Category Archives for Articles -Week 2

The Lost Art of Scratch Cooking

If you compare the meals served in many of the kitchens today to meals served 100+ years ago, there is one very big difference.  Nearly every meal served in North America has at least one dish that has come from a box, bag, or pouch.

Take breakfast, for example.  Did you have toast?  If so, did you make the bread?  Cereal?  One of those little packs of Quaker oatmeal, all flavored up and just waiting for you to add water?  Did your breakfast originate in the freezer?  Frozen toaster versions of pancakes, waffles and pastries abound in many kitchens.

Several years ago, I did a “Scratch Challenge” during which everything we ate had to be made from scratch – no convenience ingredients allowed.  It wasn’t until I did this that I realized that even in my fairly “clean” kitchen, there still remained a lot of processed items.

If you do a quick survey of your own kitchen, you may be surprised at what you find.  I discovered that the best way to clean up my act was to focus on cooking only from scratch.  Now, my kitchen has only a few holdouts, most of which are there for food storage purposes.

Some of the most common processed items that “sneak in” are dairy and grain products:

  • Bread
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Crackers
  • Pitas
  • Tortillas
  • Cereal
  • Pasta

None of these would be incredibly difficult to make, but they ARE time-consuming.  In a world that is ever-increasingly geared towards convenience, few people take the time to roll out noodles or bake cookies these days.  Birthday cakes come from the bakery, cookies come from a bag with a convenient tab to reseal it, and bread comes from a shelf at the grocery store, so perfectly uniform that if you put it back and mixed all the loaves up, you’d never find the original loaf.  (Anyone who has ever baked a loaf of bread will tell you, they all get a funny lump here and there!)

All of this easy-access food has taken a deeper toll than you might imagine.

…A toll on our health.

…A toll on our waistlines.

…A toll on our ability to make the simplest item on our own.

…A toll on the time we spend with our families.

…A toll on the next generation, when we fail to teach them the arts that are vanishing as our grandparents pass away.

Cooking from scratch is actually an analogy for today’s society.  Those who take the road less traveled are considered eccentric throw-backs to a far away time.

People feel that we are making unnecessary work for ourselves and that our lives would be vastly improved by tossing a shiny cellophane bag of bread into the grocery cart instead of taking a couple of hours to mix the ingredients, knead the dough, let it rise, knead it some more, then shape it into the desired form.

But when you toss that bag of bread into the cart, you are getting undesirable ingredients (and in many cases, toxins).  You are missing out on teaching your child how to judge the composition of the dough by the feel of it in her hands when she kneads it.  You don’t get to inhale that delicious aroma emanating from your oven, and you totally skip that mouth-watering anticipation as you let the loaf rest long enough for you to slice it.  Packaged bread from the store doesn’t serve as so fine a vehicle for melting fresh butter and transferring it your mouth once you finally get to cut into your fresh, wholesome bread.

Scratch cooking is easier than it seems.

Media is partly to blame for making it seem difficult to actually cook.  Most of the advertisements for processed food available at the grocery store tout the convenience of these items.  You never see a mom with flour all over the front of her apron and her hair in a pony tail.  Instead, the TV-commercial mothers are perfectly coiffed, wearing high heels and a skirt, placing a dish on the table with a flawlessly manicured hand.  They are never rushed or harried, of course, because they’ve used pre-shredded cheese along with their premade noodles and their can of sauce.  They look like they just stepped out of the office and “poof” a dinner has appeared in their kitchens.

If you can read and possess the ability to use a measuring cup, you can cook.  It’s that simple.  It seems almost fashionable lately to claim an inability to cook, as though preparing food is beneath a certain level of sophistication.  When you start out, sure, there is some trial and error.  Sometimes you end up having a peanut butter sandwich in the early years.  But for the most part, with some very basic tools, cooking is foolproof.

Case in point:  my oldest daughter was a little bit behind on reading when she was in 3rd grade.  However, she had a fascination with cooking.  So, to help improve her reading skills, I began letting her cook.  She would pore through my cookbooks and choose a meal.  She’d make a list, then we’d check what we had in the house and what we needed from the store.  When she was 9 years old, she made a cheese lasagna, from scratch, including the marinara sauce, completely unaided. (And it was delicious!)

Basic scratch cooking is not some mysterious art that requires 4 years at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris – it’s just a simple matter of reading  instructions and putting them into action.

It doesn’t take that much additional time.

The thing is, with a bit of pre-planning, even the busiest working mother can cook from scratch, without the use of convenience items.

Every weekend I spend a few hours in the kitchen prepping food for the week ahead. I do some baking (cookies, granola bars, and bread), clean and chop up veggies, pack little containers of healthy snacks for my daughter’s lunch, and cook a few items to be used throughout the week.  I usually roast something on the weekend and cook up some seasoned ground beef or turkey, then add these things to meals throughout the week.  I was more focused on this when I worked outside the home, but still do it to some degree.

Never forget about your crock pot!  That valuable kitchen appliance can have dinner ready and waiting when you get home from a long day at the office, in the garden, or out with the kiddos.  It makes delicious pot roasts and even rotisserie-style chicken!  It’s also great for soups, stews, chili and spaghetti sauce.  You can make the cheapest cut of meat tender and delicious by slow-cooking it for 10 hours on low, so this is helpful to the budget as well.

There are many healthy foods that are convenient when you’re in a pinch.

If you’re looking for convenience (and let’s face it, we all need convenience sometimes!) here are a few “fast foods” that fall into the scratch category.

  • Nuts
  • Trail mix
  • Fresh fruit
  • Dried Fruit
  • Salad (extra points if you’ve already assembled it and just need to dip some out and add dressing!)
  • Veggies like carrots, radishes, sugar snap peas, celery and cherry tomatoes
  • Steamed veggies with cheese
  • Eggs (super fast to fry, scramble or boil)
  • Yogurt (that has already been made earlier) topped with fruit and granola)
  • Leftovers
  • Cheese (opt for a healthy version without additives and artificial colors)

It’s healthier.

