Monday, April 26, 2010

Creating a Pantry

Lately, my pantry has been getting pretty cramped. Since it's about time that we reevaluate our storage system, I've decided to talk about creating a useful pantry.

When we lived in our apartment, we had a gorgeous pantry closet. We actually put my brother in there to sleep when he stayed with us - it was that big. It was right off the kitchen, too. And what did I keep in there? Boxes with nothing in them, a bike, and furniture we didn't want. Now, when I think back, I kick myself. People would have killed for that space! But, when we moved into our house, we found a solution that worked for us.

Step 1: Identify a Space
Finding a good space for your pantry needs is really important. For example, you do not want to put your food storage into your attic - it's way too hot. Make sure the temperature is on the cool side, no more than 80 degrees at any given time. You also want to be able to get to it easily. Don't create your pantry where you have to push loads of toys and boxes out of the way to get to the food.

For us, we had an empty closet under the stairs that the previous owner had built. SurvivalMom has her food storage in a spare bedroom. Other people use the tops of closets and underneath of beds. I've even seen people put #10 cans behind couches. It's all up to you to decide where you can store items and be able to use them regularly.

Step 2: Create a Menu
I learned how to build a pantry from Safely Gathered In. I created a menu for two weeks worth of meals: chili, chicken parmesan, tacos, stir-fry, etc. Make sure these are meals you actually like to eat regularly. Also, be sure they are nutritionally complete. Don't forget fruits and vegetables. Beans and rice get very boring after a while. Start with a dinner menu and work your way up to breakfast and lunch menus.

Then, I created a sheet in Google Docs detailing the ingredients needed for the meals, and tallying how many cans, boxes, and bags of those ingredients I'd need for three months worth of food.

Step 3: Create a Storage System
Given that *B* and I had just bought a house and are still in varying stages of school, we are living pretty frugally. I could not afford to go out and buy nice shelving. So we decided to build our pantry out of 2"x12"s and cinder blocks. It turned out well, and in an emergency, the pantry can be broken down for building materials. For you, though, it might be more useful to buy plastic or metal shelves. Or maybe you have old, very sturdy bookcases lying around.

Whatever you use, it must be stable and able to bear a good amount of weight. You do not want to hear a loud crash in the middle of the night and come down to see your canned food busted open and flour everywhere. Don't put supplies directly against concrete. Raise things off the floor and keep them away from non-insulated walls. Temperature variations wreak havoc on food storage.

Step 4: Start Buying Supplies
It was just our luck that a few weeks after we moved in, our local grocery store had a customer appreciation sale. I was able to get Del Monte canned veggies at 50 cents a can. I bought 20 cans of each corn, peas, and green beans. Again, I can't stress this enough: buy food your family will eat. Don't go nuts buying canned beats if no one will touch them. However, if they like them, go for it.

Aside from shopping the sales, pick up a little bit of food for the pantry every time you go to the grocery store. When I go on my regular shopping trip, and I see that canned fruits are on sale, I'll pick up anywhere from 2 to 6 cans depending on what I need. Occasionally, we go to Costco to get bulk items like flour, sugars, and rice.

Supplies don't just mean food. Gamma buckets are the love of my life. They store my rice, sugar, and flour. Keep extra toilet paper and paper towels. Stock up on cold medications and basic first aid supplies. It's handy to have extra tin foil, saran wrap, wax paper, laundry detergent, and propane. For those of you who have kids or have family with kids, throw a box or two of diapers in there. I also store ammo (not in my pantry, but elsewhere). Think about your needs and plan appropriately.

Step 5: ROTATE!
I cannot stress this enough. If you do not rotate your food, you are wasting money. Everything that you eat and like, rotate it through. In my pantry, we take food from the front left and add food to the back right of each item. Check dates when you buy food and keep an eye on them as you eat your supplies. Also, keep a tally of what gets eaten when. Have you had that same box of pancake mix in there for six months? Don't buy more. You can't keep cereal on the shelves? Pick up a little bit more at a time.

There are ways to get rid of food other than eating it or throwing it away though. Say, for example, you buy a case (12 cans) of canned potatoes. You open one can and decide you don't like the texture. Donate it to a food bank. You bought too much for your family to eat and you're three months before the expiration date? Donate it. There are starving people out there who would love our discards.

Step 6: Make it Your Own
As time goes on, living off of a pantry should be less a survival tool and more a way of life. Stock it with your family's favorites. Don't forget sweets - it's really nice to be able to make a cake or brownies without having to go to the store. And during times of crisis (personal, national, or otherwise) those comfort foods are wonderful. Remember to stock up on foods for sick days like crackers and Gatorade. I had the flu this winter and lived off of Club crackers, Gatorade, and Spaghetti O's from my pantry. I wasn't able to drag myself to the store or stomach regular food, but this worked for me. Don't make a pantry to the specifications of others, because no one else will have to use your provisions but you.


  1. I’ve the worst time with food storage. It gets well over a hundred here in the summer, and we don’t have central air. We’ve got a swamp cooler, so the house often never goes below 80 degrees all day and night.

    We’ve moved into a new (ancient) house, and I’ve just realized that I placed the food in the west facing cabinets and need to move them all away from the west wall. There is just nowhere temperature friendly for food and medications storage. I store as much as I can in the rear of the fridge and any extra room in the freezer is used for grains etc., but it’s only a couple weeks worth.


  2. What part of the country (or what country) are you in? My ex-boyfriend's grandparents had a similar problem. They put their food storage in an old refrigerator whose compressor had died. Do you have a basement or a cellar? Is it possible to store it under your bed? If all else fails, maybe it would be best for you to build up more supplies during the cooler months and eat it down to smaller quantities in the warmer months.

  3. I'm in Northern Calif, and basements are pretty rare because of the water table (or the fact that your house is built on a rock.) Problems with odd places like under the bed would be pretty superficial I guess in that it would be difficult (but not impossible) to rotate. I guess we'll need to put more effort into it, but until it's needed, my husband could care less.


  4. I've done some quick research about food storage in California. I've read a lot of people saying to store it in bedrooms. I've also heard of people making tables out of food storage by stacking it (if it's sturdy) and putting plywood on top with a tablecloth over top of it. You can also store foods in the shoe storage bags on the back of closet/bedroom doors. If you can't reach under your bed (our cat's the only one who can get under there) you can buy inexpensive rolling under the bed storage bins at Walmart. Canned goods up to food the size of sacks of flour will fit into them.

    It is possible to store it in the house for temps above 80 degrees F, but the shelf life could reduce by half. For my (two person) family, we rotate through our canned foods far faster than the expiration date.

    As for the rotation issue, we started by bringing a can of each type food up from the basement into our "little pantry cupboard." That way, we do have food in the kitchen. When you use it, run on over to where you have the rest stored and replace it. When you buy groceries, put the new groceries at the end/back/bottom of your storage stack.

  5. What a great suggestion to stock up foods for sick days! I haven't purposely done that. I know I have saltines, but maybe keeping a couple bottles of ginger ale would be good, too. Great suggestions!!