Guest post from Dianna Scofield
“Efficient buying of packaged goods and other staples implies keeping up your pantry supplies in a business-like fashion, just as the grocer keeps up his stocks. With your pantry shelves neatly lined with well-known foods . . . you are prepared to meet meal emergencies that no housewife, howsoever clever, can always avoid. And to meet them without those last-minute dashes to the grocer and the butcher which are so time-consuming and so demoralizing.” —General Foods Cook Book, 1932
It is upsetting indeed to start making the icing for a special birthday cake only to discover you have run out of powdered sugar (ask me how I know!). It is terribly annoying to find yourself out of lentils when they’re planned for dinner. It is practically a disaster to find yourself out of cold cereal on a rushed morning when you were counting on it for a quick breakfast.
Keeping extra food in the house is important to me for many reasons:
- My family feels secure knowing there is always food in the house.
- I can stock up on key ingredients when food is on sale.
- I have plenty of food around to create last-minute meals, which cuts down on fast food runs.
- In case of emergency (natural disaster, illness, job loss, etc.) we would have food on hand.
- I hardly ever have to make a spur-of-the-moment store run, because I have plenty of food on hand and I can make substitutions to use what I have.
My Tips on Keeping a Pantry Inventory:
Store what you use
I have found that it is most helpful to store foods that we are already eating. Do you have a rotating menu of dinners you cook regularly? Great. Start there. If not, start jotting down your family’s favorites.
What ingredients from these meals are non-perishable? Make a list, watch for sales, and start stocking up. Most foods will last at least a year (canned items 2–3 years), so I try not to buy more than we will use before they expire. That’s usually not a problem, though, with my family’s appetites!
Don’t forget other necessaries such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and cleaning supplies. If you keep a few extras of everything on hand, you’ll cut way down on last-minute runs to the store.
If you’re using a rotating menu, consider writing it all up in detail. That way, if you’re ever sick, your family can carry on with your plan.
Find out how much you need
I have started a system of spreadsheets to help me keep track of how much food I have and how much food I want to have. I have a spreadsheet for each category of ingredients (grains, fruits and veggies, etc.). Each spreadsheet has one sheet per ingredient (see the tabs at the bottom).
On each sheet, I enter the meal the ingredient is used for, and the quantity. I then set up the spreadsheet to multiply the ingredients for me so I can see how much I would need for one month up to a year. Finally, I set the spreadsheet to add up the ingredients from the different recipes so I will know how much I need total.
Don’t be intimidated by the spreadsheet math! Just find an online tutorial (or a friend!) to help you do what you need to. There are several tutorials here, or just do a search. There are lots of instructional pages and YouTube movies to help you out.
Once you have one page set up, you can copy it, then change the information for each separate ingredient.
If setting up a spreadsheet intimidates you, you can download a sample of mine here, then copy and tweak to your heart’s content to make it work for you.
Keep track of what you have
The next step, now that you’ve figured out how much you need, is to figure out how much you have! Write down how much you need of each item, then next to it, record what you actually have. Then figure out how much you need to buy. If you do this once every month for a small stockpile, or once every few months for a larger one, you should be able to keep on top of your food storage!
Do you store extra food? How much? How do you keep track of what’s in your pantry?
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