Not everything comes in brightly colored packages. Once upon a time pantry items were homemade and much happiness can come from making your own food.
While the image of perfectly lined up quaint, glass jars is lovely to behold it’s also not realistic for most of our pantries. With that in mind, I am hoping to motivate you to move beyond the image of perfection because a homemade pantry does far more than look pretty.
Reduce Packaging and Waste
Filling glass jars with bulk food means less packaging in our landfills. Don’t forget, packaging like canned food is actually toxic. Most companies still use BPA liners in their cans which then leak into our food.
There is still the issue of using plastic or paper bags to buy your bulk items but you have a couple of options. If you don’t have a huge shop to do you can bring your jars to the store, have them tared and fill them on the spot. Or, like me, you can re-use your plastic bags and ties over and over again.
You’ll usually find that buying in bulk is cheaper than buying the same item packaged. (Though I still can’t find bulk pasta that isn’t double the price of packaged. Why, I wonder?!) This is especially true for pre-made items like pancake mix or oatmeal packets where you are primarily paying for the packaging.
Most packaged food contains preservatives, coloring, “natural flavors” (ever wonder what this means?), salt, sugar, and other additives. When you buy these items in bulk or make your own, these ingredients are magically out of the picture. Beware, you and your family may be used to overly sweetened packaged products so expect potential grumbling when you first start switching things out. (Did you know that one packet of maple brown sugar oatmeal contains 2 teaspoons of sugar?!) Once your taste buds re-calibrate you’ll wonder how you ever tolerated so much sweetness and your body will thank you.
How to Start?
Slowly. Unless you have oodles of spare time you probably aren’t going to empty your entire pantry and have it stocked with bulk and healthy homemade items overnight. Besides, learning how to make pantry items takes time as many of us have to learn what our grandparents had handed down to them. You also have to allow yourself the space to work it into the rhythm of your day. When you burden yourself with too many projects it usually becomes overwhelming and then you quit. So start slow!
Get Rid of “Crappy Food”, Things you Haven’t Used in a Year, or Very Expired Items
I’ll admit “crappy food” isn’t the best language to use but it’s how we describe processed food in our family. If you aren’t sure if something qualifies as “crappy” just read the ingredients. If sugar or salt is in the first 3 ingredients or if “natural flavors” appears on the list it’s probably a good idea to get rid of it.
If you haven’t used that jar of peppers your friend brought back from Italy yet, you probably never will. Let it go. Is it something you really want to use? Give yourself a month to use it and if it’s still there after a month, let it go!
Many of the items in your pantry that are “expired” are probably perfectly safe to eat. But if it’s been sitting in your pantry for that long, perhaps it’s simply not something you’ll ever use. If that’s the case, bye bye!
What can you do with all that food you’re letting go? Food banks happily accept food donations and, depending on where you live, you may even be able to simply set a box of food on the street labeled “FREE” and watch it disappear overnight.
Identify Bulk Items & Jar ’em Up
Most of us are so used to buying things in packages we forget the many things you can buy in bulk. Depending on the stores in your neighborhood you can usually find basics like flour, sugar, salt, oats, grains, and beans. Many stores, especially co-ops, even offer bulk spices and herbs and baking powder / soda. Look through your pantry and write down things you use most. Then decide whether that item needs a medium or large glass jar.
Next, take your list and go buy jars with airtight lids. Most people prefer having matching jars as it is more aesthetically pleasing. You don’t have to spend a fortune on fancy jars. Wide mouth mason jars work just as well as flip type jars with a rubber seal. I recommend buying a few extra of each size so you’ll have them ready for the future.
Finally, begin the process of putting your packaged items into the jars. Doesn’t it look so much nicer?! If you and your family cook often you probably don’t need labels on most items, but if you think family members will be confused between the whole wheat and white flour, label on! My favorite way to label without wasting resources on pre-made labels that often don’t stick or stick so well you can’t wash them off? Packing tape and recycled paper. The packing tape label is easily removed if needed.
And that, my friends, is where I’m going to stop for now. Because this is the BEGINNINGS of a Homemade Pantry. I will continue to share recipes for pantry items and ways to reduce packaging and waste while increasing health. As inspiration, I’m sharing a couple of pictures of a client’s pantry we recently started simplifying. Like life itself, it isn’t picture perfect and there’s still work to be done. A quote I’ve always loved – “There is no there.”
May you be inspired to start the process of moving towards a
healthier, cheaper, and more beautiful pantry!