Any item you make from scratch is going to be far healthier than its convenience food equivalent.  Take cookies, for example.  Who doesn’t love cookies?  I bake them 2-3 times per week – there are always some in the jar.  However the ones I make at home contain wholesome ingredients like freshly ground flour, organic sugar, coconut oil and dried fruit.  The ones that I would buy at the grocery store, 9 times out of ten, would contain unsavory items like HFCS, genetically modified ingredients and fruit preserved with sulfites.

The sad thing is, if you look at the labels on the convenience items at the store, they like to tout the health benefits all over the brightly colored package. It makes me livid that people are being fooled by this.  Stamps of approval from the FDA, the American Heart Association, the USDA and other nutritional agencies mean absolutely nothing except that the manufacturer of the product has made all the right donations.  If a food has to be “fortified” with vitamins and minerals, that essentially means that the basic food has been depleted of those beneficial nutrients and that they had to be added back in artificially.  Your body is miraculously designed to take nutrients from food and doesn’t recognize many of these artificial versions of nutrients as such.

When you make it yourself, you know precisely what is in it. You know that your family member with allergies is safe, that you aren’t unknowingly consuming GMOs and that you aren’t ingesting preservatives that do double duty as drain cleaner.

It’s cheaper.

You will save a TON of money cooking it yourself.   For example, a one cup serving of brown rice, cooked in broth and prepared from scratch costs less than 10 cents (and contains nothing yucky).  A one cup serving of flavored Uncle You-Know-Who’s rice costs up to $1.  A cup of oatmeal from bulk-purchased steel cut oats costs about 5 cents, but a little brown packet that you pour boiling water over costs 50 cents.

The reason for this?  Time is money.  Whether it’s your time or the food manufacturer’s time, there is a cost involved.  Some people feel that it’s worth it to pay for this convenience.  What they don’t consider is that the hands-on time in cooking these items from scratch is often minimal.  I use the oven to bake my brown rice and all I have to do is bring the pot to a boil on the stove top, put it in the oven for 1 hour, and walk away.  If that hour is not “hands on time” then I really don’t think that it could be considered an hour of actual work, do you?

Shopping to stock your pantry and purchasing basic items in bulk will save you a fortune at the grocery store.  As an added bonus, you’ll find that by keeping a good supply of all of your basic items, you will end up having to make fewer trips to the grocery store.  (And come on, every time you go to the store, if you’re anything like me, you end up with at least ONE thing that wasn’t on your list!  See?  More savings!)

It’s a necessary skill for a prepper.

When you think about the skills you need for preparedness, cooking might not be the first thing to come to mind.  You might consider marksmanship, carpentry, bush crafting or first aid, but keep in mind that a good hot meal is too valuable to be overlooked.  Not only does it nourish your family, but it is also a comfort in a world that might have just become incredibly frightening.

Many of your preparedness purchases will be “ingredients” rather than meals.  Many preppers have pounds and pounds of rice, beans, wheat berries and oats, but they won’t do you much good if you don’t know how to prepare them. It’s important to learn now what to do with these items when back-up is as close as the grocery store or pizza delivery.  It takes practice to make a tasty pot of beans or too cook brown rice to the perfect fluffy consistency and in an SHTF scenario, you don’t want to risk wasting precious food.

The other thing to consider from a preparedness point of view is that if the supply lines are down, you won’t be able to go to the grocery store to replace your boxes of Rice-A-Roni.  You may, however, be able to replenish basics like flour or grains through barter with local farmers.  One of these days, so-called convenience items may be a thing of the past, an artifact from a world rocketing towards collapse.

Here’s how to get started with scratch cooking.

The first thing you need to do is acquire a good cookbook.  I have lots of cookbooks that have been purchased at yard sales and library sales over the years. I find that the most valuable, the ones I turn to again and again, are the old books.  I really love cookbooks that were written during the Great Depression, or even earlier.  My prized possession is my Fanny Farmer cookbook, written in 1896 and originally published as The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.  I have referred to this book again and again, because it has instructions for things that are rather difficult to find in more modern tomes.  As well, you don’t find ingredients like canned “cream of chemical” soup – you are walked through making a basic bechamel sauce instead.

With the internet you can find basic instructions for making just about anything.  Find an author that doesn’t use hard-to-find ingredients and that shows step by step illustrations.  I really love the Martha Stewart website for the clarity of the instructions, but Martha is in a rather different economic bracket and sometimes her recipes contain very pricey ingredients.  Her 101 articles can’t be beat, though!

Next, be sure you have some basic kitchen supplies.  You need basic cookware and utensils, obviously.   Other useful (but not 100% necessary) items are:

  • a kitchen timer (this is very very important unless your attention span is far more keen than mine)
  • an inexpensive little food processor
  • an instant-read thermometer (more important when your just starting out – later you will be able to judge when something is the “right” temperature)
  • a good sharp knife
  • a box grater with different sized holes
  • a set of measuring cups and spoons
  • a colander
  • a whisk
  • a potato masher
  • a crock pot

I’m not a huge fan of gadgets, particularly electric ones.  You don’t want to be reliant on those and then suddenly have to make everything without them in the event that the grid goes down.  Bread machines, for example, while wonderfully convenient, would be of little use without power.  If you are already faced with having to cook using alternative methods (like over an open fire) you don’t want to also have to learn how to knead dough.  Trust me, in such a situation, you’ll have enough challenges!

Experiment!

Once you have the basics down, you can begin to experiment, and this is what separates the “decent” cooks from the really “great” cooks.  Initially, don’t veer too far from the original recipe.  You can start by altering the spices to suit the preferences of your family.  Next thing you know, you’ll look at a recipe, get a general idea of what they’re making and then set off to create your own unique dish!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Fine (and Frugal) Art of Repurposing Leftovers

In these times of budget cuts, rising food costs, job losses and ever-increasing expenses, we can’t afford to let anything go to waste.  In fact, it isn’t far-fetched to consider this our practice run for the tough days that may be ahead.

One way to stretch your food budget is with the humble leftover.

Have you ever been really poor?  I don’t mean “I can’t afford Starbucks until my next paycheck” poor.  I mean “Should I buy food or pay the electric bill before the power gets shut off” poor.

I have absolutely been that poor, back when my oldest daughter was a baby. When you are that broke, every single bite of food in the house counts.  You cannot afford to let anything go to waste.  This is where the “Menage a Leftover” bucket in the freezer comes in.

