How to Start a Food Pantry from the Ground Up

Reader Contribution by Tess Pennington and Ready Nutrition
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One of my favorite childhood memories I have about my grandmother is her pantry. She had a long, closet-like pantry with five stacks of shelves on either side. As a child, it seemed like a tower of food and I was in awe of it. She had access to her own mini grocery store and it is something I adopted in my own home.

For a busy family, a food pantry makes perfect sense. It’s more economical, saves you time running to the store for forgotten items, and will also help in times of disasters.

The overall goal for creating a food pantry is to have a wide array of nutritious foods stored away for when you need it the most. In my book, The Prepper’s Cookbook, I wrote how I firmly believe in each household having a food pantry. The key to a well-stocked pantry is to have lots of nutritious, shelf-stable foods at your disposal. The reason being is foods filled with nutrition will carry you farther than lots of junk foods.

Considerations When Starting a Pantry

Before you begin, it helps immensely if you have a plan or an idea of how you want your food pantry to best serve you. Keep theseconsiderations in mind:

The number of people in the household
Serving size of the food
Vitamin content in the food
The expiration date or “best if used by” labels on the food
Special health conditions for family members
How long you want to the food to last
Versatility of the food

Now, once you’ve cleaned and organized your existing pantry, you want to take inventory of what you already have and make a list for what you will need. For instance, you may already have an abundance of canned goods. That’s great! Now, you can cross “canned goods” off your list and move on the next pantry items.

Those who are beginners in starting a food pantry should start looking at foods that have long shelf lives. This will help your food pantry last longer and ensure the investment you make into food will pay itself off. For instance, there are some foods that have the capacity to last a lifetime, if stored correctly.

Pantry Essentials

A great starting point on beginning or extending your pantry are foods that your family already enjoys.

1. Canned fruits, vegetables, meats, and soups
2. Dried legumes (beans, lentils, peas)
3. Crackers
4. Nuts
5. Pasta sauce
6. Peanut butter, jelly, spreads
7. Pasta
8. Flour (white, whole wheat)
9. Seasonings (vanilla, salt, pepper, paprika, cinnamon, pepper, taco seasoning, etc.)
10. Sugar
11. Bouillon cubes or granules (chicken, vegetable, beef)
12. Kitchen staples (baking soda, baking powder, yeast, vinegar)
13. Honey
14. Unsweetened cocoa powder
15. Jell-O or pudding mixes
16. Whole grains (barley, bulgur, cornmeal, couscous, oats, quinoa, rice, wheat berries)
17. Nonfat dried milk
18. Plant-based oil (corn oil, vegetable oil, coconut oil, olive oil)
19. Dry cereals or oats
20. Seeds for eating and sprouting
21. Popcorn (not the microwavable kind)
22. Instant potato flakes
23. Packaged meals (macaroni and cheese, hamburger helper, Ramen noodles, etc.)
24. Purified drinking water
25. Fruit juices, teas, coffee, drink mixes

It would be advantageous to have a two-week supply (at a minimum) of these shelf-stable food items on hand to care for your family. Those who plan on taking the first steps toward getting their pantry in order may feel a bit overwhelmed at first. After all, there is a lot of food to choose from at the grocery stores.

Consider breaking the above list up into sections, and buy each section every time you are at the grocery store. Consider breaking the list up into: canned goods, dry goods, beverages, condiments, snacks, baking essentials, etc. This will help you stay organized and on track.

The most economical way to create a food pantry is to purchase the food items in bulk. 1. You will have multiples of the items you need, 2. Bulk items can save you money in the long run, 3. It simplifies the process and 4. It’s more sustainable. If you cannot buy in bulk, buy as much extra food as you can afford to start stocking up. For example, some grocery stores will have a canned good special, “Buy 10 for $10”. That’s a great deal to take advantage of when you have a pantry.

Using Food from a Pantry

When organizing food reserves, place the item that has the earliest expiration date in the front so that it is used first. “FIFO” is a well-known acronym used in the restaurant business.  It means, “First In, First Out.”  This is a great acronym to use when organizing food pantry.

Do an inventory check every six months to make sure that canned goods, preserves, and other storage items are within their expiration dates. In addition, it is a good idea to have a checklist of supplies so that it can be looked upon during an inventory count.

Hopefully, this primer will get you started on your food pantry endeavors. Remember to keep the dietary needs of your family in mind when stocking up and stay organized. Next time, we will discuss some frugal tips you can use to bulk your food pantry up.

Tess PenningtonstartedReady Nutritionas a way to help her family live more economically. She is the author of The Prepper’s Blueprint, a comprehensive guide that uses real-life scenarios to help you prepare for any disaster, and the highly-ratedPrepper’s Cookbook, which helps you to create a plan for stocking, organizing, and maintaining a proper emergency food supply and includes over 300 recipes for nutritious, delicious, life-saving meals. Subscribe to Tess’ newsletter, and connect with her onFacebook,Twitter, andPinterest.

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