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What Foods Should Be in Your Pantry?

Rochelle spends as much time in the kitchen as she does at a keyboard. It's no surprise that cooking and food are favorite article subjects.

A rolling pantry from the pioneer days

A rolling pantry from the pioneer days

Keeping a "store" of groceries in your home pantry is a good idea, even even if you live alone. If there are several people in your household, the importance of stocking up multiplies.

Storing a stash of food saves time, money and often stress, especially in difficult times. Don't be caught short like Old Mother Hubbard.

Stock Your Shelves With "CARE"

  • C = Convenience: Fewer trips to the market saves time, fuel, and money.
  • A = Assurance: Your pantry stash makes it easier to deal with power outages, bad weather, transportation disruptions, financial setback, and disaster survival. You'll feel better by being prepared.
  • R = Readiness: Unexpected guests and impromptu celebrations won't cause dismay when you have a few treats ready for snacks and desserts, or even ingredients for a hearty main dish.
  • E = Economy: Take advantage of bargains or bulk buying. Making fewer trips to the store cuts back on impulse buys of expensive and unneeded items by having necessities (and maybe a few treats) on hand.

You might not be able to do it all at once. Start by buying a few extra things each week.

Store Foods You Like

If you stock up on canned foods that you don't really enjoy, they may never be used.

You should keep a continual rotation going. If you are storing foods you like, this is no problem. However, if you are storing just because you might use it "as a last resort," it will probably be wasted.

It can be disheartening to find bulging cans, or ones that have a long-expired "use by" dates, stashed in the back areas of your shelves because you do not really use them regularly.

In an emergency situation, eating foods that nobody really likes is not a morale booster. You want to stock up on your family favorites and foods they will actually eat.

Also, keep in mind that in an emergency situation you may have power outages. Ready-to-eat or quick-cooking foods are especially useful at these times.

Check Expiration Dates

Most expiration dates are conservative. Nevertheless, you want to store the freshest possible food.

Canned goods are usually safe far beyond their "expiration" date, even though quality and color may deteriorate a bit.

Check cans and packages for damage before storing. If your supplies aren't marked with expiry dates, mark your purchase date on them with a permanent pen or marker.

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Stock Up

When you come across a good discount sale on things you regularly use, go for it! This includes good sales on paper goods, cleaning supplies, and other regularly used things that are not going to expire.

Buy a year's worth if you have room, checking the expiry date on food. If you can afford to buy now, think of it as an investment. If it is something you will buy eventually, do it now. It will likely cost more next year.

It is easy to find pantry lists and suggestions for specific items you should store, but you will find that all such lists include things that you, personally, would never use and also exclude some of your own "must-have" items. Customize your list to fit your tastes and needs. It has to be personally needed or usable to be a bargain.

The Covered Wagon List

One example of keeping a working pantry in the early days of the United States was developed during the westward movement.

If you were planning a six-month wagon trip across the plains starting from Saint Louis, Missouri, you likely supplied yourself with certain items. Food for the trip had to be compact, filling, and satisfying—yet lightweight and nonperishable.

Typical list of pioneer staples: Flour, cornmeal, oatmeal, rice, dried beans, split peas, lard, cured bacon, ham or salt pork, jerky, canned sardines and salmon, preserves, jam, pickles, molasses, honey, sugar, spices, herbs, pepper, salt, vinegar, coffee, tea, dried bread, crackers, hops (for making yeast), dried fruits (apples, peaches, raisins, currants, etc.), dried vegetables (onion, celery, peppers. carrots), hard cheese, fresh potatoes, onions, garlic, other root vegetables, hardtack biscuits, baking soda or yeast. Sometimes, pioneers brought along a milk cow and a few chickens.

With the all the modern choices we have, we might not think this list sounds like gourmet or even normal everyday cuisine, but we would still hate to be without most of these basics in hard times.

Instead of lard, we would substitute vegetable oils or shortening. Oils can go bad after a time, but you will still want to have some stored (even "stale" oil can still be used for lamp oil). You may not normally use canned shortening, but as a last resort, it has a very long shelf-life.

Our choices of canned vegetables, fruits, and meats is much wider than it was for the pioneers, and the hardtack would be replaced with a selection of crackers or crisp-bread. Milk, cream, and eggs can now be bought in dry, powdered form.

Non-Food Items

Storable food is important, but other items could become scarce in times of stress. Things disappear quickly in an emergency, and there are many items that can be useful for barter.

In addition to your edibles, store other things you can always use. Again, look for sales and bargains.

Important non-food items: Candles, cooking oil, charcoal, matches, aluminum foil, batteries, garbage bags, toilet paper, clothespins, first aid supplies, duct tape, sewing supplies, vitamins, aspirin, antacids, chlorine bleach, laundry detergent, insect repellent, baby wipes, anti-bacterial gel, personal hygiene items.

We get used to having everyday food and supplies available to buy at our local store. Having them at home, ready for use, can be very helpful.

What's in your pantry?

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