I awoke to news this morning that another cyber attack has been launched–this time on the of the nation’s largest meat suppliers. I have a feeling that meat prices are about to go up and availability is about to go down. There will probably be a rush on grocery stores akin to the Great Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020. I hope not, but it wouldn’t surprise me. This is just the age that we are living in today.
If I’ve learned anything over the last year it is that the majority of people do not (or do not know how to) prep and stock their pantries and freezers for more than a few days at a time. This is something that can bite you–say the country gets shut down and grocery stores are out of food. If you only have a few days’ worth of food in your house, things could get serious. Especially if we were to have a repeat of the event of last year where they literally started rationing items. Last year I was in the grocery store getting ready to check out and the lady ahead of me had chicken breast, lunch meat, and one package of bacon. She exceeded her allowed amounts and the cashier removed what was needed to get her back to the acceptable amount. Food rationing. I really never thought I would live in a world where that was a possibility, but here we are.
Thankfully, my mom modeled and taught us how to stock our pantry and freezer. Part of that was because we grew up in the country and only went to town once a week. We had to be intentional with what we bought and make sure we got what we needed because we didn’t have a grocery store right around the corner. We were able to see what it looked like to buy a week or two worth of groceries and how to store them. So the Covid grocery store rationing didn’t hit us as hard as it did some people last year.
When some people think about stocking their pantry and freezer they get overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, or they think it means a lot of money all at once. This is actually really easy to get started with and it doesn’t take a lot of money.
Step 1: What do you really eat?
To get started you need to determine what you actually eat on a regular basis. What are meals and recipes that are your go-to staples? Make a list of your most used meals and break that list down further by the necessary ingredients to accomplish those meals. (If you already have a menu plan in place, this is already done for you.) Look at the ingredients and separate them into perishable and nonperishable categories.
Nonperishable items are items that can live on your pantry shelves without refrigeration. Canned goods, dry goods, pasta, rice, beans, those sorts of things.
In the nonperishable ingredients category, pick a few things to buy extra of your next trip to the store. For example, if one of your meals is pork chops with rice pilaf and green beans for sides, buy 1-2 extra cans of green beans and an extra box or two of rice pilaf. You can think of it as “one to eat, and one for the pantry”. I’m not saying to buy 15 cans of green beans because you are trying to stock your pantry, but just 1-3 more than what you would normally buy. Now you have 1-2 meals’ worth of green beans in your pantry.
Things like flour, sugar, rice, dried beans, oatmeal, cornmeal, etc., will keep for a long time in airtight containers. You can buy 10 & 20 lb bags of these items and be set up for a while. I recently bought these canisters and LOVE them. I can see what and how much I have, and they stack neatly and fit in my cabinets. They even came with the cute labels and a chalk marker.
One thing I must mention here: just because it is on sale, or just because it is a big bag of something doesn’t mean you should buy it. If it is not something you regularly use, then it doesn’t matter matter how good of a sale or deal it is. I might be able to get a great deal on a case of blackstrap molasses, but at this point in my life, I don’t use it, and it would just a be a waste of my money and my shelf space.
Perishable items are things that will go bad quickly if not preserved–whether by freezing or canning. Meats, veggies, fruits, breads, dairy, etc. This is where your freezer steps in and becomes your best friend. If you have any wiggle room in your budget at all and can invest in a freezer, it will be money well spent. The money that you will save in the long run will make the initial cost so worth it.
I have mentioned this more than once on my instagram and in the FB group but I buy the large club packs of chicken breast and pork chops from HEB and put them into meal-sized portions in vacuum seal bags and freeze them. This is an easy, less expensive way to stock your freezer with meat. If you find meat that you use on a regular basis on sale, buy double what you normally would–or whatever your grocery budget allows. Buying the meat on sale now will mean that you won’t have to spend money on it later, because it will be in your freezer ready to use in a few weeks when you need it.
If you can afford it, I *highly* recommend purchasing a vacuum sealer. It will be worth the money you spend on it–I promise! Vacuum sealing helps protect your meats and produce from freezer burning and it will extend the life of your perishable items in the freezer. If you are going to buy meat to store in your freezer like I do, a vacuum sealer is a must. I use it for everything from chicken breasts and pork chops to roasts. I will take the meat out of the store packaging and repackage and label it to go in my freezer. This the Foodsaver Vacuum Sealer that I’ve had for years and use a couple times a week.
Another way that I use the Vacuum Sealer/Freezer dream team is processing seasonal produce. Even though I didn’t have a garden that amounted to anything last year, I was still able to put stuff up in the freezer.
Around this time last year the grocery stores around me had sweet corn 6/$1. I ended up buying a bushel’s worth (around 80 ears) and the kids and I got them processed and in the freezer. We did half in creamstyle corn, and half corn on the cob. Since I put them all in vacuum seal bags, I didn’t need to blanch the ears of corn before freezing them. We still have a little of each left almost a year later. So that was a great example of taking advantage of a sale and using my freezer. If I am able to this year I’d like to put up at least 2 bushels.
We were also able to get around a bushel of purple hull peas to shell and put in the freezer. We have a few packages left almost a year later. My hope is to put up 2 bushels this year.
I also will often catch butter on sale and freeze it. I take great comfort in knowing I have plenty of butter in the freezer. Cheese can be frozen–whether in block or grated form. Bacon is another great thing to catch on sale and freeze for later.
Fruits are easily frozen. You can freeze ripe bananas to use in smoothies or banana breads. Strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries all freeze very easily.
I will from time to time freeze one-dish meals or main dishes and have them ready to pull out and use. Freezer meals do not have to be limited to casseroles.
Whenever my husband barbecues we will smoke more meat than we need and vacuum seal the extra for a meal later down the road.
Soups and gumbo freeze very well. I will make double batches and freeze half for later.
Cooked rice, cooked beans (red, pinto, black) and rice dishes freeze well and are very convenient to pull out for side dishes.
If you are looking for an easy way to keep track of what’s in your freezer, you can download this printable Freezer Inventory page. It makes it easy to know what you have in stock and plan meals.
What things are absolute must-haves for your pantry and freezer? Let me know in the comments–I’d love hear from you!