Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.
As I stated in the earlier post, I’ve never been able to create a menu plan then go shopping based on the plan list and stick to it. Some people find they save money with a meal plan but I don’t. I decide what I’ll be eating then shop my pantry. My pantry is filled with food I know I like to eat and is diabetic friendly.
Because I’m depending on food banks and discount bins it means I’m never sure what I’ll get. Of the food I do receive from the mobile food bank I keep what I know I will eat and give the rest away. The food I get varies a lot. I might get a vegetable one week but not see it again for several months. This is the main reason (along with eating healthy) that I preserve as much of the food bank produce as I’m able to get. A full pantry gives me the flexibility of deciding what I want to eat day by day and I’m able to stay within my limited budget.
A typical menu planning website will tell you to plan out your meals for a week or a month then shop accordingly. At the very least we’ve been told to plan meals a week in advance working with whats on sale and what you have that needs using up. You can even find websites that will prepare a shopping list based on your long range meal plans.
The meal plans are based on recipes you choose. Recipes can be found everywhere these days. I don’t know about you but recipes often have ingredients either too expensive for my budget or stuff I just don’t like. I mean really; a single tablespoon of pineapple juice used in one single recipe? Nothing in the recipe is said about what to do with the rest of the can of pineapple. Who can afford to purchase a can of pineapple just to use one tablespoon of juice for one recipe? Ok, before I go off onto a long post about recipes I’ll get back to the pantry idea.
In my personal opinion, planning meals far in advance is entirely backward. Here’s why: 1) a plan will probably not coincide with what’s in the discount bins and managers specials 2) it may not take into consideration any unplanned future activities away from home 3) sticking to a list doesn’t give me leeway to use unadvertised sale items 4) I may find a day when I need to use up leftovers or cook something before it goes bad but a long range plan doesn’t have a use it up day 5) there may be days when a plan says what I’m supposed to be having but I’m in no mood for cooking it or eating it.
I believe having a full pantry is a much better way of saving money in my kitchen. The basic idea (as if you don’t already know) is that you keep your pantry stocked with items you regularly use in cooking and shop there for your meals instead.
Many people use the stocked pantry idea to some extent but, in my opinion, few people take it far enough to save the maximum amount of time or money. The basic idea is that you stock up on food you use all the time that is purchased at the lowest possible price. This means the sole purpose of shopping is to replenish your pantry, not buying ingredients to prepare specific planned meals. There is a big difference. With a well stocked pantry there is no need to plan a week or a month in advance. You would shop your pantry in the same way others shop the grocery on the way home from work.
Do you find yourself going back to the same basic recipes time after time because your family likes them best? Great! That means your pantry should be easy to stock. Those are the ingredients you should keep in your pantry in quantity. Meal plans are just that…. plans. Plans change. Real life rarely goes according to plan.
Knowing you have all the ingredients for one of your family’s favorite quick meals in your pantry relieves any pressure to pick up fast food. If you have all the ingredients and you “learn to cook” you’ll be able to whip out a meal in short order. I don’t mean micro-zap something or open a package you plop into a pan. I mean really learn to cook. Learn to mix and match ingredients according to your own and your family’s tastes. If you can buy it, you can make it yourself. Almost every food in the stores today started with a home cook’s recipe that the food industry capitalized on by changing it and mass producing it.
Just remember a well stocked pantry doesn’t necessarily mean an organized pantry although it helps a lot. The most important thing about a pantry is the food, not the organizing. My pantry will have much different items than your pantry because my favorite recipes and your favorite recipes are not likely to be the same.