Monday, June 3, 2013

Keeping a full pantry for a large family on a budget

I used to be a big menu planner. I spent hours scanning the adds, making list, and scouring recipes. It was time consuming and locked me into set meals. I no longer do that, instead I build up my pantry and fill up my freezer. This is much easier now that we are not eating as many processed foods but it could be done by anyone.
I started by paying attention to the types of food I bought regularly and the meals my family enjoyed most. Then I would keep track of how much we eat of a particular food in a month. For instance, I make all of our bread, biscuits, pancakes, tortillas and the like from scratch, we are a family of 8 so I go through approximately 60 lbs. of flour a month. We eat a lot of Mexican food so I buy approximately 13 lbs of beans a month. When my pantry and freezer are full of the staples I can make meals according to my energy level and needs for each day.  This also allows me to do one major shopping trip a month and saves me a ton of money because there is no impulse buying. If we run out of something before my next shopping trip WE DON'T EAT IT! That is the biggest money saver. If we run out of sugar we use honey or brown sugar. No flour means no baked goods. No milk means we drink goats milk or iced tea or water. This rarely happens anymore, but it does happen. I can decide to whip up a cake or cinnamon rolls and I know I more than likely have the ingredients on hand. I no longer shop for our weekly needs or even our monthly needs, I shop to refill my pantry and freezer staples.
It does take an initial investment and some planning to start building your pantry and if you are like me and on a very tight budget with little if any wiggle room you may have to do it a little at a time. You could start with canned tomatoes. One shopping trip just buy enough canned tomatoes to last you a few months, then next trip maybe its flour. Or, you could do what I did and start at income tax time. I also take advantage of our weekly Market on the Move and my garden for fresh fruits and veggies to can and freeze. You could get fresh produce from your local farmers market, farmer, or your own garden . I buy frozen fruits and veggies too. I buy milk and cheese and freeze it. I have pork and lard from last seasons pig,  pig fat to render into lard from a local farmer and I get some milk from my goat. My chickens aren't laying yet so I buy 10 dozen eggs a month. I only buy whole chicken and I cut it up myself or boil it whole, shred it and freeze. I also freeze the broth from the boiled chicken to use instead of buying bullion which is expensive and unhealthy. Believe it or not I spend less than $500 a month on groceries for a family of 8. Besides the fact that I make and grow some of our food and take advantage of local produce opportunities, I also can and freeze things when they are in season and on sale. I make as many things from scratch as possible. We do not buy junk foods, boxed foods, snack foods, processed meats or pre-made drinks. We drink coffee, milk, water, homemade horchata or aqua frescas (Mexican fruit drinks) and iced tea. It took some learning on my part. But I feel confident knowing I can feed my family healthy food even on my extremely tight budget and it has allowed me to stay home where I can better serve my husband and children.

Here is a sample of my freezer and pantry staples.
 This list does not include everything in my pantry and freezer. I have 4 or 5 gallon sized bags each of green chilies, assorted bell peppers, and tomatoes in my freezer right now because of a trip to Market on the Move. I have a large bag of Jalapenos on my counter waiting to be pickled and  bread and butter pickles I canned a few weeks ago in my pantry. Once you learn to think beyond next weeks meals and your menu and start thinking about food storage and extended pantry items, you start to look for opportunities to add to your staples. You start thinking about what's in season, what can I freeze, what can I can. What is inexpensive right now. Sugar was on sale last time I went shopping and because I wasn't trying to buy according to a menu and I had staple items at home already I was able to take advantage of that sale and stock up on sugar. That is something I won't need to buy next time I do my shopping freeing up money to put towards another item that might be on sale.

Now onto my my list:

  • All Purpose flour
  • Whole Wheat Flour
  • Baking Powder
  • Baking Soda
  • Corn starch
  • Brown sugar
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Pumpkin spice
  • Cinnamon
  • sage
  • Sugar
  • Honey
  • Coconut
  • Powdered milk
  • Olive oil
  • Italian seasoning
  • Chili powder
  • New Mexican chili powder
  • Chili flakes
  • Oregano
  • Cumin
  • Garlic powder
  • Dehydrated onion flakes
  • Basil
  • Bay leaves
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Achote
  • Popcorn
  • Oatmeal
  • Bran
  • Flax seed
  • Chocolate chips
  • Dried cranberries
  • Peanut butter
  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Raisins
  • Prunes
  • Frozen blueberries
  • Frozen straw berries
  • Frozen mixed veggies
  • Milk
  • Coffee
  • Tea bags
  • White rice
  • Brown rice
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Tomato paste
  • Tomato sauce
  • Assorted pasta
  • Italian sausage
  • Whole chickens
  • Frozen green beans
  • Frozen broccoli
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • In season fruits and vegetables
  • Assorted nuts
  • Sour cream
  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Mayonnaise
  • Cocoa powder
  • Clear gelatin
  • pectin
  • lemon juice
I will be adding some make your own mix recipes and ideas for expanding your pantry and ways to cut the boxed foods from your grocery list.