it will be a learning process.
Example: I’ve had to change from getting groceries weekly, to monthly. I knew the change was coming and kept track of what we use each week, and used that to estimate what we’ll need for the month. I mentioned the cat supplies and veggies above; I also know that I like serve meals in a pattern – two nights are leftovers, one night based on beef, one night meatless, three or four nights based on chicken. Times that by four and I know what to buy for the month. When sales come I do make exceptions and stock up as much as our small freezer will let me.
- Expand the list to cover 12 months, allowing for seasonal variations - lighter foods in summer's heat, more soups and savory meals to fight back winter's cold.
- Make your own convenience foods.
Example: I cook much more chili in the winter. I have other recipes I only make in winter, or fall, because they suit the weather. Chili is easy to make; a few rounds of 7 quarts each should be plenty for the winter. I like chili-mac for lunches sometimes, so I may also can some half-pints for that. This is also something where I can make a canner full, and then make more when that runs out.
Example: Healthy quick meals can be prepped by making and canning soups, chilis, and meatballs. Home-canned meat can be used as a basis for quick meals, and increase your use of local pastured beef – for me, this is seasonal, with spring being the hardest time to get any. Also, if your freezer is full you could can the sale meats.
- Benefits: Food dried in season retains nutrients and flavor throughout the winter, and takes up a fraction of the storage space. This is especially nice when you have limited storage space. Some foods also take less of your time to store this way.
Example:Tomatoes and greens can be rinsed, patted dry, and sliced quickly before placing in the dehydrator. Then, you just take out the dried food when it's ready.
- Soups (as well as other recipes) can be made ahead in dried form, rehydrated & cooked. I have at least two recipes I’m going to try –I will dehydrate all ingredients, package them together, and see how they come out after simply putting the dry mix in the slow-cooker with water or broth. If it works (I believe it will), I‘ll have wonderful, homemade, dinners for the times I forget to thaw food or plan ahead. Those are the days where I’m drinking my coffee before work and go “Eek! What are we eating tonight?” Dump things in slow cooker, add broth or water, turn on. Come home, stir well, serve. That sounds nice, yes? You can also look for "Gift in a Jar" or "Dinner in a Jar" type recipes, and use these the same way.
- Unique candies – candied and dried fruits & fruit leathers. We made candied watermelon rinds one summer. Delicious!