Building a Pantry: Expecting the Unexpected

Building a Pantry: Expecting the Unexpected

Deep Pantry, Stockpiling, Prepping, or Just Expecting the Unexpected

Our last semester of nursing school, Liam lost his job.  I was working full time, but he was our primary breadwinner.  We had four children, one mortgage, and not enough cash coming in.  A surprise scholarship paid our mortgage and my wages paid our utilities, but there wasn’t enough to buy groceries.  One of the kindest families we know sent much-appreciated food.  Apart from their generous gift and a small amount of unemployment benefits, we ate almost entirely from our pantry.

Don’t misunderstand.  We like fresh fruit, vegetables, and milk.  But I’m telling you, when there’s nothing else, the stuff at the back of the cupboard starts looking pretty edible.  We were very grateful for the things we’d stored.  Our pantry helped keep our family fed.

The job loss was unexpected.  Remember the old axiom, ‘expect the unexpected’?  It might be loss of income, loss of utilities, a weather disaster, or serious injury/illness, but the unexpected eventually falls into everyone’s lives.  The best way to cope is to prepare in advance. I’m not talking about a Zombie Apocalypse, societal collapse, or alien invasion.  I’m talking about life and the curve balls it occasionally throws.  (Though if a larger disaster were to strike, our pantry would be a great asset.)  If you want to read more about why everyone should prepare for emergencies, we have a post on preparedness here.

This post is the fourth in our pantry series.  I want to focus on what and how to stock up for emergencies.  Throughout this series, we’ve been looking at our pantries through the paradigm of a clothing wardrobe.  This fourth and last layer is all about the unexpected.

I live in Texas. Christmas before last, we opened presents on my grandfather’s patio. It was sunny and 70`…on Christmas.  Typically, when people talk about harsh weather in Texas, they refer to tornadoes or 110` heat.  They’re not usually worried about winter storms.  However, like life, Texas throws curve balls!  I do own a warm winter coat, silk under-armor, wool socks, and warm gloves.  They don’t see a lot of use, but when I need them they’re lifesavers!

The last layer of my pantry is much the same.  It’s rare for me to dip into my stash without replacing as I go.  But when I need to, I am oh! so grateful it’s there.  There are many ways to stock a pantry for emergencies, so I am going to share what works for our family.  Let’s use dried beans as an example.  If you watched that prepper show on TV, you may have seen people with garages full of five-gallon bean buckets.  Well, I like beans as well as the next girl, but I’ll tell you now I don’t want to live on them!

We do eat a fair amount of beans.  They’re healthy, cheap, good for storing, and used in a lot of TexMex food.  I keep about fifty pounds of dried pinto beans on hand.  Wait!  Before you report me to the Tin Foil Hat Brigade, hear me out!  I make about two bean dinners a month.  When I make them, I cook two pounds of dried beans.  This will feed our large family supper, lunches for a couple of days, and maybe a few leftovers to add to soups and casseroles.  That means, I use an average of four pounds of dried beans per month.  If you multiply four pounds by six months, you’ll see I use almost 25 lbs of beans per six months.  So, fifty pounds of beans is a one year supply.

I purchase a 25 lb bag of pintos every six months.  In that way, the beans are never more than a year old when I use them.  Research says that dried beans are best used within a year.  (However, they can typically be used after a year with no issues.)  In case you have this image of my children hunched over a bowl of boiled beans, let me tell you that isn’t the case.  Pintos can be used in our favorite beans and cornbread, refried in tacos, burritos, baleadas, and quesadillas, or in a variety of other soups and casseroles.


I’ve never subscribed to the idea that freeze dried meals and MRE’s are okay as a long term emergency diet.  We don’t store things we don’t eat regularly.  If you want to figure out what to store for emergencies, look at what’s on your table.  We eat a lot of chicken.  Since we live on a farm, we raise our own.  Some of our chicken is stored in coops and chicken tractors.  If that isn’t a possibility for you, that’s okay.  We don’t really do that for long-term storage either.  Birds get tough as they age, and frankly, they eat less after they’re sent to freezer camp.  So, the deep freezer is the second way we store chicken.  The problem with freezer camp is: it relies on electricity.  What if, the event we weren’t expecting was a week long power outage?  As trite as it sounds, don’t put all your chickens in one basket.  If we butcher twenty chickens, I might freeze half.  The rest I pressure can.  I plan to do a couple of posts on pressure canning chicken.  Canned chicken is the farm wife’s answer to fast food, but that’s another post.

What does this mean if you only have a fridge/freezer combo?  What if you think pressure canning sounds like something that happens to mid-level executives during a recession?  The answer is simple.  Put some chicken in your freezer and some commercially canned chicken in the cupboard.  How much?  Simple.  As much as you can afford, store, and reasonably use before it goes funky.  If I needed to buy chicken, I would order from a company called Zaycon.  (They’re awesome, I have a post about them coming soon.)  If I couldn’t order from Zaycon, I would wait until my local store had chicken as a loss leader.  Then, I would stock up.  (A loss leader is the super sale item stores use to get customers in the door.  They’re different each week and rotated seasonally.)

