Establishing a “Just the Basics” Whole Foods Pantry
Whether your goal is to eat healthier or just to save money, establishing a “Just the Basics” whole food pantry is totally the way to go.
A “Just the basics” pantry is when you make a shift towards buying basic pantry staple items (for example beans and rice and spices)-usually in bulk- and use these as the basis of your meals, leaving your routine shopping to be for perishable fresh foods like fruits and vegetables. Sometimes this is called a minimalist pantry, or whole foods pantry, but the concept is the same. It is figuring out what you eat the most, stocking up on those items, and enjoying life without suffering from “we have nothing to eat” syndrome.
As you probably know, we are on a journey to eat healthier here, which has included eating less meat, sugar and processed foods. It became clear very quickly which items qualify as “basics” that we use over and over. As people who want their lives to be as fuss free as possible, we started to load up on those items in the most frugal way possible, and have been creating meal plans and multipurpose flexible recipes that can use them up easily.
Reasons to Establish a “Just the Basics” Whole Foods Pantry
Eating healthier has become an established part of our lifestyle by this point, so I am not going to list having healthy options on hand as a factor, although this is ABSOLUTELY a factor. My motivations mainly arise from the following three factors:
The Money Factor:
Buying things in bulk is a significant way to save money. Usually you can get things in bulk for pretty cheap, or you can load up during sales on non-perishables. Think outside the box! If you go to ethnic markets you may be able to get spices and other items for cheaper than you would at the grocery store. I have actually seen the SAME item for cheaper in the ethnic section of the store than it was in the spice isle. Crazy right?! The item: crushed chillies. The cheaper package was even bigger than the other. It was such a clear choice! Now I always scout the entire store. You never know what deals could be lurking.
The Time Factor:
If you are a complete failure at life like me then you probably forget at least one VERY important thing every time you go to the grocery store. Alright, so maybe this doesn’t qualify as being a failure at life, however that’s how I feel when I go shopping and come home with everything EXCEPT the thing that I left the house for (this actually happens more than I care to discuss).
When you buy in bulk, you have the potential to buy ALL the things you need for the month (or possibly even longer) all at once. This can save you from having to do last minute runs to the store for that little bit of rice or can of beans. However- it is important to remember that you need to plan to make this truly rock your world. Things like beans can take a long time to prepare (however it only seems more intimidating than it is) but they can be stocked in your fridge for the week and in your freezer for longer.
The Green Factor:
So although the two reasons above are big ones, the “green factor” is also a persuasive factor in wanting to try out a system like this. Specifically, I am talking about how buying in bulk and storing in containers can reduce the amount of plastic waste that your household will produce. Some companies even allow you to buy things in bulk using reusable containers, which even further reduces the amount of garbage you produce. I kind of fell in love with the idea of doing up a pantry like this for financial and organizational reasons, but have also seen some truly cool bucket organization systems around the internet in places like the Zero Waste Subreddit.
Where to Start and How
- Clean out your cupboards and get rid of any expired or spoiled items. If your pantry is hopelessly disorganized like mine was, you may be surprised what is lurking in there. Part of the reason I had no space in my cupboards was because I was holding onto a lot of things that were expired. Get rid of them! Analyze what you have and what you use, and whether you can find a better way of buying these (for instance, in bulk).
- Decide what you are going to use as storage containers, and how many you need. We decided on mason jars because they seal well, they are reuseable, and they are cheap. While I love the look of fancy canisters and other Pinterest perfect items, the realist in me can’t help but think that we need something a little more real and a little less ideal. We bought a few sizes, small jars for the lesser used spices, larger ones for spices we use a lot and litre size ones for nuts and beans etc. Truth be told we actually could use way larger containers, but at the moment we live in a really small place with small cupboards so our options were restricted by that. For spice blends, we either use mason jars or try to reuse the large Costco size spice blend containers. We now make our own Italian and Taco seasoning, so we just reused the containers we had of those when we were using store bought. To decide how many of each container we needed, we took an inventory of what items we had, what items we use all the time and what we had on hand already. While we are not finished converting our whole pantry (I believe in doing things like this gradually instead of breaking the bank all at once) we have a pretty good jump start and will continue to add to it as we go.
- Decide on a labeling strategy– Now here is the part where you have to find balance between “chasing the pretty” and doing what makes sense in the real world. I am obsessed with some of the amazing organization systems I have seen for cupboards I have seen on Pinterest, but I am far too practical to implement the things I see there. I don’t want fancy sticker labels because then what happens when I want to wash my containers? I don’t want to spend the rest of my life making and printing fancy labels. For this reason we are doing plain scotch tape which we have written on with a Sharpie. However in the near future we will paint the lids with the chalkboard paint from the windowsill herb garden tutorial and make chalk labels. This way we can change the labels easily if we move things around.
- Figure out what your pantry staples are!- Check your meal plans, your most used recipes etc. to figure out what your pantry staples are! I am going to post my list, but everyone is different. I know that a few of my friends would have curries in theirs, however this is not something I use often so it did not make the cut for me. Nobody else can tell you what your staples are. You will know based on your taste preferences and regular rotation recipes. Keep in mind I am talking about pantry STAPLES. This doesn’t mean that these things are all that will be in your pantry, just the essentials that are used the most often. I think branching out and trying new things is awesome and you never know what experimental item will end up being a pantry essential item of the future!
This is part 1 of a 2 part pantry series! Additionally, on our Facebook Page we are doing a “Get your Sh*t Together” September, where we will be sharing organization and decluttering tips from around the web. Follow our page so you don’t miss out!
Stay tuned for the next installment in this series: Stocking your “Just the Basics” Whole Food Pantry!
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Are you using a minimalist food pantry? Let us know all about it in the comments!