In our freezer, we kept an ice cream tub.  After each meal, those tiny amounts of food that don’t add up to a full serving got popped into the bucket.  And because of our situation, I often would take food that was uneaten on a family member’s plate to add into the bucket.  Desperate times, desperate measures.  What people might consider “gross” in good times, they would feel lucky to have in bad times.  Then, usually about once per week, the contents of that bucket in the freezer were turned into a meal.

I drew some criticism from friends and relatives during that time for the distance I went not to waste a single bite of food.  A few people commented that it was ridiculous, others thought combining all those different foods in the freezer was  disgusting and one person even referred to the meals as “garbage disposal meals”.  It stung a little at the time, but looking back, I’m glad to have had that experience.  I can draw upon it if times become difficult in the future.  While other people are trying to figure out where their next meal is coming from, I know that I can take the same amount of groceries and make at least 2 more meals out of them.

I always considered meals from the leftover bucket to be “free food” because they were items that you’d normally throw out.  So, let’s say, you have a little bit of broccoli, some mashed potatoes, some beef gravy, a scoop of ground beef, some corn…you know?  The remains of meals.  What can you do with that?

This is where being creative with the spices comes in.  I might take the above, add a can of beans and a tin of tomato paste, and turn it into a chili-flavored soup.  Alternatively, I could stir in some yogurt and some noodles and make it into a creamy casserole, well-seasoned with thyme.  I could sprinkle a bit of cheese on it, wrap it in pie crust and make turnovers.  The trick is to make something totally new and different from it so that it doesn’t even seem like leftovers.  Some of the concoctions were absolutely delicious – so good that we recreated them with fresh ingredients later on.  Others were not-so-great. Only a couple of times did we end up with something that was really awful.

If you can serve your family one “freebie” meal per week that results in a savings, for a family of 4, of about $10 – $520 over the course of a year.  It doesn’t sound like much until you add it up, does it?

We don’t always do the leftover bucket these days because times are not as tight as they were back then.  However, we do creatively use our leftovers. Here are a few ways to remake leftovers into something new and delicious.

Leftover Buffet

We have some nice little oven safe dishes that are divided.  We use these on “Leftover Buffet Night.”  Simply put, all the items from the fridge are placed on the counter.  Everyone takes their divided dish and helps themselves to whatever leftovers they’d like for dinner.  The dish is then placed in the oven and heated up – sort of like a “TV Dinner” of choice.  Aside from the kids scrapping it out over the last enchilada, this is generally very successful.

Soup

When I don’t have quite enough to make 2 full servings, but it’s a bit more than one serving, I often make soup.  I can broth on a regular basis, so it’s an easy thing to grab a jar of broth, chop up the meat and add some vegetables and a grain.  You can stretch your soup by adding barley, pasta or rice.  If you have fresh bread to serve with it and a little sprinkle of parmesan or cheddar for the top, you have a hot, comforting meal for pennies.

Puree

I use this technique quite often with leftover root veggies.  Using a food processor, puree potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips or other root vegetables.  You can add milk, broth, or even water to thin the puree to the consistency of soup.  Season with garlic powder, onion powder and other appropriate spices, and garnish with a tiny amount of bacon, chives, cheese or sour cream.  Other vegetables that are suited for puree are cauliflower, broccoli, and squash.

Pie

This is a great way to use up leftover meat and gravy.  In the bottom of a pie pan or cast iron skillet, stir  meat that has been cut into bite-sized pieces with gravy.  If you don’t have leftover gravy, a creamy soup, a bechamel sauce, or a thickened broth will work.  Add in complimentary vegetables, also in bite sized pieces.  We like peas, corn, and carrots with poultry, and green beans, carrots, and potatoes with beef.  Add seasoning if needed.

Top your pie with either a standard pie crust, cornbread batter, or with a biscuit dough topping.  (2 recipes below)  Bake as directed, then allow to cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

For even smaller amounts of leftovers (or picky eaters) you can use individual sized ovenproof containers or ramekins to make single serving “pies”.  I’ve also used  muffin tins designed for the jumbo muffins to make individual pies.  When using a muffin tin, you will want to make it a two crust pie to enclose the filling.

Pockets

If I bake it in a pocket, my kids will eat it.  Whether the filling is savory or sweet, there’s something about a piping hot turnover that makes anything delicious.

The key with a pocket is that the filling cannot be too runny.  So,  for a savory pocket, you can mix a small amount of gravy, tomato sauce or cheese sauce with your meat and/or veggies, but you don’t want it to ooze all over the place as soon as someone takes a bite.  If you want to eat this as a handheld food, allow it to cool for at least 15 minutes before eating it.

You can use pie crust or pizza dough for your pockets.  Pizza dough is our personal favorite because it is a bit more filling.  I make pockets and keep them in the freezer.  I take them out the night before and place them in the refrigerator – by noon the pocket is thawed and makes a delicious lunch-box treat at school.

We like pockets with veggies and cheese sauce; meat, mushrooms and gravy; meat and bbq sauce; pizza toppings, marinara and cheese; and meat and cheese.   Another favorite is empanada style: meat flavored with Mexican spices, mixed with salsa, beans and cheese.   As well, you can fill pockets with chopped fruit that is  topped with either cream cheese or syrup for a dessert-style turnover.

Casseroles

The fact is, you can mix nearly anything with a creamy sauce and top it with a crispy topping and you have a tasty down-home casserole.   A basic casserole consists of pre-cooked meat, a veggie, a sauce, a grain and a topping.  Bake at approximately 350 for 30-45 minutes until bubbly and the top is browned.  The less meat and veggies you have, the more cooked grains you should add.  Try barley, quinoa, rice, pasta or wheatberries to stretch your casserole.  Instant comfort!  For toppings, you can use stale bread that has been finely chopped in the food processor, cheese, crumbled crackers, crumbled cereal, or wheat germ, just to name a few items.  I often use things that have perhaps become a bit stale – just another way to use up a food that would otherwise be discarded.

Be creative!

