Creating and Keeping a Working Pantry to Combat Food Insecurity
Updated: Feb 9, 2021
Being a New Englander, and knowing that storms can hit and throw all systems for a loop at any time, I've always kept a fairly full pantry for our food needs. This has been a helpful habit, particularly leading up to and during the winter months, when quick trips to the grocery store are an inconvenience at best. We've fortunately never had any real long-term issues. That is, until the COVID-19 quarantine began. I was so grateful at times during those spring days to have a fairly well stocked pantry to get creative with. We feasted on homemade lentil soup and steel cut oat bakes, cheese and cracker boards with sardines, and plenty more interesting meals. We were blessed to have it.
I also was lucky enough to get on board with Misfits Market before they started their waitlist in the spring, so we had fresh veggies delivered weekly. Misfits Market is a subscription service that offers unwanted, organic produce at a great discount. Whether the produce is funny looking (i.e., a "misfit"), or too small or large, or there's just a surplus, Misfits Market rescues the veggies and delivers them to us! They offer two sizes of boxes and you also have control of how often to get a delivery. It's wonderful to get fresh, organic vegetables delivered without having to pay a huge amount for them! They no longer have a waitlist and their veggies are fresher than ever now. If you're interested in checking them out, and would like 25% off your first box, use my discount code!
Quarantines and winter storms aside, there are so many other reasons to keep a working pantry. Food security during hard economic times and job loss is one that so many are dealing with in today's world. Also, how annoying is it when you have a meal planned and you go to make it only to find out you're missing a key ingredient? If you plan well, this won't happen! Check out my post on Simple Menu Planning for Busy People for more tips on that.
So, what is a working pantry? Basically, it's a fully stocked pantry that you eat from and replace things as they go. It's not a super long-term storage system, nor is it a food hoard of the kind that some like to keep for the "end of the world". I do not recommend going out and hoarding a ton of food right now. Please don't be part of that problem! I recommend collecting this food a little at a time, as you can, or if there are sales on quality food. The idea with a working pantry, once you have it stocked, is that you have one container of the food that you're using, and one in the pantry as back-up. Then when it's out, you shop your pantry and jot that item down on your running shopping list.
Now, speaking of quality food, let's talk about diet types. Every household is different. Whether it's for food sensitivities/allergies or lifestyle, there are so many different takes on what is healthy. For our household, I make a lot of our meals homemade and we use mostly organic foods. We try to limit sugar intake and sometimes I like to do a round of Whole30 for a reset (I'll write about that some other day, when I plan another round). Today I'm going to be talking specifically about the foods that we use in my household, so take what info you might find useful and tailor it to your household needs!
Below I will talk about pantry staples, or "dry goods", freezer foods, and refrigerated foods and I'll break each section down into types.
These are the actual pantry foods - stored in cans, bags, boxes, etc. that do not need to be kept in refrigeration.
Canned & Jarred Vegetables
I prefer fresh or frozen veg, so you'll see that I don't keep cans of things such as corn or green beans. Feel free to add those to your list if you do!
Tomato Sauce - store-bought (we love Rao's!) or jarred at home
Canned Pumpkin - great for making breads or muffins
Apple Sauce - jarred is the cheapest, but if you don't think you'll eat it fast enough, get the kind that comes in little cups
Fruit Cups - I usually think these are gross, but hear me out! If you have no other fruits on hand and can't get to the store, a small cup of pineapple, oranges or pears kind of hits the spot. Just make sure you get the kind that are packed in juice, not syrup.
Grains, Legumes, & Seeds
Anything that comes in a bag I make sure to store in a pest-proof container. I usually empty bags of grains, etc., into large mason jars.
Steel Cut Oats
All Purpose Flour
White Rice - I keep brown rice in the freezer to keep it from going rancid
Other Baking Mixes - cornbread, brownies, etc.
Crackers - water crackers, saltines, oyster crackers
Pasta - we don't eat pasta a lot, but I do keep some spaghetti, macaroni, and lasagna noodles on hand
Annie's Mac & Cheese Boxes - This falls under the category of "emergency food for the 6-year-old"!
