24 October 2012

Two key rules for sensible pantry management

Mormons are counseled to keep on hand enough food and household supplies to last three months or even a full year without returning to the store. "Preppers" sometimes focus just on surviving short-term problems with natural disasters, but they generally dig the one-year rule of thumb, as well.

So let's fast-forward a little bit and say that you have your food supply stored up, for whatever timeframe works for you. That's great! But there's a potential problem brewing. The food you don't eat is money and effort down the drain. It takes up space, cluttering your home. How do you consume what you've stored before it spoils or loses all nutritional value?

Rule 1: Eat out of your food storage. Treat your food supply like a convenience store. Every night after cleaning up from dinner, "go shopping" for tomorrow's dinner in the fridge and the pantry. Find something that's nearing its expiration date, or something looking a little wilted, or something you have a crazy surplus of, and plan the menu around that item. Put some beans on to soak. Pick out the spices you feel like using when you cook the beans tomorrow. Are you running low on something? Add it to your grocery list.

As an aside, note that, depending on how often you go shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables, pantry "shopping" can mean that you may go for a stretch without having a salad or a raw piece of fruit with your meal. Especially in winter, if you don't have a garden. Say you hit the grocery store once a week, on Saturday. Your dark, leafy greens may look pretty gnarly by the next Saturday, so you tend to finish them up early in the week. But what to do by Thursday or Friday when the fridge is getting bare? One thing you can do is start some sprouts on Sunday or Monday. Sprouts from your own seeds, that is, in case your grocery store announces they won't sell them any more.

The main idea here is that if you don't eat out of your food storage, then you risk throwing out everything you have as it expires. That makes no sense! Your food storage isn't some hermetically sealed warehouse or seed bank that you never touch; it's an economically sound and constantly renewing source of nourishment for your household.

Rule 2: Don't store what you won't eat. If you don't have the skill, desire, or equipment to make bread and pasta from whole, unprocessed wheat berries, then don't buy sacks of wheat. If you think pineapple is grody, then don't get a flat of cans just because they're a good source of Vitamin C and fiber and you found them on sale cheap. Many resources in print and on the Internet include "helpful" lists of foods to store, and they'll tell you to keep wheat and canned fruit. But don't blindly follow any list you find. Instead, look at your household's dietary practices and build your pantry based on what you eat now and what works for your meal preparations.

Maybe your household's diet could use some improvement -- most of us would benefit a little change here or there -- but don't waste money building a pantry that you should eat from. Build a pantry that you will eat from. If you don't like or can't use the food in your food storage, then you won't eat out of your food storage. And then you're on the other side of the coin of Rule 1, and you end up wasting the food you acquired because it spoiled before you could steel yourself to choke it down.

There are plenty of other rules and tips to keep in mind for pantry management. You need to give your storage area a good deep cleaning once per year, for example, and you have to keep it organized so that you know what you have, where you have it, and by what date it needs to be used up. But these are the key rules under which all the other rules and tips fall. Happy prepping!

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