You’re only limited by your imagination when it comes to turning your leftovers into delicious, tasty new meals.  Think about your family’s favorite dishes.  For us, it is anything in a pocket, pot pies and creamy soups.  Therefore, when repurposing my leftovers, I try to frequently gear the meals towards those types of foods.  A hint of familiarity makes the meal more easily accepted by those you are feeding.

Recipes

Pie Crust

The beauty of my granny’s pie crust recipe is the versatility – you can use what you have.  Ideally, I use butter and water for the fat and liquid, however, I have used many different ingredients with excellent results.  This recipe makes enough for one double crust pie or two single crust pies.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of fat (butter, shortening, coconut oil, lard, vegetable oil)
  • 2 tsp of salt
  • ½ cup  of liquid (water, milk, whey)

Directions

  1. Place your liquid in a dish with a few pieces of ice, if available.  Keep this in the refrigerator while you’re combining the other ingredients.
  2. Combine the flour and salt.
  3. Cut the butter or fat into tiny pieces and incorporate it into the flour mixture, either with a pastry cutter, a food processor, or a couple of knives.  Once the mixture resembles cottage cheese curds, you have combined it sufficiently.
  4. Add your ice water to the mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time.  This is where practice makes perfect – after you make this a couple of times, you will begin to know when it looks and feels “right”.    Use a fork to mix this into the dough – if you use your hands you will heat up the dough too much and the crust won’t be as flaky.
  5. You don’t want to dough to be wet and sticky – you want it to be sort of stringy and lumpy.  When you think you have the right consistency, squeeze some dough in your hand – if it stays into a nice firm ball, it’s time to move on to the next step.  If it is crumbly and doesn’t stick together, you need more water.
  6. Make the dough into 2 balls and press them down.  Place them, covered, in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
  7. On a floured surface, roll out the dough with a heavy rolling pin until it is thin but not broken.  Fold your circle of dough into quarters and carefully move the dough over to your pie pan.

Bake as per your recipe’s directions or at about 375F for approximately 45 minutes for a two-crust pie or 35 minutes for a one crust pie.

Pizza Dough

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 1 tbsp of  sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp of active dry yeast
  • 3 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tsp saltDirections
  1. Stir water, sugar and yeast together and allow it to sit for 5 minutes.
  2. Add olive oil and salt, then stir in the flour until well blended.
  3. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, then let it rise, covered, for 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 425F.
  5. Knead the dough again, then break off balls of dough.  Roll them out and cover one half with the desired topping.
  6. Fold the other half over the topping, moisten edges with water, and press them together with the tines of a fork.
  7. Place the pocket on a greased baking sheet.
  8. Once all the pockets are on the baking sheet, brush them lightly with olive oil.  If desired season the top with a sprinkle of garlic powder and salt, or whatever herbs are appropriate.
  9. Bake for  20-25 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.

Biscuit Dough

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 3 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of  milk
  • 1 tbps of white vinegar
  • 3 tbsp of cooking oil
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Mix milk and vinegar in a small bowl and allow it to sit for about 5 minutes.
  3. Mix flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add milk and vinegar mixture, and oil.
  4. Stir just enough to hold dough together.
  5. Knead lightly about 10 times on a well-floured surface.
  6. Pat or roll dough about 1/2-inch thick .
  7. You can move the dough in one piece over to your pie pan or you can cut circles with a floured drinking glass and place the individual biscuits on the dish you are topping.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Top with butter if desired.
This recipe can be used for biscuits – simply bake for 10-15 minutes.  
As well, you can roll this dough out and cut it into thin strips, dropping it into boiling broth until it floats to the top (7-10 minutes) to make dumplings.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

* 5 Frugal Shopping Strategies to Help You Build a Pantry for Pennies

One of the most common reasons that people give for not prepping is the cost involved.  People seem to have this mental image of a bedroom or basement dedicated to being filled to the rafters with cans of Chef-Boy-Ardee.  They imagine someone going out and spending $5000 at a time for a year’s worth of food, or perhaps an 18-wheeler backing up into their driveway and unloading the contents with a forklift.

It’s time to learn a whole new way to shop. Thrift is of the utmost importance if you want to be able to afford to build your pantry quickly.

The fact is, a pantry is a work in progress and a whole new type of personal economy.  You can save a fortune on your food budget by shopping carefully and in quantity.

A well-stocked food pantry is an investment: purchasing food at today’s prices is a great hedge against tomorrow’s increases.  The cost of food will only be going up.  Consider the drought that has ravaged California, the number one producer of fresh fruits and vegetables in the entire country. Farmers there have been forced to cut back on the amount they produce, due to water shortages.  Livestock herds have been culled because they can’t grow enough to feed them. Winters are longer and more severe in other parts of the country, leading to shortened growing seasons and freak storms that destroy newly planted crops.  Your pantry is your insurance against drought, pestilence, bad weather, and rising prices.

Take peanut butter, as an example:  A few years ago, I purchased a store-brand peanut butter for $1.88 per jar when it was on sale.  The following year, that very same brand in the very same sized jar was $5.99 on sale because of a poor peanut harvest.  Each jar of peanut butter on the shelves represented a savings of $4.11  – there is no other investment that gives you over a 200% return.

Here’s why I keep a well-stocked pantry

Before I even knew what prepping was, I had a well-stocked pantry because I learned the hard way how quickly things can change.

When I was first married and had a newborn baby, I was struggling to put food on the table with our tiny grocery budget.  Then, as life often has it, things got even worse when my husband got laid off. We had a few dozen bags of sale-purchased bagels in our freezer, a few jars of peanut butter in the pantry, and high hopes for the garden we had just planted. Our situation was desperate, and the new little addition to our family added to our panic.

As we rationed out our bagels with peanut butter over the next few weeks, waiting for unemployment insurance to finally kick in, my husband frantically searched for a job and I became determined to never be in such a position again. (Think Scarlett O’Hara waving her dirty fist around.)

scarlett i'll never be hungry again

Since we had absolutely no money for entertainment, the library was my saving grace throughout this time.  One day, searching for answers among the shelves, I stumbled upon a series of books by Amy Dacyczyn called “The Tightwad Gazette“.  These three volumes gave me a whole new perspective on grocery shopping, and is still the shopping basic philosophy I adhere to today. (By the way, I highly recommend the books – you can get one big compendium containing all 3 titles for less than $15.)