Bear in mind, if you buy more of anything than you can use, you’re wasting time, space and cash.  Also, if you buy something at a great price, but your family won’t eat it, it’s a waste.  Should you buy fifteen two-pound jars of peanut butter, while living alone in a loft apartment, the Tin Foil Hat Brigade might need to keep an eye on you!  Just use common sense and build slowly.  I have teenage boys, who think p-e-a-n-u-t-b-u-t-t-e-r spells manna.  So, I buy peanut butter when it goes on a great sale.  I almost always have three or four large jars rotating through my pantry.  I know it’ll be eaten, and I know if I wait until I’m out I probably won’t get the sale price.

Each time I purchase food on sale and/or in bulk, I see savings.  These savings can go to keep the lights on, to earn interest, or to buy a little more bulk peanut butter.  Instead of a vicious cycle, this becomes a savings cycle.  They say, “You’ve got to have money to make money”.  Well, I say, “you’ve got to have a pantry to consistently save on groceries”.  A pantry gives you the power to wait for the best prices!

For example: Suppose, I see an amazing sale on family pack chicken.  I save $5 off the regular price.  Then, since I have a pantry that includes ground beef, I am able to wait until beef goes on sale to purchase any.  I use my $5 ‘chicken savings’ to buy sale ground beef. Because my pantry enabled me to wait for the sale, I save another $3 off the regular price of ground beef.  Next, I invest my $3 savings in bulk cocoa, because chocolate is good.  I end up with chicken, beef, and cocoa all for the price of the chicken I needed to buy anyway.  See, a cycle of savings!

To go with the chicken and beef, I’ll need vegetables.  (Chocolate needs nothing!)  I do store a ‘good bit’ of dried vegetables.  I pressure can some, but that’s more expensive, more work, and takes up more space.  Vegetables were something we missed when money was tight, so I make sure to have some with longer shelf lives.  (I’m not talking about the expensive freeze dried variety.)  We bought a dehydrator several years ago.  It’s handy!  When frozen vegetables go on sale, I stock up.  Then I dry about half of what I buy.  I plan to do a post on drying frozen vegetables in the future.  If you don’t have a dehydrator, it might be worth buying some bulk dried vegetables.  I know several stores that have dried mixed vegetables for soup.  These aren’t vegetables I would want to re-hydrate and snack on, but they’re great in soups, stews, and casseroles.

Speaking of dried vegetables, there’s an important point I want to make.  If you’ve never cooked with dried vegetables, don’t start with a bulk bag of them.  Buy a small amount and try them out.  Then, if you can’t stand the texture or you can’t figure out how to use them, you haven’t wasted much time, money, or pantry space.  This holds true for tons of products.  I saw a video recently, that recommended viewers buy and store #10 cans of dehydrated butter.  I’m sure there are people for whom that would be a good idea.  But, I think I might end up hoping the zombies would show up, just so I could throw the dried butter at them.  Storing things you can’t cook or won’t eat doesn’t help you be prepared.  It simply means more clutter and less cash.

A wall from my own pantry. (Ignore the concrete floor, it is on my list to redo!)

The two strategies I’ve been harping about through this series are: Store what you eat, and eat what you store.  When facing emergencies, those two pieces of advice hold true.  You simply store more of what you already eat. It doesn’t need to be fifty pounds of beans or twenty quarts of home canned chicken.  Just add a few extra days of food to your pantry when you can.  When you have enough of an item, you only need to replace what you use.  Before you know it, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you can hit that curve-ball out of the park!

What items do you store for emergencies?  Do you have any storage questions or tips?  I’m planning a series on food preservation methods!

If you missed the rest of the pantry series, we’ve put the links below.  We hope you enjoy it!

Building a Pantry: Why We should

Building a Pantry: Stretching the Shopping

Building a Pantry: Not-So-Special Occasions

This post has been shared at some of our favorite blog hops and linky parties!




About Anne in the Kitchen

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  1. Anne,
    I completely agree you need to store what you eat and eat what you store. A deep pantry is defiantly a good investment, I am to the point now that I can buy almost every thing I buy on sale and I get enough to last till the next sale. And I love dehydrating frozen veggies I have got on sale they are so easy and already prepped just open the bag and put in the dehydrator.

    Have a great day

    1. Connie,
      I’ve been reading your blog for years! I think we have a lot in common. I’m sorry it took me so long to reply. We had a death in the family and things have been crazy this week. Have a great week!

    2. Connie,
      I am so sorry for the delayed reply. We had a death in the family, and I am just now getting caught up! I do the same thing. A pantry is such a win-win. I am prepared for emergencies AND I can wait for things to go on sale and catch the cheaper prices. I have a couple of recipes that I make so frequently with dried (previously frozen) vegetables, that I have to stop and think about amounts before I can make them with fresh! Someone recently asked for a taco soup recipe and it took me a minute to convert it from a food storage recipe to a fresh one. I have really been enjoying your pantry posts! Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

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