Prepare yourself. This post is going to be about math. Just resign yourself that you’re going to have to do it, find your happy place, and get out a pen, some paper and calculator. Maybe a big eraser, too. We’re going to make some meal plans.
You’ll thank me for it later.
One of the things you learn when you first begin to research preparedness living is that you can build a survival pantry by buying multiples of items you use and storing them. But soon you find out that you have multiples of weird things that you can’t seem to mesh together. And if you’re like me, and not the best candidate for Food Network’s Chopped and can’t create an amazing dish out of thin air from what is provided in your proverbial picnic basket, you need a better plan.
This is where Menu Plans come in.
I keep a menu for the month on the refrigerator. This helps me plan shopping menus, keeps me focused when the “what’s for dinner” panic hits, and lets my family know what to expect for dinner that night. I have a sheet in the front of my recipe card binder that has a list of all of our favorite meals, so that if I get stuck during planning, I can just refer to it. I sit down with the sales sheets of our local grocery store for the week and try to plan based off what the biggest loss leaders will be, but also keep in mind everything I have in my pantry and freezer. But it’s really hard to mesh all that together constantly and keep from buying a bunch of stuff or being stuck with the same 7 meals week in and week out.
But when I began building my pantry, I was frustrated that I was having to buy the same items over and over again each week because I couldn’t keep them in stock. And I wasn’t making the best use of my theory of price lists in buying only when it was at the best price possible. So, to get me started, I came up with an idea that would jump start my basic pantry and allow me to build faster.
Menu Plans for the win.
We’ll take this a step at a time to make it easy, but you’ll find that it comes quickly once you get the ball rolling. If you were ever a Once a Month Freezer Cook, you’ll recognize this method.
1. Take your family’s favorite meal.
2. Write out the recipe X 12 (that’s a year’s worth of that meal if you have it once a month).
3. Buy enough of that product to stock your pantry for the year for that meal.
4. Do it again for the next meal.
Here’s my example:
1 lb of spaghetti noodles X 12 = 12 lbs spaghetti noodles
1 jar of pasta sauce X 12 = 12 jars of pasta sauce
1/2 lb sausage X 12 = 6 lbs sausage
2 TB Italian seasoning blend X 12 = 24 TB Italian Seasoning blend
2 TB parmesan cheese X 4 (4 servings) X 12 = 96 TB parmesan
This is how much of the product we use for just making a main dish of spaghetti we will need for a whole year. This is if everything is store bought, too. If you make everything from scratch, you’ll want to break down the recipe even further from semolina flour for your noodles to how many jars of tomato sauce you need to can. But this gets you a start of how you can plan a single meal to last a year -and there’s a huge bonus if you can get those at your rock bottom price to start with!!!
Note: Be sure to include any condiments normally eaten with that dish, and perhaps even your favorite side dish that goes with it.
The next step would be to move to your next favorite family meal and do the process again. Concentrate on 7 meals (a week’s worth), and make that your first purchase. When you put everything away, you’ll be amazed that you have these 7 meals ready for a whole year. Make them simple meals so that you aren’t overwhelmed with a million ingredients. I’d also caution you to be sure the ingredients you are purchasing are shelf stable for a year. I’d love to have a year’s worth of Tacos ready for my family, but we’ve found that store bought taco shells don’t tend to last that long. So then the next logical step is to go with a soft shell taco, in flour and freeze the excess. Or, make them from scratch each time we need them, being sure to stock up on the raw ingredients to cover it.
I’m including the Word Document that I used to set up all my basic meals for the pantry. If you’re super savvy with Excel, you could do this and have it do the calculations for you. I just prefer this method. I keep a copy of all of the lists in my planning binder and can reference it whenever I need.
As always, please do not share the menu planner worksheet with others, but direct them here to get it.
This can seem like such a daunting task – 31 meals X 3 times a day is a lot of sheets and a lot of work. But remember…do this with your favorite meals first. Start out small and get yourself going. Soon, you’ll find you can duplicate products, you’ll have enough in your pantry to begin buying from the pantry instead of the store (but always remember to keep track of what you used so that you can replenish at the right time), and make the system work for you. You don’t have to do it exactly as I have, but use this as a kick start to develop a system that works for you!
This also does not replace your normal grocery shopping, but gives you a good framework about being smart about what you’re buying, initially, without buying a bunch of extra stuff you’re not always sure you’re going to need, just because you’ve seen it on a list somewhere. This helps build your pantry for the 3 day, 1 week, 1 month, 6 month cycle to make sure you can take care of your family if an emergency arises. Once you’ve found you’ve got a good pantry going, then it will be time to break out and begin buying all the extras that you’ll probably use, and will want to have stocked.
Other Great Resources
The Pantry Primer by Organic Prepper (this is my favorite series – Daisy shows you how to build your pantry from scratch with TONS of useful information)
Emily as an MFA in creative writing and a strong passion for cooking! She started trying out her mother’s recipes from a very young age, turning the time she spent in the kitchen into a career. She will soon publish her very first cookbook, and in her free time, Emily contributes to our blog with resources for all our readers, whether beginners or advanced chefs.