The TG recommends something called “The Pantry Principle.”  It’s a process that saves both time and money. The idea is to consistently stock up on items at the lowest possible prices, creating a supply of ingredients at rock-bottom cost.  This means sometimes you have to say no to preparing a meal just because it sounds good. You have to discipline yourself to adhere to a whole new way of shopping that does not supply just food for the week, but replenishes your pantry, again, at the lowest possible prices.

#1 Create a Price Book

First, start a “price book” – this is a vital tool. Without it, you can’t really be sure if that sale is really a sale at all.  A price book is simply a notebook that you keep with you when shopping, into which you write down the price that you pay for certain items.  You should always update your price book with the lowest price for these items.  This is what allowed me to see that at one point I paid $1.88 for peanut butter and a year later the lowest price I could find was $5.99, like I mentioned above.

In The Tightwad Gazette, Amy Dacyczyn wrote:

My price book is a small loose-leaf binder. Each page contains prices for one item, and the pages are in alphabetical order for quick reference. I include my code for the store name, the brand, the size of the item, the price, and the unit price.

I began by writing down prices on sale flyers and from my grocery slips. I made a few trips to compare prices of specific items. It quickly became evident that not every sale was really a sale. But when I did find a good buy, and I could verify it with months of records…what power! I could stock up with confidence.

At first you may think this is too much work and the idea of shopping at so many stores will be inconceivable. It will pay off. A good strategy is to shop at different stores each week of the month so that within a 30-day cycle you can hit them all. We have our shopping system down to once a month with only a few short trips to hit unbeatable sales.

[A price book] revolutionized our shopping strategy more than anything else we did. For the first time we had a feeling of control over our food budget.

It might take you a total of five hours to make up a price book for comparison shopping, but after several years of supermarket excursions, you may discover that your hourly “pay” for those five hours was over $1,000.

You’ll discover all sorts of trends with this type of record keeping:

  • Your local sales cycles
  • When certain items tend to be loss leaders
  • Which stores are consistently cheaper for specific ingredients
  • Whether a highly promoted sale is actually a good deal or not
  • Whether a big package of whatsits is a better deal than individually purchased whatsits at a different store

Speaking of sizes…

#2 Always Calculate the Unit Price

Be sure to record the size of the package you are purchasing so that you can accurately calculate the unit price. A unit price is vitally important.  If you happen to go to one of those giant, members-only warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club, you may discover that although a huge package seems like a good deal, it was actually cheaper to purchase the items in smaller quantities elsewhere.

The unit price tells you the cost per ounce, per gallon, per pound, etc., of what you want to buy.

Just divide the cost by the quantity.  Here’s an easy-peasy example:

$100/25 pounds = $4 per pound

The goal is to compare the unit prices to find the best deal. Here’s an example of this:

  • 2 pounds of chocolate at $3.80
  • 1.5 pounds of chocolate at $2.70

In this case the unit is 1 pound, and the unit prices are:

  • $3.80/ 2 pounds= $1.90 per pound
  • $2.70/ 1.5 pounds = $1.80 per pound

You know how most businesses try to convince you the bigger package is always the better deal? That’s not always the case. In this situation, the second package of chocolate, although a smaller quantity, is actually a better bargain.

Another reason you must compare unit prices as opposed to simply grabbing a package that looks the same is the sneaky maneuver that food manufacturers use of reducing the contents of a package and selling it for the same price as before.  For example, one company used to sell 1 pound cans of coffee.  As prices went up, it appeared their price was the only one to remain the same. However, reading the label showed that they had reduced the amount of coffee in the can to 14 ounces.  This misleading marketing ploy will become even more common as production prices continue to rise.

#3 Turn Pennies into Dollars

Now that you know you can confidently identify a good bargain, let’s move on to the next step in your new shopping style: saving pennies that add up to dollars.

When you find a staple at a good price, purchase in as much quantity as you can afford and reasonably use before it expires.  This will allow you to begin building your stockpile.  After a couple of months of shopping in this manner, you’ll discover that you don’t actually “grocery shop” anymore – you shop to replenish your stockpile.

Items that you stockpile should be foods that you regularly consume.  If you normally eat steak and potatoes, for example, but you fill your pantry with beans and rice, when the day comes that you are relying on that pantry you will suffer from “food fatigue” and you will also feel deprived. Start now by adjusting the food that you consume on a regular basis to foods that will be sustainable in a food storage pantry.

Once you have the hang of it, you can apply this same pantry principle to nearly everything that you purchase. Your pantry doesn’t have to stop at the kitchen. Use your theory of Preppernomics to keep your household running smoothly on far less money!

  • Soap
  • Toilet paper
  • Shampoo
  • Kitty litter
  • School supplies
  • Garbage bags
  • Toothpaste

You get the idea – anything that you normally purchase, if you purchase it at deep discount, will add up to tremendous savings.

You may be saying, “Wait a minute, Daisy. I don’t have time to run all over the place just to save 10 cents here and 25 cents there.  This is ridiculous.”

It’s not as crazy as it sounds.  Here’s why.

It’s a cumulative savings.

Think about a cart full of groceries during a weekly shopping trip. You might have 100 items in your cart for the week ahead, right.

So, let’s say you save 10 cents on every single item in your cart. (Which, when you’re shopping like this is a very low savings – you’ll probably save far more.)

In a cart with 100 items, you’ve saved $10 in a week.

If you do that every single week over the course of an entire year, you’ve saved $520.

If you apply this to everything you purchase, can you see how quickly this could add up for you? You can save thousands of dollars per year and have a loaded pantry, ready to sustain you through emergencies.

#4 Plan your shopping trips with the precision of a military maneuver.

If you’re driving without a plan all over the place to hit the sales, you aren’t really going to save enough money to make it worthwhile in most cases. You should shop with a plan in order to maximize your time and fuel costs.

Most areas distribute free weekly flyers to your house. These are good for more than just lining the bottom of the litter box.  If you are in an area where you don’t get sales flyers, you can generally find them online.