Peanut/Almond Butter - find a brand that lists nothing in the ingredients list but the actual nut itself and maybe some salt
Raisins & Other Dried Fruits
Dried Fruit Strips
Nuts - keep in mind that a lot of the fattier nuts - such as macadamia or cashews - should be kept in the fridge or freezer for longer term storage, to keep them from going rancid
Hot Cocoa Mix
Sardines - one of the healthiest fish you can eat. Don't knock 'em til you try 'em!
Canned Wild-Caught Salmon
Canned Organic Chicken Breast - not my favorite, but makes a decent chicken salad in a pinch!
Beef Broth - get sugar free bone broth
Chicken Broth - ditto - or homemade, kept in the freezer
Hydrolyzed Collagen Powder - we add this to smoothies for a protein boost, also great for joint and gut health!
Oils & Vinegars
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra Light Olive Oil - for making homemade mayonnaise!
White Vinegar - I mostly use this for cleaning
Apple Cider Vinegar - with the mother!
Balsamic Vinegar - try to get one without sulfites
Yes, I said I try to limit our sugar intake, but I do use it sometimes, particularly for baking!
Raw Table Sugar
Light Brown Sugar - keep in an airtight jar with a marshmallow in it to keep it from hardening
Pure Maple Syrup
Other Baking Essentials & Spices/Seasonings
I'm not going to list every spice/seasoning I have, just some basics!
Chocolate Chips - we love the Enjoy Life! brand
Oregano, Thyme, Basil, Italian Seasoning, Herbs de Provence, Parsley
Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg
Chile Powder - this is my secret ingredient to my chili and my homemade taco seasoning!
Coconut Aminos (substitue for soy sauce)
Onions - fresh and dehydrated. I have a whole jar that I dehydrated myself when I had a ton from Misfits Market!
This is your first necessity if there is a problem. We have good well water in my house, and we filter it with a Berkey Water Filter for drinking. But, if we lose power, we lose the well pump. Until we get a generator, we need to have backup water handy. I keep a couple 3 gallon jugs in the pantry. If I know a storm is coming, I make sure to fill containers ahead of time and make sure the Berkey is topped up.
Another great resource for stocking up on pantry essentials, delivered to your home, is Thrive Market. Thrive offers thousands of healthy foods, catering to all your special diet needs, at huge discounts. For a 25% discount on your first order, use my discount code!
Refrigerator and Freezer Foods
I'm not necessarily going to list every item I have in my fridge and freezer, just the ones I "stock up" on.
Milk - buy in half gallon cartons, will keep for a few weeks unopened. Good to have on hand, but we don't necessarily drink a lot of it. Side note on milk: last February I happened to buy a case of those little shelf-stable boxes of milk for my son to have in his lunches, at his request. By March, we still had more than half the case in the pantry and boy, did they come in handy! I used them for steel cut oat bakes, muffins... all sorts of baked goods. They were good to have when I couldn't get a carton of milk. So, now I keep a case in the pantry.
Eggs - also will keep for a few weeks, at least. We do go through a lot of eggs in our house, though. Would love to get some chickens some day!
Butter - freezes well, will keep in the fridge for weeks
Cheese - if it's packaged correctly, cheese will last quite a while in the fridge, but it also freezes well
Almond milk/creamer - I buy these in tetra packs (those containers that are like big juice boxes), so they keep well in my pantry, then I refrigerate as needed
Fruits & Vegetables
Like I mentioned above, I prefer frozen to canned if I can't have fresh.
Bananas - frozen, for smoothies
Roasted potatoes and veg
Asparagus - for Frittatas, yum!
Chopped Red Peppers
Carrots - in fridge
Celery - in fridge
Apples - in fridge
This is kind of one of those things that varies quite a bit, depending on season and taste preference, but you can pretty much always find the following in my freezer:
Split Chicken Breasts
In my chest freezer, I also keep a lot of homemade dinners - soups, chili, casseroles - that I've made in bulk and frozen for a future dinner. I talk about this a bit in my menu planning post.
That about wraps it up! Your pantry might look very different, depending on what types of foods you eat/how much time you have for cooking, but I feel like my list is pretty basic and covers a lot of foods I might cook on a regular basis. I hope you learned something and I hope this helps someone! What kind of food storage do you usually have and have your habits changed at all this year due to the pandemic? Share in the comments!