Affording Real Food · Routines

The Pantry Principle – How to maintain your pantry – Part 5

Now that your pantry is building momentum it’s important to keep it rolling in the right direction. Mainly I’m thinking of problems with:

  • Things going bad before they are used.
  • Running low on things you thought you had a lot of.

So let’s consider each problem individually.

Good Food Gone Bad

Most people worry about this when trying to stock up. We wonder, will we ever really eat this many beans? or this much whole wheat? or rice? If I order 10/20/30 hens from the farm will we cook and eat them before they have spent too much time in the freezer?

To get a handle on this it helps to know two things about your food and about your family very, very well:

  • How long each food item will keep.
  • How often your family will eat the item in question.


I know, I know … Captain Obvious strikes again 😉 But really, getting this knowledge deep in your bones is the secret to feeling comfortable with stocking up on things. So read those two points again. Check out the shelf/freezer life of the items in your pantry. Then keep those items that are approaching the end of their life topmost in mind when deciding what to make. Choose recipes to use up those things. Also, many ingredients have a surprisingly long storage period. Dried beans for example have about 2-3 years before there is appreciable vitamin loss. You can store wheat up to 5 years. So don’t be too hasty to throw out food that’s been around for awhile. Check out the shelf life first.

Next consider the recipes that your family favors. Think about how often they will want to eat them and you will want to make them. Think about the ingredients for the recipes, the ones you buy and the ones you make. How much will you need to keep on hand to keep a good supply of made ingredients coming? All of this requires a bit of consideration and everyone will overshoot or undershoot the target pretty often at first. Given a little practice it will all balance out.


Running low on things you thought you had a lot of

This one tends to get me more than having things go bad. I’m often under the impression that I have more on hand than I really do. I find that solving this one is a simple matter of habit. Plan a time at least weekly to review what you have on hand. I usually do this while I’m waiting for something on the stove. Take a peek in your freezer and pantry. First, remove anything that is too old. Move the oldest items to the front so you’ll remember to use them soon. Review what made items are running low as well as raw ingredients. Then consider a plan for replenishing them. For instance, my freezer is pretty low right now. I have a plan in place to buy a 1/2 a small beef that will pretty much use up the remaining space and keep us in a variety of beef for awhile. I kicked that plan off when I noticed we were about halfway thru the amount of beef I like to keep on hand.


So to summarize:

Points to keep in mind for real food pantry maintenance

  • Know your ingredients and how long they keep very, very well.
  • Consider your family’s recipes, what they will like to eat and how often carefully
  • Review what you have in storage weekly moving older items to the front for near term use.

And as a final note to “The Pantry Principle” series …

Learning to cook from a pantry is an ongoing effort for me. I’m continually seeking ways to improve the percentage of nutrient dense local food in my rotation. There are still many traditional techniques for me to learn as well as old uses that new tools can be put to. To that end I am deeply intrigued by Russ Silver’s DVD lecture on Food Storage with the Weston Price way of eating. It received a thumbs up from the Weston Price Foundation in a media review. So I’m planning to check it out. Seems to promise a kind of “black belt” in Weston Price food-storage. Anyone had any experience with it? If so leave a comment below and let us know what you think.


Links to this series:

9 thoughts on “The Pantry Principle – How to maintain your pantry – Part 5

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your Pantry Principle series. I am a Georgia gal and a devoted Tightwad Gazette follower so I feel like I’ve just met a long lost friend 🙂 I had a little trouble adjusting to the real food pantry principle at first (letting go of a stockpile of canned goods and boxed pasta, etc) but have adjusted over the past couple of years and now follow most of your suggestions. I am excited to incorporate some of your ideas to fine tune what I already do. I makes me feel very accomplished! Thanks!


  2. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it 🙂 I went through the same process of change from boxed goods to storing real food. Still looking to learn more about preserving through fermentation. I’ve ordered Russ Silver’s DVD and am hoping it will include even more suggestions. I’ll post again when I know more.


  3. Great series! We’re WAPFers (currently a subset doing GAPS) and also long-time Tightwad Gazette fans. Still trying to wrap my mind around this new way of eating. We’re not doing beans or grains right now and avoid canned foods (BPA is a trigger for my eldest) but I’m hoping to stock up on some frozen items that I know we’ll be using.


  4. This took me some time to learn. When I first started buying in bulk, I bought too much of some things.

    Like… we are just two people here, we didn’t really NEED a 5 gallon bucket of pinto beans. The suckers are years old now and take FOREVER to cook. I need to get chickens again so I can sprout/ferment the beans and turn them into eggs!

    On the other hand, I only ever buy coconut oil in 5 gallon buckets. It lasts about 1 to 1 1/2 years, which is reasonable.

    I’m glad I bought the yellow split peas as I couldn’t find them in smaller quantities anywhere, and hubby insists split pea soup is only good with yellow peas (it’s a Canadian thing, apparently). So… I have a lifetime supply and don’t have to try to hunt them down again.

    My husband went from using 2 heaping tablespoons of sugar in coffee when we first married to using less than a half teaspoon as his taste changed. Of course, this wasn’t predictable, so what I thought was 1-2 years worth of sugar wound up taking nearly 5 years to get through. It was crappy white sugar, but since he uses so much less now, I buy muscavado sugar for him and don’t bother getting it in serious bulk.


  5. I was raised this way, I thought everyone else was odd when growing up. Continued to use a pantry all my married life and taught my girls this way also. Grow a kitchen garden, can, and buy local, just a way of life. I have enjoyed your site and mean to read every word! Thanks!


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