These sales flyers will help you to identify “loss leader” items that are geared to get customers in the doors. The loss leader is simply the unbeatable, oh-my-gosh-what-a-sale bargain to get you in the door at which point they hope you’ll purchase other dramatically overpriced items just because you’re there.  This is a technique usually used by big corporations, so I have no qualms whatsoever about beating them at their own game and stopping JUST to purchase the loss leader items in quantity.

It isn’t always worthwhile to go far out of your way to purchase the loss-leaders, though. You have to establish a sensible route and pick up sale items along the way. Wasting half a tank of gas just to save 50 cents per item isn’t thrifty at all.

Spend a couple of hours each week writing down the sales that seem good.  Then, check your price book and compare the unit costs. Are the advertised items really a good deal?

While I do recommend making a list, it’s vital to remember, the list is not the Gospel – it is just a guideline. You know how some of those websites preach strict adherence to your lists and menus?  Ignore them!

Here’s why: Let’s say you have a whole chicken on your list, but chicken is outrageously expensive this week. But, pork is on sale. Doesn’t it make a lot more sense to take that into consideration? Be flexible.

For the thriftiest possible shopping trip, your list should include:

  • Items that you have coupons for
  • Sale items, listed by store, that are a good deal
  • Must-have items, like milk if you have small children (there should be very few must-have items – flexibility is the key to a barebones budget!)
  • Ingredients that you require for your meal plans (again, this should be flexible – also, don’t waste money on an ingredient that you can only use in one dish if your budget is tight!)
  • Map your route before you go – if you have several stops to make, do so efficiently and without backtracking.
  • Organize your lists by store

If a store is out of the way from the other shops you plan to hit, think about the week ahead. Do you have any errands or obligations that will take you to that store?  There is a warehouse store about an hour away from us. Any time we have an appointment in that city, we plan ahead to allow some extra time to stop at the warehouse store and stock up.

When embarking on an afternoon of sales shopping, it can be a good idea to put some ice in a cooler for housing perishable food. Try to plan to pick up most of the perishable items on your last stop.

Here are a few more tips to help you keep the budget under control if you are spending an afternoon stockpile shopping:

  • Eat before you go – hunger can impair your judgment because everything just looks so darned good!
  • Take a bottle of water or a cup of coffee with you so that you aren’t tempted by the coolers or the Starbucks at the front of the store.
  • Go alone – it is always far more expensive with a spouse or a child in tow. Admit it, who among us hasn’t bought something frivolous just to make another family member happy?

#5 Make bulk purchases

It gets even better when you begin purchasing in bulk quantities instead of grocery store quantities.

Let’s look at some more math – and you’ll see why maintaining a pantry beats out weekly grocery shopping every time.

I purchase my beef in bulk from a local farmer through a butcher shop.  They raise hormone-free meat, the cattle are grass fed, the animals are treated humanely, and the quality is superior.  Because I purchase 1/4 of a cow each year, I’m able to get all of my beef at $3.99 per pound.

Compare this to the grocery store (and we’re only talking about price, not the superior quality of the meat purchased farm direct):  the best price this week for stewing beef was $4.99 per pound.  The best price for ground beef was $2.99 per pound.  The best price for roast was $9.99 per pound.  When you average all of these together, I pay slightly more for ground beef and far less for everything else. As well, I have the added benefit of excellent quality meat that is cut and wrapped to order, and I’m avoiding the nasty chemicals and factory farming practices that taint the grocery store meat. The average grocery store price per pound, on sale, is $5.99

·         Pantry method: $3.99 per pound

·         Regular shopping method: $5.99 per pound

Now, for another example, let’s look at grains.

When I lived in Canada, I bought organic wheat berries. I paid $17.04 for 10 kg (about 22 pounds).  The shipping was $21.78, bringing my total to $38.82, delivered to my door – or $1.76 per pound. I couldn’t get wheat berries at the local store.  I had to drive an hour and 15 minutes to get them, resulting in a tank of gas. At the closest place I can find wheat berries, the cost in bulk is $2.60 per pound. Yes, I could buy a smaller amount, but purchasing the larger amount also results in savings because of fewer trips to the store.

Most food calculators recommend 300 pounds of wheat per person per year.  This would be wheat for making bread, pasta, cookies and other baked goods.   If you are buying your wheat already processed into bread, pasta and cereal, the price continues to climb.

·         Pantry method: $1.76 per pound

·         Regular shopping method: $2.60 per pound

At $1.76 per pound, that costs $529 per year. Per person. At $2.60 per pound, that costs $780 per year.  Per person. If you can do this with all of your staples, you can see the savings that can be achieved. That is over $1000 per year for a family of four, for just one item.

Some of the things I buy in extremely large quantities are:

  • Beef
  • Sugar
  • Wheat
  • Cornmeal
  • Oatmeal
  • Coconut Oil
  • Quinoa
  • Beans
  • Popcorn
  • Tomatoes
  • Dry milk

You’ll be astonished at how life-changing it is to shop for your pantry instead of to fulfill your weekly grocery list. Stock up and prepare for that rainy day that could be just around the corner.  And if the rainy day never comes, you’ve saved time and money while providing healthy food for your family.

 ***

This is an excerpt from  The Pantry Primer: A Beginner’s Complete Guide to Creating a Food Stockpile on a Budget.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

* How to Build a 30-Day Emergency Food Supply…Fast

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you may be feeling on edge.  You may feel as though time is running out for you to get your preparedness supplies in order. You may be new to prepping, and feeling like there’s too much to accomplish.  The stress in our country is at peak level.  We’ve listened to the war drums beat louder. We’ve witnessed riots breaking out in cities across America. We’ve watched the bumbling efforts of officials to respond to natural disasters and potential pandemics. The economy is in a freefall, and terrorist groups declare Jihad on anyone who doesn’t share their religious beliefs.

This feeling of urgency can make you feel hopeless and panicked, and that’s not productive.  There’s no time for a lack of productivity. It’s time to focus and create your food supply…fast. If an event occurs during which you are unable to leave your home, you want to make certain that you can keep food on the table without waiting for a handout to be doled out at the whim of some government agency. Such an event could be a mandatory quarantine, self-imposed isolation due to a pandemic, civil unrest in your town, martial law, or even a terrible storm that leaves you stranded, with no access to the store.

