I used to say that I would never become like my mom. I planned on being a cool, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants mom who didn’t nag, pester, nor worry. Then I had my first baby in the middle of the worst ice storm of the year. That’s when this little nagging started in the back of my mind. How would I keep this new, precious little baby warm and safe if the power went out for a day, or even more… what if the power couldn’t be restored for two weeks? It had happened before, but the only person I had to take care of was me. I could bundle up. I could live on cold tinned food or travel to a restaurant to dine. I could light the house with little candles. And if it came to it, I could always haul myself over to a family member’s house for the remaining time. But this little baby whose enire existence depended on me? He wouldn’t last a few hours without heat in the middle of winter. And the fact that I became a stay at home mom meant that we didn’t have as much income available to spend on dining out and travelling.

The first and easiest obstacle to overcome was food. Before, we had kept a few days worth on hand at any given time. The grocery store was just down the road, and we made frequent trips there throughout the week. We ate a lot of processed, pre-packaged meals. A home cooked meal meant cooking boxed mac n cheese, heating up frozen tator tots in the oven, and microwaving hot dogs of unknown content and origin in the microwave. While we still have some meals that consist of processed items, I have taught myself how to prepare and cook meals from scratch, meals from a full pantry.

While I am still no expert, I have learned how to make things like bread, muffins, biscuits, cookies, casseroles, soups, stews, roasts, pies, empanadas, broiled meats, sauces, stocks/broth, salsas, jams, jerky, dehydrated fruits and veggies, and much more. I have purchased items like spices, flours, sugar, canning supplies, canned food, and other ingredients in bulk. I have mastered frugal dishes like pastas, rice and beans, homemade pizzas, soups, and other one-dish meals. I am still learning, but at this point I feel like I could easily nourish our family for a month if the need arose.

How did I learn to cook? How did I know where to start for building up a pantry? I have had lots of help – most of it from online sources. Below I have a few links that have proven invaluable to me and many others who are just getting started.

http://www.simplylivingsmart.com This website is chock full of information on preparing a pantry and living from it. You do have to register to see a lot of the videos, but the starter videos are all  totally free. The first thing you should do is click on the tab labeled “Starter Lessons” and select “Food Storage.” This will take you to a screen with several free videos to introduce you to the storing and use of things like water, grains, oils, fruits and veggies, and everything else you will need in order to prepare nutritious meals for your family. If you would like to register, it’s less than $10 for an entire year. Well worth it, if you ask me.

http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com This website is where I go when I need an easy, frugal recipe or meal plan. It’s a great resource for someone who is just learning how to cook and bake. They are constantly adding new material, new recipes, and fun anecdotes, so check back often.

I have found a lot of my favorite recipes online by googling for terms like “chicken and rice recipe” and “best cookie recipe.” It’s always a risk following an online recipe for the first time, because as you know anyone and their mother can post a bunch of nonsense and call it a great recipe. My advice is to always try the recipe before you decide to make it for a big family get-together. 😉 

Once you learn what kinds of food you like to prepare and eat, you can start accumulating the ingredients to have them ready and on hand when you need them. One piece of advice that can’t be said enough when it comes to food storage is this: Store what you eat and eat what you store. If your family hates tuna, then it only makes sense not to buy a lot of it, even if it’s on sale for a penny a can. If you like convenience foods, by all means store it up while you are learning how to cook things from scratch. This adage also means that you must rotate your pantry stock. Eat what you store. Don’t just let it sit on a back shelf for years. Eat it, then replenish it. Yes, some canned foods will still be edible after several years on a shelf, but they will have lost color, consistency, vitamins, and taste. It’s better to try to use up your supplies within 6 months to a year, and keep it in rotation.

Lastly, there are many great books out there that will help you to cook and plan meals directly out of your pantry supplies. These are the books I currently have:

  • Cooking with Home Storage by Peggy Layton and Vicki Tate
  • The Versatile Grain and the Elegant Bean by Sheryl and Mel London
  • The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery
  • America’s Best Vegetable Recipes by Doubleday Publishing
  • Woodstove Cookery by Jane Cooper
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