The day I’ve been dreading for almost five months is almost here: the day my maternity leave ends. I start back at work in the beginning of May, and besides the overwhelming mommy-sadness I feel, I’m getting nervous about juggling a full-time (and demanding) job and two small children. It wasn’t easy with just J – so I’m sure it’s only going to get harder with another.
Therefore, I’m doing everything that I can now to make my life easier later. First thing on the list: stocking up the pantry and freezer! I am so bad (so very, very bad) at turning to take-out when times get stressful. This is bad for our health as well as our bank account, so I’m getting ahead of the game by stocking up on pantry and freezer essentials.
First, make sure you have a block of time (2-3 hours) that will be distraction-free. For me, that means no kids and sometime in the morning, when I’m at my most productive. Dressed in comfortable clothes and shoes, I sat down with a pad of paper and comprised a list of the following:
- Non-perishable items I use a lot (black beans, diced tomatoes, chicken broth, etc.);
- Perishable items that freeze well (bread, shredded cheese, bacon, etc.);
- Items that can be thrown together with only pantry and freezer ingredients (frozen meatballs + pasta + jarred sauce; frozen pizza; chicken tenders + sweet potato fries; etc.).
Now, your list may seem huge (I about fell out of my chair when I was done with mine!), but remember – you’re stocking up! This food will last you months and save you so much time and money.
Below, I’ve included the items I purchased, as well as items I (and the internet) consider to be “essentials” for stocking up!
- Canned tomatoes (diced, crushed, paste)
- Jarred pasta sauce (tomato- and cream-based, like Alfredo)
- Dried pasta (I like to stock up on angel hair – our favorite! – as well as more “fun” shapes, like farfalle and elbows. I also always have lasagna and orzo on hand.)
- Rice (we like to use brown) and quinoa
- Peanut butter
- Jelly (strawberry, grape, jalapeno)
- Real maple syrup
- Honey (as local as we can get it)
- Peppers (jarred roasted red peppers, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce)
- Olives (black and green)
- Oil (olive and vegetable)
- Vinegar (white, apple cider and balsamic)
- Steel-cut oats
- Condiments (ketchup, hot sauce, a variety of mustards, BBQ sauce, mayo)
- Beans (canned or dried)
- Broths (chicken and beef)
- Baking items (flour, sugar, chocolate chips, yeast, etc.)
- Spices (I really only keep spices that I use a lot on hand: garlic powder, onion powder, cinnamon, chili powder, salt and pepper)
- Garlic bulbs
- Cheese (buy a few big blocks and shred. Store 2 cups in freezer-safe containers)
- Meat (chicken, ground beef, bacon, etc. Make sure to properly store them or it will get ruined! How meat is packaged in the store usually cannot be used to freeze it in. Beef should be wrapped in butcher paper and chicken should be stored in freezer safe bags.)
- Bread (I stock up on “next day” rolls and bread and then separate into bags of 2-4 servings to freeze. They are still fresh when you freeze, but the prices can’t be beat! I usually have dinner rolls, sub rolls and French bread on hand.)
- Frozen fruits
- Frozen pizza
- Frozen potatoes (fries, hash browns)
- Meatballs (the possibilities for meals with meatballs are endless!)
- Cheese ravioli
- Vegetables (green beans, corn, peas)
Of course, the list could go on and on, so my best advice is to gather your “go to” recipes for quick, easy and inexpensive meals and see what items they have in common. This is what you’ll want to stock your pantry with! In addition, make sure to have a few “cheat” meals that can be grabbed and made quickly. For example, I always make sure we have a few frozen pizzas, and sweet potato fries on hand – these are so easy to make a meal (serve a veggie or salad with the pizza; top the fries with chili or serve on the side of a sandwich), and they are kid-approved!
Now that I had my list together, it was time to shop! If I was in the mood and more organized, I would have looked through the grocery circulars for deals on these items, however, my time to do shopping alone is limited, so I headed straight to the store. I decided to go to Super Wal-Mart, since they typically have the best prices on the items I needed, without specials or sales. I really only wanted to go to one store, so I made a few sacrifices on prices. It was definitely worth it to me since I’m a big believer in weighing saving money and the cost of my time, but that’s a post for another day. 🙂
Armed with an empty shopping cart….
…and I was ready to shop, shop, shop!
Here is what my cart looked like after I was almost done:
And here is everything all bagged up!
I was afraid it all wouldn’t fit! It took me four trips to get everything into the house – so yay for a mini workout!
Now that you’ve shopped and stored everything, the hard part is over – but don’t stop there! What good is a well-stocked pantry if you never use it? To avoid waste, I suggest making a list of pantry meals (i.e., meals that can be made entirely with ingredients you have on hand) and taping it to your refrigerator. That way, after a crazy day when you’re tempted to just order take-out, you can clearly see that you have other options!
Mine is nothing special, but feel free to get all fancy with yours! This list should be fluid – meaning, it will change depending on what you have on hand – and it should be updated regularly. I try to keep ours updated every month, as well as our freezer and pantry inventory lists: