In this article on food stores and budgeting we will look at one of the most difficult things to prepare: a food supply. It sounds and looks easy enough. Just buy extra food when you go to the store, right? Hold on. Not so fast. If it were that easy, people all over would be doing it. Whether or not you are already stocking food for an emergency, this prepper activity you can, and should, do at not money cost. But first you need to figure out where to start.
Most of us have had an experience with not getting to the grocery store often enough and one day realizing there isn’t anything in the house to eat. Sure, you have some ingredients, but not really enough to make a balanced meal. Off to the store to buy that huge supply of groceries that costs a lot of money out of the budget. If you are at that point right now, GREAT! This gives you a baseline to look at what you have in the pantry that, for one reason or another, you consider “not food”. Include the freezer in the pantry! Make a list of those items. If you don’t want to write it down, use your cell phone’s speech to text option in either the email function or the text message function. Use that feature to email the list to yourself.
Once the inventory is completed and emailed, you can use one of the programs discussed in the Getting Started series to see what you can actually do with the groceries you have on hand. You will be surprised at just how many items you can make and you still have not gone to the store. For even more recipes, try importing them from the web into your recipe program. Type mealmaster or mastercook recipes into your favorite search engines. There are hundreds of thousands of recipes out there free for the downloading.
Making use of these programs and recipes enriches your cooking habits, provides alternatives outside your normal habits, and helps prepare you for times when your ingredient list is shorter than you like. More than that, they help you plan menus in doubled or tripled proportions so you can set aside products for the prepper’s food pantry. They organize your grocery lists and manage your kitchen if you fully utilize the features. The key is that you actually use the programs as designed. The most difficult part is sticking to the menu plans you make and actually marking them in the program as completed. The first time you don’t do as you should, you no longer have an accurate record of your pantry. But, using the program to plan every menu, either as you are making it, or for the whole month, will help you keep track of everything from what it will cost before you go to the grocery store to what you need if you want to make your spouse’s favorite dinner.
Now that you are in the habit of using the program for your everyday needs, it is time to start planning the long term supply. If you got the free mealmaster program, you still have not spent anything on prepping. If you bought mastercook, it was $20.00. Look back through the history of which menus you used over the last several months. Those are your family’s favorite foods. Now plan a menu for a month. Not so easy, but still no cost in planning. Once you have mastered monthly planning, go big and plan a menu for three months. The fact is eating the same foods every month, people get bored and crave something different. Planning inexpensive meals is optimal, but every now and then you must plan a meal that feels more luxurious. Over time you will know what items to start putting in your prepper pantry. If you maintain a complete inventory, you will quickly be able to increase your pantry.
Let’s talk more about what menus mean to the cook and the family. For the cook, menus force the issue of stretching your cooking skills and addressing dietary and budgetary issues. Cooking the same meals over and over is boring. So is eating them. Posting the menu lets every one anticipate what is coming up. This can be a source of entertainment all by itself. Pay attention to the comments they make when they see the menu. If you hear a lot of grumbling about this meal or that, take notice. Foods that don’t get eaten are a waste of money. Find other ways to sneak the spinach or broccoli into a meal. Keep notes on each recipe such as “spouse hated it but the kids loved it”. Later if your spouse is going to be gone, you can do a recipe search for those recipes. The kids will feel special because they get something they wouldn’t get if your spouse was home. It’s a win-win. This is how you will know which recipes probably would not be a good choice for your prepper pantry.
Lets talk about budgeting. Gather up your receipts for the last twelve months if you have them. If you don’t have them, you will need to start saving them. Once you have at least 90 days worth of receipts you can start figuring out what you are doing with your food money. If you want to work on a rough estimate of what you spend, look in your bank records to see what you spent at the grocery store. The trouble is most stores stock more than groceries, so the totals won’t be accurate. In any case, do not include in your food budget anything you can’t eat. Once you have an idea what you spend monthly on everything edible, evaluate the list for items that are not of good nutritional value. Boxed foods, chips and candy are not a good value for the money, calories, sugars, salt and fat. You get the idea. Add up the cost of those items, and that is the amount of wasted money and the rest of that deadly diet list.
Now that you have tightened your belt and removed the poor quality foods from your shopping list, you can use that money to purchase good quality foods for your family. It is hard to know what is an appropriate budget for your family’s food supply. Use the tools at the USDA offices to help you decide what your budget should look like. If you are currently spending more than you should, menu planning will help. While sticking to a budget and a menu plan requires discipline, it is important. Only when you are able to be disciplined in the kitchen, and with the checkbook, will you be able to effectively plan for a SHTF event.