You Can't Cook if There's No Food in the House

Note: If you're here because you googled "no food in the house," take a look at this post for some more ideas.

My mom wasn't much of a stocker-upper. We did our grocery shopping weekly (and I do mean we--all four of us would head to the grocery store every Saturday morning); she'd plan out the week of menus and get mostly just what was needed for that week. It was a good system, if you don't mind shopping every Saturday.

With my aversion to grocery shopping though (and my desire to only buy things on sale which means buying several of certain things when they're cheap), I slowly but surely have created my own loose pantry list.

I think I first got the idea when our college group went to home of our college advisors. I know they weren't perfect, but she was very much a living example of Titus 2 and Proverbs 31 to me. And on her refrigerator hung a pantry list that included marshmellows and chocolate syrup. It never occured to me that I could personalize my "staples" that way.

Having certain ingredients on hand can help you be prepared to fix a meal without the bother of a special shopping trip. Look over the following items for those that suit your household's tastes and your cooking abilities. There are lots of good places online to get sample pantry lists you can modify for your own use.

Make a list with these categories and specify the things you will keep in your pantry or freezer. Make several copies of it and keep one in the kitchen (on the inside of a cupboard door or on the refrigerator). When you've used the last of something, be sure and add the item to your next grocery list. Whenever possible, stock up on these frequently used items when they go on sale--even if you haven't run out yet.

Flour; sugar (granulated, brown and powdered); shortening; cooking oil; margarine or butter; baking powder; baking soda; vinegar; baking mix (like Bisquick, etc.) eggs; milk; canned tuna or chicken; canned beans; peanut butter; canned tomatoes or tomato sauce, tomato paste; frozen veggies; frozen meats, etc.
oregano; sage; pepper; salt; chili powder; garlic powder (or crushed garlic); onion powder (or dehydrated onion); bay leaves; dried soup mixes (onion, garlic and herb, etc); basil; rosemary
soy sauce; Worcestershire sauce; ketchup; molasses; cream soups (cream of mushroom, chicken, celery, etc); prepared mustard; salad dressings; other marinades
potatoes; rice; pastas (linguine or spaghetti, rotinni or corkscrew, other fun shapes/flavors); a few packages of rice or pasta-and-sauce side dishes
Holiday-themed pasta, cake mixes, sprinkles, canned pumpkin, cranberries….

If you keep all of those kinds of things stocked, and you shop as needed for fresh produce and meats you should always be able to put together a basic meal. My "I have no idea what's for dinner tonight" meals include chili (tomato sauce, kidney beans, ground meat, spices) and a variety of dishes using some combination of meat (chicken, canned salmon) pasta, sauce (marinara or alfredo) and a veggie.

Another standard that I can always throw together in a pinch is a simple red sauce. With just slight variations I use it for spaghetti, pizza, lasagna, even chicken parmesan. It tastes better than prepared spaghetti sauce; it's cheaper, and almost as quick. And because it's made with basics from my pantry, I can always prepare a tasty meal at a moment's notice.

Red sauce
10 oz can tomato sauce
6 oz can tomato paste (for spaghetti or lasagna, use 2 cans sauce to 1 can tomato paste.)
1/4 teaspoon crushed garlic (or 1 clove minced fresh garlic)
1/4 cup dehydrated onion (rehydrate in 1/4 cup hot water)
1/4 cup chopped green pepper (buy when on sale, slice or chop, and freeze for future use)
oregano, basil, rosemary; bay leaf; salt and pepper

Combine ingredients in skillet or saucepan. Add seasonings; simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. If desired, brown ground meat (turkey or hamburger), add to sauce and simmer for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Prepare pasta according to package, add sauce. Serves 4.

For pizza sauce or bread stick dipping sauce, use 1 can tomato sauce to 1 can tomato paste, season to taste, spread on prepared crust and add favorite toppings. Bake according to directions for crust.

There's one other level of satisfaction from having a well stocked pantry that's a little less tangible, but in our current economy it's gaining importance. Sometimes, when something comes up and it's clear there's going to be more month than money before the next paycheck, there's a quiet confidence in knowing that even if I can't swing a shopping trip this week, we will eat and I even have enough to share with a food drive or someone in need. And anything I can do to help eliminate one small bit of worry or stress is well worth the effort.

She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
Proverbs 31:20-21
Next up--brine yourself before you brine your turkey!


Elizabeth M Thompson said...

Great reminds me I'm out of a few staples. I am enjoying getting to know you through your blog. It was recommended to me by Laura Jensen Walker.

Melinda said...

Excellent - it's amazing how much stress is alleviated when you have a menu set and the food stocked to prepare it!

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