The Pantry Primer: Meal Planning While You’re Building Your Stockpile

meal planning

It’s really easy to get sucked into purchasing food for the here and now, and to forget about creating a stockpile.  We live in a “just in time” society, where people in metropolitan locations often grocery shop that very day for the evening meal.  Many people are completely reliant on the delivery of foods to the grocery stores, and their subsequent ability to purchase that food and bring it home.

When you are starting with bare cupboards, you can break down your shopping into two types:

  1. Shopping for weekly groceries
  2. Shopping for the stockpile

The weekly groceries are the fresh items that you get for the meals you are making throughout the week – I call this “right-now food”. Your meat, dairy products, eggs, and produce make up the bulk of it.  The stockpile groceries are the larger purchases of items that you are putting away in the pantry for later use, as well as the staples that you need to cook from scratch – this is your “later” food.

It’s hard to cook from scratch with an empty pantry.

I’m a big proponent of cooking from scratch.  It tastes better, it’s more frugal, and it’s far healthier.  Readers probably never thought they would see me recommending packaged food of any type.

However, in a bare cupboards situation, it is a little bit tricky, particularly in the first week or two, to make everything completely from scratch.

When I say I am starting with completely bare cupboards, I mean COMPLETELY BARE.  Just to reiterate, here is the picture of my pantry.

pantry now


Before yesterday, I did not have a single spice, not even salt or pepper.  Nor do I have any pantry basics yet, like white vinegar, baking soda, yeast, or sugar.  If I were to go and stock my cupboards totally with those items, it would take the entire weeks’ budget, and I wouldn’t be able to afford the actual food ingredients like fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy products.

For example, if I wanted to make a loaf of bread and a pot of  beef and vegetable soup tomorrow, I’d have to purchase all of the ingredients separately. Think about the list of ingredients required for this:

  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Yeast
  • Milk
  • Oil
  • Broth
  • Ground Beef
  • Barley
  • Assorted vegetables
  • Tomato paste
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Spices
  • Salt and Pepper
  • and to make it a little nicer, butter and Parmesan cheese

Within a month, I should have enough basics to make this practical, but right now, that meal would cost a large percentage of my budget for the week.  So, in light of this, I have to take some shortcuts.  Thus, I bought a few grocery store canned soups, some granola, and some crackers.  As soon as I get settled, I’ll be able to grab a package of bacon and pressure can some home cooked beans, make some broth, and begin bulk purchasing produce to make my own spaghetti sauce.  For now, though, I need a few inexpensive off-the-shelf meals to make it possible for us to put aside the money for these purchases. Furthermore, I’m a big proponent of having some no-cook things like crackers and peanut butter on hand in the event of a power outage.

I haven’t completed the shopping for the first week, but here are some of the meals I have planned, assuming I can find all of the items at a reasonable price:

  • Mexican beans and rice
  • Vegetarian tacos
  • Roasted chicken with couscous and vegetables
  • Yogurt, granola, and fruit
  • Chicken sandwiches and squash soup
  • Oatmeal with fruit
  • Homemade chili with crackers
  • Peanut butter and crackers with veggie sticks

I can’t express strongly enough how important it is not to be married to your menu.  If, for example, I go to the store and chicken is outrageously expensive but ground beef or pork tenderloin is on sale, then I will roll with it. I’ll modify my menu and base it around the items I can get at a good price.  Meat and produce are the times that have the most fluctuation, so always be prepared to improvise.


The meal you cook today can help you build your stockpile.

When meal planning during the building phase, your meals should either be simple and inexpensive, or they should contribute to the creation of the stockpile.

Sometimes the meal you cook today can actually help you in building your stockpile.

Take a whole chicken, for example.

If whole chickens are on sale, it can be an amazing investment for your stockpile. You can get a lot of mileage out of a chicken if you practice some black-belt frugality.  Turkeys are even better, and when they go on sale around the holidays, I buy at least two if I can afford it.

First, enjoy a roasted chicken.  Throw in some inexpensive veggies like potatoes and carrots, or cook a big pot of rice or couscous to go on the side.  This is a nice Sunday dinner that, depending on the size of your family, may leave you some leftovers for one more meal.

