How to stock your pantry in times of shortage and inflation

Grocery shopping is a chore or a fun adventure, depending on your perspective, but rising prices and shortages have added a lot of stress to this inescapable task. Due to inflation and shortages, millions of Americans are quietly building their own pantries to support their families in a time of growing uncertainty. How to do this when households are paying $460 more per month than last year for basic goods and services is a challenge.

Costs are rising across the board, but nothing hits harder than seeing commodity prices go up 10-30%. Eggs were up 33% over last year, bread 10%, canned soup 13% and bacon 11%. A 10-pound bag of white rice from the Aldi discount supermarket is up nearly 19% since the same period last year.

Stocking up on food makes sense, but how can a family build a pantry to cover a month or more of meals at times like these? The answer: go back to basic meals with frugal, shelf-stable ingredients and look for alternative food sources.

The game plan

A good goal for beginners is a full month of meals. This delay gives you a significant margin in the event of a loss of income or a glitch in the local supply chain following a natural disaster.

Build your pantry around your typical household foods, amounts, and meals. If breakfast is not part of your routine, there is no need to spend money on that extra meal.

Start with simple recipes and basic meals so that emergency meal prep is quick and simple, and focuses on shelf-stable and room-temperature foods.

meal foundations

Simple meals start with economical basics. Think of it this way: many Italian dishes rely on one type of pasta or another as a base. Baked spaghetti, lasagna and rigatoni all include pasta as an essential ingredient. Almost all Asian dishes include rice as a staple. Pasta and rice can play the same role when you build your pantry around these basics.

Using elbow macaroni and rice as examples of foundations, think of all the ways both can be adapted into dozens of different recipes just by adding protein, veggies, herbs and spices. You can even turn either into desserts when you feel the need for something sweet.

Other foods that fulfill the role of essential bases are small pasta, quinoa, barley, farro, beans (dry or canned), egg noodles, ramen noodles, lentils, oats, dehydrated or freeze-dried potatoes, bread, cornbread and cookies. You can make versatile breads from scratch, so add these ingredients to your shopping list and pantry inventory.

Most of these foods continue to be readily available and are some of the most frugal items you can buy. The current price of a 10-pound bag of rice, for example, is still a good buy at around $5. That’s about 50 cents per 1 cup serving of cooked rice. A 3-pound box of elbow macaroni makes about 18, 1-cup servings and, at today’s prices, costs about 15 cents per serving.

It’s hard to beat these prices, especially when you’re watching in-store sales and shopping at discount grocery stores and dollar stores.

Choose a few of these foundational ingredients and stock up. Select those that suit your family’s preferences and nutritional needs.

Build your pantry as you shop regularly, paying particular attention to sales. (Ground Photo/Shutterstock)

To mix together

The next step is to think of tasty additions to these foundational foods and add these ingredients to your shopping list and food storage plan.

For example, on a bowl of cooked white rice, you can add canned chili, soup or beef stew. The same additions would also be tasty on elbow macaroni. Mix brown or country gravy, homemade or using a dry mix packet, and pour it over hot, cooked egg noodles or biscuits with canned beef. Make veggie burgers from cooked lentils and canned vegetables, or a pan-fried quinoa dish with seasonings, vegetables, and your protein of choice.

The meal varieties are endless, and when you stick to a few ingredients, they’re also frugal and quick.

Keep track of everything

In raw numbers, you’ll stock up on provisions for 31 breakfasts, 31 lunches, and 31 dinners. That’s a lot of food, but for this article, let’s keep it simple!

Select four or five foods from the list of foundations and buy them in bulk. Each week, add something to your emergency food stock, then keep track of what you buy on a list or spreadsheet. Just a can or two of elbow macaroni, a few cans of pinto beans, and a can of Rice-A-Roni each week will quickly add up. Also, don’t forget to add two or three foods to complement these meals, such as simmered sauces or canned tuna or chicken.

Soon you will see your simple meals coming together and you will know what else to buy to complete the food for that full month.

Shop

At some point, you’ll come across an empty grocery store shelf where some pasta or canned green beans once stood. Between supply chain issues, rising prices for food producers, fewer skilled workers, and rising fuel prices, shortages will continue to be common. This can make stocking your pantry difficult, but if you have a list of foods you want to have on hand, just visit your favorite stores regularly and add a few alternative sources.

Look in the bulk food section of your grocery store for the dry ingredients on your list, especially less common grains like farro and barley. Locate ethnic grocery stores and food outlets such as Food 4 Less and Save A Lot. Dollar stores and restaurant supply stores generally offer lower prices and are sources of food that many people don’t consider. Look for local ranches, farms, farmers markets, and even food co-ops. Finally, food banks can provide very cheap and free food if your finances are tight or non-existent.

A well-stocked pantry brings peace of mind and is within reach for anyone wishing to plan for current inflation and shortage issues.