Generally I write about healthy food. I write about focusing on whole foods without additives, and I firmly believe that is the very best way to build your food supply.  I believe strongly in the value of a pantry that you will use day to day to nourish your family.

However, if you do not have a food supply waiting in your pantry, now is the time to focus on creating an emergency stockpile quickly.  You can then add healthier options at your leisure. The quantities in this article are per person, so you’ll need to multiply this by the number of people in your home. You can order these items online and get them to your door within a couple of days.

Alternatively, you can shop around and try to find duplicates locally. You can also create a food plan, make a list, and go shopping, purchasing the highest quality items available, and repackaging them for longer shelf life.

However you opt to build your food supply, please don’t hesitate. If a worst case scenario occurred, the goal is to be able to feed your family for at least a month.

Create a stockpile with emergency food buckets

If you’re trying to build a food supply quickly, consider ordering a bucket with a month’s supply of meals in it.

Here’s why every prepper should have some emergency food buckets stashed away:

  1. A lot of calories can be condensed into a very small amount of space.
  2. If you have the capacity to boil water during an emergency, a filling meal can be yours.
  3. They add variety and speed to an emergency food supply.
  4. Calorie for calorie, they’re lightweight and easily portable in the event of a bug-out scenario.
  5. They’re professionally packaged to have a 25-year shelf life, so you can get it, stick it in the back of your closet, and forget about it until you need it.

Now, the downside.

If you’re looking for ready-made meals, none of them are going to be completely without additives. This is impossible because they’re made to last for 25 years, to take up minimal space,  to cook up quickly and efficiently, and to taste reasonably good.

Some compromises must be made. Yes, emergency food buckets contain processed food, but you don’t have to let go of all of your focus on healthful choices.

You may look at the prices of these items and say, “Oh, I can’t afford this.” But you have to remember, this is enough food for an ENTIRE MONTH.  At $150, that means you’re spending only $3 per day on food.  It honestly doesn’t get much cheaper than that.

You’ll notice on the list of extras that I recommended a gentle laxative. Some people, when dependent solely upon MREs or dehydrated foods, become constipated.  I also recommended a high-quality multivitamin to help ensure you’re getting the nutrition you need.

My Favorite Choice:

NuManna One Month Grab-and-Go

one-month-grab-n-go

The One Month Grab-and-Go by NuManna is my #1 choice for emergency food. While I’ve purchased other brands, NuManna is now the only product line we purchase. Why? Here’s the company’s vision statement:

NuManna believes that emergency food should be as healthy if not healthier than the food we eat on a daily basis. The effects of food on our overall health have never been a bigger concern. Chemical preservatives, food allergies, gluten intolerance, MSG, and certainly Genetically Modified (GMO) foods are all challenging our well-being.

NuManna Foods is well aware of these problems. The founders of NuManna have their own special dietary needs and were seeking storable foods with no Aspartame, or High Fructose Corn Syrup before NuManna began. GMO-free ingredients and gluten restricted options were also a high priority. They didn’t find storable food meals quite up to the standards set for their own family. So, they decided to create them and became one of the first storable food makers of its kind to offer such selective and chemically free products.

We understand customers with exacting standards. We understand how food intolerance can be overwhelming. We also realize the human body cannot eat preserved foods for an extended period of time without getting sick. Your food storage and emergency supplies should not be a health crisis. We work to meet and exceed your expectations and make it easy to find the high-quality storable foods you want and need without sacrificing flavor or value.

Allow our pursuit of quality preparedness food to overcome the frustration you may have felt in seeking out healthy food storage. Our standard packages are Certified 100% GMO-Free with no preservatives, no soy, or other controversial ingredients. We also offer complete Gluten Restricted buckets with the same chemical and preservative-free standard. Our foods are even free of Autolyzed Yeast Extract. NuManna is a true innovator in healthy and chemically free storable foods.

I haven’t found anything else in the storable industry with these standards, and I believe that this could raise the bar to the point that the industry is changed completely. At the time of publication, One Month Grab-and-Go bucket was $149.95. They don’t count things like drink mixes as “meals” which means each meal you pay for is actual food. Here’s what the bucket contains:

Sweet Habanero Chili (6 servings)
Mac -n- Cheese (6 servings)
Pasta Primavera (6 servings)
Enchilada, Beans & Rice (6 servings)
Hearty Soup w/ Pasta (6 servings)
Pasta Alfredo (6 servings)
Cheddar Broccoli Soup (10 servings)
Cheesy Potato Soup (10 servings)
Granola/Multi Grain Cereal (10 servings)
Classic Chili (10 servings)
Numanna offers some specialty buckets too. The Defender Nutritive Pack has the addition of the following superfoods to increase the nutritional value of each meal.
  • Organic Quinoa
  • Organic Black Chia Seeds
  • Organic Sprouting Seeds
  • Organic Brown Jasmine Rice
  • Parboiled Rice
  • Organic Spelt

And finally, Numanna offers a gluten-free family pack for those with restricted diets. It contains:

Gluten Free Pasta Primavera (3 x 6 servings)
Classic Chili (2 x 10 servings)
Enchilada, Beans & Rice (2 x 6 servings)
Sweet Habanero Chili (2 x 6 servings)
Italian Gluten Free Pasta (2 x 6 servings)
Potato Casserole (2 x 6 servings)
Cheesy Broccoli Soup (1 x 10 servings)
Black Bean Soup (1 x 10 servings)
Cheesy Potato Soup (1 x 10 servings)
Oatmeal (1 x 10 servings)

Extra stuff to add some variety and nutrition

If it’s in the budget, adding some fruits, vegetables, desserts, and dry milk can go a long way towards fighting food fatigue.

Hormone Free Non-Fat Milk Powder

Organic Milk Powder

 

Don’t forget to add an assortment of spices and condiments to make your emergency meals tastier.