Second, try a meal that is light on the meat for using up the rest of the meat. I generally make a casserole or pasta dish to use the rest of the “better” leftover chicken.  Right now, it is just the two of us, so we can get enough chicken for sandwiches before the casserole.

(Alternatively, you can take the rest of the meat and add it to jars when you can the broth, as discussed in the next paragraph.)

Then, make broth for canning.  Simply pop the carcass into the crockpot with a head of garlic and a couple of onions. Cover it with water and simmer it overnight (8-12 hours).  You can add some herbs to the pot also – but not sage. (I learned this the hard way – when canned, the flavor of sage turns very bitter.) Follow these instructions for canning turkey broth or if you have some extra meat, these instructions for “Chicken Needs Noodles” soup.  You absolutely positively MUST have a pressure canner to safely preserve your homemade broth – no exceptions!

Another meal that will add to your stockpile is homemade soups or chilis.  This will provide you with “right now” food and “later” food – and both will be a wonderful home-cooked meal.  Make a great big pot of whatever soup you fancy, leave some out to eat right now, and pressure can the rest.  Here are instructions for  two kinds of chili, split pea soup, beef and cabbage soup, southwestern chicken soup, autumn vegetable stew, or, you can forget the recipes and learn how to can your own recipes.

Look through your favorite recipes

I am taking a look at my favorite recipes and searching for the ones with the least number of ingredients.  This is another good way to cook from scratch while building your stockpile.

Haystack cookies, for example, are a quick no-bake treat that will only require the addition of cocoa and vanilla to my shopping list, because I already have oatmeal, peanut butter, and sugar.  Also, I have no qualms about making these relatively healthy cookies breakfast when served with a glass of milk.

Haystack Cookies

hastack 1

  • 3 cups of oatmeal
  • ¾ cup of sugar
  • ¾ cup of milk
  • 5 tsp of cocoa
  • 1 tbsp of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of natural peanut butter
  1. Line a large baking sheet with waxed paper.
  2. In a sauce pan, stir together all of the ingredients except for the peanut butter and the oatmeal.
  3. Heat until these ingredients are combined then add peanut butter, stirring constantly until boiling gently.
  4. Boil for one minute, stirring intermittently.
  5. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl containing the oatmeal.
  6. Stir to combine, working quickly before the mixture can solidify.
  7. Make the cookies by placing large spoonfuls of the mixture onto the paper-lined baking sheet.  Press them down gently with the back of the spoon.
  8. Alternatively, use your hand to roll balls of the mixture and then press down – this will make the resulting cookies a bit rounder if you prefer a tidier looking cookie.  (Be careful, though – the mixture is hot, that whole boiling thing, you know!)
  9. Place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator overnight, uncovered, to allow cookies to become solid.
  10. Store in an airtight container in cool conditions – keep them in the fridge if the weather is warm.  Reuse the waxed paper by placing it in between the layers of cookies.

haystacks in a jar

Other recipes with few ingredients are potato soup, a pot of beans and rice, tomato soup, or a crockpot roast with potatoes and carrots. Think simple when you are building your stockpile and save the fancy stuff for later when you are well-supplied.  If you have to constantly run to the store every day for extra ingredients, you are defeating your purpose.  You’re spending extra money on gas, you are spending valuable time, and it’s hard to keep your budget under control when you are constantly adding $5 here and $5 there.

Use the envelope method for budgeting.

And speaking of keeping your budget under control, consider the envelope method for creating your stockpile.

It’s really easy to see a great deal, make a large purchase, and then realize you don’t have enough money to pay an important bill or to take care of another necessary expense.

When you figure out what you can afford to spend on food, put that money in an envelope earmarked specifically for that.  If you have a little left over at the end of the week because there weren’t any good bargains, leave it in the envelope and put it towards a large bulk purchase later. alternatively, when you are out of money, stop shopping. It really is that simple.  When you buy food or other items for your stockpile, pay for these things separately and tuck the reciept into your envelope.  This will help you to keep track of your spending.

pantry primer

Dear Readers:  Thank you so much for the enthusiasm you have shown regarding this series!  I was so happy about the reception that the introduction recieved.  I will do my best to get to all of your questions over the course of these articles.

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