21 November 2013

The Perfect Pantry

To me a perfect pantry isn't one where all the canister match, have beautiful labels, with cans all stacked by size, contents and use by. A perfect pantry is one that has the basic staples I need to prepare nutritious and tasty meals for my family without going over the grocery budget.

I can tell you that my pantry doesn't have wall to wall matching canisters, that the tins are not stored in alphabetical order and while some containers have bought labels, many of them have handwritten, sticky-taped on pieces of paper that act as labels. It may not look like something out of Better Homes and Gardens but it works, and that is what counts when it's 5.30pm and the hungry hoards are about to descend.

Getting your pantry to the perfect pantry stage takes time, especially if you are starting from scratch. It takes time to work out which pantry staples you use regularly, which ones you use occasionally and which ones you rarely, if ever use. It also takes a couple of months to determine quantities. If you only eat rice once or twice a year then keeping 20 kilos in the pantry isn't practical. If you eat rice three or four times a week then a 20 kilo bag is a good idea, if you have the room for it!

As you get started keep a list of the ingredients you use when you prepare meals. Write down the flours, sugars, cereals, grains, herbs and spices, sauces, pastas, tins and packets you use and how often you use them. Don't forget to list the things you keep in your freezer too. In most Australian homes these days a freezer forms a part of the pantry too. Use our Pantry Inventory to help you keep track of what you have on hand or need to buy. Hint: this will help you get your pricebook established too.

As you make up your list think about the things your family likes to eat and how you prepare them. Do you use many packets/tins/pre-prepared ingredients? If so think about how you make these foods from scratch using the ingredients you keep in your pantry.

When you do the grocery shopping each week or fortnight start building your pantry, starting with the things that you use the most often. Think about quantities for these ingredients: is it cheaper to buy in bulk? Do you have the room to store larger quantities of these ingredients? Can you afford to buy larger quantities? And most importantly, if you buy larger quantities, will you be able to use it up before the best before or use by dates?

When you get the shopping home update your pantry inventory as you put it away. Then as you plan your meals you can refer to the inventory and use what you have on hand along with whatever fresh food you have in the fridge.

Having a stocked up pantry allows me to shop for groceries once a month (although lately I have been stretching this out to 6 weeks). Combining a well-stocked pantry with menu planning ensures that we eat well-balanced, tasty meals and I don't go over our grocery budget. It also ensures that during the odd week or two when we want to save a little extra we can do a pantry challenge and still eat good food.

For me this is the perfect pantry: flexible enough for variety and frugal – perfect for living the Cheapskates way.

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  1. Where do you get 20kg bags of rice? I could use that. My local grocery stores only stock 1kg packs at best...and sometimes they'll be out of stock.

    1. Any Asian grocer will have bulk bags of rice and a huge range of varieties too. They will also be a lot cheaper than your local supermarket.

  2. Cath, do you have a Pantry inventory we can download please?


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