And for the love of all things cute and fluffy….get one of these bucket openers and make your life easier!!!!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

12 Strategies for Creating the Perfect Pantry

There are a lot of different ways to go about building your pantry.  While each style has its pros and cons, I think that adhering to any one strategy alone leaves some gaps in your food preparedness. Personally, I’m a fan of combining the best of each world based on the needs of your particular family. Enjoy this  excerpt from The Pantry Primer: A Prepper’s Guide to Whole Food on a Half-Price Budget:

Looking for a strategy to create your own pantry? There are a lot of different philosophies out there, but I think it boils down to three basic types of food supplies:

  • The Bunker Pantry
  • The Agrarian Pantry
  • The Bargain-Hunter’s Pantry

This doesn’t mean you are stuck with just one strategy, however. All of the types have positives and negatives. Learn about these food storage ideologies and then take the most applicable components for your situation. Combine them to create your own version of the Perfect Pantry. Use strategies from each type to create a stockpile that meets your family’s needs.

The Bunker Pantry

This is the most “hardcore” of the food storage types.  A Bunker Pantry is the type of food supply that could keep you going for the next ten years without a single trip to the store.  Sure, it might be a little bit boring and lacking in variety, but it is a supply that will see you through any disaster while allowing you to remain in your shelter.  This type of pantry focuses on huge quantities of long-term foods, repackaged carefully to resist spoilage due to pests or the elements.

If this is the type of pantry you’d like to build, focus on staples such as wheat, rice, dried beans, salt, and sugar.  These foods can be purchased in bulk and repackaged by the user, or you can purchase them already packaged up through vendors like the Latter Day Saints (LDS) warehouse or online food storage websites.

Variety can be added to this type of pantry through commercially canned fruits, vegetables, and meats.  When looking for sales on these items, be sure to check the expiration dates. If you are storing for the long-term you want to be certain to grab cans with the longest shelf life.

Another great way to add fruits, veggies, meats, and dairy to your Bunker Pantry is through the addition of freeze-dried foods. If properly packaged, these foods can last up to 25 years.  As long as you have water to rehydrate these foods, your diet can remain fairly normal throughout a long-term scenario. Imagine how decadent you’d feel, rehydrating the ingredients to make a fluffy cheese omelet with ham and peppers in the midst of an off-grid situation.

It takes a lot of space to store this much food, so generally a dedicated area must be used as a storeroom.  Items should be clearly marked with expiration dates, and when that date draws near, the items should be rotated in to the family’s kitchen.

The Agrarian Pantry

This type of pantry is the kind our ancestors had.  Most of the purchases are made during the growing season and only small shopping trips are needed to supplement this throughout the year. It combines enough basic staples for the year ahead with enough of your preserved harvest to get you through until the next growing season.  (This is primarily the type of pantry that we keep in our family, with a few of the other strategies added to increase the usefulness of our stockpile.).

To build an Agrarian Pantry, stock up on a year’s supply of basics like grains, baking items, tea, coffee, and dried beans.  Then focus your efforts on acquiring items in season and preserving them when they are at their peak.  Try your hand at canning, dehydrating, and root cellaring.  Items can be grown on your own property or purchased by the bushel from local farms and orchards.

Look into purchasing a side of beef and a side of pork to add to your pantry. One purchase per year is sufficient for most families, and your price per pound drops dramatically when you buy meat in this type of quantity.  Remember not to put all of your faith in the deep freezer, however, because a grid-down scenario could leave you with a smelly mess and a large lost investment.  Try canning, smoking, salting and dehydrating for the bulk of your meat purchases.

This type of pantry must be replenished every year. Basically, the items in your pantry are purchased and put back with the intention of consuming them within the next 12 months.  Extra supplies should ideally be stored to make up for shortfalls caused by a poor harvest.

The Bargain-Hunter’s Pantry

This is the type of pantry made famous by the extreme couponing shows.  Using a variety of strategies, people can amass an enormous quantity of food for very little money.  Couponing, sale shopping, bartering, and buying from outlet stores and warehouses can help to create a pantry full of packaged items.

While this is a great way to get started or to supplement your other strategies, it’s my least favorite way to create a stockpile.  First, much of what you are acquiring is highly processed.  Secondly, without a lot of personal discipline, you aren’t building a balanced pantry, but just stockpiling whatever is the cheapest.  If you use this method, you must be extremely careful not to end up with a pantry full of carbs, but no protein, fruits, and veggies. (I don’t care what the kids say, 25 cent ketchup is not a vegetable.)

Warnings aside, you can build up a huge amount of food on a very limited budget and still be relatively healthy if you are a smart shopper.

When building a Bargain-Hunter’s Pantry, consider the following suggestions to create more balance:

  • Look for the items with the least number of ingredients – don’t stock your shelves with chemistry projects, no matter how cheap they are.
  • Strive for balance by creating an inventory list to keep in your purse so that you know which types off foods are needed to keep your family healthy. (Are you short of protein sources?  Veggies? Healthy fats?)
  • Don’t add it to your stockpile merely because it’s cheap, particularly if your storage space is limited.
  • Be sure to rotate the items into your kitchen by expiry date.  Often the items that have the deepest discounts are the closest to expiration. You aren’t saving money if you end up throwing out spoiled food.

Combine the Best of Each Strategy to Build the Perfect Pantry

The Perfect Pantry combines the three strategies listed above to create the optimal supply for the needs of your particular family.

The key is organization.  Keep the following tips in mind to create the best possible pantry.

  1. Keep an up-to-date inventory so that you know what you have
  2. Catalog your coupons by type and expiration date
  3. Track the sales cycles
  4. Keep your products rotated into your kitchen so that you don’t lose foods to missed expiration dates.
  5. Store longer-term foods in optimum conditions to prolong their viability.
  6. Maintain a list of what is needed to balance your pantry nutritionally so that you can focus on those items when an unexpected bargain pops up.
  7. Buy pantry staples (like beans and grains) in the largest quantities you can manage in order to maximize your savings.
  8. Remember the adage “Store what you eat and eat what you store” – it isn’t a bargain if you purchase something no one in your family will eat.
  9. Supplement your pantry by growing as much as possible in your particular circumstances, even if you are just adding a windowsill herb and salad garden.
  10. Tap into your inner hunter-gatherer with strategies like foraging, fishing, snaring, and hunting.
  11. Purchase seasonally and in large quantities from local growers (or harvest from your own gardens).
  12. Become a food preservation expert and stock up on the necessary tools and supplies.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email